Mutiny on the bench symbolic of Italy’s slide under Ventura
Apocalypse, how? The Italian Football Federation’s president, Carlo Tavecchio, had defined the prospect of missing out on the 2018 World Cup as a disaster of biblical proportions. Now the worst has come to pass, the failing to qualify for the first time in 60 years, after losing their play-off with Sweden. All that remains for a proud football nation is to analyse where it went wrong.
A partial answer could be found on the pitch at San Siro. Italy dominated Sweden with more than 75% of possession, yet lacked the subtlety to unpick a packed defence: pumping endless crosses into a penalty area where their opponents held a clear height advantage. A lack of nuance in the final third has been an ongoing problem for a team that has scored just three times in its last six competitive fixtures.
More revealing scenes, though, were playing out on the bench. Midway through the second half, a member of Italy’s coaching staff asked Daniele De Rossi to warm up. The midfielder reacted angrily, appearing to reply: “Why should I go on? We don’t need a draw, we need a win.”
His words were accompanied by a gesture in the direction of Lorenzo Insigne. De Rossi would later explain that he was making a broader point about the need for attackers, rather than seeking to single any individual out, yet many will wonder how the Napoli forward could be overlooked by manager Gian Piero Ventura.
Insigne is a man in the prime of his career, one who scored 18 league goals from the left wing for Napoli last season and almost reached double-digits for assists as well. He is the only Italian valued at over €100m by the CIES football observatory, and yet never made it on to the pitch on Monday – after making only the briefest of cameos in the first leg.
Nobody who has followed Ventura’s career could be all that surprised.
It is not that he underrates Insigne so much as that the manager is extraordinarily rigid in his selection process: a man fixated on square pegs and square holes. Insigne is a wide forward, and Italy were lined up in a 3-5-2. Therefore, there was no space available.
Ventura had sought to make room earlier in the qualifying campaign, sending his team out in a 4-2-4 and later a 3-4-3. The first formation was made to look wildly naive during a 3-0 thrashing by Spain in Madrid, while the latter yielded only a 1-1 draw at home to Macedonia.
It might actually have been player power that provoked a retreat, with veteran stars arranging a team meeting independent of the coaching staff after the latter result. Reports at the time suggested they were agitating
The missed out on a World Cup berth because of their manager’s inflexibility, writes