Mails: A World Cup without Italy is not complete

Daniel Storey

Send your thoughts to…

Love you Gigi
Gianluigi Buffon was supposed to go to a record sixth World Cup before retiring and walking off into the sunset. He was supposed to win the Champions League after reaching two finals. The football gods should have smiled on him more…

Anyways, he has won the World Cup and will always have that shiny medal to remind him that he’s a legend any time he forgets that. He’s the very definition of Captain-Leader-Legend. Anyone else who uses that moniker is just being a bellend…

Buffon has won as many World Cup medals as the entire nations of Spain and England (if you choose to overlook the infamous phantom goal). At 175, he has won more caps than England’s starting lineup against Germany. He’s more famous than the queen….OK, I think I have to stop there.


The sadness of Italy failing
I’ve always had a soft spot for the Azzurri. Even when they were known primarily for defending, and secondarily for brutality, they produced attacking players of supreme elegance: Franco Causio, Bruno Conti, Paolo Rossi, Roberto Baggio. And while Germany were a mere machine, and Brazil the pure spirit of abandon, Italy seemed almost a living thing, with passions, aversions, neuroses. They were like a wayward best friend, or even an unfaithful lover: maddening, yet irresistibly fascinating.

In fact, you never knew which Italy would turn up on the day. At Mexico 1970, they somehow topped their group while scoring only one goal in three games, and yet scored goal after goal in extra time in that immortal quarter-final against West Germany. At Germany 2006, they beat the hosts in the semi-final with an all-out extra-time attacking display, then five days later won the final on penalties after doing nothing but defend for all of the second half and two extra periods.

They were also capable of impossible results, either way. Who could have expected them to be eliminated by North Korea in 1966, or to defeat that glorious Brazil side of 1982? How did they get only a draw with New Zealand in 2010, or defeat hosts Argentina in 1978?

And now, in its way, the most incredible result of all: failing even to qualify. But losing out to Sweden isn’t really the story. Anything can happen in a two-legged tie. More significant was the slow, irregular decline of the team in major competitions, eventually dropping them into Pot 2 for the current set of qualifiers. That left them at the mercy of the draw, and they got Spain. There was always a chance they’d miss out, even if up until the final moment you somehow expected them to pull through.

It was sad to see them go down, even sadder to see them reduced to launching hopeless balls into the box against the tall Swedish defenders. This truly is their lowest point since 1966. But these are the Azzurri, and that means you can’t predict what’ll happen next. I won’t be at all surprised if they’re in the 2022 Final, and I for one would be very glad to see them there.
Peter G, Pennsylvania, USA


Or not
After watching Italy over the last two matches the World Cup will be much better without them. The fans/stadium booing the Swedish national anthem was a disgrace and a serious lack of respect shown to the opposition.

The Italian players are slow, take three touches before passing the ball on and have that chest beating Joe Hart ‘passion’ but little else.

Sweden played as a team, Italy are on the way down.


This one is all on Ventura
So that’s Italy AND Northern Ireland not at the World Cup. Incredible. Seriously though, the playoff against Sweden was a shambles. Am not usually one to blame the coach for poor performance but Ventura shoulders about 97 percent of the blame here. He’s been annoyingly inconsistent with his team selection and formations throughout the qualifying stages. In the first leg alone on Friday, he used three different formations (5-3-2, 3-4-3, and 4-2-4).

If that’s not enough, he shoehorned Jorginho into that pathetic 5-3-2 of his in this second leg. For those who may not follow Italian football with as much interest, Jorginho has some ridiculous passing stats. He makes the likes of Busquets and Kroos look like Aaron Ramsey. Italian media and fans have been calling for Jorginho’s inclusion for about a year now especially considering how Napoli play. Ventura froze him out until the decisive game of a two-legged playoff.

This was a dick move if I ever saw one, waiting until the last possible moment to do the reasonable thing when he knew that it would have an almost zero effect. Also, why would any sane manager leave Insigne literally sitting on the water-cooler when your team needs to score? Bringing in Belotti who is just back from injury but not giving Insigne even 5 minutes?

Ventura will always be remembered by future Italian coaches at Coverciano as the guy NOT to emulate or copy ideas from. Finally, at least he should have been a gracious loser. Refusing to speak to TV stations but agreeing to RAI radio was just cowardly. Bye grandpa, you won’t be missed.
Greg Tric.


Ireland have lots of cult heroes
I have been recently pondering the relative success of the Irish football team, achieved without any really decent players. Then it struck me, has any team ever had so many cult heroes on one team? At least 5 could make an appearance against Denmark tonight. Its comparable to a team of Dirk Kuyt’s in full work mode. Note; Cult heroes traditionally can’t be too good or too sh*t. This rules out both Coleman and eh, Paul McShane. Here are just some:

John Walters- For outstanding contributions to Irish Football as well as numerous important goals. In the famous 1-0 victory over the Germans, John was at the corner flag late in the game, relentlessly being hassled by Muller and Kroos. Big John actually picked up each player using just his ar*e cheeks and fired both men deep into the Aviva crowd. Amazingly this was not spotted by any officials and Ireland went on to win the game.

