Italy's World Cup fallout deepens as Tavecchio resigns

(AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File)

By ANDREW DAMPF

AP Sports Writer

ROME (AP) First it was the captain. Then the coach. And now it's the president.

One by one, the totems of Italian soccer are stepping aside.

Gianluigi Buffon made the first move when he announced his retirement from the national team after the Azzurri's failure to qualify for the World Cup.

Two days later, coach Gian Piero Ventura was fired amid widespread criticism.

Then on Monday, federation president Carlo Tavecchio resigned amid eroding support, exactly a week after the playoff loss to Sweden kept Italy out of the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

With the presidencies of Serie A and B also vacant, the nation's most popular sport is in for a complete leadership overhaul.

"I resigned for political reasons, not sports reasons," a furious Tavecchio said. "We missed the World Cup and it became a tragedy.

"This system, this culture, these politics and this management can no longer go on like this." Tavecchio added that reforms are needed "at a general, systemic level."

Four-time champion Italy finished second in its World Cup qualifying group behind Spain and then was beaten by Sweden 1-0 on aggregate in the playoff.

Tavecchio appeared to lay the blame for Italy's failure solely with fired coach Ventura. He added it was former Azzurri coach Marcello Lippi's decision to hire Ventura when Lippi was being considered for the position of national team adviser - a role Lippi never officially assumed.

"I'm paying for Ventura even though I didn't choose him," said Tavecchio, pointing his finger at a news conference where emotions ran high.

Carlo Ancelotti leads the list of possible successors to Ventura.

"I talked with four or five great coaches. They're all busy," Tavecchio said.

There's plenty of time to hire a new coach, though: Italy won't play another official match for nearly a year.

"It's time for choices," said Maurizio Sarri, the coach of Serie A leader Napoli. "You need to take a broad viewpoint. For example, it's useless to just look at the number of foreigners, because only in Spain there are fewer foreigners playing than here.

"Unfortunately, with the evolution of football I'm no longer convinced that national teams really represent the movement," Sarri added. "Just look at the Premier League which is by far the most important league in Europe but England has a national team that struggles to record great results."

Napoli's crumbling San Paolo stadium epitomizes the crisis of Italian football. It's owned by the city, meaning Napoli doesn't earn much in the way of marketing profits from the facility, yet club president Aurelio De Laurentiis has been unable to create a consensus to build a new stadium.

"A movement that doesn't take care of its playing theaters is like a surgeon who operates with instruments that don't work," Sarri said. "Better stadiums would improve the show."

For the last week, Tavecchio had resisted calls to step down but he eventually lost the support of the federation's board of directors.

Once the amateur league that Tavecchio used to control withdrew its backing, Tavecchio said he "resigned instantly."

"And I asked the entire board to resign, too, but nobody did," Tavecchio said, adding that he would stay on and guide the federation until elections, which must be held within 90 days.

But it appeared likely that he would be removed sooner by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), which oversees all sports in the country.

CONI president Giovanni Malago said he would call for the federation to be put under an interim leader as an emergency measure.

"Someone before me left the seeds and fruits for this tragedy," Tavecchio said.

But Tavecchio has dragged down Italy's image with a series of offensive remarks since he was first elected in 2014. UEFA banned him for six months after he made a reference to bananas when discussing the presence of foreign players in Italy during his first election campaign.

Still, Tavecchio was re-elected this year.

A Gazzetta dello Sport poll published on Monday showed 73 percent of adults in Italy wanted Tavecchio to step down.

Players' association president Damiano Tommasi said he "hopes the next president is someone who can talk football."

Tommasi, who played on Italy's squad at the 2002 World Cup and won the Serie A with Roma in 2001, added, "It's not the right time" to say if he will run for the presidency.

"Nobody has asked me to yet," Tommasi said.

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf

Updated November 20, 2017

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