Tuesday 24 October 2017

Italy look for new direction after early elimination

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli resigned following their early exit from the World Cup
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli resigned following their early exit from the World Cup

Cindy Garci-Bennett

Italy’s early elimination from the World Cup has strengthened the belief that football in the country desperately needs a new direction.

Eight years on from their glorious victory in Germany, the Azzurri have now suffered back-to-back first-round exits in the competition for the first time since the 1950s. Serie A has also lost some of its lustre, with the last Italian club to lift the Champions League trophy being Inter Milan in 2010.

“We have to ask ourselves why we have gone out twice in the first round of a World Cup,” Italian Football Federation vice-president Demetrio Albertini said. “In the 1990s we were the best in the world and everyone looked at us. Now we have remained behind while others have built their future.”

There was an illusion in Italy, however, that the national team was still in very good shape, following a runners-up finish at Euro 2012 and third place at last year’s Confederations Cup in Brazil. Italy also went unbeaten in World Cup qualifying. All of that seems to have given fans a false sense of confidence. One result of this year’s early exit was the resignation of coach Cesare Prandelli, who had signed a two-year contract extension before the tournament.

Perhaps a more damning indictment of the Italian situation was the criticism of their veteran players in the immediate aftermath which was aimed at the new generation.

“You can see who was actually playing on the field and who wasn’t there,” Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon said.“All too often you hear about the need for change, that Buffon, (Andrea) Pirlo, (Daniele) De Rossi, (Giorgio) Chiellini and (Andrea) Barzagli are too old. But the truth is when the wagon needs pulling, these are always the ones in the front row. They deserve a bit more respect.

“When you’re on the field, you’ve got to deliver. It doesn’t matter what you potentially could deliver, or what you might be able to deliver in future — you’ve got to deliver it there and then.”

Buffon’s rebuke of the younger players was revealing, and was backed by others, including Daniele de Rossi. “I can only underline what Buffon said,” De Rossi said. “It’s true that we embody the right spirit. It’s also true that we are the ones who always stand up to be counted.”

There is an alarming statistic which is likely to be addressed when considering the future of the national team and that is the investment in home-grown players. Last season, only 42 per cent of Serie A players were Italian.

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