Mutiny on the bench sym­bolic of Italy’s slide un­der Ven­tura

Paolo Ban­dini

The Guardian - Sport - - Football -

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

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