It is going to be a long slog back to the summit of international football for Italy and the Netherlands.
Two European nations with a proud history of great teams, world-class players and elite coaches spent Wednesday night playing out a 1-1 Nations League draw in Bergamo, Italy, with sides that lacked a striker capable of worrying top-level opposition.
Both teams are also having to navigate their routes back to the top with managers who have ended up in charge of their respective countries, after drifting to the margins as club bosses in recent years. There was a time when international football was the pinnacle of the game, for players and coaches, but the sight of Roberto Mancini and Frank de Boer patrolling the touchline on Wednesday proved that it no longer attracts the cream of the crop.
On the face of it, the 1-1 draw was a good result for both Mancini and de Boer.
Mancini, the former Inter Milan and Manchester City coach, extended his unbeaten run in charge of the Azzurri to 19 games, while Donny van de Beek's first-half equaliser, following Lorenzo Pellegrini's opening goal for Italy, ensured that de Boer avoided the ignominy of overseeing a Dutch team that failed to score in four successive games.
In fairness to de Boer, this was only his second game in charge of the Netherlands, having been appointed last month as successor to Ronald Koeman, who resigned his post to take the Barcelona job. But even de Boer must accept that he was incredibly fortunate to land a role as prestigious as the one he now finds himself in.
De Boer had 14 games in charge of Inter in 2016 before being dismissed after just 85 days. A year later, he was gone after just five games as manager at Crystal Palace -- de Boer was later labelled the "worst manager in Premier League history" by Jose Mourinho. In late 2018, he resurfaced in MLS with Atlanta United, where he managed 55 games before losing his job in July after three successive defeats in the MLS Is Back Tournament.
In de Boer's defence, he guided Ajax to four Eredivisie titles in four years before heading to Inter, but since leaving Amsterdam, his coaching career has been in a downward spiral. Having inherited a Dutch squad from Koeman that reached the final of the inaugural Nations League tournament in 2019 after missing out on World Cup qualification, de Boer has the chance to rebuild his reputation in charge of his country, but a dour 0-0 draw against Bosnia in his first game, followed by the result in Italy, is not the most inspiring of starts.
Unless de Boer can unearth a striker of the ilk of former Dutch greats such as Marco van Basten, Ruud van Nistelrooy or Robin van Persie, he is going to struggle to turn the Netherlands into a contender for Euro 2020 or the 2022 World Cup. Journeyman Luuk de Jong, unfortunately for de Boer, is never going to match the feats of his glorious predecessors. A Guus Hiddink or even a Louis van Gaal would perhaps find a way to capitalise on Dutch strengths to the point that they could overcome their weaknesses, but de Boer's recent past suggests he will struggle to do the same.
With Mancini, it is a different story. The 55-year-old has done well with Italy since taking the job in May 2018, six months after Gian Piero Ventura's team missed out on Russia 2018, but he was not even second choice for the job. Neither Carlo Ancelotti nor Massimiliano Allegri were interested in managing their country, so Mancini, whose only trophy since winning the Premier League with City in 2012 has been a Turkish Cup with Galatasaray, pretty much found himself as the last man standing.
Mancini landed the job because he wanted it, rather than because he was the best man available, but that has become a trend in international football, which can no longer compete with the club game for the best managers. Just look where Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Diego Simeone are currently plying their trade.
For Mancini, the Italy job is all about rehabilitating his reputation and possibly getting another big club job at the end of it. But just like de Boer, the lack of a genuine world-class striker will ultimately deny him the chance to succeed.
Ciro Immobile is prolific for Lazio but unimpressive for Italy. Neither Andrea Belotti nor Moise Kean have shown themselves to be international class and, although Mancini has always been a big supporter of Mario Balotelli, he has not selected the 30-year-old since September 2018 and things would have to be really bad for the now-clubless maverick to get another chance with the national team.
But that is the hand Mancini has been dealt. He has to scratch around for a solution, just as the international associations of Italy and the Netherlands did when hiring their current managers. It is a sad truth that international football is now in this situation and that two great nations are having to be guided back to the top by coaches who can no longer get a big job in the club game.