Gian Piero Ventura’s squad for Italy’s World Cup qualifier against Liechtenstein and a friendly with Germany has seen some changes with the arrival of new faces in Roberto Gagliardini, Matteo Politano, Armando Izzo and Danilo Cataldi. Mario Balotelli appears to have a possible route back thanks to his form with Nice as Ventura promised to chat with the forward about his situation.
That left Sebastian Giovinco’s exclusion as the one real remaining controversy and Ventura made no effort to be diplomatic as he clearly explained that it was because the attacking player plies his trade for Toronto FC. The timing wasn’t brilliant as the Atomic Ant smashed in a hat-trick during a 5-0 win away at New York City the day before. Yet, in Ventura’s mind, this could easily be the kind of thing which supports his view that Giovinco is unsuitable as his mentality could be affected by it being too easy for him. While MLS is still sneered at from the traditional footballing heartlands, distance also plays a factor. On the first day of the international break Manolo Gabbiadini, Andrea Barzagli and Claudio Marchisio all dropped out. Despite all that, the travelling involved excludes Giovinco from even having a chance of getting his foot through the door as an emergency call-up.
The Azzurri tradition and mindset often revolves around using hard work, cynicism and teamwork to beat sides. Technical ability and beautiful play are not high on the list of priorities. Italy were able to surprise at Euro 2016 as Antonio Conte galvanised a side which was written off beforehand as the worst ever sent to a major competition to wins over Belgium and Spain and an unfortunate loss to Germany on penalties. Conte really solidified his reputation as he got the most out of a side weaker than his Juventus and he too saw no need for Giovinco. Italian coaches almost invariably work the word ‘suffering’ into their press conferences and Giovinco doesn’t really fit into that view despite being a great player. It’s true that Italy are only playing Liechtenstein in a competitive match this break. Yet, the Azzurri are not going to disrupt their rhythm by giving Giovinco a run-out against the small teams in the hope he makes them look foolish as he does the rest of MLS.
Italy’s underdog mentality meant Graziano Pellè and Eder remained key players in France despite being unfashionable. In some ways, the situation is the same for on-fire Atalanta’s Papu Gomez who could be called up as a naturalised Italian. He’s another good small attacking player but he doesn’t have a realistic hope of entering the fray as the Azzurri can’t fit in somebody who drifts between the lines in that way. Similarly, Lorenzo Insigne is another small attacking player but he rarely plays an important role despite being frequently involved. Even a far better attacking midfielder in Francesco Totti wasn’t able to enjoy the international career that he perhaps deserved. If anyone is going to step up as the injection of creativity playing abroad, it’s Nicola Sansone. He’s more versatile than Giovinco, plays in a better league and he’s younger.
Italy have a system and in the international breaks, there’s not much time to experiment together as a squad. As good as Giovinco may be, he’s not so good that his coach should be tinkering elsewhere to get the most out of him. The stop-start nature of international football means that reliability is paramount so creativity is pushed down the pecking order as efficiency trumps flair of any more exotic philosophies. International football is typically attritional. Portugal were nowhere near being the best team at Euro 2016 but somehow won it. It’s therefore natural for Ventura to feat that Giovinco would be a luxury player who could go missing. He needs players he can trust. MLS may not deserve its terrible reputation, but Giovinco knows that it doesn’t matter to those who decide on his international career. He can’t complain or feel truly disappointed as this all happened before under Conte.
Giovinco has flourished as a big fish in a small pond and with Italy moving towards younger players, Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti flourishing in attack, it would be illogical to bring back a 29-year-old who plays in a role the Azzurri rarely use.