Italy needs a youth overhaul after missing World Cup
NATIONAL PROGRAM EXPECTED TO CLEAN HOUSE, BUT WHO WILL STEP IN TO GUIDE NEXT GENERATION?
Out with the old guard and in with the new. Italy’s national soccer team needs a serious injection of youth to recover from its failure to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades.
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, defender Andrea Barzagli and midfielder Daniele De Rossi — the three holdovers from the squad that won the country’s fourth World Cup in 2006 — announced they were retiring from the national team following a 1-0 aggregate loss to Sweden in a playoff.
Veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini was also considering retirement.
“We all need to take a step back to reset the movement,” Chiellini said. “It’s the lowest point in modern times for Italian soccer. We need to take advantage of this moment to redesign a new squad.”
Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura is sure to go, and there are also calls for soccer federation president Carlo Tavecchio to step down.
So who’s left for the Azzurri?
The easiest answer to that question comes in goal, where 18-year-old AC Milan starter Gianluigi Donnarumma is set to replace Buffon.
In defence, Leonardo Bonucci could be the only holdover from the “BBC” trio with Barzagli and Chiellini. Younger defenders on the horizon include Daniele Rugani, Alessio Romagnoli and Mattia Caldara.
There is hope in midfield, too. Although Marco Verratti still hasn’t put in a solid performance as he attempts to replace the retired Andrea Pirlo, a lot will be expected of the Paris Saint-Germain player in the coming years.
Then there is Brazilianborn Jorginho, who was given his first competitive action for Italy in the second leg against Sweden and showed that he can be a reliable option in midfield. Roberto Gagliardini, a physical 23-year-old midfielder for Inter Milan, should also gain more playing time.
Up front, talented wingers Lorenzo Insigne and Stephan El Shaarawy are approaching their primes and centre forwards Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti are also in their early to mid20s. At 27, the long-excluded Mario Balotelli could still have plenty to contribute if he ever matures enough.
Other players to watch out for down the line are 20-year-old Fiorentina forward Federico Chiesa — the son of former Italy striker Enrico Chiesa — and 23-year-old Sassuolo striker Domenico Berardi. AC Milan’s 23-year-old right back, Andrea Conti, and 21-year-old Roma midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini are also potential national team players.
The biggest question, though, is who will replace Ventura as coach.
Carlo Ancelotti, who was fired by Bayern Munich in September, is being mentioned as a possible replacement.
Ancelotti, who coached Juventus and AC Milan before going abroad to win titles with Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Bayern, has the big-club resume Ventura lacked. But it remains to be seen if Ancelotti will be willing to coach the national team, or if he still prefers the daily activities of a club.
Other options include installing a caretaker and luring back previous coach Antonio Conte, who has expressed homesickness at Chelsea. Or perhaps Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri or Zenit St. Petersburg’s Roberto Mancini once the club season ends.
Ventura is expected to resign or be fired. Even though his contract was recently extended to 2020, the deal included a stipulation that it could be voided in case of a failed qualification.
Tavecchio’s status was also put into question by Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago, who oversees all sports in the country.
“I spoke with Tavecchio and I asked him what his intentions were and he told me that tomorrow there will be this meeting in the federation,” Malago said Tuesday. “As you know, it’s up to the boss to take responsibility, but if I were him I would resign.”
There is a precedent since both Giancarlo Abete, the previous federation president, and coach Cesare Prandelli each resigned immediately after Italy was eliminated in the first round of the 2014 World Cup.
Italy isn’t scheduled to play again until high-profile friendlies against Argentina and England in March.
The Azzurri’s next official match won’t come until next September when the new Nations League begins, while qualifying for the 2020 European Championship starts in March 2019.
“I don’t know if I’ll stay,” Chiellini said when asked if he might take over as captain.
“The next Euros are too far away. But we’ve got to aim for that in three years.”