On Tuesday March 29, in Konya, Turkey, the Italy team will play one of the most pointless football matches in their history. The tifosi however hoped for something other than this meeting of losers, without stake, against the Turks. Beaten (1-0), Thursday March 24 in Palermo, by North Macedonia, 67th nation in the ranking of the International Football Federation (FIFA), the Azzurri were eliminated from qualifying for the 2022 World Cup (from November 21 to December 18), as in 2018 against Sweden. North Macedonians and Portuguese, executioners of Turkey, will fight over a one-way ticket to Qatar.
The return to earth for the Italian team is violent. Since its triumph in the final of the 2006 World Cup against the France team in Berlin, the Squadra Azzura will miss this competition for the second consecutive time.
The Euro, just a clearing in the night
Certainly, in the meantime, the Nazionale has played two finals of the European championship. One lost against Spain, in 2012, the other won against England during the last Euro, in 2021. This success had also augured a revival of Italian football. But it seems rather today that it was only a simple clearing in the night. And downgrading awaits.
This is the analysis made by Arrigo Sacchi, the legendary AC Milan coach of the late 1980s: “What happened in Palermo against Macedonia [du Nord], this is what has been happening for twelve years with our clubs. Since 2010 and Inter’s Champions League victory [Milan]we no longer earn anything in Europe”he explained to The Gazzetta dello Sport March 25.
The more the years pass, the more this success of the Interists resembles the last stand of an Italian championship, Serie A, king in the years 1980-1990, but which is struggling to regain its splendour. This season, seven Italian clubs were involved in the initial stages of the various European competitions. There are none left in the quarter-finals of the Champions League; only Atalanta and Roma still appear at this stage in the second and third tier competitions of the Europa League and the Europa League Conference.
Arrigo Sacchi is not the only one to point to the responsibility of Serie A clubs in the current slump in Italian football. On the sidelines of Italy-North Macedonia, Gabriele Gravina, the president of the Italian Football Federation, deplored “great resistance from the clubs » : “I’m not saying that they are responsible for this defeat, he explained to Rai, but there is an undeniable shortage in terms of players to make a selection worthy of the name when compared with other countries. »
Half-heartedly, Gabriele Gravina regrets that Italian clubs are more interested in their own interests than in the future of national football. His showdown with Andrea Agnelli’s Juventus – one of the masterminds of the dissident Super League project of the Champions League -, which he once again threatened to“exclusion from Serie A” in the columns of La Repubblica if the project took shape, demonstrate it.
64% of minutes played in Serie A are played by non-Italian players
The lack of domestic talent is a glaring reality in Italian football. In August 2021, the International Center for Sports Studies (CIES) unveiled a ranking of footballers under the age of 20 who had accumulated the greatest experience in official matches over the 2021 season: no transalpine player was in the top 100 .
“In Spain, England, but also in Germany and France, young people play more than in Italy”, underlines Nicolo Fagioli, Italian international hope. “If a young prospect makes his debut for a big club and if he makes a mistake in one or two games, he immediately finds himself under the fire of criticism”adds the young player from Juventus Turin, currently on loan to Cremonese (Serie B) to find playing time there.
If there is no place in the elite for these young Italian talents, it is because a majority of clubs prefer to bet on seasoned foreign players. Between 2017 and 2022, the number of non-Italian players present in the top flight of transalpine competitions rose from 292 to 368, as indicated by Sky Sports, while that of locals fell from 241 to 213 representatives. In total, almost 64% of total minutes played in Serie A are played by non-Italian players.
During its success against Bayern Munich (2-0) in the Champions League final in 2010, Inter Milan did not already field any Italian player in its starting lineup. Today, Italian football seeks to respond to this lack of national “know-how” by proceeding in particular with the naturalization of players.
Coach Roberto Mancini thinks he will stay
The acknowledgment of failure having been established, the shortcomings in training having been identified, Italian football will have to quickly get back in working order to try to stop this downgrading in progress. In the immediate future, despite the humiliation, Roberto Mancini should retain his position as coach and his place on the bench of the Nazionale.
This is what the interested party, who is under contract with the Italian Federation until 2026, suggested: “I spoke in recent days with President Gravina, we are aligned on everything. (…) Why do I think I can stay? Because I’m young, and with these guys I think I can still have fun.”the former Sampdoria striker said from Coverciano base camp on Monday (March 28th).
A rejuvenation of the workforce is to be expected, and it is not excluded that aging executives (Giorgio Chiellini, Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne), who are all over their thirties, will gradually disappear from the starting lineup.
From an economic point of view, the selection can however see coming. A partnership was announced on March 9 with the equipment manufacturer Adidas: supposed to come into force in 2023, it should bring in 35 million euros per year to the Squadra Azzurra, according to the Reuters agency. The same is true for Serie A clubs: television broadcasting rights have been negotiated for nearly 1 billion euros per year until 2024. It is nevertheless difficult to predict the impact of the poor performance of Italian clubs in the European level and those of selection in international competitions. Anyway, the Boot has applied to organize the Euro in… 2032. By then, Italian football could have tackled its problems.