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How Have The Azzurri Fallen So Badly?

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In just over a decade, Italian football has suffered a lot of political, sporting, economic and socio-cultural hardships. The Calciopoli scandal of 2006 sent shock waves all over the Italian peninsula as three of the four biggest clubs in Italian football – Juventus, AC Milan, Internazionale and Lazio – were relegated and deducted points after being indicted for match-fixing. Only AC Milan managed to stay up with a 9-point deduction in the Serie A.

Juventus was hit as much as a 30-point deduction to stay rock bottom in the second tier and they were also stripped of the 2004/2005 and 2005/2006 Scudetto titles as well as being banned from participating in the 2006/2007 UEFA Champions League. This led to the exits of big names like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Patrick Vieira, Gianluca Zambrotta and Fabio Cannavaro as Italian football surely hit rock bottom.

Italians went to Germany in the summer of that year with little hopes of achieving anything at the World Cup but Marcelo Lippi and his team of MEN did a fantastic job of alleviating all the travails at home by defeating France in the final in Berlin. Italy were back on top of the world in just a matter of months but as they say, ‘The higher you climb, The harder you fall’.

In 2010, On another stint as Italy’s manager after replacing Roberto Donadoni, Marcelo Lippi chose to rely on the old guard instead of bringing in fresh faces and it all worked to no effect. Cannavaro who was 36 at the time was a shadow of his old self and Italy could not get out of a group that had Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia.

Cesare Prandelli’s Italy knocked out Germany enroute the final of Euro 2012 but were taught a footballing lesson by Spain who were at the peak of a world domination that started immediately after Italy’s last World Cup – a period where Italy could and should have tried to consolidate on the 2006 triumph.

The U-21s though, led by David Mengia, were in a fantastic mood in the 2013 U-21 European championship in Israel. The core of the team had three youngsters from Pescara – Lorenzo Insigne, Marco Verrati and Ciro Immobile. It was not to be though as Spain’s productive youth system had produced the likes of Thiago, Alvaro Morata, David de Gea and Isco who once again found Italy’s number.

The key point was that after a period of stagnation in the production chain, the second tier teams were beginning to produce young and exciting players who seemed ready to make the leap. But Antonio Conte came in after successive group stage exits and things did not exactly work as planned.

Meticulous, fiery and no-nonsense mentality as was already shown in the now rejuvenated Juventus, Conte came in and made the hard decisions. Went to France and even though his heavily scrutinised 23-man squad were knocked out in the quarterfinals by Germany, the grits and the fight that came with Conte was evident in the team. He laid the foundations for the Azzuri to build on but the Federation chose to hand that over to a 69-year old Gian Piero Ventura.

Renowned to be one of the biggest journeymen in Italian football, his greatest achievement in his 40 years of coaching was winning the Serie C title! He promised to blood in youth and give the remnants of the class of 2006 – Buffon, De Rossi and Barzagli – a proper send off in Russia 2018.

Throughout the qualifiers he displayed tacid stubbornness and non-inventive coaching as should be expected of a manager with such a pedestrian resume. His failure to qualify the Azzuri for the World Cup – first time in 60 years – is definitely a call on the Italian football administrators to embrace the models that have brought successes to the likes of Spain and Germany.

Serie A clubs need to embrace the idea of running professional B teams in the second and third tiers and to also enhance coaching at youth levels. They also need to allow for the progression of young and innovative managers as is being seen with the great work done by Eusebio de Francesco at AS Roma.

The expected overhaul that was due after Calciopoli should begin with now as Year Zero as Italy need to take advantage of this setback to strategize and ultimately return to becoming a top footballing nation in the World – as is always expected.

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