It’s been a little over a year since Italy travelled to the Bernabeu to take on Spain in a crucial World Cup qualifier.
The Azzurri went into the match knowing that their inferior goal difference meant they needed a win, following the 1-1 draw at Juventus Stadium. In one dugout stood Giampiero Ventura, a wise old head brought to usher in the new Italy era. In the other was Julen Lopetegui, an up-and-comer who had advanced through the ranks to finally be given the top job.
We’re now 14 months removed from that match, and the careers of both men lie in tatters. Ventura deployed a bizarre 4-2-4 shape that night, and his team never recovered from the 3-0 loss. Sweden dealt the death blow - a year ago today - but the bleeding started that night in Spain.
Lopetegui, meanwhile, was on top of the world after qualifying with ease. La Roja were among the favourites for this summer’s tournament in Russia, but the Coach was sacked on the eve of the tournament after secretly striking a deal with Real Madrid. Last month he was given the bullet by Florentino Perez too.
It’s easy to have a certain degree of sympathy for a man losing the two biggest jobs of his career in the space of a few months, but it’s here the similarities with Ventura end.
It’s easy to forget that there was plenty of goodwill toward the Tuscan when he was given the Azzurri job. His Torino side thrilled in Europe, and his tales of chatting up women while working at a swimming pool came down on the right side of the endearing/creepy line.
When his Italy failed to qualify for Russia though, his bridges were burned. Failing to reach the World for the first time since 1958 was bad enough - FIGC President Carlo Tavecchio called it “the apocalypse”. What really grated though was the fact Ventura refused to resign, holding out for a pay-off in the wake of what was a national disgrace.
A Coach holding out for the money he has been promised may be understandable at club level, but when it came to the Nazionale many viewed it as something tantamount to treachery. In the end he received his full outstanding salary.
Many assumed Ventura would quietly retire, perhaps to a desert island with a volleyball for company - well, no-one would let him near a football again. Instead though the veteran spoke of his hunger to return to coaching.
Eventually it was Chievo who gave him that chance, and despite his pariah status there was an opportunity. Who doesn’t love a good comeback story?
Instead just four games into his tenure, with the Flying Donkeys having finally reached zero points after a draw with Bologna, he threw in the towel. There would be few tears for Ventura, but fans of calcio were entitled to wonder where this principled stand had been 12 months prior.
The Chievo board initially tried to convince the 70-year-old to stay, but club legend Sergio Pellissier made it quite clear that wasn’t an option.
“A start of the season to be forgotten and to top it all off, the resignation of a Coach who, as soon as he got here, had already wanted out,” the striker summarised on Instagram.
“In 22 seasons as a professional I thought I’d seen everything, but I’m forced to admit that there’s always something new… Don’t be like Ventura. You win and lose together. That’s how it must be in a team. Don’t give up until it’s over.”
Chievo were a sinking ship long before Ventura got there, but Pellissier seemed to be casting him as a rat nonetheless. The merry-go-round nature of the job may see Ventura offered another shot at redemption, but it’s surely now time for him to walk quietly into the sunset.
His reputation is utterly destroyed, his public image is somewhere below that of Francesco Schettino and the payout from the FIGC should set him up nicely for retirement.
Just go, Ventura, and never darken a dugout again.
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