The FIGC has been in a state of flux since Italy’s disastrous failure to qualify for the World Cup. Gian Piero Ventura had little option other than to fall on his sword, although the Genoa native wasn’t in any hurry to do the honourable thing; he hesitated for 2 days before it was done for him.
The general consensus is that there are four candidates: Roberto Mancini, Antonio Conte, Carlo Ancelotti and Luigi Di Biagio. The only certainty in this period of uncertainty inside the corridors of the Italian Football Federation is that Mancini is unequivocally not the man for job.
Mancini - who was a delightfully graceful and artistic No.10 as a player - as a tactician resembles little of his former self. Mancini the manager wouldn’t be a fun proposition for any fan of the Azzurri. His sides have generally been pragmatic and reactive rather than proactive, and his appointment would be a major step back; simply a continuation of the doomed Ventura era.
The return of Conte would present an intriguing option. With the former Juve Coach almost nailed on to leave Chelsea at the end of the season, he would be free to take over. Conte, it’s reported, feels like he has unfinished business with the Azzurri following their good showing at Euro 2016 and the circumstances of his departure from the job – hastily executed by his own admission – and would give serious consideration to leading Italy to Euro 2020.
Yet Conte butted heads with many of the biggest clubs in Italy over the releasing of players for international duty and complained about the little time he had with his selection to imbed tactical schemes. These issues wouldn’t go away the second time around, so as appealing as the idea of Conte returning might sound to many, it’s perhaps best if the fiery Leccese remains in club football.
Di Biagio is viewed as the least likely candidate, however he will have the opportunity to cut his teeth in the two upcoming friendlies against Argentina and England. Di Biagio has been only relatively successful with the Azzurrini, guiding them to the semi-final of the European championships last summer, and they’ve scored 17 goals in their last four friendly games. Having said that, the squad was packed with talent going into that tournament and should’ve at least reached the Final. A similarly-strong side two years earlier didn't even get out of the group phase.
Italy, it must be said, does have a history of promoting their U-21 Coaches to the main job; Enzo Bearzot, Azeglio Vicini and Cesare Maldini all served their time at junior level before making the step up. But Maldini was the last, two decades ago, and it’s difficult to see Di Biagio breaking the drought.
The best option (and the FIGC’s preference) is Ancelotti. The former Juve and Milan manager has stated more than once in the past how he’d like to one day take the reins of Italy. Many believe the time has now come, because let’s face it, Ancelotti has held a job at nearly every top club in the European game, save Barcelona and Manchester United.
Furthermore, his style of management is well suited to the rigours of the international scene. Despite being a disciple of Arrigo Sacchi, Ancelotti is infamous for being relatively lax when it comes to tactical work, instead preferring for the players to work scenarios out for themselves.
He also learned from his days of rejecting Roberto Baggio’s move to Parma that it’s best to build a system around the available players rather than try to shoe-horn them into his specific vision.
Whilst his league record is poor in correlation to the clubs he’s managed, the same cannot be said for cups. Ancelotti almost specializes in the realm of cup competitions; small bursts of brilliance, as opposed to the long marathon of a league. No Coach has won more Champions Leagues than the eyebrow-raising wonder. It would make him the ideal tournament manager.
Whether he feels like he’s ready to take that step is another matter. Ancelotti would like to continue his time at club level, but if the FIGC really wants to stop the current rot from setting, then they must roll out the red carpet and convince Ancelotti.