Italian football reached a surprise low point on Tuesday with the World Cup exit at the hands of Uruguay. The spineless manner that the national team bowed out in, making the side that were eliminated at the same stage in the finals four years ago look comparatively prolific, meant this hadn’t just been a defeat. It was a humiliation.
Cesare Prandelli put himself in the line of fire after the loss, tendering his resignation alongside that of FIGC President Giancarlo Abate. Later, the Italy camp disintegrated into open rebellion with their eviscerating remarks directed at one another forming part of a debacle that is as bad as recent memory allows.
Everything the public thought they knew is being called into question. It forms the gruelling narrative for a woeful and unflattering end to an era that had promised much more. The fact there was obvious talent and potential in the squad travelling to Brazil makes disappointment at this elimination more profound than the one in 2010.
Blame has centred on the man previously in charge. Prandelli’s idealism established him as an agent of change trying to secure a future for his country. But in the end, he may have diverged too much from the famed Italian nature of winning so as to transform the image of the Azzurri.
The ruthlessness to succeed had appeared to be missing most at the helm. Allegations that Italy’s core players lost faith in Prandelli over matters such as his contradictory approach towards games and contrived defence of underperforming players at the World Cup give an indication of the depth of his failure when it mattered most.
Now Italy will be looking to discover the customary bounce of a new Coach in charge - one who needs to be much more assured with his tactics, not to mention single-minded about winning. There won’t be much time for the incoming boss to get his house in order. Their Euro qualification campaign is just around the corner.
Righting Prandelli’s wrongs begins with the courage necessary to wield the axe on a host of players whose international prospects should have dried up long ago. Thiago Motta, Ignazio Abate and Alberto Aquilani face the cull for the next competitive squad if reports are to be believed, with Mattia Destro, Alessandro Florenzi and Romulo on hand to take over.
Merely promoting a handful of fresh faces will not suffice, however. As Gianluigi Buffon and Daniele De Rossi lambasted, several newcomers never learnt the effort and sacrifices donning their country’s shirt meant. It is a key lesson Italy take home from Brazil. Mario Balotelli had fatally played like a man who had received too many chances on the world stage, putting in two tepid displays and drawing the ire of teammate and media pundits alike.
Any false sense of security needs to be weeded from those uninitiated who were allowed to grow far too comfortable by Prandelli, with a firm hand from his replacement necessary to steer them. But these youngsters still constitute the future of the Azzurri. And undergoing a revival will mean drawing on the talents of her fledgling stars. There, Prandelli did leave room for optimism with his groundwork. Marco Verratti and Matteo Darmian in particular showed the makings to be cornerstones of the Nazionale for many years.
It’s painful having to start over. But being knocked out at the World Cup does not wipe the progress Italy made in the last four years, even if they stumbled at the final hurdle. While failure arrives as a reality check after the euphoria of reaching the Euro 2012 Final or beating England in the opening encounter, their fate is not completely barren. With a host of new names now expected to carry on the Azzurri imperative, there could be reason to look forward yet.