The Italian national team’s path towards Euro 2024 and towards defending the title of champions – the only joy in a truly sad decade for the Azzurri – began in the worst possible way: England went 2-1 in Naples, after dominating the first half more clearly than the British team 2-0 at halftime. The second half where Italy reacted at least with desire and commitment, but shooting very little on goal.
The first official outing in the qualifying round proved the right of the blue coach Roberto Mancini from a certain point of view, who had commented on the good results of the Italian clubs in the European Cups this season in a clear tone: “I would have waited until we talked about the renaissance of Italian football because of the presence of three teams in the quarter-finals.” Champions League. I would say that if there were 33 Italian players on the field for Napoli, Inter and Milan, but even half would be enough. It’s hard to blame him, even if it’s a permanent role-play: Mancini himself, at the helm of Inter, was the first coach to field a starting eleven in Serie A composed entirely of foreign players.
Now that he’s on the other side of the fence, Mancio must make a virtue of necessity and scrape the bottom of the barrel of an increasingly foreign-loving Serie A with less and less talent: there has been much discussion of a call-up from Italian-Argentinian Mario Retigui – who, moreover That being said, he scored against the English and gave Shaw the red card – but those who know the tournament know full well that Italian forwards appear to be a dying breed. There’s Immobile (who was often a null in the national team), there’s Scamaka who’s now in the Premier League and coming back from injury, and then there’s a void. Among the big names, but also among the mid-range teams: Sassuolo’s Pinamonti is going through a difficult moment, many clubs (Bologna, Fiorentina, Turin) use foreign strikers and to find an attacking midfielder you have to go to the right side of the standings. In the ranking of the top scorers in the Italian league, Doriano Gabbiadini was the second Italian striker after Immobile, with 6 goals after his brace against Verona. The problem is clearly structural.
But the striker is just one example: in Serie A there are 352 foreign players out of the 561 registered players, 62.7%. Also, in the various youth sectors, the presence of foreign players (Lecce, who are making a great spring tournament, has an almost entirely foreign starting eleven) has become increasingly important. It is a subject that the Italian football system, for so long a convent where everyone takes care of their own backyard and nothing more, must ask themselves. We start, for example, from the exaggerated market valuations attributed to some fairly talented young Italians, which makes investing in foreign profiles less risky. Or from the dictates carried out in the youth sectors, where for some time the search for talent – and the work that enhances their characteristics – has been secondary to tactics and physical fitness, even at a young age. Mancini also spoke of “a talent that struggles to come to light because he no longer plays in the street” and this, seeing the life trajectories and choices of children over the past 20 years, may also be a theme. But, of course, it is not the only one.
So far the problems Mancini has to deal with. Then, however, he must also try not to create more problems than what already exists (on a technical level) in Italian football’s tank: the key word is gratitude, something that has a generally positive meaning in life and sport, but which has already cost Italy Absence from the World Cup in Qatar due to the lack of renewal after the victory of the European Nations Championship 2020, in the summer of 2021. The criminal absence from the World Cup last winter seems to be the science of truth, if a large number also has a part in this cycle being restarted by the champions themselves.
Let’s go in order: Reteguis, Gnontos and Pafundis are worthy ideas – as was the then-unknown Zaniolo – at the time of the call-ups, but enough that they weren’t “dismissed” by the other moves by the coach. For example, having taken note of Dimarco’s injury, why did I call up Emerson Palmieri (now we know very well what he can deliver and where he can arrive) leaving two of the best left wingers in the Championship to rot in the under-21s like Udogie from Udinese and Parisi Empoli ? Why continue tirelessly with the midfield trio of Barella Georginho Verratti (with whom Italy has stayed home since the World Cup, just to remember that) and not start offering new solutions, perhaps even calling on people like Locatelli and Fagioli, or thinking about assets or for different elements as it is Isn’t there a real striker in the average three blue? If the concept is ‘regeneration’, why not do it in 360 degrees given that matches with the big names on the pitch are wasted anyway?
Then there is another, not so important problem, which is also linked to a deep tactical theme: defense. Let’s be clear: a club in Serie A that appears at the start of the championship with a central defensive duo of Acerbi and Toloi will not make it to the top seven in the standings. And not because the two individually taken defenders don’t deserve one of the top seven teams, but because he’s a bad pair, with two players who have been playing with the best build in the three-man rearguard of their clubs for years: the thinking is true of most defenders in Mancini’s group. At this point, why not start proposing a young man like Scalvini, perhaps – in the absence of Bastoni, who is injured – with Romagnoli forming a valuable duo at Lazio with the overlooked Casal? From thinking about people to tactics: why should 4-3-3 be an indispensable credo? Especially if, in the absence of a big name like Chiesa, I have to limit myself to using Pellegrini as a false winger while Zaccagni is still in the ‘penalty’?
This form also reduces Berardi’s appearance to a pure one, if there is no real striker on the opposite wing (at Sassuolo, the number 10 scores great, but alongside real strikers), and he seems helpless on the left. And why not consider a three-man defense, given that most Azzurri defenders are more accustomed to – and more comfortable with – playing in this setup? The solution to the mystery belongs to Roberto Mancini, who certainly has many excuses but should try to continue in the blue cycle with a little healthy realism, with fewer dogmas and less gratitude. Because this discourse at the time of thanksgiving for the final continental victory can also be applied to it quietly, and even more so after the World Cup that the Italians experienced in front of the TV.
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