After Italy’s shocking failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, it was no surprise that Gian Piero Venturo was sacked soon after — if anything, the fact that it took two days to confirm the decision was more surprising.
Now one of the highest-profile jobs in world football is available. But revitalising this Italian set-up is going to be a huge challenge.
Former Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Juventus, AC Milan, Real Madrid, and PSG manager Carlo Ancelotti is the clear favourite for the job at the moment, but he’s far from being the only candidate.
Here’s a look at five potential managers for Italy.
The clear favourite, Carlo Ancelotti has reportedly already been approached by the Italian FA regarding their vacancy. Ancelotti’s managerial record, even after being unceremoniously sacked by Bayern Munich this season, means he’s regarded as both the popular choice and the best man for the job.
Possibly the only wrinkle in this dream scenario for Italy is Chelsea. Ancelotti’s former employers are reportedly keen on bringing back the only manager to have done the Premier League and FA Cup double with the club, with stories emerging that Blues owner Roman Abramovich has personally been in touch with the Italian.
Out of respect for his friend and compatriot Antonio Conte, the current Chelsea manager and another man linked with the Italy job, Ancelotti has not commented on the speculation regarding his former club, but he might feel he has unfinished business with Chelsea and the Premier League.
Ancelotti has never managed an international team, however, and the fact that he’s achieved more or less everything there is to achieve at club level, coupled with the honour he’d consider it to be to manage his own national team, would probably push him towards the Italy job if it came to a straight choice. Winning again with Chelsea would be nice. Success with Italy would be the pinnacle of an already storied career.
GIAN PIERO GASPERINI
Although Ancelotti is the clear favourite, there have been plenty of calls for the federation to consider Gian Piero Gasperini.
The 59-year-old has done an absolutely stunning job with Atalanta, leading them to fourth place in the league last year with a young side whose best players are sold the moment the club feels it’s time to cash in. Atalanta are now almost guaranteed of passage through to the Europa League knockout stages after a strong group stage campaign this season, another feather in Gasperini’s cap.
The biggest appeal surrounding Gasperini is his success with young players. With Daniele de Rossi, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli, and Gianluigi Buffon all retiring, the Italian side has lost a wealth of experience all at once. It also has a host of young, talented players, including Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne, as well as several with whom Gasperini worked with in the Atalanta setup.
For all his success with Atalanta, Gasperini has to know there’s a ceiling for the club; barring a miracle, the Serie A is likely beyond their reach, although winning a cup here and there is definitely a possibility and a Europa League triumph would be no less feted.
But the national job is a logical step up for the Atalanta manager. The federation probably wouldn’t opt for him if it Ancelotti’s available, but they’d at least have to consider him either for now or as Ancelotti’s potential successor.
Heading into Euro 2016, no one expected much from the Italian side. Yet they tamed a Belgian side packed with firepower, then got wins over Sweden and Italy to finish the group stages with a perfect record, and then — the peak of that campaign — upset Spain in the Round of 16 with a masterclass of a performance. They lost to Germany in the quarter-finals after a dramatic penalty shootout, but nobody had thought they’d come within a whisker of the semi-finals in the first place.
That they did was all down to Antonio Conte. The Chelsea manager burnished his reputation with the way he got Italy to play and perform in Euro 2016, and memories of that tournament are still fresh on many fans’ minds. Given his tensions with the Chelsea board and mounting speculation that he could leave the London club soon, maybe even before the Premier League season ends, a return to the national team is definitely a possibility.
Conte and Italy seem like a perfect fit – indeed, he’s proven that already. And the current circumstances are something Conte relishes. An Italy side reeling due to failure, in need of a lift quickly – this is Conte’s specialty, and he’s arguably better suited for that job than any of the other candidates, including Ancelotti.
He took a side that had been knocked out in the group stages of the 2014 World Cup to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016. How he’d love to do even better a second time around.
If and when Max Allegri chooses to leave Juventus, he’ll leave with a stellar record. Three consecutive league and cup doubles, along with two appearances in the Champions League final, means he’s already one of the most successful managers in recent Italian history, having already previously won Serie A with AC Milan. He’ll have the pick of the offers when he makes himself available.
There’s no reason the Italian national team job won’t be one of them. Even in a field full of excellent candidates, Allegri will stand out.
He has tactical flexibility, he can organise a side defensively and get the best out of attacking players – Gonzalo Higuain has never had it so good – and he can certainly motivate a team; Juventus have had to guard against complacency for years, and yet Allegri has managed to lift them time after time.
Whether a rebuilding job is something he’ll be good at is less certain. However, early in his career he managed Palermo to an impressive ninth-place finish, and no one expected AC Milan to win the Serie A title in 2011, so he’s no stranger to an against-the-odds job. He has the resume, the experience, and the passion – Italy could come calling.
This is a star-studded list, and Roberto Mancini’s star has actually fallen recently. He’s enduring a frustrating time at Zenit St. Petersburg, after having left Inter Milan in disappointing fashion in his second spell. But what he achieved with Manchester City speaks for itself, and few would have forgotten his first spell with Inter.
Four years ago, Mancini would have been a shoo-in for this job. The issue isn’t just that his star has fallen but that others’ have risen. Conte, Gasperini, and Allegri have seen their reputations grow, and Ancelotti would always have been the preferred choice to Mancini.
But he comes with much the same credentials as everyone else. Success at club level, pedigree at organising a side, and skill with managing a high-octane attack. This could be the moment and the job for his redemption.
There is a proud list of Australian sporting legends: Don Bradman, John Eales, Dawn Fraser, Herb Elliott, Betty Cuthbert, Cathy Freeman, Rod Laver, Greg Norman, Ian Thorpe.
