Ferrara’s redemption with the U-21s

When Italy failed to qualify for the 2011 European Under-21 Championship back in October 2010, having blown a 2-0 first leg lead against Belarus, it was the first time since 1998 that the Azzurrini had failed to qualify for the flagship event (a run that stretched six consecutive tournaments). It also added fuel to the fire of the idea that there was an inherent problem with the way young players were handled in Italian football, and that too few U-21s were getting minutes in Serie A.
It was not a particularly easy time to take over as Coach then, especially if you had recently failed at the helm of the country’s most supported club. But that was the situation Ciro Ferrara was in when he succeeded Pierluigi Casiraghi in the role in October 2010. It is now approaching eight months since he started, but have the chances of yet another failed qualification campaign been reduced?
Ferrara certainly cannot complain about a lack of time to prepare – he has had 10 matches in that period, half of which were at the Toulon Tournament that ended last Friday, with the other half made up of friendly matches against some strong opposition. That level of preparation and settling in has come about because qualification for the 2013 Under-21 tournament does not start until September. By comparison, Casiraghi did not have that luxury when he assumed the position in July 2006 – there was a gap of just over one month between his appointment and Italy’s first qualifier for the 2007 Under-21 Championships.
Ferrara’s record thus far is pretty good. He has won six of his 10 games, and lost only one (the Toulon semi-final against France last Wednesday). But, as with any Coach of an international side, his team will be dictated by whatever generation of players he happens to have available, and there are obvious flaws within the current crop.
The most striking of these lie in central midfield. Andrea Poli, the one midfielder with anything resembling that extra bit of quality, who was available towards the end of Casiraghi’s tenure, has now gone. Those midfielders left for Ferrara to choose from are competent, but at the moment are not showing that they are likely to have a future for Italy beyond the U-21s. It speaks volumes that arguably the best central midfielder to appear under Ferrara so far is Inter’s 18-year-old Lorenzo Crisetig, whose only prior experience of football is the Primavera and other giovanile levels.
Empoli’s Diego Fabbrini, who plays on the left of Ferrara’s 4-4-2, seems the only guy in midfield capable of making the difference, but his talent is only on show in glimpses. His inconsistency means that when he is not effective, the entire midfield area is rather stale.
That only hurts the talented forwards Ferrara has at his disposal. Alberto Paloschi, Mattia Destro and Federico Macheda are all capable of scoring goals, but the lack of a consistent creative threat is increasing the pressure on them to make their own magic and then finish it off. When they are unable to do that, the Azzurrini struggles to create clear-cut chances.
It makes the lack of attention given to Fernando Forestieri even more hard to fathom. He featured for the first time in the 2-0 friendly win against Russia in April, despite having played well enough since arriving at Empoli in January to keep Fabbrini out of the team at club level, and created Manolo Gabbiadini’s goal in stoppage time. He is a true seconda punta, can play wide, and most importantly can quite obviously create for others. Yet Ferrara did not pick him for the Toulon event, and it took him until April to select him at all.
Stephan El Shaarawy, who has emerged this season with Padova, is a very similar with just as much talent. Indeed, given the three years he has over Forestieri, he could potentially be even better. At least one needs to be introduced into the team come the start of next season – only then can we think about the Azzurrini at 2013 with any degree of comfort.

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