Thursday October 11 2018
U20s reflect Italy issues

Italy's Under-20 side lost 2-1 to England in a friendly that represented Italian football's overall struggles for identity and style, writes Richard Hall.

Italy’s Under-20 side took on their England counterparts in a rematch of the World Cup semi-final in 2017, a game the English won 3-1. Mill Farm, home of AFC Fylde, a team in England’s fifth tier, hosted the game and the facilities impressed the visitors. Many of the team claimed that this was a stadium that would stand proud in Serie B. Before the game, Coach Paolo Nicolato, who was charge of the Azzurrini at the UEFA U-19s European Championship, made it clear that he wanted his team to use this match as a stepping stone towards the World Cup that takes place in Poland next year.

The Azzurrini came into the game on the back of a 3-0 win against Poland in their last outing in Lodz. On that day, Moise Kean stole the show, netting a brace with Gianluca Scamacca also scoring, although only the latter was available for selection with the Juventus man named in the Under-21s against Belgium. Nicolato still had a wide range of talent to choose from, as Inter’s on-loan striker Andrea Pinamonti and Fiorentina’s Riccardo Sottil gave the team a strike force that promised much. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that goalkeeper Alessandro Plizzari of Milan was on the bench, whilst Michele Cerofolini (the Fiorentina custodian on loan at Cosenza) started. The 19-year-old departed for more game time after the arrival of Alban Lafont, but is highly rated in Florence.

Italy started the game in timid fashion, they allowed a pacey England side to have a lot of the early possession, moving between a 4-4-2 and a 4-5-1. There was little pressing and too many misplaced passes, especially from Davide Frattesi and Enrico Brignola.

Cerofolini justified his inclusion by producing a superlative tip onto the cross bar early on and he could do nothing about England’s opener from Edward Nketiah. It was the pace of Nketiah and Joe Willock that highlighted a weakness in Nicolato’s team, as from the start it was evident that they couldn’t handle the tempo. They sat deep and the continued pressure eventually saw the Azzurrini go 2-0 down, as Willock converted a penalty that Cerofolini nearly kept out. By half time the away side had offered nothing other than a shot that was blazed over by captain Filippo Melegoni.

Nicolato needed to change something. The team had showed in Lodz that they could be expansive, but this was simply an example of giving an opponent too much respect. It had been the same story against the Czech Republic and Switzerland in March, although in the latter game they did put up a fight. The characteristics of the U-20s have mirrored the feelings of Italy as a nation when observing their football. They are lacking an identity and in a titanic struggle with themselves about whether to chance a new way of playing, or trying to remaster the old.

Nicolato himself seems to be insistent on the latter (well he is an ex-Chievo Coach), playing in a style that allows the opposition to come to them, almost challenging them to beat his defence. The problem is, whilst there are some talented defenders, Manchester United’s Luca Ercolani and Enrico Del Prato are just two, they do not have the confidence as a unit to absorb pressure.

The second half did see Italy start to play with more purpose and the braver they were, the better they became. Technically the away side were equals to the English players and even with the minor changes with additions of Matteo Gabbia and Gianluca Scamacca, they looked like a much more able opponent despite not threatening enough.

Their efforts paid off when Davide Frattesi headed home from a well-worked move. Serie A has changed much in the past decade and teams like Roma, Napoli and Fiorentina to name a few have engaged in fast-flowing football that has also seen them improve in European competition. When the Azzurrini decided to try and match the England team for intensity, it paid off, as they were also more organised at the back due to less pressure being applied.

Italy might be having a crisis of confidence at all levels about what their identity really is. The Under-20s confirm there is talent, there is technical ability and they can play at a high tempo. England are certainly an excellent team at this level and in the second half, Italy matched them. They just need to remember that Italy haven’t always been the most stylish in competition, but they have always gone far. This isn’t an issue of talent, it is simply one of application.

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Have your say...
Argentina are hardly in the greatest form.
Not interested in 60, 40, 50m populations. I'll go to the internet for information like that.
I look at the common sense side of things. If the biggest clubs in italy who play on the big stage field full teams of average foreigner players then Italy suffers. I'm not sayimg teams should field 8 italians (simply not possible) but if the big boys grow 5 young italians eaxh it's already a better picture. But thats not happening.
on the 15th October, 2018 at 5:27pm
Whining about foreigners is a lame excuse. The problem is weak, corrupt Italian leadership:

Italy population = 60M
Argentina population = 44M (65% Italian ancestry)

Argentina exports more pro footballers than any country *and* has a competitive domestic league of mostly Argentine players.

