When Toronto FC striker Sebastian Giovinco was excluded from Italy’s roster for upcoming World Cup qualifiers, there was nothing especially surprising about it. Italy is stacked with talent and Giovinco has been, at best, on the bubble of the national team lately.
But when coach Giampiero Ventura went on to slam MLS and argue his decision on more theoretical grounds than practical ones, he turned it into a question of whether he was seriously evaluating all the players he should.
"I have done everything to help him but the reality is that he plays in a league that doesn’t matter much," Ventura said of Giovinco, according to reports. "And the number of goals he scores is less important because with the quality he has got, he is bound to make a difference in that league.
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"The problem is that if you play in that type of league, and you get used to playing in that type of league, it becomes a problem of mentality."
Even the most dedicated MLS fans would admit that the young American league simply cannot match the quality of top-flight leagues like the Premier League, the Bundesliga and, yes, Serie A. And it’s not like Ventura needs Giovinco right now – he called in six strikers that all are not only starters for top European clubs, but are very good in-form players.
However, the message Ventura has sent is that Giovinco will never be evaluated no matter what he does as long as he plays for Toronto FC. Giovinco’s talent and form are both irrelevant because Ventura will outright dismiss Giovinco on principle. That’s maybe not the best approach for a national team coach.
Giampiero Ventura looks on prior to the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier between Israel and Italy on September 5, 2016 in Haifa, Israel. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
It needlessly limits player selection and is perhaps in some ways antithetical to what many expect national team coaches to do in selecting their squads. When international prospects are spread around the world in different club environments, it would behoove a manager to bring them together and evaluate them in the national team environment.
Giovinco, for his part, seems to understand the situation and how his club choices have affected his national team potential. He made his decision to play for Toronto FC despite that and he seems happy there, combining on 32 goals scored or assisted this season. A happy striker tends to be an in-form striker, after all.
That’s not to say Giovinco has reached a point where it’s difficult for Ventura not to call him in. For as consistently good as he has been recently, his past has been more up-and-down, including in times when he was more firmly in consideration for the national team. Aside from a relatively decent loan spell at Parma several years ago, Giovinco often seemed to under-perform at clubs like Juventus and Empoli.
It’s fair for a coach’s evaluation to take into account the past. When Ventura said Mario Balotelli wasn’t getting called in despite his recent good form for Nice because, well, he is still Balotelli, it was understandable.
"He’s been back in form for two months now but you can’t think that in two months somebody has changed who they are," Ventura said of Balotelli, according to reports.
But he also said he would reach out to Balotelli going forward and judge for himself if Balotelli has turned over a new, more serious leaf.
Why Giovinco couldn’t earn the same consideration someday is a bit baffling. Giovinco probably would’ve never made any sense for this specific roster, but if injuries or dips in form change the national team picture, one day he could.
Maybe on form alone Giovinco will never break into that group of strikers. But that ought to be the reason, not some draconian standard about which leagues are acceptable and which are not.