Humiliating, disturbing and frustrating are just a few adjectives used to describe Italy’s performance on Thursday. However, most fans could only focus on the pain they felt as they saw their beloved Nazionale crash out and burn from a group deemed to be one of the easiest.
Lack of attacking flair, lack of cohesion, players deployed out of position, countless formations creating confusion, wrong choice of players – these are just some of the criticisms that have been aimed at Marcello Lippi as everyone has jumped on the bandwagon to blame our Coach for the humiliation. But was it really all Lippi’s fault? Having just won the last World Cup, the players arrived to South Africa showing a certain amount of complacency. There was no fire in their belly, no hunger to prove critics wrong and most of the team seemed happy to just experience the adventure. The exact thing that Pep Guardiola was worried would happen to Barcelona after they won the Champions League happened to Italy. They may have wanted a chance to reach the second round but the way they played only indicated that they preferred to hop on a plane back to the peninsula.
Germany is a team renowned for performing on a big stage. Their star players such as Lukas Podolski hardly manage spectacular performances on club level yet it’s a different story when he plays for Germany. The Germans have a deep love for their shirt which they honour with every fibre of their body. Miroslav Klose who has barely featured for Bayern Munich all season long came to life in South Africa and will surely have a lot to say for himself when he is back from suspension. The Azzurri this year, much like Juventus who coincidentally have both collapsed this year, are missing the type of iconic players that unite a team – maestros on the pitch who live for team unity.
Barring Gennaro Gattuso and Gianluigi Buffon, who due to injury barely featured, no other player present was desperate to help push Italy further or to unite the group. Four years ago, the Azzurri boasted squad captains Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti along with a young and keen defence who were desperate to add yet another trophy to their cabinet to prove the worth of Italian football. Four years on and they players seem complacent, uninterested and average at best.
The infamous Italian spirit was only visible in the last 15 minutes of the match against Slovakia. The Italians were well aware of the abuse they would receive should they fail to qualify and they came out in full force in the last moments in hopes of equalising. But a slack defence not even worthy of the tricolore flag on their shirt and a revitalised Slovakian team stole the players’ dreams away. It was not Lippi’s fault that Daniele De Rossi committed more errors than Felipe Melo did for Juve, nor was it his fault that Federico Marchetti cannot reproduce the kind of acrobatic talent Buffon in renowned for having. Before you join the chorus and point the finger at the master tactician who delivered Italy their fourth World Cup, take a moment to see that very few players in Italy at this time are worthy of the shirt that has adorned so many Azzurri superstars – for that we cannot blame the Coach.
Truth of the matter is that whilst Inter saved Italy from losing their fourth Champions League squad, their dominance in the league and Milan and Juve’s feeble attempts at competing are a large factor in the demise of the Azzurri. Inter did not field one Italian in the Champions League final match against Bayern Munich. As such Italians have missed out on the experience great tournaments require and youngsters have barely been given a look in as they desperately compete with the South American imports Serie A clubs are so anxious to splash out on. Calcio needs to be revolutionised. Coaches need to put their faith into the youth of today and teams need to count on Italian talent and resist temptation of looking elsewhere.
The older generation were gifted – they batted away the pressure, they played with composure and they had a reason to fight for Italy. However, Italy has a lot to be thankful for as within their youth team, they have a squad fit to win another Jules Rimet. Sebastian Giovinco, Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Ranocchia, Leonardo Bonucci are just a few names that could well take Italian football back to great heights and under the tutelage of a Coach like Cesare Prandelli, it surely seems possible.