How may Italians start for top 3 or 4 teams in Europe's best leagues (not many)? Now count the Argentines. The latter include many of the world's very best players. Italy can do the same IF they work smart.
on the 14th October, 2018 at 6:33pm
Portuguese league is super competitive right? It is fans like you that will stop us ever developing.
on the 13th October, 2018 at 7:04pm
There seems to be a cultural problem with Italy's younger players. Many of them them appear too fragile mentally: they seem to crack at the first sign of trouble. The current run is alarming. Some don't appear capable of making the most of their talents, whether this is due to a lack of confidence, hunger, or that they have been over paid/pampered, who knows? What would be terrible is if some view playing for their country as a chore, and they can not wait to get back to the club game.
on the 13th October, 2018 at 1:42pm
I wouldn't generalize when it comes to foreign players. Some are great, some are good, and some are average. The truth is that we are no longer producing even international class players. England are producing better players & they have even more foreign players in their league. As for the average foreign players, we should be blaming the clubs and their directors for signing them, when they could be putting the money to better use by investing in their academies.
on the 13th October, 2018 at 1:34pm
Of the big teams in Italy,only Milan have most Italians and they are not good enough.The rest including Juve have one Italian.This leaves the Azzurri with the need to find Italians at other teams that lack exeprience and play against experienced national teams giving them always the underdog tag.As long as club owners are after money and selling shirts the Azzurri will should not be on buying players but academies and proper grassroots programs!
on the 13th October, 2018 at 11:36am
As for italy they will learn nothing from england apart from how to run quickly along the wings. Italy has and had has a style which seems lost on modern players in which technique and passing was key to the success not to mention the way Italians saw the game being players amongst most intelligent football minds in the world. That needs to be brought back but not that pace and strength isn't important but a combination of the two styles is for me the answer for italy problems.
on the 13th October, 2018 at 11:12am
again with blaming foreign players in terms of players squads and starting 11 Italy falls in line with the majority of European leagues par England in which has the lowest amount of representation with only 32% of the premier league players being english in comparison to serie a 43% italian players.

the is has and always will be talented youngsters being signed up by massive clubs and never used rather than being allowed to play regular football for their local team and building their careers.
on the 13th October, 2018 at 11:06am
Italian youth are average, Milan has the most Italian of the big 3 and you can see how bad they are. Do you think any Serie A club owners would like 9+2 or 8+3 rule where only 3 foreigners can play in a team, I wonder how many Italian owners would love that? I guarantee NONE! The most skilled Italian player plays for Juve.
on the 12th October, 2018 at 10:54pm
We've been abysmal since 2010 (Euro 2012 was an anomaly). When Germany had their mini dip between 1998-2000, they took immediate action and within 2 years they were reaching finals and semi-finals on a regular basis. The lack of activity and decisive action in Italian football with regards to infrastructure, stadia, academies - reminds me of the Ents from The Lord of the Rings. It makes me despair. Almost all of us can see this from the outside looking in. Bonucci is right, nothing has changed.
on the 12th October, 2018 at 9:48pm
What would appointing a president do? There are institutional problems that are deeply embedded... it will take a team of progressive, forward thinking people to modernize the sport in italy..

I live in Canada and a group of teens played a tournament there and we beat Italian teams (3-0 in one of the games...). Italian players aren't getting chances to play on Serie A teams not because the foreigners are cheaper but b/c the Italian players are inferior.

They are not being taught to play.
on the 12th October, 2018 at 7:22pm
this is a disgrace italian football witnessing its darkest age. humiliating really and very strange figc has’ nt appointed a president so far! total shame. what in the world has had happened to italian football? fans are fed up and i am very sad and frustrated. i must say that it’s because the interest to look after young talents is very low,
on the 12th October, 2018 at 3:55pm
There are rules needed to be implemented imo :

01. The number of player in each team should be 25-26 players at the most.
02. 45% of them should be local players
03. 10% of them should be picked from the youth team

When you have a team with only one or two local players in the starting line-up or even none at all then you can forget the national team to make decent results.
on the 12th October, 2018 at 3:31pm
@Anono poor italians loosing their place because of non-italian players, it must be hard for Portugal seeing how all of their players play in Portuguese league. Dude, please if they are so bright other clubs would pick them and they'd become starters, they don't have to play in Italy to get experience.
on the 12th October, 2018 at 1:45pm
@ Anono: Couldn't agree more. It seems the heads are still firmly in the sands when it comes to trying to tackle the amount of non-Italians playing in Serie A. Until this is properly addressed and new steps are put in place to help increase the number, we can forget about being up there with the best.
Personally, i think it will takes decades to reach similar levels of the past.
on the 12th October, 2018 at 12:51pm
It is not a crisis of confidence it is a crisis of NO players of true quality. What is needed seems to be over looked every single time an Italian team loses at any age group.... the lack of italian youth in Serie A. How is this not being understood. If all the top teams feild aficans and south americans how is an italian youngster going to get into a team.
Prime example- Andre silva, 'phenomenal' force billed as the next Ronaldo; did nothing for Milan apart from take a place from n Italain.
on the 12th October, 2018 at 8:39am
I was just want to express my frustration that Di Biagio still has a job at U21. Am I missing something about this guy?
on the 12th October, 2018 at 6:13am

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