The end has come to pass for many among the Italian national football team. The Uomini Veri chapter of the Azzurri has come to a close.
It’s a defeat that will define a generation, and for another, send them to into the abyss. The current crop of 22-year old players will be at least 27 before they can partake in their first World Cup. A devastating blow to the Rugani’s, Chiesa’s, Bernardeschi’s, et al.
For months, FIGC President Carlo Tavecchio and head coach Gian Piero Ventura talked about this coming ‘apocalypse’ if Italy were not to make the World Cup. It’s happened, it’s here, and as I write this, neither one of them have resigned.
Reports suggest Ventura doesn’t want to resign and is waiting to be fired because of a clause in his contract. He’s waiting for the payday as Italian football sits in ruins. This is the man who was chosen to guide one of the world’s most illustrious and decorated sides. This is the guy who told De Rossi to warm up last night over Insigne. This is the guy who played a 4-2-4 against Spain.
It was nothing short of a gamble by the Italian FA to hire Ventura, the man who’s greatest achievement is a Serie C trophy from decades ago. He promised to revolutionize the Azzurri, bring in youth and give them chances. Instead, this will be his legacy.
But the problem is much deeper than coaches or FA presidents.
The problem is club presidents don’t want to sign Italian players because they aren’t as marketable as foreigners.
The problem is the league is ran by many old enough to be in a retirement home.
The problem is the other footballing powerhouses have all adapted to the modern game, whilst Italians still play the slow, sluggish, idea-less style of football popular in the 90s.
The problem is the league is so one-dimensional and there’s hardly any competition for spots.
The problem is Italians make up less than 25% of starters for the top clubs in Serie A.
The problem is only TWO of the players from the U-20 side that went to the World Cup this past June are now starters.
The problem is teams like Juventus, Napoli, Fiorentina, Roma and Inter have a combined 5 local homegrown players on the roster.
We haven’t even scratched the surface yet. But as you can see, yesterday’s failed last stand isn’t just on Ventura. It’s not as if he was managing a team full of Maldini’s, Pirlo’s, Del Piero’s and Totti’s. Italy hasn’t produced a world-class striker since the 1990s, Mario Balotelli was the closest to the old days, but for more reason than one, he’s been frozen out by the last two regimes.
Considering the fact that over 75% of starters for the top five teams in Serie A are foreigners, is it really a surprise that the Italian player pool is slim? Also, spare the argument about the competition, it isn’t as if Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are playing in Italy. If Serie A clubs were dominating Europe like in the 90s and early 2000s, that would be a valid point.
Off the record, I’ve spoken with agents who’ve told me certain club presidents prefer foreign players for marketing, transfer reasons. It’s a business, and there’s no fault on a club looking out for its own interests. But someone, somewhere has to take responsibility and begin the process again of cultivating Italian talent. If Iceland, a country with a population over 170 times smaller than Italy can put together a great team, then I’m certain the latter can as well.
For Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Gianluigi Buffon, it’s the end of an era of excellence and class. It’s a certainty the list of departures from the national setup will grow, and rightfully so. It’s time to rebuild the Azzurri and Italian football, but it’s an incredibly long road ahead.