The echoes of that cheer lasted for 11 years of ups and downs for the Italian National Team, all in the aftermath of the most glorious moment in all of sports: winning the World Cup in 2006. Now, the sounds of Italian splendor and joy seem a distant memory. And it indeed is distant, as distant as the Italians stand from the 2018 World Cup after failing to qualify Monday.
We have to go back to 1958 to find the last time Italy failed to reach the world’s biggest stage, as the team did this year by losing 1-0 to Sweden on aggregate. Decades have gone by since the team’s last absence, and Italy has until now remained steadfast in its status as one of the world’s soccer superpowers. Now that title is up for re-evaluation, and the team’s current manager, Gian Piero Ventura, was the first to go.
Beyond the inevitable, drawn-out negotiation to get Ventura as far away from the national team as possible is an even more glaring realization: For Italy, missing the World Cup is simply unacceptable.
Yes, the United States missed the cup, Holland missed the cup and Wales missed the cup. However, these nations’ reputations pale in comparison to the stature and prominence Italy carries with its four World Cup titles — to say nothing of the international careers ending because of Italy’s failure. Ventura’s firing is unquestionably necessary, as Italy must move on without the face of the club that failed to reach the World Cup.
And now the Azzurri must move on without legends like Gianluigi Buffon, arguably the greatest goalkeeper of all time and undoubtedly one of the world’s most beloved players. Buffon is now retired, robbed of a chance to add a second World Cup to his extensive hardware collection.
Andrea Barzagli and Daniele de Rossi, two other remaining members of the 2006 title squad, are also retiring from international duty. Without a doubt, an era has ended in Italy. Of course, it was always going to end, but it was not supposed to end like this.
Loaded with younger talent like Lorenzo Insigne, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Andrea Belotti and Marco Verratti, Italy seemed poised to fuse its youth with its veteran leadership and strike as one of the favorites come summer 2018. However, Ventura’s failure to foster this talent on the pitch failed the Italian squad.
Italy must rebuild after Ventura’s departure. The squad contains a majority of middling players, players who are good enough to play but not too old to develop into the superstars who lined the 2006 title team.
It is a great challenge, of course, as it is in any sport. But as we see in college basketball — for which another wild season has just begun — roster turnover must be met with adaptation.
Soccer, as the world’s most popular sport, sees new names rise every year, especially as old ones fall. Managers must adapt formations and tactics to incorporate the best of their new talent while retaining only the most essential old talent.
It is the dream of every manager to build a dynasty like that of Germany, a team from which legends like Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose retire only for players like Joshua Kimmich, Toni Kroos and Timo Werner to step up in their place.
Italy has these building blocks. Insigne, inexplicably left on the bench at the end of the Sweden game, is a key piece for Napoli’s current first place squad in Serie A. He possesses quickness and deft finishing that let him run rampant in the final third.
Belotti, an excellent striker for Torino FC of Serie A, needs a strong midfield behind him to create his best chances. Ventura dared not play Insigne and dared not provide Belotti with the tools essential for his success, adding even more fuel to the fire.
Change must be swift and direct. Italy has less than two years before European Championship qualification, and it has miles to climb before its squad — a current disgrace to its country — is ready to compete. And it had better be.
Vanessa Craige and Paolo Santamaria are seniors in the School of Foreign Service and the College, respectively. “NOTHING BUT NET” appears every Friday.