Is there anyone left willing to defend Giampiero Ventura? We tried, we really did, but his decisions both before and during the defeat to Sweden just proved he has reached the end of the road and his advocates the end of their tethers.
You can complain that Italy no longer have the quality in the squad they once did, that Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile were not fully fit on the night, that the BBC defence is ageing and Gigi Buffon was unlucky to see the goal deflected in off Daniele De Rossi. All that doesn’t explain the idiotic choices and infuriating post-match comments from the Coach.
Ventura finally shelved his controversial 4-2-4 formation and embraced the old guard – literally, as seven of the starting XI were over the age of 30. It was the same 3-5-2 that Antonio Conte had used to good effect at Euro 2016, but with none of the players remotely suited to it.
It was a bad sign when Stephan El Shaarawy was cut from the 23-man squad, sent to the stands when he was one of the form players in Serie A and fresh from a Champions League demolition of Chelsea in the Roma jersey. Even worse when Lorenzo Insigne was left on the bench to rot with his Napoli teammate Jorginho.
This group of players is so perfectly-suited to the 4-3-3 system, it feels like some cruel joke that Ventura is using every other approach in the book first. Napoli and Roma both use it, and they are playing the best football in Italy right now, with some of the most impressive results too.
It felt for all the world as if Ventura was trying to give the critics what they wanted, but in a purposefully wrong-headed way, to shut them up in future. They pined for the Conte era? Here was a 3-5-2 system. They wanted Insigne to play? Here he was, flung on for the final 15 minutes as a central midfielder. It’s the equivalent of when a teenager doesn’t want to do the chores, so conspires to do them so badly out of sheer spite that in the end the parent won’t ask again.
I can think of no other possible reason for Insigne to be introduced as a central midfielder, especially with Jorginho sitting on the bench. The Napoli winger’s shrug of incredulity and resignation to his teammates when explaining his new position said it all.
It might now be a blessing in disguise that Verratti is suspended for the second leg. The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder has talent, but at the age of 25 hasn’t fixed any of the massive flaws he’s carried around since the start of his career. When he was one booking away from suspension for the second leg, it was utterly inevitable he would lunge into a stupid tackle and receive a yellow card. In fact, that’s what you can expect from him in almost every match. It’s the Verratti guarantee.
Of course, Ventura won’t choose Jorginho in his place, because that would make too much sense. He won’t move to 4-3-3, he won’t use Insigne in his proper role, he won’t bow to popular opinion. His comments in Solna were all about bad luck, the lenient referee and a good overall performance. His refusal or downright inability to see the glaring issues facing the Azzurri make his position untenable.
This is why, even if Italy do somehow scrape into the World Cup in 2018, Ventura has got to go.