While the senior national team shows signs of battling back from recent woes, the underachievement of youth level squads points to a worrying trend for the future of Calcio.
As Italy prepare to host Estonia in Modena on Friday with a commanding five-point lead at the top of their Euro 2012 qualifying group, one could be forgiven for thinking that the national game in the peninsula has quickly been turned around after last summer’s disastrous World Cup campaign. But Sunday’s 3-0 humbling by the Republic of Ireland at under-19 level was just the latest in a series of worrying results in the younger age groups that have suggested that there are reasons to be concerned about the future of the national team.
While it is not necessarily results that matter most at youth level, more the progression of top international players of the future, Italy has long had an impressive record in competitive tournaments at the younger levels. However, alongside a recent blockage of the supply line of top talent to the senior team has come a drop in representation at the major youth tournaments, with this summer set to be one of the quietest ever in Calcio.
Having somehow squandered a 2-0 first-leg lead to Belarus in October in their European Championship play-off, Italy’s under-21 side begin their participation in this year’s Toulon tournament on Wednesday when they could instead have been preparing to fly to Denmark for the bi-annual continental finals. Under Pierluigi Casiraghi, their Uefa campaign never really got off the ground after a slow start, and players such as Angelo Ogbonna, Andrea Poli, Vito Mannone and Stefano Okaka missed out on the opportunity to sample big-match finals football at the highest youth level.