IRENE, South Africa (AP) — Italy's combative midfielder Gennaro Gattuso announced Saturday that he will retire from the national team after the World Cup.
Speaking two days before the Azzurri's opener against Paraguay, the 32-year-old Gatttuso said that at his age it's "only fair to cede space to players with more gas in their tanks."
Gattuso is coming off a difficult season at AC Milan, when he struggled with a problematic knee and was often relegated to a bench role.
Gattuso was also expected to be a bench player for Italy at this tournament, but he has a chance of starting against Paraguay on Monday due to an injury to Daniele De Rossi.
Gattuso was part of the starting 11 for a training match against the Gauteng All Stars on Friday, Italy's final test before its opener, and he played well in the Azzurri's final pre-tournament friendly against Switzerland last weekend.
"I'm coming off a difficult season but (coach Marcello) Lippi gave me a chance and it was my responsibility to show up ready," he said. "Everybody knows my characteristics and I still have some hunger and desire left in me. If I didn't have the desire anymore I would tell the coach. I still have something to give.
"When I do something I've got to do it with enthusiasm and desire, otherwise I'm a third-division player," Gattuso added, rubbing his full beard and punctuating his explanations with a series of hand gestures.
Gattuso underwent knee surgery in December 2008 and returned a month ahead of schedule for Milan's final Serie A match that season, then joined Italy for last year's Confederations Cup.
He was a shadow of his former self during that tournament, and that performance turned out to be harbinger of this season's struggles, when he dropped behind Massimo Ambrosini, Ignazio Abate and Mathieu Flamini in Milan's midfield.
Gattuso said he regretted hurrying back so fast.
"I thought I was strong enough to play through it, but you can't joke around with a knee injury. It was my own fault," he said, adding that only in recent weeks has he felt fully recovered.
"I'm training without anti-inflammatories which is already a victory for me. I'm able to train with continuity and the knee feels the best it has in a long time," Gattuso said. "All these little things give me hope."
In the first half of this season, there was speculation that Gattuso was getting upset by his lack of playing time at Milan and wanted to transfer abroad, but in December he extended his contract by one year through the 2011-2012 season.
"For 11 years I got used to playing every game, and it got the point where if Gattuso wasn't playing it was almost as if the team couldn't even go out onto the pitch," he said. "This season was a big adjustment."
Gattuso didn't want to discuss the future of his club career, but indicated he plans to continue playing.
"I could stop playing tomorrow with all the money I've earned thanks to Milan, but I still have some passion and nastiness left inside me," he said.
When he finally does stop playing, Gattuso already has an idea for a future career.
"My dream is to coach the national team at the World Cup one day," he said.