Let’s get it out of the way, the Azzurri looked very ordinary against Ukraine last week led by a surprisingly fit Shevchenko, but are very likely, after easing uncomfortably into second place in their group, to qualify for Euro 2008. Yet, what price mediocrity?
After a turgid 4 years plus under Il Trap, Lippi came in and forged a side that would win the 2006 World Cup, and win it attractively, filling out their designer kits well. Donadoni took over and immediately put his stamp on the team, but the squad have been uninspiring, and he has had to contend with injuries to key players and the “retirements” of Nesta and Totti. Here’s a recap of what he’s done so far.
In September 06 in a 1-1 draw against Lithuania, he brought Cassano back to the squad, but played him alongside Inzaghi who scored the equalizer. Unfortunately, he played DeRossi out of position on the right wing for the entire match, only to replace him with Franco Semioli of Chievo 4 days later against France. He did play somebody more suited to the position (Di Michele) on the right in the second half, but that indecision (amongst others) cost them the match. A month later Italy played the Ukraine with 3 starting defensive midfielders (Gattusso, Pirlo and De Rossi) in the middle, but they served balls to Luca Toni, which is as it should be, but flanking him were Alex Del Piero and Vincenzo Iaquinta? Wingers Camoranesi and Di Natale made an appearance late, but second half goals by Oddo and Toni saved them the win. He brings Fabio Quagliarella to the fold after being ignored, but then refuses to play him until the 87th minute on in a match against the Faroe Islands? Against miners and fishermen, Donadoni is playing 3 defensive mids in Pirlo, Gattusso, and Aimo Diana of Palermo? Luckily Pippo saved him with two goals or that might have cost him his job, but every match it seems that his players are starting off slow and having to gather muster in the second half. He plays forwards as wingers and wingers as central midfielders, and I won’t get into his formations.
His problem isn’t that he switches from a 4-3-3 to a 4-3-1-2 and so on without thought. Lippi switched formations all the time, but he put his players in positions that they were comfortable or attuned to at least. Not so Donadoni, for a classy attacking midfielder in his day, his squad plays boring, and unimaginatively. They look ill prepared and a much more divided squad than they were in Germany.
Now, despite what I’ve mentioned above, I’m no Donadoni basher, I think as we have seen his team selection categorizes him as having attention deficit disorder and tactically he’s terminally naive when facing more experienced opponents, but I think journalists in Italy have been rather harsh on the ex-Milan midfielder. It’s not all his fault.
Frankly the unity that Lippi hailed as bringing the team together on that night at the Olympiastadion was gone as soon as the whistle blew, as they started running around the pitch, and as the shorts started coming off. Given an unenviable position in following a legend, he must have realized early on that his championship squad (other than De Rossi and Pirlo) would all be well into their 30’s before the next Euros. He didn’t have a ready answer at trecuartista for Totti, Del Piero may have been able to replace Baggio early in his career, but he was years away from his prime. Up front, Toni has been hurt and playing abroad under a different training regimen at Bayern (or so Donadoni thinks), Gilardino has been out of form practically since arriving at Milan, and Iaquinta is third choice striker at Juve. As an aside, speaking of Juve, no one seems to mention the fact that their contingent, Del Piero, Buffon and Camoranesi, were plying their trade in Serie B against subpar opposition last year as a possible reason for why they struggled for the Azzurri. Pirlo and Gattusso have been stalwarts, as have Zambrotta and Cannavaro in the back, but Materazzi has been hurt and Oddo has not been not a great replacement for Grosso. You could say with little argument that hardly anyone from the starting 2006 squad had been at their best.
The fact is, that while Italy are Campioni del Mondo they made it to summit on the last legs of this generation of Azzurri players. Whether anyone in FIGC wants to admit it or not, it’s a transitional phase for them and for their squad. Yes, they probably made a mistake in “handing the keys to a Ferrari” to a hungry parking attendant, and maybe they needed somebody more like Capello to motivate them all, but the Ferrari was due to be serviced, it needed a new motor, and practically any driver would have had problems starting that engine.