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Ventura’s Azzurri in Dire Situation

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The Gian Piero Ventura tenure has gone from bad to worse. It’s time for a change to save World Cup qualification.

Italy v FYR Macedonia - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

With the 2018 FIFA World Cup fast approaching in June many of us will be looking forward to seeing some of our beloved Romanisti representing Italy. There’s no greater source of pride for a player than to represent his country at a World Cup. It’s something that Daniele De Rossi has already done three times and is looking to do for a fourth. Meanwhile, Roma players Alessandro Florenzi, Lorenzo Pellegrini, and Stephan El Shaarawy will be looking to do so for the first time. However, De Rossi’s last major tournament appearance may have already happened at Euro 2016, while the other three may be delayed until Euro 2020.

We can only hope that we get to see De Rossi play in one more World Cup.
Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

I’m not saying this because they will all be sitting home come June watching the Azzurri on RAI (it’s possible a couple of the younger players might be) but because Italy is starting to face the distinct possibility of the unthinkable: not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Only one man can be blamed for this potential catastrophe; Gian Piero Ventura.

When the FIGC hired Ventura it raised some eyebrows but because of his experience handling younger players at Torino it was thought that he could help the Azzurri transition from the old guard to some of the young talent coming through the ranks. However, Ventura’s tenure has been nothing short of a mess since the beginning. I’ll explore some of the reasons that I believe his tenure needs to end to save Italy’s qualification hopes.

Lack of Pedigree

Italy has one of the best, if not the best, coaching-academies in all of the world and routinely develop coaches that are in demand throughout Europe. There are few coaches that I would consider World Class: Guardiola, Mourinho, Low, and Simeone are on the short list in my opinion. I’d also argue that two Italians make the list; Ancelotti and Conte. Meanwhile, there are a number of other Italian coaches who I would put in the next tier thanks to their success in Italy and abroad. Some of the names I’d throw into the mix are Allegri, Mancini, Ranieri, Spalletti, and perhaps even Sarri.

It was evident during the 2016 Euro just how important a quality coach is. Antonio Conte worked magic with an Italy team that in many people’s opinion was far from the most talented in recent memory. Yet the coaching of Conte milked every last drop of talent out of the players. His leaderhip turned the tournament into a relative success before the Azzurri fell to Germany in penalties in the quarterfinals.

Ventura brings none of the domestic success that coaches that the above mentioned Italian tacticians bring. He also lacks the success abroad that many of those coaches bring to the table. For example, Ranieri at Leicester, Spalletti at Zenit, Ancelotti all over Europe, and Conte at Chelsea. Ventura has never experienced any major success anywhere.

Player Selection

Ventura has begun to work in some of the talented younger players that Italy has to offer these days. However, I’d argue that he hasn’t done it well enough. Sure, players like Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile have begun to find their feet both in Serie A and have carried some of that success onto the international stage. However, I’d argue that they should be seeing even more success in azzurro.

Part of the reason that Italy hasn’t had enough success under Ventura is that he hasn’t called up the right players. Ventura has been stubborn in his player selection when it comes to excluding certain players. The most glaring example is Napoli’s Jorginho. Jorginho has been one of the best midfielders in Italy recently while excelling in Napoli’s attacking system under Maurizio Sarri. However, Ventura refuses to call up the Napoli man who is also eligible to play for Brazil. Ventura says that Jorginho’s position doesn’t exist in his Italy which is something that drives me crazy and I’ll come back to that later.

Jorginho continues to be ignored by Ventura.

One position where Ventura is making all the wrong call ups, especially now that Belotti is hurt, is striker. Immobile is having a great run of form at Lazio and is the undisputed starter at the number 9 position when Italy go lone striker. However, the fallback options are uninspiring. Gabbiadini hasn’t scored much for Southampton and Eder, for as much as I like him, hasn’t played all that much at Inter of late. Meanwhile when Belotti went down injured recently, Ventura opted to call up Chievo man Roberto Inglese rather than two players in great form with plenty of Azzurri experience; Mario Balotelli and Simone Zaza. I understand that Super Mario comes with a reputation but has been in great form at Nice and stayed out of the press. While Zaza who is probably best remembered for his dance-like penalty run-up at the Euros is scoring left and right for Valencia.

