The Next Italian Coach

Luigi Di Biagio in charge of the Azzurri, for now

After the Giampiero Ventura era which ended with the disaster of not qualifying for World Cup 2018 and the federation’s failure to elect a new president theĀ  transitional phase for Italian football and the national team remains deep in uncertainty. For the time being Luigi Di Biagio, the former and current U21 coach, has been put in caretaker charge of the Azzurri for the up coming friendlies (against Argentina on March 23, England on March 27 and France on June 1) in the spring.
Di Biagio, the former Roma and Inter Milan midfielder, has had a relative poor record as U21 and U20 coach. Such as it is Di Biagio will is a candidate to get the job full time, his case will be helped by good friendly results but even without that the choices are not all that plentiful. Several players retired after the qualifying failure and there is room for new blood. The conditions have changed but it is debatable if the attitude has.
Antonio Conte, Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Mancini and Claudio Ranieri are the big known names that come to most minds automatically.
Conte is unlikely to accept a return to a national team job. Chelsea are not at their best as of right now but even if he does quit the London team he has options such as a rumoured PSG link.
Ancelotti might seem a natural choice as he is out of a job since being sacked by Bayern Munich. He has a long club coaching career behind him but it is somewhat doubtful that a return to club football is not in the cards.
Roberto Mancini is doing well at Zenit and may be unwilling to leave a lucrative job in Russia for a rebuilding team.
Ranieri rebuilt his reputation at Leicester in England but had been a failure at national team level with Greece just before achieving that miracle in England.
The other names that are obvious in name and reputation are Juventus’ Massimiliano Allegri and Napoli’s Maurizio Sarri. It is also doubtful they could be convinced to let go of a club coaching job. Sampdoria’s Marco Giampaolo is an upcoming coach who has done well with his team, currently sixth in the Serie A. Could he be one option? A surprise name perhaps but who? The answer will probably only arrive in the summer.

The Italian Mess: Italian Football’s Decline

Roberto Baggio was unable to kick start a change in Italian football

The Italian league and the administrators running the league and the teams have been accused of plenty and the teams don’t have the best reputation when it comes to promoting youth, there are exceptions but notables ones like Marco Verratti end up in France to get regular game time.

What some have recognized the Italians need is a more structured youth system. In some other countries like Spain, Portugal and Germany B or II teams of top level teams play in the second or lower divisions. It is also important that the teams realize and agree collectively that youth promotion and emphasis on it can also be cheaper and better. Much like it happened in Germany where Bundesliga teams, in partnership with the federation, took action after German national team’s failures in the late 1990s and early 2000s. As an almost direct result German football rose again and has been consistently successful in the last decade or so.

Attempts have been made in Italy to improve this and to set up such structures. The national team, the Azzurri, have done relatively well at times under good coaching and the talent that is nevertheless plentiful. Winning the World Cup in 2006 and reaching the final of Euro 2012 to name two such successes in the not too distant past. However the negatives and shortcomings have never been eliminated.

Back in 2010 Roberto Baggio, the famous and legendary Italian player, was given the task of reforms within the FIGC (The Italian federation), in particular youth development. He quit less than three years later unable to enact much, the Italian system resisting major changes. Not long after that Carlo Tavecchio was elected to be the president of the federation. Promises were made, crucially of reducing the size of the Serie A to 18 teams from 20. However Tavecchio was also of the old ways and was racist as well, using banana eating to describe some players and later conversations of him regarding gays and jews were leaked as well. His choice to appoint Giampiero Ventura to follow Antonio Conte in 2016 was seen as a mistake and so it proved to be. After the failure to reach the World Cup for the first time in 60 years they both resigned or were forced out.

The elections to replace Tavecchio have now failed to produce a result. After four ballots no one was able to gain the necessary number of votes (50%+ required for the fourth ballot) and the recognized change candidate, former Roma player Damiano Tommasi, fell after the first ballot. Sooner or later someone new will be in charge and the next federation president will have the opportunity to make changes. A proper youth strategy and set up and boldly pushing in a reduction in Serie A’s size to 18 teams to allow for more training and recuperation time plus a less congested fixture list are at least two steps forward. He would also have the important decision of choosing the next national team coach. That coach would hopefully have more ready players at his disposal and uses them well.

World Cup 2018 Serie A Based Players

Italy didn’t qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 60 years. The administration of Italian football has been backward, racist and unable to adapt or see the problems that are in plain site. Having chosen a top level inexperienced national team coach in Giampiero Ventura to lead the national team after Antonio Conte the resulting disasters were almost unbelievably clear and many have been ignored for years before the current failure. The state of the Italian league and the larger questions facing Italian football deserve their own analysis of course.

The Serie A has fallen down the pecking order in European football, from its heights of the 1990s, but still features many stars of world football and is still ranked highly in UEFA tables.