But to that august list you can now add another name – Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak.
With his long, bushy beard, reminiscent of another Australian legend – Ned Kelly – Jedinak was on fire at Stadium Australia, the sight of Freeman’s heroics 17-years previously.
If Australia had simply won, Jedinak would have been lauded for leading the nation to a fourth World Cup in succession. But to do it scoring a hat-trick (denied by a curious own-goal ruling) elevates him to the likes of Thorpe and Laver, if not perhaps Bradman.
There were even doubts the 33-year-old would even take the field last night in Sydney.
Jedinak’s year has been plagued by a persistent groin injury for which he had surgery in June.
He has only just recently got back on the park for his club, Aston Villa in England’s second tier, but played a valiant and crucial 90-minute role in Australia’s 0-0 draw with the Hondurans in San Pedro Sula on Saturday.
But having only played one other full game since April, the Socceroos qualifier against Saudi Arabia in Adelaide in June, doubts were high over his capacity to back up, especially given the long haul flight from Central America and the dodgy pitch upon which both teams played on the weekend. (Although it must be noted Sydney’s pride and joy didn’t look much better).
Australia have qualified for their fourth consecutive World Cup finals. Hat-trick hero Mile Jedinak!🇦🇺 pic.twitter.com/e6zOf27PPe
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) November 15, 2017
The fact that regular starter Mark Milligan, who was suspended for the first leg, was available would also have given Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou pause over whether to play “The Beard to be Feared”, as he is known by the Villa Park faithful.
But Postecoglou made the call – Jedinak got the start – and the rest, as they say, is history.
It all adds to the growing legend. Aussie sporting immortals don’t have to just do great things on the field they have to have the back story as well.
Bradman used to practice with a golf ball and stump against a water tank in the back-yard. Freeman overcame family tragedy losing a brother and a sister before winning Olympic gold.
Jedinak also has his own tale to tell. For starters his name isn’t even Mile – it’s Michael, but he shortened it because of his Croatian heritage.
“I was named ‘Michael John’ by my parents,” explains Jedinak, “but being of a Croatian heritage and growing up with grandparents who didn’t really speak a lot of English, everyone called me ‘Mile’.
“I just went with it. In football I played for Croatian background clubs, I just stuck with it.”
He started playing football in a competition between Catholic schools in Parramatta, in Sydney’s inner-west, and began his senior career playing for semi-pro Sydney United, formerly Sydney Croatia.
He played briefly for Croatian club Varteks, making one appearance in a 2003/04 UEFA Cup qualifier, before joining Central Coast Mariners in the A-League where worked his way into the international set-up.
In 2009 he moved to Turkish club Genclerbirligi before joining Crystal Palace, where he became a club legend leading them back to the Premier League in 2013.
Villa fans now hope he will keep his legendary status going when he gets back on the field for them.
England ended their 2017 fixtures with consecutive goalless draws against Germany and Brazil at Wembley.
Manager Gareth Southgate continued to formulate his plans for next summer’s World Cup across both games having sealed qualification earlier in the season.
Here’s a looks at the main talking points to emerge from the two recent friendlies.
SOUTHGATE PLAYING THE GENERATION GAME
While Southgate’s plan to give England youngsters a chance in the senior set-up is not new, his selections for the two glamorous Wembley friendlies certainly reiterated his ideals.
The likes of Chris Smalling, Jack Wilshere and Jermain Defoe will be all the more worried that their England careers are over – or at the very least stalling – as Southgate aims to implement his plans of promoting from the younger age groups.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Joe Gomez picked up the respective man of the match awards against Germany and Brazil while inexperienced players such as Dominic Solanke, Angus Gunn and Lewis Cook were also involved in the squad over the last few days.
THREE LIONS AT THE BACK
Southgate has seemingly settled on his formation for the future, naming three central defenders with wing-backs allowed to push forward.
Harry Maguire and John Stones looked solid in both friendlies and Gomez also came in to shine, while having players such as Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Ryan Bertrand and Kieran Trippier offer plenty of pace on the flanks.
The system also allows for two strikers and can accommodate creative players alongside the guile of Eric Dier in the middle of the park.
HART OVER HEAD IN THE RACE FOR THE GLOVES
Joe Hart now has 75 England caps and is a bonafide senior member of Southgate’s current squad.
The West Ham loanee has struggled at times this season but was recalled between the posts despite Jordan Pickford impressing on debut against Germany.
Now Southgate must decide if his largely inexperienced side need someone like Hart behind them or if Pickford, and Jack Butland, should now be given their chance to step up in competitive games.
ENGLAND NEED KANE IF THEY ARE TO BE ABLE IN ATTACK
Keeping two clean sheets against both the World champions and a team boasting the world’s most expensive player is not to be shirked at.
But at the other end of the pitch England struggled to create clear-cut chances, with Tammy Abraham, Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford not able to break the deadlock across both games.
Harry Kane was absent due to injury and this was further proof that, if England want to progress deeper into the World Cup next summer, the Tottenham striker is vital to Southgate’s attacking intentions.
SOUTHGATE NEEDS TO STICK TO YOUNG GUNS
While still trying to turn England into a big-hitter on the world stage, Southgate appears to be supported from those above him when it comes to taking time to develop and hone his precocious players.
Now, the England boss needs to maintain that stance when it comes to naming his World Cup squad next year, starting with the March friendlies against Holland and Italy.
There has been too much reliance in the past on taking experienced tournament campaigners to finals in place of exciting talent but this time it should be different as Southgate is gearing up to have a host of names ready for Russia.
— England (@England) November 14, 2017
Provided by Press Association Sport