Gianluca Lapadula is a 26-year-old forward who plays for AC Milan in Serie A. Last season, he scored 27 goals in 40 league games to help Pescara to promotion from Serie B, the Italian second division. Since joining Milan, he has scored one goal in six league appearances, four of which have been as a substitute.
Simone Zaza is a 25-year-old forward who is on loan at West Ham in the Premier League. He has made seven league appearances without scoring and there is a good chance he will return earlier than expected to his parent club, Juventus, with whom he was a depth player last season and scored five goals in 19 league games.
Eder is a 29-year-old forward who plays for Inter in Serie A. He has scored one goal in 11 league games this season and scored one goal in 14 league games last season after joining Inter from Sampdoria in the January transfer window. In the first half of the season with Sampdoria, Eder had scored 12 goals in 19 league games.
Graziano Pelle is a 31-year-old forward who plays for Shandong Luneng in the Chinese Super League. He has scored five goals in 13 league games this season since moving to China from Premier League side Southampton, where he scored 11 goals in 30 league games in his final season.
Lapadula, Zaza and Eder have all received call-ups by Italy coach Giampiero Ventura for a World Cup qualifying match against Liechtenstein and a friendly against Germany this month. Pelle was dropped from the squad for a “period of reflection” after refusing to shake the coach’s hand when he was substituted in a game against Spain in October.
It is in this environment that Sebastian Giovinco, the best player in North America, has not only been left out of the Italy squad because Ventura prefers other options, but is not even coming into the 68-year-old’s consideration.
“I have done everything to help [Giovinco] but the reality is that he plays in a league that doesn't matter much,” Ventura said. “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.”
Every manager has their individual preferences when it comes to players, and there is not an international coach in history who has never had to face scrutiny over their selections. If Ventura had simply argued that Zaza and Lapadula and the others - he has picked 29 players - were better than Giovinco or more appropriate for his system, we could disagree and make the case for Giovinco but it would be one opinion against another - and it’s not ours that matters.
To go as far as admitting that Giovinco will essentially not be considered while he is a Toronto FC player, however, is something else entirely and just does not make any kind of logical or practical sense.
For starters, Giovinco has already proven himself in Serie A. He was excellent for Parma, scoring 15 goals in 36 games in his best season largely from a wing position, and a useful, if inconsistent, player for Juventus - a not incomparable trajectory to Zaza or Eder.
Since joining Toronto, the 29-year-old has demonstrated that he is more effective as a striker than a winger or attacking midfielder, which he did not often get the chance to do in Turin. It is, of course, harder to score in Europe’s top leagues than in MLS, but that does not mean Giovinco’s record of two every three games is worth nothing at all. Just last month, Spain coach Julen Lopetegui admitted he would consider recalling David Villa, while Nicolas Lodeiro remains a Uruguay regular.
Giovinco is a fit for Italy tactically, too. Under Antonio Conte and to begin Ventura’s reign, Italy have largely used a 3-5-2 formation with a front two similar in style to Toronto’s. Ventura has expressed a desire to switch to the adventurous 4-2-4 that served him well at Torino, but that does not change much as far as the centre forwards are concerned.
Most bizarrely of all, Ventura was previously considered an admirer of Giovinco and reportedly wanted to sign him for both Torino and Bari.
So what has changed?
“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,” Ventura says.
In other words, MLS’ baseline of quality, intensity and competitiveness is not high enough for Giovinco to adapt to and cope with the demands of the international game.
Never mind that numerous MLS players have played and succeeded at World Cups, with the USA advancing further than Italy in both 2010 and 2014. Never mind that Zaza has spent most of the season glued firmly to the bench and that, until their recent dispute, Ventura’s first-choice striker played among the heavyweights of the Chinese Super League.
Never mind that in Giovinco’s last appearance for Italy - as a Toronto FC player - he came off the bench to assist one goal and play a key part in the other in a win 2-1 against Norway. Ventura is not even willing to give Giovinco a chance to prove him right or wrong, and with no individual of the calibre of Francesco Totti or Alessandro Del Piero available to carry the Italian attack his condescension is as confusing as it is infuriating.