If one word sums up the Italy camp right now, it is ‘unrest’. If the quotes that have filtered out over the past week are anything to go by, there are a lot of players looking to point the finger. Some players are unhappy, and the Coach does not appear completely at ease – never has the title “Camp Focus” been more relevant.
No less than four different players – Vincenzo Iaquinta, Domenico Criscito, Alberto Gilardino and Claudio Marchisio – have made remarks that suggest displeasure with the tactics in which they have to play. Indeed Iaquinta has expressed his displeasure on more than one occasion, and was unhappy before the World Cup had even started. Their complaints about the tactics and set-up all differ – Iaquinta does not like his position out wide, Criscito did not like the way Italy attacked against New Zealand, Gilardino is not content with the way that he is being made to play in the current system, and Marchisio is not impressed with the level of change and experimentation going on in the middle of games. Let us deal with their complaints in turn.
Iaquinta’s is the easiest to dismiss. If he wants to play as a central striker, he needs to start scoring goals to demonstrate he is worthy. Six goals in 39 caps is an awful return, and although he has appeared many times out wide in those 39 caps, he has had enough opportunities centrally to get his goal tally to double figures. Criscito was right with his evaluation on Italy’s attacking play against the Kiwis – too many balls in the air, something which Marcello Lippi also commented on. As a full-back, however, Criscito was perfectly placed to stop this. Gianluca Zambrotta’s example of running with the ball, playing it along the ground, was the one to follow, not lumping the ball into the box at every moment – which Criscito was guilty of on many an instance.
Marchisio and Gilardino are the more interesting cases, primarily because they are absolutely correct with what they say, and highlight one of the many problems facing Italy. Whether these two are the only ones unhappy remains to be seen, but Lippi’s impending departure means the players are now happy to speak out, knowing it will not adversely affect their international futures for the next two years. The constant changing of tactics is indicative of a Coach who does not know the best way to play. Go back four years and we all knew how Italy would play – 4-3-1-2, but with the ability to play 4-4-2 as well. The team spent the entire qualification playing this way, and therefore when it came to the World Cup, they were comfortable with exactly what do in any phase of the game. Bring it back to 2010, and the players have no idea whatsoever. They have not been settled into any single tactic during qualification, and Lippi has probably gone too far in his search for tactical flexibility. How many (successful) sides can switch, without problems, between three or four different formations? At most it is two, and sides like Brazil only play one way.
So the players do not have a grasp on what is required from them, leading to disjointed displays, particularly going forward. The biggest victim of this is Gilardino, a striker who will not create his own opportunities (like Fernando Torres or Wayne Rooney), but will take advantage of those created for him. With the lack of movement behind him, he has to move away from his normal game in search of the ball and chances. He would flourish in a team with attacking movement, but at the moment he is looking lost and in need of help from his teammates.
It is ironic that a Coach who places team spirit, the group, and unity above everything else (even attacking flair, in one particular case) now has members of his squad digressing from this ideal. It does not help that Lippi himself chose to speak about his reasons for substituting Simone Pepe against New Zealand – it was not exactly the scathing criticism some media outlets would have you believe, but by mentioning his name, it appears as if he is singling him out as the reason for the first-half troubles. Hopefully the meeting that took place with the team this morning ensures the group still exists. It will need to if qualification is to be ensured.