“Everyone home!” ran the front page of Tuttosport. A World Cup without the Azzurri, not many can come to terms with it. In fact, most had never even witnessed an Italy-less tournament. It’s been 59 years since Northern Ireland blocked their entry to a World Cup. Amidst all the soul-searching and finger-pointing that will inevitably follow in the wake of what has been described by La Gazzetta as ‘the apocalypse’, the problems start and end at home.
The world’s collective heart broke at the sight of Gigi Buffon in tears minutes after the final whistle, his chance of appearing at a record sixth World Cup shattered. But he aside, nobody currently playing for Italy deserved to be on the biggest stage in Russia, and Giampiero Ventura certainly didn’t deserve to be in charge of a side that had qualified for the tournament.
There was little confidence in Italy’s ability to ever turn the 1-0 deficit around. Ventura, while clearly a decent Coach, was completely out of his depth and in recent months any remaining confidence in his ability to effectively manage the national team evaporated. The end result isn’t all that surprising.
While Ventura can be blamed (and quite rightly) for failing to call upon Jorginho – one of the best midfielders in Serie A over the last several seasons – until only last night, and for his complete failure to make the most of the considerable talents of Lorenzo Insigne, the cumbersome CT has hardly been helped by a dearth of genuine talent.
Now, that statement might be surprising to some, given that there’s been a reinvigorated sense of hope in the future of the Italian national side. Players like Gigio Donnarumma, Daniele Rugani, Roberto Gagliardini, Marco Verratti and Andrea Belotti all possess the ability to gain multiple caps over the coming years, but there’s a cause for concern at the real depth of youth emerging in the Italian game.
Recently, Giorgio Chiellini lamented that ‘Guardiolismo’ – Pep Guardiola’s footballing ideology - has eroded the very fabric of what has throughout history made Italian defenders the best in the world: the capacity to man-mark. Chiellini remarked: “Guardiolismo has ruined many Italian defenders a bit. Now defenders know how to set the tone of play and they can spread the ball, but they don't know how to mark. Unfortunately, that's the way it is.”
Chiellini is arguably the last of his kind. That rugged, no-nonsense Italian stalwart in the mould of Claudio Gentile, Beppe Bergomi and Pietro Vierchowod. Yet, Chiellini won’t go down as one of the all-time legendary defenders, which speaks to the general downturn in Italy’s ability to produce world-class centre backs in the last two decades. Where have all the Maldini’s, Scirea’s, Nesta’s, Baresi’s and Cannavaro’s gone?
The production line has also ceased at the top end of the pitch. Long gone are the days when Italy would have a creative genius in the No. 10 shirt, strolling around the turf seeking to bamboozle defenders with a mix of trickery and fine artistry. Never more was that obvious than at the San Siro. As Sweden sat deep, holding on to their one-goal lead from the first leg, Italy created precious little. Where have all the Baggio’s, the Del Piero’s, the Totti’s, the Mancini’s and the Rivera’s gone?
It made for depressing reading to see Ventura start such a crucial match with the strike partnership of Ciro Immobile and Manolo Gabbiadini. Respectable players they are, but both are far from world-class material.
Serie A history is full of Italian strikers who, brilliant for their clubs, simply couldn’t make the switch to the national team: Beppe Signori, Gianluca Vialli, Vincenzo Montella, Enrico Chiesa and Antonio Di Natale all spring to mind. Yet what other choices did the beleaguered Coach have? Belotti was rushed back for the first leg and clearly wasn’t fit enough to start a second game inside three days. And then there was Eder.
Where have all the Paolo Rossi’s, the Vieri’s, the Inzaghi’s, the Riva’s gone?
It’s debatable whether Italy will be really missed at this summer’s tournament; since Fabio Cannavaro lifted the trophy high into the Berlin sky in July 2006, they’ve only won one game in the two subsequent tournaments. After their humiliating group stage exit in 2010, talk of reform was high. Roberto Baggio and Arrigo Sacchi were brought on board by the FIGC in an attempt to get back to basics.
With the retirement of Buffon, Chiellini and Barzagli, the BBC is no more, dismantled. The old warrior Daniele De Rossi has also called time. The passing of the old guard has arrived. The winds of change are upon us.
This is year zero for the Azzurri. Let’s hope there are genuine changes and not a retaining of the status quo.