Italian national team had its darkest time when they finished below an unknown New Zealand team in the World Cup in 2010. Few would have expected an aging Italian squad, though filled with legends who had achieved almost everything the game had to offer, to defend their crown. But, none would have expected them to crash out so early.
There was no more plunging down the hill. The only way was up and they needed a light to show that way up. And cometh that light on 20th May, 2010 when Cessare Prandelli was appointed as Italy’s coach. Prandelli brought with him the genius of a Jock Stein combined with the undying hunger of an Alex Ferguson.
Right from the start, the intention was clear. The seniors were phased out. Mario Balotelli was brought in as a key figure despite his love for controversies. Except for Andrea Pirlo remaining as the fulcrum of the midfield, the whole midfield was restructured with De Rossi, Thiago Mota, Diamanti, Giacherrini and others made as regulars. But, the most important restructuring happened in the famed Italian defence with the likes of Nesta, Matterazi, Zambrotta being replaced by Chiellini, Abate, Bonnuci and others who have stepped up to the challenge.
What is more interesting is that Prandelli has outsmarted almost all his counterparts throughout the Euros. For insatance, just before the Euros, he convinced Di Natale to come out of retirement, recognising the need for a quality striker as a backup for the eccentric Balotelli. And the move paid off with Balotelli being off colour in the Spain game and Di Natale, who replaced him scored the goal. He has probably made the best substitutions in this Euro. More than these, he has changed the formation every game according to the opposition and it has proved to be a stroke of genius every time. For example, when Barzagli was injured, he pushed back De Rossi and made Bonnuci play in central defence, a move that was just unexpected but paid off.
Last but not the least, he has brought in a different attitude in the dressing room. The stories about the staff going on a 21 km long pilgrimage for the players shows the commitment he has from his team. He has changed the way the team interacts with the fans by throwing open the doors to them and getting them closer.
Clearly, he has won over the Italians. For a man who lost his wife in the middle of a season in 2007, he has only come out as a more mature and seasoned professional. This might be just the beginning of a array of legends, with most of the team except a three or four guys, having at least another Euro left in them. Whether Prandelli manages to get the better of Del Bosque or not, its just the beginning for him and he definitely has all it takes to do a Lippi again. If he fails to do so, it would be like the case of the 1960 Hungarian national team with the tag, “the greatest team never to have won a World Cup”.
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