Italian football is on the ropes, and it is their own fault. The triumph of 2006 came after the Golden Generation failed in 2002. That was when they were supposed to whip up a storm. The team blessed with Christian Vieri, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Fabio Cannavaro, Filippo Inzaghi, Gianluigi Buffon, and more in the prime of their careers never really got going under Giovanni Trapattoni before they were farcically put out their misery in the second round by hosts South Korea.

…manipulating the (FIFA ratings) system was just as easy as limiting the amount of friendlies played.

Expectations were heightened then. In 2006, they were at higher odds than Brazil, England, Germany, and Argentina to win. They triumphed, carried by once in a generation defensive performances, and a team effort in attack seeing only two men, Luca Toni and Marco Materazzi, netting twice, and eight more finding the back of the net once. Italy had won four World Cups, and the last two were certainly won with the considerable aid of their back five players. That was good. All good things must come to an end, though.

If 2010, was a debacle, then 2014 was a “what not to do” in terms of World Cup campaigns. The Italian national team again limped out at the group stage, the most humiliating scenario for the team then dethroned by Germany as the second most successful team in World Cup history.

Italy have gotten a bad rap for being ultra-defensive when, in fact, Italians are just inordinately good at defending. Poetry in motion when in full flight, Italian defenses have nullified some of the game’s very best. Post-2006, save for Cesare Prandelli and most of Antonio Conte, Italy has muddled this once again, because defending has been the crutch relied on to save impoverished attacking play borne from underexposed talent and wild experimentation.

Downhill

Unfortunately, the winning coach from 2006, Marcello Lippi, missed the memo about the fleeting nature of humanity and oversaw Italy’s most humiliating World Cup exit, as they finished bottom of a soft group including Paraguay, first-time finalists Slovakia, and twice-qualified New Zealand. Then, he wanted to stick to a tried and tested formula, supposing that Fabio Cannavaro and company could reproduce the most sublime display of defending to cede to his will, but everything depreciates over time, and the players he relied on for superhuman performances in 2006 were past it four years later. It mattered not how great they were or how ingrained their legacy is.

If 2010, was a debacle, then 2014 was a “what not to do” in terms of World Cup campaigns. The Italian national team again limped out at the group stage, the most humiliating scenario for the team then dethroned by Germany as the second most successful team in World Cup history. Then, Prandelli had Italy playing well enough whenever he cared to put a near full strength team out. The team was very experimental leading up to the tournament, but very few doubted their big stage credentials. This experimentation has come to bite the Italians in the cruellest of ways on multiple occasions. Italy found themselves in a group with Uruguay and England, the dumbest of self-inflicted wounds.

What’s ironic is that the younger from that squad are very much better players four years on with nowhere to showcase it. After a controlled performance against England in their opening tie courtesy a clinic from Andrea Pirlo, it simply fell apart as the Italians fell into their shells. Football tradition gone wrong usurped the quality their squad possessed.