PlayStations rather than pressing dominates Italy’s build-up to Euro 2024

Luciano Spalletti’s views on games consoles, rather than his tactics, capture media attention

Italy's head coach Luciano Spalletti supervises his team's training session at their base camp in Iserlohn. Photograph: Alberto Pizzioli/AFP via Getty

The six football “commandments” pinned to the whiteboard at Italy’s Coverciano training base before they departed for Germany for Euro 2024 made no mention of PlayStations or headphones. What they listed instead was a series of guiding principles for how the European champions should defend their title on the pitch.

1) Continuous pressing. 2) Control the play (ball management). 3) Tied together (distances between team-mates: short, close). 4) Ferocious reaggression (when the ball is lost). 5) Recomposition (get back to your places). 6) Order, study, and prepare (to get back to pressing).

Yet, as the European champions prepare to open their title defence against Albania on Saturday, there has been less buzz about Luciano Spalletti’s tactical ideas than his policies on when and how players use their electronic devices.

A mocked-up image of the manager in Thursday’s edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport showed him holding up an alternative list of commandments that included restrictions on when players could use their phones and a ban on players walking around with headphones on and “a stupid look on their face” – a direct quote from Spalletti, albeit not a new one. He discussed this rule at Coverciano last October.


The PlayStation ban is more recent. In March, Spalletti told reporters he believed at least one player had not slept before Italy’s decisive final qualifying game against Ukraine because they stayed up all night playing video games. “That’s not okay,” he said. “It’s not the two hours we’re out on the pitch that show who we are, but the 22 hours either side.”

Spalletti never named names, but his decision to omit Gianluca Scamacca – used as a substitute against Ukraine – from his squad for friendlies against Venezuela and Ecuador set tongues wagging. Il Corriere di Bergamo, a newspaper local to the player’s club side, Atalanta, described him as a “PlayStation fanatic”.

Perhaps it was the jolt Scamacca needed. He finished the season in scintillating form, with 12 goals and four assists in his last 19 matches for Atalanta – including a pair of strikes against Liverpool at Anfield. Speaking at a press conference in Iserlohn this week, Scamacca said: “Spalletti did well not to take me to [the friendlies in] the United States. I didn’t deserve it.”

The striker credited the manager of his club side, Gian Piero Gasperini, and Spalletti for pushing the right buttons to help him to get back to his best. “I would like to emulate the Italy squad from 2021 who won the Euros and the one from 2006 that won the World Cup,” he said. “Those are my examples.”

Few outside the Italy camp are tipping them to go so far. This is a very different Italy team to the one that broke English hearts at Wembley three years ago, with no more than four of the players who started that final likely to be in the XI to face Albania.

Gianluigi Donnarumma, named player of the tournament at Euro 2020, remains the first-choice keeper, while Nicolò Barella and Jorginho should both start in midfield so long as the former is fit. Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s spot in defence is less certain. Federico Chiesa, a breakout star at that tournament, is present but even less sure of a place after three injury-hit seasons in-between.

The indications from Italy’s two warm-up games are that Spalletti has not settled on his formation, using a back four against Turkey then 3-4-2-1 to face Bosnia and Herzegovina. Who could blame him for not yet having all the answers? Spalletti has held the job only since last August, called in from what was supposed to be a relaxing sabbatical after winning Serie A with Napoli to replace Roberto Mancini, who resigned in the middle of a qualifying campaign.

Gianluca Scamacca of Italy. Photograph: Claudio Villa/Getty

Including friendlies, Spalletti has had 10 games to get to know the players. All over the pitch, there are questions.

Who should start alongside Alessandro Bastoni at centre-back after his Inter team-mate Francesco Acerbi was ruled out through injury? Italy have promising talent emerging, from Bologna’s Riccardo Calafiori to the later-blooming Alessandro Buongiorno (Atalanta’s Giorgio Scalvini missed out after rupturing a cruciate ligament), but none of the certainty that Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci offered last time around.

Spalletti surprisingly called up Juventus’s Nicolò Fagioli in midfield after a season in which he missed 33 games owing to a gambling ban and played him in the warm-up games. The positions behind the attack are also up for grabs with Chiesa competing with Davide Frattesi, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Michael Folorunsho.

Then we get to the attack. How should the manager weigh Scamacca’s recent form against the fact that he has scored only once in 16 appearances for the national team? He is the latest in a long line of centre-forwards who have struggled to deliver for the Azzurri in the No 9 role over the last decade and more.

Mancini caused some debate when he called up Mateo Retegui last March, a striker for Tigre who had lived his whole life in Argentina but qualified to represent Italy through a grandfather. He scored on his debut for the Azzurri and subsequently joined Genoa, where he has settled well without matching Scamacca’s prolific club form. Retegui has been the more productive at international level, though four goals in eight games is a small sample size.

Spalletti’s choices may be informed by what he sees from players now that they are together every day. Some reporting of his restrictions on devices has been overblown – PlayStations are not banned but restricted to a set of shared consoles in the team games room. Above all, his emphasis has been on encouraging players to weigh their responsibilities.

“I think arriving at a tournament like this as the reigning champion can be an advantage,” said Spalletti. “But we need to understand right away that we must carry ourselves like reigning champions. Italy chose us to represent our nation. We will only see once the games begin if we are up to that task.” – Guardian