Italy does not qualify for the World Cup, initial reaction
It was a disappointing evening in Milan for Italian football fans, as Italy could not find the breakthrough and drew 0-0 to Sweden and will not feature in the 2018 World Cup in Russia. This is a massive blow for Italy, as it's only the third time the azzurri will not be in a World Cup and first time since 1958. While there is a lot to talk about about the qualification process and the future of Italian football, here are some initial points to the match and Italy's failure:
A new manager is needed.
Whether Ventura was terrible or not, there is no question that a result like this calls for a new manager at the helm. We will speak in the coming days of who that person could be, but reports going into the match stated that Carlo Ancelotti could be brought in to manage the squad at the World Cup if they did indeed qualify, however, now that Italy is out it doesn't seem like a real possibility. Ancelotti will surely want to manage Italy through a World Cup cycle if he ever took the job, and if he were to take it now he would have to wait a year just to start the Euro 2020 qualifiers, and it would be almost a five year commitment for him to get to the next World Cup. A younger manager with a system that fits most of the Italian star players should be looked at. There is talent in this Italian team, and most of the players play in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 system, therefore it would be best to bring on a manager who knows those systems or at the very least plays with four at the back.
The new manager will need to play with a style familiar to most of the players.
Ventura made some odd decisions, to say the least. He stuck to a 4-2-4 formation for most of the qualifiers, and then after its demise towards the end of the qualifying fixtures, he scrapped it in the play-offs for the 3-5-2 used under Antonio Conte. In this formation he used players like Jorginho and Manolo Gabbiadini after not using them much, or in Jorginho's case at all, during the qualifiers. On top of that, he had players like Alessandro Florenzi playing out of position. While Florenzi did well for the whole match, he was really a threat late in the match after Antonio Candreva came off for Federico Bernardeschi and Florenzi move to his normal position on the right wing. Jorginho and Gabbiadini did well tonight and it has to raise the question, why weren't they playing in the qualifiers or at least in the first leg? Lastly, where was Lorenzo Insigne? It is the national team manager's job to get the best players on the pitch, and Insigne is widely considered one of Italy's best players, if not the best. It would have also brought familiarity to the squad to see Insigne and Jorginho link up. Ventura constantly mentioned his tactics when speaking about Jorginho, and it seems like the same went for Insigne tonight. A national team does not have the ability to buy and sell players on a transfer market, so there can't be a such thing as players not fitting a tactical system. With a national squad, you need to identify your most talented players and build your tactics around them, Ventura failed at this plain and simple.
Sad way for Gianluigi Buffon to go out.
If you believe the manager or most of the squad didn't deserve to qualify, there is one person that did, and that's Gianluigi Buffon. Buffon is a legend of Italian and world football, and he should have retired during the summer in Russia. Instead, Buffon made his senior debut in a play-off for the 1998 World Cup, and will finish his career in blue in a World Cup play-off as well. He is a true gentleman, and has been a charismatic leader of Italy since the early 2000s. We will also see if Milan's Gianluigi Donnarumma can fill his shoes. A World Cup winner surely deserved better than this.
A real shame for the perception of Serie A and Italian football.
Serie A is rising again these days, as the quality has drastically improved in the league and through the first 11 rounds there is a title race that contains five squads: Napoli, Juventus, Inter, Lazio and Roma. With the league also set to receive four direct spots into the Champions League, money will be entering the league again and the top of the table will only get stronger. Italy's failure to qualify for the World Cup puts a black-eye on the league as people will perceive that Serie A still lacks quality. In addition to that, some of the top players in Serie A like Marek Hamsik, Edin Dzeko, Jorginho, Insigne, Miralem Pjanic, etc... will not feature in the World Cup. It is a time where Serie A should be on the rise and lead right into a World Cup that will feature Italy and many of the younger Italian stars, but instead the azzurri will not be there.
Let the youth movement begin.
This marks the end for Buffon, and could also be the end for players such as Andrea Barzagli, Daniele De Rossi and Giorgio Chiellini. While we may see some of these players continue on, there is no doubt the federation should start looking at younger players. Italy will now have a year of friendly matches as they have nothing to compete for until qualifiers begin for Euro 2020. All of the international breaks leading up to the World Cup should see players like Donnarumma, Gabbiadini, Immobile, Insigne, Belotti, Jorginho, Conti, Chiesa, Bernardeschi, El Sharaawy, Florenzi, Rugani, Caldara, Romagnoli and others receive calls and playing time. While everyone would have much rather been in the World Cup, there is no doubt Italy has the opportunity to call up some youngsters now and start fresh.