The Azzurri Diaries: Only Italy Can Save Itself
On the other side of the street, just opposite the room in which I am writing, I see a young chap running across - I do not know for sure what his destination is- what piques my interest, however, is the Azzurri shirt he wears; boldly printed on the back of course, is Totti, a living embodiment of Italian football and it's values.
I try to reboot my thought process and shift focus to "why society says be yourself one minute, and the next second it objects saying no not like that" but memories and thoughts of Italy's crisis flood my mind, and I cannot help but think how puzzling it must be for Roberto Mancini.
The former Inter Milan and Manchester City boss, following the UEFA Nations League defeat to Portugal, highlighted what he believes is a pressing concern at the moment; Goalscoring. To get results, to win games and have an edge over opponents, the importance of predatory instincts in the opposite box cannot be overemphasized, but if the team has no spine, no identity, no tactical flow, no framework in the middle, it's productivity in the final third will be heavily limited.
Gli Azzurri have won just one from seven matches in 2018; A 2-1 defeat of Saudi Arabia sandwiched between defeats to Argentina, France and Portugal; Seven games, one win, three losses, three draws, eight goals conceded, six scored; Mancini wasn't wrong after all, but what he has omitted is the underlying fact that something in the Italian football psyche is badly broken.
If there's one man who's earned the right to preach the gospel of Azzurri, it's no other than legendary Milan manager Arrigo Sacchi; His comments to QS-Sport on the primary cause of Italy's crisis narrows it down;
“What do we need? A strong Federation, that puts values at the centre: quality, a sense of the collective, a Federation that develops a school, a style, a game identity that characterises our national team.
“That’s what happened in France after 1970 and in Germany after 2000.
“Today we go by the rule of survival, maximum result for minimal effort.
“We’re a country that sells our soul to the devil, a country with no true national pride. Nowadays, when you watch certain matches you can’t tell it’s the Italian league because there are so many foreigners on the pitch.
“In my Milan, there was [Ruud] Gullit, [Marco] Van Basten and [Frank] Rijkaard but the spine of the team was all Italian.
“We need to make a cultural leap, Presidents must understand that our players give more than the foreigners in terms of gelling together, the ease with which they adapt to the rules of the group an the sense of identity.
Roberto Mancini sees part of the problem, but Arrigo Sacchi sees the whole picture, and the significance of his perspective is beautifully illustrated in the fact that even Juventus, who once contributed it's fair share of domestic players to the National team, now has more foreigners in its dressing room.
Italy needs infrastructure and discipline. Italy needs to rediscover its identity, it's football image, but the current philosophy of Serie A Clubs focusing on results at the expense of breeding domestic talent is a larger part of the problem.
There's only so much Mancini can do, his influence quite frankly, is limited to results on the pitch, but the rebuilding and restructuring is entirely in the hands of the FIGC; More needs to be done at a youth level to bridge the gap between the younger generation and regular senior football, a move that could enhance the development and integration of consistent youngsters.
Identity aside, Italy's midfield is another area of tactical concern, perhaps, Mancini's biggest problem, except he doesn't think its much of a problem; However much Jorginho runs rings in the middle of the park, Gli Azzurri need a holding/defensive midfielder who brings balance in the middle, and provides the requisite room for Central/attacking midfielders to unleash unadulterated creativity on the enemy.
Pirlo had Gattuso, Zidane had Vieira, Sneijder had De Jong, Sadly the days of Claudio Marchisio are over, and Marco Verratti has yet to reproduce his PSG form in Azzurri blue, but the reason a player like Jorginho has settled at Chelsea is the presence of such ball-winning machines as N'golo Kante and Matteo Kovacic.
As Italian football expert Adam Digby put it, Italy's midfield is missing, and only when Mancini gets it right at the centre, can the attacking lines begin to click in the final third.
Roberto Mancini sees a problem with goalscoring, Adam [Digby] sees a problem in the middle of the park -these are genuine areas of concern, that if solved, can provide stability and get the fans roaring again- but ultimately, in the long term, going back to it's roots, and reclaiming it's lost DNA, is the therapy will heal Azzurri's cancer, and send it on it's way back to the top of the pyramid.