Why are Italy ignoring the best midfielder in Serie A?

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Even amidst a midfield injury crisis there is no room for Napoli's metronome, Jorginho, who could now decide to play for Brazil instead

On Monday, Daniele De Rossi and Roma team-mate Lorenzo Pellegrini pulled out of the Italy squad due to injuries sustained during the weekend win at AC Milan.

They joined Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti on the Azzurri midfield scrapheap for the World Cup qualification double-header against Macedonia and Albania, while longer-term casualty Claudio Marchisio is also absent.

Italy 18/1 to win World Cup

Finally, there appeared to be no reason for the Italian coach Gian Piero Ventura to ignore the most important component in Serie A’s best team. Apparently not.

Instead of Napoli’s Jorginho, in came Bryan Cristante of Atalanta and Inter’s Roberto Gagliardini.

That Ventura continues to overlook the league’s most influential player is a source of unending frustration for Italian fans, not to mention the player himself.

That the coach could move so far down Italy’s list of eligible midfielders and still fail to find space for Jorginho is not only surprising, it’s downright ignorant.

In case you’d missed it, Napoli are leading the Scudetto race after seven matches. They’ve won all seven and scored 25 goals in the process.

Jorginho Napoli

While top scorer Dries Mertens and striking partners Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon tend to hog the headlines, there is a substantial and growing realisation that Jorginho is the man holding it all together.

Maurizio Sarri’s side are winning admirers all over the continent for their brand of football, perfected over the past couple of seasons. Their total dominance of the ball and their relentless commitment to positive attacking play has marked them out as Serie A winners-in-waiting this season – at a time when champions Juventus do not appear to be at their best.

Most of it would be impossible without Jorginho, the 25-year-old signed from Verona in 2014. He fulfils much the same role in this team as Xavi did for Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona.

Since Opta started gathering data for Serie A in time for the 2004-05 season, Jorginho occupies all nine of the top spots for most touches in any match.

He also holds nine of the top 10 places for most successful passes played in any given match, with the 160 he hit against Benevento this season ranking third on the list.

Jorginho Napoli

Following his latest international snub, Jorginho was reported to be ready to throw his lot back in with his native Brazil, with coach Tite considering adding the midfielder to his World Cup plans.

He has been capped twice for Italy under Antonio Conte – playing a measly 24 minutes in total – but remains eligible for his homeland as he is yet to feature in a competitive fixture.

“If he doesn't need a playmaker, he won't call him up,” Jorginho’s agent, Joao Santos, said a couple of weeks ago when the Italy squad first convened.

“I always hope that something will change. I think like the coach, that in this period there's no reason to call him up. If that should change, then he'll take him into consideration.

“As a Brazilian, I hope that he will play for Brazil. If Italy do not call him up, I hope that my national team will. Should a call arrive, it will be the player who decides.”

Indeed there is an argument that the system currently favoured by Ventura – namely a 4-2-4 – does not suit the strengths of Jorginho, who excels in a three-man midfield for his club alongside Marek Hamsik and Allan.

Jorginho GFX Passes Jorginho GFX Touches

The Ventura formation, however, has its limitations. Even accounting for a poor generation, Italy are always going to have enough power to overcome qualification also-rans like Macedonia, Albania and Liechtenstein. But against bigger teams – and particularly in the defeat against Spain – Italy simply get overrun.

There is no great willingness on the part of the coach to get his team on the ball and compete against the top countries, preferring to sit back and perform a rear-guard action instead.

That might well have worked when Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta were around but Italy are simply not in possession of the same kind of individual defensive talent these days.

An alteration to the way they play – utilising Jorginho, Marco Verratti and a screener such as De Rossi might help Italy get on the front foot possession-wise and create more chances through attackers Insigne and – when fit – Andrea Belotti.

Besides, there is simply no excuse for failing to incorporate a talent as red-hot as Jorginho.

Jorginho Italy Spain

Napoli are by far the most exciting, most intrepid Italian team this season and Jorginho is fundamental to the way they play. If there’s no way he can play in a system – especially one so lacklustre – then it should be changed to accommodate him.

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The sense in Italy is that Ventura is out of his depth and that he won’t last longer than the World Cup finals next summer – if his side even make it that far. After picking up only one point in the matches against Spain, a play-off berth is now the best they can hope for.

Whoever replaces Ventura must surely look to Napoli and the way they do business as a template for the national team going forward. They have pace, panache, an identifiable philosophy and a midfielder who can stitch it all together.

That is unless Brazil can get him first. 

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