Giampiero Ventura insisted throughout his tenure that Jorginho did not fit into his tactical system. Faced with the weight of public opinion, disappointing performances and the risk of losing the Napoli midfielder to his birthplace Brazil, we’re finally going to see a change of tack.
There could not be more at stake, as in their double-header with Sweden on Friday and next Monday, Italy risk missing out on their first World Cup since 1958. Ventura has been ground down by criticism and complaints, opening the door to new options, but is it already too late?
Seeing Jorginho’s name in the squad list for the World Cup play-off was frankly a big surprise. The Napoli midfielder has two caps already, but they only came in friendlies and his exclusion from the squad for a year has seen him look at perhaps switching allegiances to the country of his birth, Brazil. Ventura has always insisted that the 25-year-old has been left out of the squad purely for tactical reasons and that the game-plan simply did not suit him. As one critic put it, then Ventura realised he didn’t have a game-plan.
With Jorginho it seems that the CT has satisfied public need for his inclusion, but in truth it does allow him to change the system should either of the two legs not go to plan. In some respects, whilst Ventura will not admit that he was wrong previously in his choices, the pick does make it a strong possibility that he may return to a 3-5-2 or even switch to fashionable 4-3-3.
The much maligned 4-2-4 would not shock anyone if it was employed in the first leg, but Jorginho does allow him to experiment if things do not go well.
Simone Zaza also seems to be a fully loaded ‘get out of jail card’ and one could see him being deployed in the second leg should Italy be needing something direct and different. With Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti not fully fit, having an on-form striker at least available is essential.
Euro 2016 is not a happy memory for Zaza. His missed penalty against Germany saw him mocked on social media to the point where it was a merciless meme, the run-up that is still going. A year on and he has once again been called up to the Azzurri squad after impressing with his new club, Valencia.
Zaza has been calm about the entire situation, according to his father Antonio Zaza. He said that his son felt over-criticised and it was down this and the need to find himself again that he promptly moved to Spain. Now, in his new surroundings, the 26-year-old has been in electric form, scoring an impressive eight goals in his last seven games.
Although he failed to net in his last outing against Leganes, he has the prestigious position of being second top scorer behind Lionel Messi in La Liga and hopes he can bring this form to help the Azzurri in their hour of need. Ventura will be hoping that the ex-Sassuolo, Juventus and West Ham man can find redemption in this crucial time.
The choice to promote Zaza back to the squad is perhaps a masterstroke, as he is in such blistering form and, whether alone up front or alongside Belotti, he can still be a threat. Whilst some eyes were rolled that another Italian export, Mario Balotelli, was omitted, they were very rare. Despite Balo’s renaissance on the Riviera, it seems that his added maturity and professionalism is not fully being recognised by Ventura.
This is beyond doubt the biggest test of Ventura’s career and he carries the weight of expectation for an entire nation on his shoulders. His tactics and approach were easy to question during the group stage, even if he ultimately only dropped points against Spain and Macedonia. With Jorginho, Zaza and the talk of a tactical change, he might finally be open to different ideas. But is it too late?