Ventura's incompetence the sole reason Italy isn't World Cup-bound

by 6d ago
MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP / Getty

Gian Piero Ventura didn't even have the courage to face the cameras. Once Italy's World Cup disaster became reality, he fled.

It was up to Gianluigi Buffon - the greatest goalkeeper of his generation and the man that represented everything good about the Azzurri - to fight through tears and address a crestfallen nation. He had his own personal grief to digest, this being his 175th and final appearance for the national team, while Ventura scurried away.

The 69-year-old didn't even have the decency to resign after Monday's 0-0 draw with Sweden denied Italy a spot in the 2018 World Cup. That's the least he could've done, because he's the reason Italy isn't going to Russia.

Time and again, Ventura willingly put Italy in a position to fail. He forbade some of his country's most talented players from taking the pitch and handicapped the ones on it with a conservative formation.

The sorry sight of Lorenzo Insigne sitting alone on a cooler with his hands clasped together - the one player capable of unlocking a staunch defence like Sweden's on his own - will define Ventura's legacy. Daniele De Rossi pleaded with an assistant to get the Napoli winger onto the pitch. A whole nation campaigned for it. Insigne's no Roberto Baggio, but he's a leading man for one of Europe's most impressive sides and a positive player who can break the lines. Yet he wasn't considered an option off the bench, let alone as a starter.

Ventura persisted with a defensive 3-5-2 schematic in Milan despite the clear need for goals. He started forward Manolo Gabbiadini, who had played for only 28 minutes through qualifying, and maintained faith in Antonio Candreva despite evidence in the first leg of his ineffectiveness.

What we saw Monday was a side without a game plan, the product of a manager's complacency. Even though they failed to crack Sweden in the opening 90 minutes, Ventura tasked Candreva and Matteo Darmian with the same hopeless instructions. They sent balls into the box hoping one of the two centre-forwards would convert. Many of Candreva's attempts were blocked. It was painfully predictable.

The build-up play was so slow and dreary that Sweden was afforded every opportunity to compose itself and get men back into position. The Scandinavians defended well, but at the same time, Italy's overwhelming possession never turned into anything dangerous.

These were all problems in the 1-0 first-leg defeat. Ventura did nothing to prevent his team from making the same mistakes.

Imagine what Italy would have done had Jorginho played throughout Ventura's tenure. The leading passer in Europe's top-five leagues, the Brazil-born midfielder threaded neat through balls and cut Sweden down the middle. These were rare moments of ingenuity. And it took a suspension to Marco Verratti for Ventura to give Jorginho his full competitive debut.

The former Torino coach never should've made it to the play-off round anyway. The decision to field a two-man midfield against Spain months ago was suicide. It was clear then and there he had neither the tactical discipline nor the awareness to help Italy succeed.

The saddest part of this debacle is that the next generation must now wait four more years to contribute. Because the talent is there. Along with Insigne, there's Daniele Rugani and Mattia Caldara, two of Juventus' future centre-backs; Gianluigi Donnarumma, Alessio Romagnoli, and Andrea Conti, AC Milan's youngsters; and Federico Bernardeschi, Alessandro Florenzi, Andrea Belotti can all build on their current international careers.

There's no more time to waste. Ventura must step aside. Carlo Tavecchio - the man who granted Ventura a contract extension - must cede his position as president of the Italian football federation. And recently retired greats like Paolo Maldini and Demetrio Albertini must be invited to replace all the old men who've lost touch with the game.