Below is a list of some of the players that are likely to feature for their national teams this summer in Russia. The Azzurri are not going to be there but many Italian based players will be.

Juventus
Medhi Benatia Defender Morocco 30
Juan Cuadrado Midfielder Colombia 29
Gonzalo Higuain Forward Argentina 30
Mario Mandzukic Forward Croatia 31

Napoli
Arkadiusz Milik Forward Poland 23
Piotr Zielinski Midfielder Poland 23
Kalidou Koulibaly Defender Senegal 26

Roma
Radja Nainggolan Midfielder Belgium 29 (Player has been in and out of Belgium’s team under coach Roberto Martinez)
Aleksandar Kolarov Defender Serbia 32
Alisson Becker Goalkeeper Brazil 25

Inter Milan
Ivan Perisic Winger Croatia 28
Yuto Nagatomo Defender Japan 31
Mauro Icardi Forward Argentina 24

AC Milan
Andre Silva Forward Portugal 22
Cristian Zapata Defender Colombia 31
Ricardo Rodriguez Defender Switzerland 25

Lazio
Nani Winger Portugal 31
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic Midfielder Serbia 22

Udinese
Emil Hallfredsson Midfielder Iceland 33

World Cup 2010 Day 14, A Brief Recap

Slovakia 3 – 2 Italy
Robert Vittek (25′ 73′) Kamil Kopunek (89′) Antonio Di Natale (81′) Fabio Quagliarella (90′)

Italy crashed out of the World Cup making it the second time a reigning champion has gone at the group stage after France suffered the same fate in 2002. Slovakia came into the match having disappointed and hadn’t even managed a handful of shots on goals in their first two matches. Italy’s much criticized aging squad didn’t show much enthusiasm and Marcello Lippi’s choice of giving a first start to Gennaro Gattuso seemed uninspired. Andrea Pirlo however was on the bench and fit for his first action. Wasn’t too long before Slovakia scored when Daniele De Rossi made a bad pass which was taken advantage of. The same Robert Vittek scored again from a corner kick later. By then Pirlo had been on for a few minutes and only at this point one could see some sense of urgency in the Italians. A couple of close misses later Antonio Di Natale got one back and still a draw would have been enough but Kamil Kopunek responded with a goal on his first action of the game. Italy goalkeeper Federico Marchetti perhaps could have done better here. Italy pushed forward and got a well taken one back but it was not enough.

Paraguay 0-0 New Zealand

Incredibly New Zealand left the World Cup undefeated finishing the group stage with three ties. They finished this match without a shot on goal but Paraguay were not very dangerous often either. Both Edgar Benitez and Cristian Riveros threatened but little else. It was just enough to keep South America’s undefeated run in South Africa intact.


Denmark 1-3 Japan
Jon Dahl Tomasson (81′) Keisuke Honda (17′) Yasuhito Endo (30′) Shinji Okazaki (87′)

Japan could count themselves as one of the surprises of the group stage as they made it two asian teams in the first knockout round. They beat Denmark with two of the best freekicks of the World Cup. Danish goalie Thomas Sorensen and his whole team surprised to find themselves down 0-2 in that way. Keisuke Honda’s star continued to rise as he did well but the possession statistics, especially earlier in the game, showed that Denmark tried but couldn’t finish. Veteran forward Jon Dahl Tomasson perhaps was entitled to be more frustrated than others as he even missed the penalty. Makoto Hasebe had a slight push on the back of Daniel Agger. The resulting penalty didn’t make it in but the rebound made its way back to Tomasson who was at least thankful to equal the mark set by Poul Nielsen for most goals (52) ever for the Danish national team.

Cameroon 1 – 2 Holland
Samuel Eto’o (pen 65′) Robin Van Persie (36′) Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (83′)

The first Dutch goal was a nicely worked one with moves from one end of the pitch to another involving the goal scorer, Rafael van der Vaart and Dirk Kuyt. Their second was from a Arjen Robben shot which had rebounded off the post. In the middle of the two goals a Geremi freekick was handled by van der Vaart and Eto’o, probably the only real threat for Cameroon, converted the resulting penalty. Arjen Robben’s first appearance and his fitness will be a boost to Holland’s chances in the knockout stage.

World Cup 2010 Day 10, A Brief Recap

Slovakia 0-2 Paraguay
Enrique Vera (27′) Cristian Riveros (86′)

This game should be most remembered for the tame effort by Slovakia, the disappointment of losing the three points at the last minute in their first game against New Zealand must have weighed heavily on the players. Vladimir Weiss, Marek Hamsik, and Robert Vittek very rarely featured and nothing was created by the Slovaks until a solitary shot on goal very late. The Paraguayans were not neccessarily a much superior team but didn’t need to be. Coach Marino was at least the more enterprsing as he gave a start to three forwards in Roque Santa Cruz, Lucas Barrios and Nelson Valdez. The goals were nicely taken and the Slovak goalie, Jan Mucha, was tested on a few additional occasions.

