The morning after the night before brings home some grim reality for Italy, yet despite a credible 1-1 at Wembley Stadium against England, the Azzurri must now face facts that they are a second rate team on football’s international scene.
Ever since Gian Piero Ventura managed the unthinkable and ensured the Azzurri would spend their summer on the beach rather than in Russia, Italy has been in a period of mourning for the national team. Questions have been raised, ideas put forward to rescue Calcio from the mire in which it finds itself, but the all too grim fact is… Italy just aren’t very good right now.
Some may blame the coach, as interim boss Luigi Di Biagio didn’t cover himself in glory following an abject performance against Argentina and a disjointed display against England.
The former Under 21 boss is among a shortlist which includes Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Mancini and Antonio Conte, as well as the likes of Claudio Ranieri and Vincenzo Montella. But the options are becoming increasingly limited, and desperate.
Ancelotti and Conte both apparently want to remain in club management and Ranieri has little support though would jump at the chance of sitting on the Azzurri bench. Mancini wants it and after the apathy which has accompanied Di Biagio’s temporary appointment, his star has dimmed somewhat, outlined by FIGC technical director Alessandro Costacurta’s response to questions about keeping the ex-U21 man.
“If we have the opportunity to get someone better than Di Biagio, and I don’t think there are many, then we will,” Costacurta said, and when reading between the lines, it is hardly a ringing endorsement of the interim boss.
In addition, Di Biagio had one of the most talented U21 teams at his disposal, by his own admission, one of the best in 20 years, yet, even with the likes of Domenico Berardi, Federico Bernardeschi, Andrea Belotti, Alessio Romagnoli, Marco Benassi and Simone Verdi, the best he managed was a trouncing at the hands of a talented Spain team in the semi-final of the U21 Euros in 2017. In addition, the style of football played was wanting to say the least.
Regardless of who comes in, the problems go deeper and sprout in the form of players who aren’t up to the standard of old. Ciro Immobile is a fine striker, and should have scored at least three against England. Pippo Inzaghi or Christian Vieri he is not, and a prime example of the type of player who, not so long ago, would at best be on the fringes of an Azzurri squad. Now he is the No.1 attacker. Let’s not even start on Marco Parolo!
Problems at full-back, midfielders who lack creative nous in the final third, and forwards who never seem to replicate club form for the national team. Calls for an overhaul and revolution were of course loud after the World Cup exit to Sweden. The revolution never came.
What we have seen over the last 10 days is an Italy with A) a group of average-to-good players to which there are no real alternatives B) a small pool of young talent coming through, and C) a coach who is limited in terms of what he can do with the tools given.
So what to do now?
Of course we should wait until May 20 when the full-time coach is appointed. This will give us all an idea of the direction the Azzurri are heading. However, with the top echelon of Italian coaches choosing to stay in club management rather than work with a squad, which can be argued is one of the worst in Azzurri history, the future doesn’t look too bright.
It isn’t all doom and gloom in terms of the playing staff as Gianluigi Donnarumma looks to be a solid and long term heir to namesake Buffon. Romagnoli has come on leaps and bounds this season, plus Napoli pair Lorenzo Insigne and Jorginho have real talent and age on their side, plus being played in their natural position helps. The biggest plus has probably been Federico Chiesa’s inclusion.
A supremely talented young forward, who, when he entered the field against England, changed the Azzurri attack. They finally looked dangerous, no doubt due to the Fiorentina man’s desire to get hold of the ball and make something happen, eventually winning the penalty. This was in stark contrast to the monotony and misfiring nature Italy had shown previously and such was the level reached, Italy did break an all-time record of 374 minutes without scoring.
Chiesa should be in the Azzurri starting XI from now on and the next coach should look to build an attack round him and Insigne.
Italy have ended the first half in three of their last four games with no shots on target. Immobile has one goal in his last 11 games. Although he is Italy’s most talented player, Insigne has only bagged four goals in 23 caps. Chiesa could be the man to add some spark to a clearly failing Azzurri attack and take some of that creative burden from the Napoli man.
There is a good base of talent available, and if moulded correctly, the Azzurri should be able to return to the top echelons of international football… But right now, that is looking like a big IF.