Giampiero Ventura has warned cocksure players that they will not play for Italy and opined that Mario Balotelli has failed to live up to his hype. The 68-year-old expelled Graziano Pelle from international duty in October after the striker refused to shake his hand after being substituted in the 59th minute of a 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifier against Spain.
“I know he apologised to his team-mates,” Ventura told Corriere della Sera. “I hope he understood the situation, but I say it more for him than for me. I think of those stories of talents who were affected negatively by money. It’s like when some people win the lottery and it ruins their lives. Players are not the only ones who can get their heads turned this way.
“I don’t think Andrea Belotti is letting himself be affected by the €100 million release clause in his Torino contract, as he’s someone who wants to improve. Great champions always put themselves up for the challenge, like Cristiano Ronaldo or Gigi Buffon.”
One subject Ventura is relentlessly questioned over is whether he will recall Balotelli. The 26-year-old forward has not played for Italy since Brazil 2014, and endured a frustrating, action-limited two seasons at Liverpool and on loan at AC Milan. However, on the last day of the transfer window in August, he joined Nice on a free transfer and has since excelled, scoring six times in as many matches for the French club.
“There has to be a rapport and when we speak, we’ll understand if there is the possibility of collaboration with him,” said Ventura. “So far, he hasn’t done what his qualities would have allowed him to."
Last month, Ventura called up 22 young players for a training camp, and he revealed he was secretly spying on their attitudes in the aftermath.
“I made sure we had scouts watching all of them the weekend after, because if they had the attitude of thinking themselves a phenomenon, they’d never be back with the Azzurri,” said the former Torino coach. “Nobody failed that test.
“Roberto Gagliardini, for instance, was man of the match for Atalanta against Roma, while Gianluca Lapadula, Gianluca Caprari, Roberto Inglese and [Amato] Ciciretti all scored. Marco Sportiello arrived during a difficult moment and left our camp with a smile on his face. This is a 360-degree job, covering technical and psychological aspects to get the potential out of a player."
Italy are second in Group G in European qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, behind Spain on goal difference and above Israel by a point.
“There were those who were stunned when I said I was inheriting the oldest Nazionale of all time, but that was the truth and nobody seemed to worry about it," Ventura said. "People are, above all, interested in the result, not in who achieves it, but I have to worry about how we get that result. I started travelling round the clubs, speaking to presidents and coaches.
“We are currently joint-top of our World Cup qualifying group, but what happened off the field is just as important: today, clubs play youngsters more than they did ten years ago. It’s like a wave that is gathering momentum, that’s how a movement is born, in my view.
“Marcello Lippi had champions to choose from. At the EUROs, Antonio Conte had time to be a coach and form the team. How do I create young players? I have to go looking for them."
The only World Cup Italy failed to qualify for – they did not enter the race for Uruguay 1930 – was Sweden 1958, when a team including Juan Alberto Schiaffino, Alcides Ghiggia and Dino da Costa were pipped to a ticket by Northern Ireland.