Italy 1-1 New Zealand
Vincenzo Iaquinta (pen 29′) Shane Smeltz (7′)

One of those matches that on the day of the draw, back in December 2009, looked one sided produced something not so much one sided. That is not to say Italy didn’t dominate possession. New Zealand’s first goal came when a freekick took a slight deflection, ricocheted off defender Fabio Cannavaro and in the path of Shane Smeltz. The goal should have been offside if that slight deflection had been seen. Italy took control without being spectacular and were offered a penalty when Daniele De Rossi’s jersey was tugged. Marcelo Lippi made two somewhat early substitutions at half time (Camoranesi for Pepe and Di Natale for Gilardino) to get more movement out of the offense but things didn’t improve enough to take the match in the needed direction. Credit must go to New Zealand goalie and defender, Mark Paston and Ryan Nelson respectively, for doing the job when called on.

Brazil 3-1 Ivory Coast
Luis Fabiano (25′, 50′) Elano (62′) Didier Drogba (79′)

The game started with the Ivorians showing hints of promises but Brazil, in particular defensively in Juan and Lucio, didn’t let them threaten. Minutes later some good passing with Robinho and Kaka involved freed Luis Fabiano to shoot hard into the top of the net. Brazil were working hard, frustrating the Africans and using the flanks well. As the second half started more of the same led to some good ball juggling by Fabiano and he scored again. The quality of the ball control was helped in part by the inept and naive Ivory Coast defense. However replays showed that Fabiano had handled the ball and subsequent replays showed that ref had seen that too! Ivory Coast then brought on Gervinho, who had ceded his starting place to Dider Drogba, and he changed the face of their attack with his speed and skill. This freed Drogba and he seemed to be able to do better. Before that could happen however, Brazil got another when an accurate low cross allowed Elano to tap in the ball. Later on Drogba scored an easy header that left Brazil goalie Julio Cesar stranded. The game ended poorly when Kaka was first shown a yellow for complaining. He then received a second yellow for what looked like an elbow into the face Kader Keita but replays showed that Keita had exaggerated. A Kaka-less – but owners of six full points – Brazil face Portugal in the coming week unless the sure to come yellow card appeal succeeds.

World Cup 2010 Day 4, A Brief Recap

Holland 2-0 Denmark
Daniel Agger (og 46′) Dirk Kuyt (85′)

Holland, as expected, were fluid at times but Denmark, also as expected, held their own. Denmark however lacked the skills shown by their opponents and were undone by the own goal. The Second Dutch goal exemplified at least one case of enthusiasm and work rate difference when after the ball had come off the post Denmark defender Kjaer only walked and watched the ball without any apparent urgency allowing Kuyt to run around him to tap in the rebound and finish off the game.

Japan 1-0 Cameroon
Keisuke Honda (39′)

The match continued the run of early World Cup matches that most have characterized as boring with even some cries of anti-football. Japan, much like their fellow Asian qualifier South Korea, showed stamina and some determination and managed to score through the rising star Keisuke Honda. Cameroon and in particular Eto’o were more alive in the second half and managed some chances, notably hitting the post late on. The overriding conclusion from this game was that Eto’o needs to play a more offensive and direct game if Cameroon are to avoid an early exit.

Italy 1-1 Paraguay
Daniele De Rossi (63′) Antolin Alcaraz (39′)

Marcelo Lippi fielded a slightly more youthful squad than expected, Perhaps the absence due to injury of Pirlo forced the hand of the Italian. Therefore the line-up included Montolivo and Pepe. The Italians dominated territorially for long stretches and the Paraguay goal came off a bounce and against the run of play. Both teams showed some vulnerability to speedy attacks but, despite continued Italian dominance, perhaps the crucial part of the game occurred when the experienced Paraguay goalie, Justo Villar, misjudged the ball from a corner allowing De Rossi to tap in the ball to tie the game. Buffon, the Italian goalie, was substituted at half time for Federico Marchetti and any absence may prove decisive in future matches.

Football (Or If You Like, Soccer) World Cup

A brief post about the World Cup which is now less than eight weeks away.

This reviewer supports Italy but feels that their team is either too old or not very spectacular. Under the guidance of Marcello Lippi, who was the winning coach four years ago, Italy can still do very well. With the likes of Giorgio Chiellini in the heart of the defense, Daniele De Rossi in the heart of the midfield and the likes of Antonio Di Natale moving forward the team has a chance.

It remains to be seen if the fitness of Fernando Torres and others in the Spanish team hurts their favorites tags. And if Brazil can truly deliver with Kaka either injured or disappointing at Real Madrid.