After missing out on the World Cup for the first time in half a century, it’s clear that Italian football is in dire need of a shake-up from top to bottom. But what exactly is needed for calcio to be restored to the upper echelons of the beautiful game once again? Join our senior writer and editor Gregory Caltabanis as he gives us his take.
November 13, 2017 will always be remembered as the day Italian football hit rock bottom and was forced to stop relying on its past glories. After failing to overturn a one-nil first leg deficit at the San Siro, Italy, for the first time since 1958, failed to qualify for the World Cup. While Sweden deserve credit for their outstanding defensive performances over two legs, don’t let anyone fool you: This defeat is the worst loss in calcio history, with no exceptions. To avoid this disaster from occurring once more, certain measures need to be introduced by the FIGC. With friendlies scheduled for March, gli Azzurri won’t have much time to pick up the pieces.
First thing’s first, it’s about time Italian football follows Spain’s lead and introduces the concept of B teams in Serie B. In Spain, reserve teams play in the Segunda División where their young players can gain invaluable experience and progress their games in challenging settings. We saw the benefits of this system throughout Spain’s era of dominance from 2008 to 2014 and still see countless talents blooded into their senior team with relative ease today.
In Italy, by contrast, Serie B is marred by financially-stricken outfits doing the bare minimum to survive another day. Young Azzurrini still use Italy’s second division as a platform to express themselves early in their career, however, more often than not we still see a number of has-been journeymen take crucial minutes away from them. With the co-ownership system no longer in place, Serie B clubs frankly have no incentive to progress the careers of the young players they receive on loan. As a result, the FIGC need to introduce the B team system which would further incentivize the use of the peninsula’s younger players. The primavera system that’s currently in place in Italy does very little to prepare talents for the rigours of top flight and international football and leads to a culture shock when these players finally make the step up.
Clamouring for reform of the primavera system is nice and all, but the reality is, that nothing will truly change for as long as Carlo Tavecchio and his cronies are still running Italian football. Simply put, a complete overhaul is needed and a progressive candidate needs to be elected as the head of the FIGC. If the last elections are anything to go by, however, don’t expect anything to change anytime soon. In the last elections, every Serie A team bar Juventus and Roma, voted for Tavecchio and his archaic ways instead of Demetrio Albertini’s progressive platform. In many ways, those who voted for Tavecchio are just as liable for yesterday’s disaster as Tavecchio himself.
Once the overhaul of the FIGC is complete, and that’s a big if in itself, the new-look federation then needs to shift their attention on hiring the perfect manager. Gian Piero Ventura was clearly never the right man for the job and he will likely go down as Italy’s worst ever tactician. In the post-Ventura era, Italy need a manager to instil an identity all the way from the youth ranks to the senior team. That way, every branch of the Azzurri strive to a common goal and as a result, will be able to make the step up to the senior team knowing what is expected from them.
While no particular name comes to mind right now for this position, think Arsène Wenger. The Arsenal tactician has hinted that he will soon leave domestic football for the international scene and has overseen both the youth system and senior setup for the Gunners with great success. Whether you like him or not, a large part of Arsenal’s identity as a club today could be attributed to Wenger’s work. Even if it is unlikely that Italy hires him, that’s not the point I’m trying to make here. Italy needs someone that embodies the Frenchman’s ideals towards youth and needs someone that will oversee their entire program with a meticulous attention to detail. Not just a master of X’s and O’s.
Last, but certainly not least, Italian media and fans alike need to stop overhyping any talent who has a good run of games. These reactionary takes lead to unrealistic expectations and eventually burden young players unnecessarily. Just look at Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile. After both tearing up the Serie A over the past two seasons, the two number nines were dubbed as Italy’s saving grace in the final third. In the all-crucial two legged affair against Sweden, however, both went missing in action and looked a shade of their former selves.
Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re both very good players and deserve to compete for a spot in the side, but to label them as world class after a good season or two is frankly ludicrous. We have to accept the fact that some of these players are simply not good enough and avoid getting sucked in by the hype machine. By quickly rewarding in-form talents with undisputed spots in the national team, like we have done so often in recent times, these players get too comfortable and take the jersey for granted. The Italian national team will be stronger once prospective Azzurri players have to earn their spot the hard way again.
When Tavecchio meets with the FIGC tomorrow in Rome for the post-mortem meeting, I really hope it results in his resignation. His incompetence and his downright ancient methods need eradicating if Italy are to become world champions again. By removing him, it will give way for a new wave in Italian football to take over, hopefully a more progressive and all-encompassing one across all levels as I have outlined. Given the FIGC’s recently horrendous track record, I’m not holding my breath and unfortunately you shouldn’t either. Let’s face it, Italy’s glory days are well and truly gone without any light at the end of this grim, grim tunnel.