Italian Football: Stuck in the Past

For the second World Cup in a row, four time World Cup winners Italy will not even participate in the tournament. Qatar, whom FIFA admitted bought their way into hosting the tournament, will be there. World-beaters Canada, Iran, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, and more will be there, too (no disrespect, but there is not a single World Cup amongst them.) Obviously, the tournament and its selection process are not only corrupt, but flawed. It has been years since the world's best teams or even players were actually represented, the whole thing has become a mockery of what it used to be. Don't get me started on the idea of making it every two years. But at least that is a new idea. Italy hasn't had one of those since at least 1990, when they last built new stadiums and hosted the World Cup. Their inconsistency, now marked by such systemic failures, is because they are stuck in the past.

So much more than just these players or just this game

Thursday's loss for Italy in Palermo was their first ever World Cup qualifying loss on home soil. Although there was always going to be a first, you think that would be a wakeup call for the FIGC. However, I do not have any faith in them anymore. Whether it is racism, sexism, territorial discriminationbuilding new stadiums, or simply just allowing football to grow and develop, they have their heads stuck so far in the sand that the earth's core has melted their brains.

People are talking about Mancini stepping down, ripping apart players for individual performances or calling for certain players to retire. Those are not the real problems. Those will not change anything long-term. In 2014, everyone blamed Mario Ballotelli for Italy's poor performance at the World Cup. The irony is that he is Italy's most recent scorer at the World Cup, and will remain so until at least 2026. Maybe if Mancini had called him up, he would have converted one of the 32 shots that Italy took on Thursday? The failure is not about individuals, it is about an entire nation being stuck in the past.

Maybe he was never the problem, but a missed solution?

Well before Mancini and the Azzurri squad spent a few hours on RAI last summer dancing in their pale blue Armani seersucker suits, and even before winning the EURO tournament, I had experienced a complete disassociation with the Italian national team. Not even all of the blissful celebrations after actually winning and the "It's coming Rome" trolling after the English fans' despicable behavior throughout the tournament could win my heart back.

I fell in love with football because of the Azzurri in 1994, watching them throughout the World Cup and into that World Cup final. Baggio's infamous penalty miss broke my heart in ways no man ever broke my heart, and I have loved football passionately ever since. I learned Italy's noble history in the world of football, and as my love for Milan intensified, I continued supporting Italy as well.

Seersucker Armani suits are beyond stuck in the past

Probably in 2006, when Italy last won the World Cup, was when things started to change for me. That tournament was amazing, watching them lift that trophy (including the likes of Pippo, Gattuso, Nesta, and Pirlo) was one of the greatest sporting moments of my life. At the same time, the seedy underbelly of Italian football was unfolding, opening my eyes to the way things really were in that country. I kept thinking that things would change. But they didn't, they haven't, and I don't have any faith that they will. I stopped being interested in the Azzurri during Conte's term, and lost my stomach for the team altogether when they appointed Ventura as manager.

Should Mancini step down? Of course. A team that takes 32 shots without scoring shows a failure in mentality, and it wasn't only that game. The talent is there. Sure, he worked a modern miracle to win the EURO last year. But the same close-knit qualities that built that core group also excluded important players during qualifying who could have been helpful, such as the vice captain of the first placed team, Calabria, and maybe even that 2014 scapegoat Balotelli. Does Italy need to invest in youth? Absolutely. That was made clear even before an "experienced" (read: older) squad won the World Cup in 2006. 

So far in the past now...

But these are just cosmetic issues covering some far more serious and sinister issues that run much deeper than just coaches and callups. Back in 2014, Boban said: "Italy's mistake was to not invest and plan for the future when it was at the top, both in footballing and economical terms, when it boasted Ronaldo and Zidane among its ranks... Italy has no improvisation, plans, or creativity." As usual, he was spot on.

In 2010, after a tragic failure at the World Cup, the FIGC appointed Italian football legend Roberto Baggio as President of the Technical Sector. After carefully analyzing what was happening, he wrote a 900 page report with recommendations for improving Italian football, which was basically ignored. So he resigned. The president of the FIGC at the time noted that Baggio "never had the chance to dedicate much time to this activity." 

What if Italy would have listened to him 12 years ago?

Never much time? He wrote a 900 page report. Which you people clearly never dedicated enough time to even read, let alone follow his recommendations. Because it had new ideas. It did not involve doing things the same way they have always been done. It did not involve wiretapping or karaoke with the old boys' club or embezzling or matchfixing or making t-shirts against racism. It probably required building new infrastructure, investing in youth, changing methods, using funds for football instead of old mens' salaries. Why would Italy want to do any of those things? Why would Italy want to progress or modernize? Why would Italy want to change?

Maybe they actually do know what they are talking about?

Milan are a microcosm for how changing and trying new ideas actually works. Berlusconi and Galliani were a part of that Old Boys' Club. They did things the same way for years, running the club into the ground. Galliani was so against change, he removed everyone else out from beneath him until he was virtually omnipotent, and refused to bring Maldini in. He nearly destroyed the club.

Fast forward a few years, with Maldini now being in charge of the technical sector instead. The wage bill is a fraction of what it was, but the team is finally a coherent project filled with young players on low salaries playing great football again, and currently top of the table. The future is bright and getting brighter each season. Because Maldini was open to fresh ideas, new thinking, and modern football. Contrast that with Italy, who are completely stuck in the past. 

This post inspired by the music of The Smiths' "What Difference Does it Make?"

Italian Football: Stuck in the Past Italian Football: Stuck in the Past Reviewed by Elaine on 3:15 AM Rating: 5
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