The Azzurri have fallen
12:00 AM, November 15, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:26 AM, November 15, 2017

The Azzurri have fallen

Danielle de Rossi, Italy's long-serving midfielder and a 2006 World Cup winner, had a very animated and revealing moment at the dugout during the latter stages of Italy's 0-0 draw against Sweden in Milan on Monday night.

The 34-year-old midfielder was seen arguing with one of the coaching staff when asked to start warming up. He reportedly told the person: "Why the hell should I go on? We don't need to draw here, we need to win!"

The AS Roma legend was only pleading for the coaching staff to bring on strikers, especially someone like Lorenzo Insigne, as Italy desperately needed a goal to stay in the World Cup reckoning. Insigne, despite a reputation as Italy's most gifted forward of this generation and demands from all quarters for his place in the line-up, was never to be seen on the pitch that night.

Whether the Napoli forward would have made a difference to what is now Italy's shambolic play-off defeat, we will never know. But him not being in the starting eleven or at least coming on for a change, speaks volumes about the broader malaise that plagues Italian football: that of a dearth of local talent and a system which desperately clings to personnel who belong in a bygone era rather than those who try to evolve with the game and at times revolutionise it.

While this epic failure comes only 11 years after Italy's glorious triumph in Berlin, the signs of the apocalypse were all there in their first-round exits in the last two World Cups. Since that triumph, the Azzurri have won one World Cup finals game. So it did not happen in a day; the process was certainly exacerbated by a system that has been intrinsically doomed, with all the wrong people leading the lines.

The list starts with coach Gian Piero Ventura himself.

The 69-year-old, whose only success at the top level was to take Torino from Serie B in 2011 to the Europa League round of 16 in 2015, was given the Italy job in the wake of Euro 2016. However, he was someone who had never managed one of Serie A's big hitters and had only the 1996 Serie C title in his trophy cabinet. Critics suggested that a team that has four World Cups to its name needed someone with a bigger reputation and it is needless to mention that Italy has been the breeding ground of the most successful coaches in European football for decades.

However, it would be unfair to lay all the blame on one person. Ventura was hired by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president Carlo Tavecchio. The 74-year-old Tavecchio is a symbol of a gerontocratic Italy where age is often valued more than youth. He hired Ventura and Ventura stuck with the old guard, largely disregarding the youth.

The most telling reason of all, perhaps, is the dearth of talent. There is a strong view that Ventura inherited Italy's weakest group of players for decades. To put things in perspective, the last time Italy qualified through a play-off in 1998, the forwards they took to France were Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero, Christian Vieri, Filippo Inzaghi and Enrico Chiesa while leaving top-class attackers like Gianfranco Zola, Roberto Mancini, Francesco Totti, Giuseppe Signori, Vincenzo Montella and Pierluigi Casiraghi at home.

20 years later and the squad's frontline contains an Inter reserve in Eder and a struggling Southampton striker, Manolo Gabbiadini. Such is the dearth of quality that Italy's constant fixture up front is Ciro Immobile, someone who is known to have been under-par while playing for his country.

So it seems there needs to be a complete overhaul of the system that Italian football is running on now, because if things continue in this vein, more World Cups may come and go without the vaunted Azzurri and a World Cup without the Azzurri is something no neutral fan of football would want to see.

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