The impossible has happened. For the first time in 60 years Italy have failed to qualify for next summer’s World Cup finals, and Giampiero Ventura has now been sacked as a result of his side’s failure.
The Azzurri’s final hopes of participating in the finals next summer were extinguished on Monday as they drew 0-0 with Sweden at San Siro to complete a 1-0 aggregate defeat which sends the Scandinavians to Russia instead.
Ventura’s short-lived tenure has now come to an end after he became the first Italy coach since Alfredo Foni in 1958 to fail to lead his players through the qualification process. But who could take up the role of attempting to dig the four-time world champions out of their lowest moment in generations?
There is no more storied manager available for work right now than Carlo Ancelotti. A trophy winner in all five of Europe’s biggest leagues and three-time Champions League king, the 58-year-old is at a loose end having been unceremoniously sacked by Bayern Munich in September following a slow start to this season.
Perhaps it is the optimum time for Ancelotti to take up the role with his national team now that he has proven himself as a winner in five different countries, especially since he is a man who has been famed for not over-training players. His style of coaching might well be perfectly-suited to the time constraints associated with managing an international side.
Ancelotti is arguably the stand-out candidate and is considered the favourite for the job.
Having made a success of his previous spell in charge of the Azzurri, Conte may well be primed to return less than two years on from taking the national side to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016. Just as World Cup winner Marcello Lippi stepped forward to retake the helm in 2008 after Roberto Donadoni’s underwhelming two-year reign, so too might the Chelsea manager fancy his chances of mopping up the current mess.
The constant speculation about Conte’s relationship with members of the board at Stamford Bridge suggest there may be a parting of the ways in west London before long, and one of the key criticisms of Ventura during his short spell in charge has been an inability to match the clear identity demonstrated by Conte’s Azzurri.
GIAN PIERO GASPERINI
Gasperini’s was one of the names said to be in the pot for the job of commissario tecnico when Conte announced he was off to Chelsea in 2016, but having been overlooked for Ventura he has barely looked back. Since arriving at Atalanta that summer, the 59-year-old has led the Bergamo side to an exceptional third-place finish last term and now they need only one point from their final two Europa League group fixtures to progress to the knockout phase.
The former Genoa boss did struggle in his highest-profile appointment to date when spending only five fixtures in charge of Inter in 2011, but this came at a time when the Nerazzurri decision-makers were struggling to find a clear path through their difficulties following Jose Mourinho’s departure 12 months previously. Gasperini has proven with both Genoa and Atalanta since then that he has what it takes to achieve extraordinary feats.
Sarri’s has been one of the more nomadic coaching careers on the peninsula but since arriving in Serie A with Empoli in 2014 he has quickly made a name for himself as one of the most tactically-astute bosses in the European game. His Napoli side have developed a reputation for playing wonderful attacking football on their way to second and third-place finishes, while they top the table after 12 rounds of the current campaign.
His successes have led to comparisons between his work and that of legendary former Azzurri boss Arrigo Sacchi but he has been quick to play that down. “If I decided to retire today I would not be remembered by anyone, because I haven’t won anything yet. I think the comparison to Arrigo Sacchi is just an insult to him,” he said in a press conference recently.
A promotion to the highest seat in Italian football would surely only increase the scope for lines to be drawn between the two.
There has been no way past Juventus domestically since the contentious appointment of Massimiliano Allegri to succeed Antonio Conte in 2014. The initial uproar among Juve fans at the arrival of the former Milan boss quickly gave way to immense satisfaction, with the 50-year-old leading the Bianconeri to three consecutives Italian league and cup doubles and also taking them to two Champions League finals in three attempts.
Allegri may well consider himself to be in the very best place to succeed, and while Juve are presently playing catch-up to the fast starting Napoli they remain well set for a tilt at a seventh straight Serie A title. The chance to lead his country might not be a big enough lure, with his recent claim that “the objective for the national team is to get results, not to play well, because if you train together once a month you cannot play well” suggesting he would not take well to the parameters within which national coaches have to work.
LUIGI DI BIAGIO
Di Biagio is perhaps remembered best for his own moment of World Cup heartbreak having missed the penalty which saw Italy eliminated from the 1998 tournament against host nation France, but since stepping up from coaching the Italy under-20s in 2013 to replace Devis Mangia as the coach of the under-21s he has developed quite the reputation.
While he couldn’t take the Azzurrini beyond the group stage at the 2015 European Championship finals, he did lead them to the last four at the 2017 edition and has been praised for the style of football being played at the age group. While the 46-year-old has yet to take the plunge into club management, his successes within the national team structure could well be seen as the perfect grounding for the main role.
Having won back-to-back Scudetti with Inter and a historic first title in 44 years at Manchester City, Mancini looked to have set himself a platform for continued success at the top level of the game. But since that dramatic last-gasp Premier League win with City in 2012 the Italian has only a single Turkish Cup to his name and has most recently shown significant signs of discontent with life as manager of Zenit St Petersburg.
While his career has hit the buffers of late, Mancini has plenty of time in him yet. And the 52-year-old has also made no secret of the fact he would love to coach the Azzurri at some point, remarking recently: “Could I coach Italy in the future? Every coach has this dream, and for me it would be an honour and a matter of great pride. I would be ready.”