With Brazil coach Tite poised to offer Napoli midfielder Jorginho an international lifeline by selecting him for the Canarinho, Italy boss Gian Piero Ventura finally bowed to pressure and named him in the Azzurri squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifying playoffs against Sweden.
Tite was in Italy on Tuesday night, checking up on the progress of regular squad members Gabriel Jesus, Fernandinho and Ederson, who were all representing Manchester City in the Champions League clash against Napoli. However, the game also provided him with an opportunity to have a closer look at the Imbituba-born player, whose agent had already suggested that he was ready to accept the call from Brazil.
Despite being born in Brazil, the 25-year-old has always been keen to represent Italy, having moved to the country at a young age and also being of Italian heritage. But the midfield maestro has long been overlooked by coaches of the national team, his only previous appearances being two friendly matches.
In recent months, however, a growing number of fans and media pundits have been putting pressure on Ventura to hand Jorginho his first competitive cap and avoid losing one of the best passers in Serie A. The current Azzurri boss has previously declared that the Napoli star did not fit his playing style and prior to that, Antonio Conte remained unconvinced after using him as a substitute in a couple of non-competitive matches. The decision not to include him in the Euro 2016 squad was met with disbelief.
Of course, anyone who watches Serie A on a regular basis will be well aware of the player’s qualities. Often regarded as the perfect replacement for Andrea Pirlo, the youngster has topped the passing stats in 2017 – not only in Italy but in the whole of Europe. Of course, completing lots of passes is not a measure of greatness in itself, but it is the overall influence that he has on the current Napoli model that impresses. Much like Pirlo at Juventus, everything goes through him, he is the first point of reference for defence and attack and he keeps the team ticking over at their signature high tempo.
He wears the opposition down with his quick-thinking and intelligent distribution, often turning defence into attack with one surgically-precise pass. If there is no outlet, more intricate passes are used to maintain possession, while teammates are reassured by his constant movement into space and willingness to receive the ball.
Ventura’s decision may just be a case of the coach bowing to pressure with such a crucial pair of games coming up, but it does prompt the questions: How will a Coach who declared Jorginho had no place in his system suddenly find a way to accommodate him? And will this mean a change of formation from Ventura or will he stick to his 4-2-4 blueprint and ask the player to adapt?
It may be hard for Ventura to justify sticking to the same system following his team’s lacklustre World Cup qualifying campaign. Finishing second in the group to Spain was no disgrace in itself but it was the manner in which they fell short that drew criticism. They struggled to beat teams they should have dominated and they were outclassed by a Spanish team that they should have been able to at least compete with. As a result, Italy have drifted to 22/1 in the World Cup betting market, and anyone planning to use a free bet to wager on the tournament winner may be tempted to look elsewhere. So, can Jorginho revive their fortunes at this late hour?
Ventura's call-ups for Italy's crucial playoff games against Sweden
— Italian Football TV (@IFTVofficial) November 4, 2017
Ever since he first stepped out of the periphery following Verona’s 2013 promotion campaign, it was assumed that Jorginho would go on to be a star of the national team but few imagined that it would take so long.
In 2014, the player was being linked with moves to AC Milan, Juventus and Liverpool, but it was the Partenopei who put in the hard work to convince both player and agent that they were best positioned to aid his development. There were moments during the first season when that decision was called into question. Rafa Benitez often utilised him in unfamiliar positions and the overall system under the current Newcastle boss did not suit Jorginho’s game. Now there are fears the same could happen at international level unless Ventura changes his outlook.
While his inclusion is welcome, there are those that may feel it has come a little too late. With such a crucial game coming up, is now really the time to be tweaking systems or shoe-horning players into a formation to satisfy public demand? The hope is that Ventura’s face-saving exercise will not back-fire at such a crucial time.