No Italian players in the Ballon d’Or 30-man shortlist shows why the national team’s level is mediocre at best…and possibly the worst ever
On the 13th of November 2017, the Italian national football team faced the darkest moment of its history. It failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. It had only happened one other time, back in 1958. For a country so devoted to the Beautiful Game, it truly was a national tragedy.
A year has passed, Roberto Mancini has replaced Gian Piero Ventura as coach, but results are still lacking for the Azzurri.
Since Mancini took over, Italy have won just one game, against Saudi Arabia. The two Nations League matches ended in a draw at home with Poland and a defeat away in Portugal. Mancini has been testing all sorts of players and systems to try find the best solution. The problem is that this the least talented Italy side ever.
It’s a structural and generational matter.
A lost generation for Italy
Italian football is experiencing a difficult decade. The youth sectors are struggling. At club level, results in Europe are the worst ever and consequently the national team has little talent to choose from. Hardly any Italian international plays consistently at the top level for their club, and the team is mediocre overall.
For a national team that has won four World Cups, this is truly an all-time low. The likes of Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne, Jorginho, Federico Bernardeschi and so on, are the current backbone, with the more experienced players being the Juventus defenders. Only Giorgio Chiellini of the current side would have been called up in past national teams. The others would have hardly had a chance.
No strength in depth for Italy
Without getting into a list of the best ever Italian players – from Giuseppe Meazza and Silvio Piola to Gianni Rivera, Paolo Rossi, Roberto Baggio, Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti – to give us an idea of how amazing Italy used to be, it’s interesting to see who the reserves were for Italy back in the day.
Gianfranco Zola, Giuseppe Signori, Roberto Mancini, Giorgio Chinaglia, Paolo Pulici, Filippo Inzaghi, Alberto Gilardino, Alessandro Del Piero or Alessandro Nesta, just to mention a few over four decades. All these were great players, winning Serie A titles, Champions League titles, but had a minimal impact on Italy. Yet all of them would be absolute stars nowadays.
Italy have always had plenty of talented players, whose value was demonstrated week in week out at club level. Players who won domestic league titles or even the Champions League, or who at least fought for the silverware regularly.
Currently, the only ones who start in Champions League clubs are Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Lorenzo Insigne, Marco Verratti and Alessandro Florenzi, with Federico Bernardeschi, a substitute at Juventus. But that’s all. Only the Juve stars and Verratti with PSG have won titles. There are no Italians in the 30 nominees for the 2018 Ballon d’Or.
This is testament of a generation of players that simply aren’t good enough, or at least haven’t demonstrated their talent up until now. These are footballers that can do well under a great coach – such as Antonio Conte at Euro 2016 – but that are overall mediocre, especially if compared to the past. Rebuilding a generation of players as good as Italy’s history could be impossible; improving from the least talented Italy side ever is a lot more realistic.