Zaza has been in great form for Valencia.
Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Another personnel issue with Ventura is that he keeps starting and using players who hardly play for their club teams. I’ll use two players that I really like as examples; Matteo Darmian and Davide Zappacosta. I really like both and think they have futures on the National Team but when they are barely playing at Man United and Chelsea, respectively; it’s unwise to think that they will all of a sudden be in great form with the Italy. These are just a few of the issues that I have with Ventura’s personnel decisions.

Tactics

Ventura’s tactics have also been severely flawed throughout his tenure. However, I’ll focus on the last two games. In September, Ventura tried to play an attacking game against a superior opponent. I understand Italy needed to win to have any chance to top their qualifying group but this approach was a complete and utter disaster. Italy were completely outclassed and overrun in the midfield which Spain dominated thanks to Ventura’s approach. When playing a team like Spain in Madrid a more pragmatic approach wouldn’t give Italy a greater chance of slowing down the Spaniards and perhaps allowed them at least a chance of stealing the three points. Instead Italy were embarrassed. A far cry from their dominant win over Spain at the Euros under Conte.

Meanwhile, yesterday, in a game that Italy should’ve exerted their offensive will against a far inferior team in Macedonia, they didn’t. A team like Italy should never have issues with a team like Macedonia, yet under Ventura they have twice. They almost lost in Macedonia the first time they played and drew in Torino yesterday. Italy should pour it on offensively and score at least a few goals even with key players like Belotti, De Rossi and Verratti out injured. The tactics have just been all wrong.

Going along with the tactics issues is the fact that Ventura seems unwilling to adapt his tactics to the talent at his disposal. For example, he says he is unwilling to call up Jorginho because he doesn’t have a position in his Italy. However, when your two main central midfielders are out injured (DDR and Verratti) perhaps the tactics need to change so that a player who has been great in Serie A (Jorginho) can be called into the team and run the midfield. I understand that coaches have their tactical philosophies. Other Italy coaches (i.e. Marcello Lippi) have been set in their ways tactically as well, but they have had merits to fall back on. Ventura’s tactics haven’t produced great results with Italy and he’s never won a major trophy, yet he continues to be stubborn. Could things have gone any worse for Italy yesterday if Jorginho were running the midfield with a more methodical approach? I think not.

Mentality

Another issue that I have with Ventura is the mentality that the team exhibits game in and game out. They just don’t seem to have that killer instinct or confidence that they are better than most of the teams that they face. It is such a change from what we saw under Antonio Conte. Conte is a fiery manager, and his fire seemed to also burn within his players. Italy wasn’t the most talented team under Conte either. In fact I would say they probably have more talent now. However, Conte’s players seemed willing to run through brick walls for him.

Italy lack the fire they had under Conte.
Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

I don’t see that same fire and desire under Ventura. In fact, Football Italia reported that this morning the team had a players only meeting to discuss their current situation prior to training. It makes me wonder what was said about Ventura as the team tries to find itself and avoid becoming remembered as one of the most disappointing Italy teams ever by not qualifying for Russia 2018. It looks like Ventura may have lost his dressing room. Could the players be looking for a change?

The Verdict

At this point in a qualification cycle it’s rare to see a national team opt for a new coach. This is especially true of a team like Italy because they are usually gearing up for the upcoming tournament rather than fretting about qualifying. However, it’s not unprecedented. Croatia fired their coach this morning as they have also sorely underachieved. I don’t normally call for a coach’s head.

Could Ancelotti be the answer? I think so.
Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

However, with a world class coach like Ancelotti on the market it would be wise of the FIGC to make him an offer. Hiring a proven winner like Ancelotti may be the only way that Italy find their way through the qualification playoff next month and earn their way to Russia. It may be our only hope of seeing our beloved captain Daniele De Rossi don the Italy shirt in a major tournament one last time.

Poll

Would you fire Ventura?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    Yes
    (230 votes)
  • 40%
    Yes, but only if Ancelotti is willing to take the job.
    (169 votes)
  • 1%
    No, he can still make things work.
    (6 votes)
  • 3%
    No, let the captain go down with the ship.
    (14 votes)
419 votes total Vote Now