The late Italian journalist Gianni Brera once said that “the perfect match would end 0-0” and he would have been impressed with the results involving the Top Four sides in Round 16 of the 2017/18 Serie A season if he was alive today.
Juventus v Inter, Chievo v Roma, and Napoli v Fiorentina ended in 0-0 draws and all three games were typical of his ideology of football. Although there were scoring chances created in those games, it was evident that the goalkeepers and defences were the dominant figures in those matches.
Although these happened in one round of Serie A action, this must not become a trend in the Italian game because Italian teams so far this season have shown that they can do well when they attack.
Many teams in Serie A and several more in Serie B are adapting a more proactive approach to football but there are still a few coaches in Italy that prioritise defending and nullifying opponents instead of seizing the initiative.
Although Juventus and Inter are giants of Italian and world football, they both play in a conservative fashion; Roma had to travel away to Verona and face arguably the most defensive team in the modern Italian game; and Napoli once again had to face a team that parked the bus to stifle its possessed-based approach.
Hopefully this round of Serie A action was an exception to the rule because most of the top teams are still scoring freely. Inter is averaging 2.06 goals per match, Napoli averages 2.19, and Juventus averages 2.56. Lazio has averaged 2.5 goals per match prior to the Monday night CET match with Torino while Sampdoria averages 2.
The way the 2017/18 season has been progressing is against the beliefs of Brera, who was a difensivista, a person who favoured defensive football over attacking philosophies.
He also had this absolutely absurd belief that Italians had to play defensive because they were not strong enough physically to play offensively. Perhaps someone should have told him that not everyone plays with speed and strength like a stereotypical British team.
One person who was against Brera’s mentality was former AC Milan and Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi. He once said:
Brera used to say that Italian clubs had to focus on defending because of our diets. But I could see that in other sports we would excel and that our success proved that we were not inferior physically. And I so became convinced that the real problem was our mentality, which was defensive and lazy.
When Brera rose to prominence as a journalist, World War II had ended and Italy was in a mess. Then the Azzurri underperformed at the 1950 and 1954 World Cups and losing players from Il Grande Torino in the Superga air disaster in 1949 impacted on Italy’s squad depth. In those circumstances, you can understand why Italian coaches had to do something to be competitive.
In 2017 Brera’s thoughts sound outdated whereas Sacchi’s comments are still applicable to this day. Although there have been signs of progress, Italian football still has problems with its mentality and Italy failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup illustrates some of these mindset problems.
Since the Azzurri won the 1982 World Cup, people involved in Italian football as well as the supporters have this idea that Italy can take it easy in qualifying and in the early stages of major tournaments before peaking in the knockout stages.
This approach does not work all the time because the Italian national team have shown at times that they struggle to get out of first gear. After Espana 82, Italy has only won one major trophy since then, the 2006 World Cup in Germany. What has happened the other times?
There have been tournaments in which the Azzurri have been unlucky due to penalty shoot-outs and controversial refereeing decisions but they cannot be used as excuses. Italian teams at club and international level must control their own destiny and not worry too much about things out of their control.
Unfortunately Italy’s football mentality in addition to other factors contributed to the national team missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 1958. Carlo Tavecchio was a horrible appointment as FIGC president in 2014 and then his decision to replace Antonio Conte with Giampiero Ventura as Azzurri coach two years later was worse.
Ventura’s national team lacked a clear football identity and he was reliant on veterans instead of integrating more of the new generation. If losing 3-0 away to Spain in September this year was not a enough of an indicator, losing 1-0 on aggregate to Sweden in the qualifying play-offs confirmed that Italian football needs a revolution.
Italian teams cannot take it easy in so-called meaningless matches because eventually it affects them one way or another. It could impact on the goal difference in a table or the opposition will persist in a relentless chance for whereas the Italian side would likely defend a “comfortable lead”.
On the weekend, Serie A fans saw some of Italy’s biggest clubs cancelling each other out, which is not ideal from a marketing perspective. Italian football still has its fair share or critics and haters who are keen to rubbish it whenever possible so it would be great to avoid giving them ammunition to spill out dated stereotypes or be Italophobic.
Most of the current Serie A campaign has consisted of exciting games which go against the notion of the Italian style being cautious and defensive. This is the path Italian teams must go down, not just because it pleases the neutrals, but it is the best way for them to be competitive and get results.
Tactics and defensive organisation are important parts of the game, especially in Italy, but so are football intelligence and technical skill. It is important to avoid defensive naivety but having the confidence and the guile to create goals are fundamental too.
Italians are considered to be “the masters of defence” but there is an old saying that “offence is the best form of defence” so Italian teams and coaches should make more of an effort to be masters in attacking because Italy does produce technically gifted players.
Italy can be proud to have produced great goalkeepers such as Gianluigi Buffon, Dino Zoff, Giampiero Combi, Walter Zenga, and Gianluca Pagliuca as well as great defenders such as Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Giacinto Facchetti, Gaetano Scirea, Alessandro Nesta, and Fabio Cannavaro but Italy is also the land of many great attacking talents.
For a football nation known for its defensive prowess, it has still been able to produce such footballing geniuses such as Giuseppe Meazza, Gianni Rivera, Roberto Baggio, Valentino and Sandro Mazzola, Gigi Riva, Silvio Piola, Andrea Pirlo, and Francesco Totti among countless others. Why just play for 0-0 draws and 1-0 wins?
The new generation isn’t well-known to most non-Italian football fans but with the right nurturing and coaching, they can become stars. Goalkeepers such as Gianluigi Donnarumma, Alex Meret, Simone Scuffet, and Alessio Cragno have great potential while Alessio Romagnoli, Mattia Caldara, Daniele Rugani, Andrea Conti, and Antonio Barreca can be stars in defence.
When it comes to attack-minded players, some of the players to look out for include Federico Chiesa, Federico Bernardeschi, Patrick Cutrone, Domenico Berardi, Riccardo Orsolini, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Manuel Locatelli, Bryan Cristante, and Nicolo Barella. Players like this must not believe that 0-0 is a perfect score and they should be taught to score as many goals as possible against an opponent.
Gianni Brera might not have liked goals but the rest of the world does and Italian teams are capable of scoring goals.For the sake of Italian football rising again and also earning deserved praise, the results from the weekend must not be a trend and they should be an exception instead.
The Italian way of playing football must become the antithesis of Brera’s ideology as opposed to remaining true to it.