So far, the best thing to come out of the last two qualifiers for Italy was the debut of their new kits, meaning much needs to be changed by Gian Piero Ventura.
Calling up of certain figures who have been ostracised from the National Team is a must to revive this campaign including one certain charismatic individual who has rediscovered his best form of late in Ligue 1, Mario Balotelli.
It’s the 77th minute and Macedonia substitute Aleksandar Traikovski has just netted the equaliser, in a game that has more significance for the Azzurri than it does for their counterparts. The game ends 1-1 and both shock and disappointment ooze from a Nazionale that knows failure to win could almost certainly spell the end of attaining a World Cup play-off spot for Russia 2018. The plane ticket there is as crucial to the pride of the nation as any, with qualification a must.
Macedonia ranked 103rd by FIFA stunned Italy and coach Ventura and celebrated quite rightly. The 3-4-3 formation was used and, once again, it showed that the players found it difficult to implement the game plan effectively.
Fast forward to the final qualifying game of this World Cup campaign and Italy face Albania who will look to frustrate their opponents attempt to win and ensure at least a seeded position for the playoffs. Italy, once again, made it more difficult than was needed and Ventura inhibited his side by utilising the same formation in which Spain utter ripped the team apart in. Historically, Italy ends up making games like these hard on themselves but usually end up with the win. However, not quite as shambolic as this laboured performance ended up being.
The 4-2-4 formation was implemented and, once again, Italy looked disjointed, confused and lacked cohesion to execute the coaches game plan. Ventura failed his squad and players again.
Italy would eventually win the game 1-0 but it seemed less than deserved and Ventura suffered more criticism from the media and public. Both pillars of Italian society pointed out what everyone can see bar Ventura: the formation simply does not work. Further, the players picked to replace key injured individuals simply could not perform to the standard needed. Yet, there were players left at home that certainly could; names such as Napoli’s Jorginho who the coach cannot fully articulate why he has not been recalled to the squad. His ability to dictate the game is unprecedented and fans are fearful he will eventually turn out for Brazil. Other names called up such as Eder and Manolo Gabbiadini have been out of form whereas players like Valencia’s Simone Zaza, who has hit six La Liga goals so far, has been ignored tot he shock of many.
This piece is not on the aforementioned players who rightly deserve to return to the Nazionale. One individual who once lead Italy to a brilliant win over Germany at Euro 2012 and lead the team to the final against Spain, is nowhere to be seen. Shockingly this same player, who previous to his current spell in France had struggled at Liverpool and AC Milan has been back to his brilliant, mercurial best.
Mario Balotelli is now less about causing controversy, and more focused on what he should have been his entire career; scoring goals and being a leader. The talented striker is still there, and albeit, at time, inconsistent forward of the past is seemingly gone. In his first season at Nice, Balotelli lead the team to 3rd place and a Champions League Qualifier spot. Notching 15 goals in 23 appearances, and playing 1739 minutes of gameplay is quite impressive after two seasons of poor output. Essentially, he scored 24% of the team’s goals overall in addition to the 5 he scored in cup competitions.
Despite receiving two red cards and six yellows overall, Balotelli’s overall discipline had improved over previous seasons – both off and on the field. Many expected a recall yet none was forthcoming. No matter, it may be that Ventura needed to see more consistency from the Nice front man.
In June, Ventura stated he was open to recalling Balotelli back into the national fold. After Italy’s confidence-shaking loss to Spain, the Coach seemingly slammed the door shut on a player who could’ve made a difference with no real reasoning for it stating in an interview:
“It is not his talent that is questioned. It is a discussion of having a motive other than scoring a goal or not. All the coaches who had him had problems with him. Balotelli cannot be just any other player. There are players who cannot be extras, they must be actors. This is his case. The day when he will do it, the door will be wide open for him. He knows perfectly well what he has to do. We talked about it together.”
Once again, Ventura’s inability to articulate exactly why left many people scratching their heads. The almost politician-like responses have started to wear the publics patience thin as his recent call -ups baffled all. After the recent performances, Balotelli surely should be in line to help the national team. Not only for his ability to score goals (which is sorely needed) but his apt capability at picking up the ball in midfield and running at opposing defenders causing mayhem.
Balotelli can create as much as he can score and, as recent performances this season indicate, he can retain his cool. In five games for Nice, he’s notched five goals accounting for 42% of the team’s goals. He is a talisman and the type of leader the Azzurri need up front, as despite Immobile being in the form of his career, he simply lacks the ability to lead from the front in the same manner Balotelli can.
Balotelli can be fiery, incandescent, intense but conversely can be playful, charismatic and a joy to watch all bundled into one. It is time Ventura swallowed his pride and remember who he is coaching. This is not Torino, or a small to mid-table club where his antics would be brushed aside. He is coaching four-time world champions and a national team that prides itself on entering major competitions, with any lack of qualifying spelling disaster akin to Holland’s current dilemma.
Ventura must drop the formations that clearly are not successful, and call up the players who rightly deserve to represent Italy not based on preference or past indiscretions, but on players whose form can carry the team to success.
Your call, Mister Ventura.