“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone?” Joni Mitchell famously sang, words which may have some resonance to Italy fans at the moment. Antonio Conte’s spell as CT saw the now-Chelsea boss criticised for his selection policy, with many decrying his Euro 2016 pick as the worst Azzurri squad ever sent to a major tournament.
It had already been announced that Conte would be leaving the national team after the European Championships, and many declared that they’d be happy to see the back of him. Fast forward a month and the former Juventus Coach was being lauded, his side having fought their way to the Quarter-Final before being eliminated by Germany on penalties. Suddenly there was far more trepidation surrounding his replacement, Giampiero Ventura.
Arriving from Torino, the 68-year-old’s CV is solid, but hardly spectacular. Prior to being appointed by the Granata, Venturahad been on the bench at Messina, Verona, Pisa and Bari. He has never taken a team into the Champions League. Marcello Lippi and Giovanni Trapattoni may have been veterans when they took the Azzurri job, but those men had Scudetti and European trophies to point to. Indeed, the FIGC initially intended to have Lippi as an advisor to Ventura, before being blocked by a rule over agent influence.
So, a veteran promoted above his station? Not quite. Ventura’s work at Torino was impressive, taking them from Serie B to the Europa League Last 16, but it’s perhaps his record with youth which attracted the FIGC. Conte was often criticised for ignoring the likes of Alessio Romagnoli, Domenico Berardi and Gianluigi Donnarumma in favour of players like Davide Astori, Emanuele Giaccherini and Federico Marchetti. By contrast, Ventura was happy to blood youngsters at Toro, overseeing the development of Matteo Darmian, Marco Benassi and Angelo Ogbonna to name just three.
While the Coach may not include a high number of youngsters in his first squad, expect him to include some fresher faces as the qualification campaign for Russia 2018 progresses. Having already praised the abundance of wingers in Serie A, it’s likely Federico Bernardeschi and Berardi will be given the chance to show what they can do.
At the other end of the pitch, Ventura is looking to convince 35-year-old Andrea Barzagli to reconsider his retirement from international duty, but his Juventus teammate Daniele Rugani and Milan’s Romagnoli should be slowly introduced as deputies for Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.
In terms of formation too, Ventura has signalled a departure from Conte’s approach. While Torino often played with the 3-5-2, the new CT has pointed out that this “penalises” the wide players. The new man may start with Conte’s system - Juventus’ BBC defence could be asked to nullify Spain once again in October - but expect him to adapt to a 4-3-3 further down the road to Russia, especially as this tactic is becoming increasingly popular among Serie A clubs.
Being placed in a group with Spain and Albania means a good start is essential, so it makes sense that Ventura would look for continuity in his first squad. However, fans of La Nazionale can be reasonably confident that the side at the end of the campaign will be very different from the one which begins it, with artistry gradually replacing industry.
He may not immediately revolutionise Italy, but eventually Ventura can be expected to rip up the parking lot which Antonio Conte was accused of paving.