Euro 2016 proved valuable for Italy. It didn’t end in success, but the team went further than many imagined. In doing so, the Azzurri regained part of themselves, something lacking in Brazil two years earlier.
Gianluigi Buffon implored: “What we leave behind is an enormous treasure and it mustn’t be wasted.” Emanuele Giaccherini: “We’re getting another great Coach like [Giampiero] Ventura, who breathes football and who is the perfect link after [Antonio] Conte.” The message is clear: build on what was started.
It’s a scenario which has already played out once before. Former Torino boss Ventura took over from Conte at Bari in 2009, leading them in Serie A following promotion under Conte. There he built on Conte’s attacking 4-4-2 formation – “Thanks to Conte I had a solid base to build on,” he would later say. He now will continue from Conte’s Azzurri framework.
With World Cup qualifiers around the corner, the 68-year-old is not expected to rock the boat. He has his own staff, but will largely retain the team which took the Nazionale to within a whisker of the Semi-finals.
Italy face a tricky start on the road to Russia. A match in Israel is followed by a return meeting with Spain. Only top spot in each group qualifies, so a good start is imperative.
In order to keep the group together, Ventura must coax Andrea Barzagli out of retirement. The defender said Euro 2016 would be his last tournament, but Ventura is hoping to have the BBC defence at his disposal. So too Daniele De Rossi, who had a fine tournament. With Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio still out injured, the Roma veteran remains important.
But Ventura was known for giving youth a chance at Torino. He got the best out of Matteo Darmian and in his last season regularly fielded Marco Benassi, Daniele Baselli and Andrea Belotti. The latter could well be an option as the centre forward position remains an Azzurri question mark.
There are other promising youngsters to consider, including Domenico Berardi, Daniele Rugani and Alessio Romagnoli. Considered too raw by Conte, that may be the case here too initially, but a big part of Ventura’s reign will be to integrate the next generation.
Adding those talents to the solid base seen in France will put Italy in good stead for the future. There’s renewed optimism surrounding the Azzurri and the next two years will be vital.