Right now, the common feeling is that Italian football is in crisis.
This had long been the case in the club game but at least the national team could on occasions relieve the gloom, such as when they reached the Euro 2012 final, albeit only to be dismantled 4-0 by Spain.
That is no longer the case after a second successive World Cup group stage elimination.
Italy may have breezed unbeaten through their qualification group to reach Brazil, securing their place with two games to spare, but such small mercies will do little to appease fans of a country used to success—they are after all four-time world champions, a record bettered only by Brazil.
Apart from Inter Milan’s Jose Mourinho-inspired Champions League triumph in 2010, Italian teams have struggled in Europe.
Since AC Milan won the competition in 2007, Inter’s victory is the only occasion an Italian side has gone beyond the quarterfinals. Several times, they haven’t even made it there.
Last season, Milan were the only ones to make it out of their group, although they were subsequently crushed 5-1 on aggregate by Atletico Madrid.
In 2012, Italy also lost their fourth place in the Champions League as Germany overtook them in the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) rankings.
As for the national team, they came into this tournament ranked ninth in the world but their abject exit will likely see them drop several places.
Following their failure at the last World Cup, they dropped six places and later that year, in October, dropped to their joint lowest ever ranking of 16 in the Fifa (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) list.
Depending on their results later in the year, they risk breaking that record.
It is hardly the time to be left with no coach and no federation president following the resignations of Cesare Prandelli and Giancarlo Abete after their 1-0 defeat to Uruguay on Tuesday at World Cup 2014.
The immediate issue will be to replace Prandelli, with Italian media suggesting former Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri and current Galatasaray boss Roberto Mancini top the list.
However, both are used to considerably higher salaries than the €1.7 million Prandelli was receiving.
Other potential targets could be former Roma and Zenit St Petersburg coach Luciano Spalletti, former Palermo and Udinese boss Francesco Guidolin or Alberto Zaccheroni, who left the Japan following his country’s elimination on Tuesday.
Another issue to solve is Italy’s striking problem.
They came into this tournament with only one established forward in 23-year-old Mario Balotelli.
Despite scoring the winner against England he failed to have a positive impact against either Costa Rica or Uruguay, where Prandelli hauled him off at half time.
Ciro Immobile finished as top scorer in Serie A last season after a fine campaign for Torino but he has yet to score for his country.
He began his career at Juventus but made only three brief substitute appearances before being forced into taking a step down.
If Balotelli doesn’t fulfil his undoubted potential, the likes of Immobile, Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne or Milan’s Stephan El Sharawy have yet to provide conclusive proof they are the future of Italy’s attacking line.
Perhaps Balotelli will never come good, certainly the path has never been easy.
His brushes with disciplinary bodies aside, there is a section of Italy’s support that has never warmed to the son of Ghanaian immigrants.
On Wednesday, Balotelli posted a passionate response on his social media instagram page to a video by an Italian telling him to get away from the national team, accusing his detractors of being “racists".
In any case, Balotelli is suspended for Italy’s first Euro qualifier in Norway, so a temporary replacement at the very least needs to be found.
The one bright spot for Italy is young midfield playmaker Marco Verratti who looked every bit an international player at World Cup 2014, his first major tournament.
It is perhaps telling, though, that he doesn’t even play in Italy, having been seduced by the big bucks on offer at Paris Saint-Germain.
His importance will grow even more should veteran Andrea Pirlo retire from the international scene, as is widely expected.
His loss would be a huge blow, as would that of 36 year-old goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon.
That pair are still often Italy’s best performers and talents of their ilk are not easily found, let alone replaced.
The future really does look bleak. AFP
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