Italy is one of world football greatest football’s countries. Only Brazil and Germany have won more World Cups than the Italian soccer team in history. Prior to 2018, No country had made it to more World Cups than the Italians. The last time a world cup took place without Italy was way back in 1958. It was in Sweden where the Azzuri could not participate in 1958 and ironically it is Sweden, 60 years later who have ensured, Italy will not be a part of Russia 2018.
It is hard to believe that a side could not qualify for the World Cup only 11 years after winning it. While, the last 2 editions, Italy have failed to make it the past group stages, one still expects a team of the talent and tradition they possess to comfortably qualify. So where did it go wrong?
However one looks at it, the buck falls on the desk of coach Gian Piero Ventura. The current Italian squad is probably their best since the 2006 World Cup and there is no reason, they should not be in Russia. The current crop of youngsters along with the old guard has enough talent to make to even compete for the World cup if used properly. One only needs to look how Conte got an inferior side to perform much better in the Euros last year. Ventura’s team selection and tactics were shambolic, to say the least and leave a lot to be questioned. He regularly failed to get the best out of their most talented players.
The biggest complaint about Ventura begins from his tactics. Throughout his tenure, the Italian’s methods have failed to work with time make sense. His stubbornness to use a 4-2-4 throughout the campaign cost the Italians dearly. None more than against Spain against whom playing a 2 man midfield can only be called suicidal. His lack of conviction is evident by the panic struck change to a 3-5-2 by the Italian team in the vital second leg against Sweden.
Nothing describes Ventura’s failure better than Lorenzo Insigne. The Napoli forward has been in blazing form this season and probably the most talented attacking player in the national set-up. Yet the 26-year-old has managed very few appearances for Italy under Ventura. How did Insigne only play 14 minutes in the country’s two most important matches of the year is beyond comprehension. Also bizzarly, those 14 minutes came in the first leg in a central midfield position.
Jorginho is widely regarded as one of the finest midfielders in Europe right now. He has earned wide praise for his performances for Napoli over the last couple of years. The Napoli star has been available for the Italian soccer team all the time, yet did not make an appearance in the entire group stage. It was only when a switch of loyalties to Brazil was under threat that Jorginho got a call-up for the playoffs. A player of his quality has only made 1 start for the Azzurri’s despite them lacking talent in midfield (except for Verrati) is unacceptable.
Above everything, a lot of the blame ultimately goes to the FIGC. Their decision to appoint Ventura clearly backfired. Above that, their persistence to stick with him for the entire campaign despite the underperforming team comes under scrutiny.
Moreover, it is high that the Federation realize the need for a major overhaul in Italian Football. Post the glorious night in Berlin in 2006, Italy has now for three successive World Cup’s failed to make it past the group stage. Since then, vividly the talent coming through the system has been nowhere near the levels that Italy has witnessed over the years. Also, over the last few years, the Serie A has also massively fallen in quality and competitiveness. The need for reconstruction of Italian soccer is as real as ever. From the grassroots to the top bosses of Italian soccer, change is required everywhere. As Germany showed post their dismal showing in Euro 2000, such moments can be a blessing in disguise in the long run if the right lessons are learned.
Amid the criticism of the Azzurri, one must not forget to applaud the Swedish. After Zlatan’s Ibramovich’s retirement in 2016, one was skeptical about the future of the national team. Since then, they have beaten the odds and risen as a team under Jenne Anderson. Making it the World Cup, knocking Netherlands and Italy on the way and also beating France in the qualifiers, speaks enormously of how impressive Sweden have been. Their resilience and spirit in the two legged playoffs exhibited they deserve nothing.