The CT has become the first man to fail to take Italy to a World Cup, and Football Italia looks back at his disastrous reign.
Words: Gaby McKay
“The idea of not qualifying for the World Cup would be an apocalypse,” FIGC President Carlo Tavecchio said in September. “But we’ll get there.”
Last night the nightmare scenario became a reality, with Italy drawing 0-0 with Sweden at San Siro after losing 1-0 in Scandinavia.
That result will almost certainly be the end of Giampiero Ventura’s reign as Italy CT, as he suffers the ignominy of being the first man to fail to take the Azzurri to a World Cup, as in 1958 the team was picked by a selection committee.
How did it come to this? Here’s the timeline of the former Torino boss’ time in charge.
June 7, 2016 - Ventura appointed as Italy CT
It had been confirmed in March that Antonio Conte would leave the Italy job after Euro 2016, and in June Ventura was announced as his replacement.
The Coach signed a two-year contract worth €1.3m per season, but the initial idea of having Marcello Lippi as a technical director fell through due to a conflict of interest, as his son, Davide, is an agent.
July 19, 2016 - “We’ll improve on Conte”
Ventura was officially presented after the European Championships, where Conte had taken the Azzurri to the quarter-finals.
Although he thanked his predecessor for the impressive style on show in France, the new CT immediately set his sights on improvement.
“Conte’s football worked for a particular time,” Ventura said.
“The players on the bench when [Marcello] Lippi won the World Cup were great names, the ones who went to the Euros still have to work to reach that level.
“Conte’s style was important to get results, but we’ll work to improve.
“The 3-5-2 formation penalises wingers. Our first aim is to qualify for the World Cup, we need to have the patience for gradual growth, but it’d be a shame not to take advantage of this quality.”
October 6, 2016 - Draw with Spain
A friendly defeat to France in the new Coach’s first game was easy to dismiss, while the second brought a 3-1 win over Israel, albeit a slightly unconvincing one.
It was the following international break though that would prove crucial, with Spain coming to Turin for the second group game.
The Azzurri had beaten La Roja just months previous at the European Championships, and while Ventura retained much of the same squad, and the 3-5-2 approach, they appeared to be playing for a draw.
A rare mistake from Gianluigi Buffon allowed the Spaniards to go ahead, and it was only when Italy began to chase the game that they impressed.
A 1-1 draw was a decent result given the pattern of the game, and early doubts about Ventura was to some degree assuaged.
Despite that, Graziano Pelle refused to shake the CT’s hand when substituted, the first sign of player discontent. He hasn’t played for Italy since.
October 9, 2016 - Italy scrape by in Skopje
The first real rumblings of discontent emerged in the following game, as Italy were lucky to emerge from Macedonia with all three points.
Andrea Belotti put the Azzurri ahead, but Ilija Nestorovski and Ferhat Hasani left them staring down the barrel of an embarrassing defeat.
However, Antonio Candreva equalised with 15 minutes remaining and Ciro Immobile spared Ventura’s blushes with a 91st minute winner.
November 2016 to June 2017 - Positive signs?
A 4-0 win away at Liechtenstein in November was par for the course, but the Azzurri did then go on a run of positive results.
After a 0-0 friendly draw with Germany, Italy beat Albania 2-0 and Liechtenstein 5-0 in World Cup qualifying, as well as beating the Netherlands, San Marino and Uruguay in friendlies by an aggregate score of 13-1.
That convinced the FIGC to renew Ventura’s contract in August, with Tavecchio affirming “we have full faith in him”.
September 2, 2017 - 4-2-4 in the Bernabeu
Having switched to a 4-2-4 formation to try and rack up the goals against Liechtenstein, Ventura opted for the same approach away to Spain.
Concerns were raised ahead of the match about playing two central midfielders against La Roja’s famous passing machine, and they proved to be well founded.
Italy were utterly taken apart 3-0, condemning them to the play-offs in all but mathematics.
A stuttering 1-0 win over Israel, also using a 4-2-4 - or perhaps 4-4-2 - did nothing to calm the growing discontent.
October 6, 2017 - Draw with Macedonia
Ventura switched to a 3-4-3 for the return leg with Macedonia, and whistles rained down upon the heads of the players and Coach after a drab 1-1 draw.
A 1-0 win in Albania secured a play-off spot, but real questions were now being asked about tactics and selection.
Ventura continually claimed he couldn’t fit Napoli’s Jorginho into his system, while he refused to call Nice striker Mario Balotelli or Valencia’s Simone Zaza.
Aiglons President Jean-Pierre Rivère vouched for Super Mario’s behaviour, but Coach Lucien Favre admitted Ventura “has never called me” to ask about the forward.
October 17, 2017 - Play-off draw made
Italy were top seeds for the World Cup play-offs, but were handed a tough draw in the form of Sweden.
The Republic of Ireland, Greece and Northern Ireland were the other possible opponents, and a trip to Scandinavia was immediately identified as the worst possible outcome.
November 4, 2017 - Ventura names his squad
Ventura named his squad for the play-offs earlier this month, and appeared to bow to public pressure for the two most crucial games of his reign.
Jorginho and Zaza were called-up for the first time under the CT, having been completely overlooked in previous games.
November 10, 2017 - Italy sunk in Solna
Seemingly looking to fall back on a safety-first option, Ventura returned to Conte’s 3-5-2 - the system he said penalised wingers - for the first leg of the play-off, with Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and and Giorgio Chiellini at the back in front of Gianluigi Buffon.
Despite a totally disjointed performance from those in front of them, the ‘BBC’ backline held firm until a deflected shot from Jakob Johansson beat Buffon.
Jorginho was again ignored, while Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile both started despite coming off injuries, with Simone Zaza injured in training ahead of the match.
Lorenzo Insigne was brought off the bench to play in central midfield, a move which seemed to bemuse the Neapolitan as much as it did those watching.
November 13, 2017 - Apocalypse Now
With Marco Verratti suspended, Ventura opted to give Jorginho his competitive debut in the most crucial match of his reign, with the Napoli midfielder previously having played in two friendlies.
Italy did dominate the match, with Jorginho particularly influential in the first half, but they failed to break down a resolute Swedish defence.
Perhaps stung by the video which emerged of Insigne seemingly questioning his deployment in central midfield, Ventura refused to introduce the diminutive attacking midfielder.
Although he was implored by the San Siro crowd and Daniele De Rossi to play Insigne, Belotti, Stephen El Shaarawy and Federico Bernardeschi were the changes.
Bernardeschi has played 227 minutes for Juventus in Serie A this season - about two-and-a-half games - and he was deployed too deep to have any impact.
Italy huffed and puffed, but they couldn’t find a goal. When the final whistle went, the Meazza crowd whistled and the Azzurri players slumped to the ground in defeat.
Done. Game over. Apocalypse Now.