Wes Hoolahan- For being arguably the most technically gifted Irish player of his generation despite having less caps than Tony Pulis.

Darren Randolph- For turning into a hybrid of of Gigi Buffon and a broken red traffic light when donning Irish colours, despite the fact that he allegedly can’t save postage stamps at club level.

Shane Duffy- You could safely land an aeroplane on Shane’s magnificent head.

James McClean – For scoring some important goals in his day, as well as loving Ireland at least as much as famous Irish poet, Is Brea Liom Prataí (goes by a different English name, look him up). Interestingly, once forgot the lyrics to the Irish National anthem but this was only witnessed by Dennis Irwin who kept the secret safe for 10 years. It is not known why Dennis decided to squeal but the two men have not spoken since.

Honourable Mention – Sergeant Richard Dunne. His performance in a 0-0 draw in Russia was actually the root cause of the fall of the old USSR. (This is actually true, despite the propaganda schoolbooks might have told you.)
Irish PFM (As with Zlatan’s book, artistic licence may have been used occasionally in this mail.)


And some advice for the Boys In Green
Dear Rep of Ireland football team,

That little round object you might see tonight on the football pitch is called a football.

There is no need to be scared of it – it is not an explosive device. In fact, you are permitted to give to someone wearing the same coloured shirt as you.

Please leave the garryowens for the rugby lads.

Hope this helps.
Donal Moriarty, Dublin


All we want is the odd goal
There’s been just one goal scored in the European play offs in the last 5 games.

A 1-0 was then followed by four 0-0s.

Not sure what I’m getting at, I suppose just to say how bloody boring that is!
Bradley Kirrage


Why Solanke got the nod
Can we please calm down with all the “but Jack’s played more football than Solanke, how can Southgate say he’s not picked him because he’s been on the bench” guff?

The players are in two very different situations. Wilshere is 25 and has plenty of experience at domestic and international level. In fact Southgate’s been very clear that the reason Wilshire’s not in the squad is not solely a lack of game time but that he has no time at all playing for Arsenal and Bournemouth in the position where Southgate sees him playing for England. If he isn’t going to play for England in these two games then what’s the point in him being there?

Solanke is 20 and has no experience of playing for the senior England team. Just being in the squad is an excellent learning experience for a player who lit up the U20 World Cup. He still gets something out of the call up even if he doesn’t get on the pitch.

In picking the players there is no conflict between applying different criteria based on the individuals concerned because Southgate isn’t choosing them for the same reasons.
Monkey Steve


Five leagues of 20 would help England (actually fully agree with this)
I’ve been thinking about the league system in relation to development of players for a while, and I read Jack Saunders’s mail about the Championship with interest. Whilst I wouldn’t be naive enough to think that the levels of coaching and facilities on offer might not vary wildly in the championship as a general rule, I am starting to think that perhaps the crux of the problem lies elsewhere.

When the proposals for League 3 were revealed in May last year, the news faced backlash from the majority of the footballing world, and probably rightly so; it was important to crush any attempt to poison the Football League in all it’s traditional glory with an attempt to sneak Premier League B-teams in through the back door. There are few who love the game in this country who would even entertain an argument for player development in this model, when the cost to something held so dear would be so high. But what if, ignoring all the U23 squad nonsense, they were actually on to something with League 3?

One aspect that the lower-ranked foreign leagues mentioned in Jack’s post don’t have to deal with is grueling 24-team, 46-game league seasons in the same period of time. More football is always seen as the key to development and even fan enjoyment, but is this really the case? Players can run themselves into the ground all season for our enjoyment if we prefer, but I honestly feel like we are favouring quantity over quality in this regard.

The human body has its limitations, and slogging through week after week only seems to affect the quality of the football on show and ultimately the games themselves, as players play 2-3 times in a week and are told to ‘fight through’, and ‘get stuck in’ rather than develop technically and play the game smarter with a little more finesse.

We develop fewer players technically proficient enough for our own top-flight than most nations, and it also seems like the burn-out for an English player is much earlier than anyone else, with old generals still fighting fit at the top level everywhere but here. Perhaps an extra league and the standardisation of 20-non-B-team leagues from the bottom of the EFL to the top of the PL would actually be a positive (yet logistically difficult) step.
Sean Blinkhorn


We shall end with this
I’m a serving officer in the Royal Navy. I have seen combat operations, and have been intimately involved in actions that has seen people die. I cry on Remembrance Sunday.

At the same time, I couldn’t care less whether people wear poppies or not. I often consider wearing a white poppy to support international pacifism, because war, although occasionally the lesser evil, is awful. I revert to a red poppy because I’m too lazy to find one and because I genuinely want to donate money to the Royal British Legion.

I’m also a huge football fan, and a devotee of 5-3-2 since Liverpool played it under Roy Evans. Now for an English sweeper (other than the failed Jamie Redknapp experiment!)
GFF, Lieutenant Commander Royal Navy