Last week, Giampiero Ventura announced his first ever Italy squad for the friendly encounter with France (in Bari) and the 2018 World Cup qualifier against Israel (away). His picks for the attack can be described as far from perfect, writes Vincent Van Genechten.
Nobody expected the new Azzurri boss to revolutionize his squad after Italy enjoyed a pretty successful campaign at Euro 2016 this summer. Antonio Conte showed the 3-5-2 can work in a magical way with the current players available, and Ventura is no stranger of that particular line-up.
Still, his offensive selections left a lot to be desired, leaving out a number of young and talented Italians and going for a number of veteran forwards. Safety first instead of quality and youth first seems the way to go for Ventura, at least at the start of his Azzurri spell.
Is the 68-year-old Conte 2.0? Not exactly. To his credit, he did select two young guns in attack. The most exciting one is Andrea Belotti. Ventura knows the 22-year-old very well, coaching him at Torino. Belotti has been on fire to start the Serie A season, scoring four goals in two games and even missing two penalty kicks. The Granata striker looks set for a breakout campaign and deserves the call-up, looking like Italy’s most promising striker heading towards the World Cup.
While Belotti isn’t the most gifted striker, he looks to be the most prolific one. Meanwhile, Manolo Gabbiadini is very gifted. Still just 24, the Napoli gunner gets a new chance to prove his talents in an Azzurri shirt. The word is still out on Gabbiadini, who’s failed to live up to the expectations at Napoli, but has shown capable of scoring goals in limited playing time. Can he carry an offence? No. But he’s a young striker that can be useful for Italy in the long run.
But behind Belotti and Gabbiadini, things get tricky. Ciro Immobile was killer at Pescara and Torino, but has been nowhere near his best form since. At Lazio, he could be prolific again, but Immobile seems just a decent striker and nothing more. He’s given Ventura zero reasons to pick him, but still the Italy boss did for a reason that I can’t understand.
There’s also Leonardo Pavelotti, who was very good last year and has been on form for Genoa again this season. Does he deserve a shot? Yes. He’s proven to be able to carry the scoring load for a decent team in Serie A. But is he really the guy that can hit the big goal in big games? Asking the question is already answering it, in my opinion.
And then there’s that Conte duo: Eder and Graziano Pelle. While both players proved to be crucial in Italy’s success this summer, they should have no role in Ventura’s plans for this squad. Credit to Pelle, because he was superb in France. He shouldered the offensive load and proved his value as a target striker. But he’s playing in the lowly Chinese Super League, is on the very wrong side of 30, and is very limited skills-wise. His Azzurri story should have ended in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.
The same is true for Eder. Just ask Internazionale fans how they feel about the man that joined the Nerazzurri in January from Sampdoria. Since, the 29-year-old has scored once for Inter and once for Italy. Like Immobile, Eder has zero credentials to be in this squad, especially if you look at the possible alternatives in his position.
Ventura’s first squad selection screams 3-5-2. The Italy boss all but confirmed this in his presser, saying: “El Shaarawy went to Euro 2016, but there was no role in the 3-5-2 for him. The same holds true for Berardi. As long as the formation is this, it will be difficult for wide attackers to find a place in the team. I wanted to call up all of the Euro 2016 group.”
I feel that last sentence in particular made things very bad, as it trumped the fans’ hope of a much needed Azzurri change. When Ventura was appointed, expectations rose about talented players like Stephan El Shaarawy, Domenico Berardi, Lorenzo Insigne, Nicola Sansone, Giacomo Bonaventura, Franco Vazquez, and Riccardo Sapponara finally getting a proper chance to shine. Some even getting their first chance overall.
However, with some exceptions like Belotti, the opposite has become reality. Ventura will continue to play veterans in a 3-5-2 formation. With the World Cup just two years away, the Azzurri coach can’t waste any game playing the way Italy used to play. Italian football is at a crossroads and it’s crucial Ventura guides the Azzurri in the right direction. However, his first squad selection has decreased hope of a new dawn. May the force… You know the line.