Embarrassed, deflated, beaten, Juventus were shambolic when a certain Antonio Conte came to town. Having finished in seventh place for two seasons in a row, the Old Lady of Turin had lost her glow, the absolute right to dominate and intimidate. Conte may have once been her Captain, a heroic player who fought for every win, but what was the 4-2-4 man going to bring to a side that needed so much bravery and skill to succeed?
Whether it be his winning mentality, his tactical intelligence or the courage to adapt to the circumstances, Conte transformed a sleeping giant into a footballing force yet again. He experimented and tweaked his style until he settled for a 3-5-2 shape, one that masked the deficiencies within the side, highlighted the strengths and provided the balance required to succeed.
Tactical stubbornness can kill a blossoming Coach and, like the greats before him, Conte adapted his ideas to suit the men he had. His beloved 4-2-4 was thrown by the wayside, the very formation he studied from the man who achieved such success with it in Pisa. That man was Giampiero Ventura.
Antonio Toma first had the idea of resurrecting the 4-2-4 shape when he was handed the reins at Pisa. Direct and fast paced, the shape provided goals and entertainment. The problem was that while his ideas were sound, his men were incapable of executing them efficiently.
When Ventura arrived at the same club several years later, he had similar ideas but clearer methods. He soon realised that to succeed, he required teamwork, exemplary fitness levels and players willing to sacrifice. His Pisa team achieved the right results and, against all odds, reached the promotion playoffs.
Conte regularly went to visit to study the club and their entertaining style of football under Ventura. Executed to perfection, the 4-2-4 can be mesmeric. The fluency with which the players combine coupled with the brazen desire to always opt for the direct solution enthralled him and helped form the basis of his philosophy.
While Conte utilised the 4-2-4 formation in his career, the players he found at Juve forced him to adapt to find tactical equilibrium. Since the Bianconeri form the backbone of the Italian National team, it seemed logical to remain faithful to the shape for Euro 2016. Now that a new era has begun, Ventura should perhaps look to broaden his horizons.
Blessed with unique talent in the wide areas, Italy boast Lorenzo Insigne, Stephen El Shaarawy and most importantly Domenico Berardi - all of whom are rendered unnecessary in a 3-5-2 formation. Ventura must adapt his tactical ideas should he wish to extol the virtues of his talented youngsters.
Few teams were as compelling to watch as Italy in Euro 2016. They captivated the world with their desire to play as a team, their unity proving key to their success. Unlike Germany, Portugal or even Spain, they didn’t boast superstars or youth. They simply worked together and believed in the win. Such ideals must be carried through to the next generation. Football is a team sport and nothing can be accomplished without a collective effort.
Ventura must work on maintaining that attitude, but he must also allow the side to evolve tactically, in much the same way Massimiliano Allegri managed with Juventus. A 3-5-2 formation worked in masking the mediocrity within the side, but with a new generation of players proving themselves, is it not time to highlight the country’s attacking strengths?