A year ago, in the meadows of Africa, the four time World champions Italy were struggling to find any sort of groove in arguably the easiest of groups. Following the uninspiring draw against the Latin American surprise package Paraguay, Marcelo Lippi’s men continued their lackluster display against the Oceanian newbies New Zealand. Little did the fans imagine about the worse that was to follow which would ultimately close the doors for the defending champions to enter into the knock-out stages of the competition. The humiliation heights were hit at and it was inevitable to admit, Lippi had fallen short of ideas. It was time he passed the managerial cloak to a more dynamic candidate.
Enter Cesare Prandelli – an unassuming man of few words, with no major accomplishments to boast of at the managerial level. The numbers spoke modest about him, as for the large part of his managerial career, he was associated with the pedestrian clubs in the peninsula – teams whose ambitions differ greatly from those challenging for the highest honors. One must admit, Prandelli fared reasonably well with his latest employers Fiorentina as Viola could actually make it to the European knock-out stage where they impressed one and all.
Prandelli’s appointment replacing Lippi as the coach of the national team was confirmed well in advance and it was only a matter of time for him to take the reins from the former World Cup winning veteran tactician, as irrespective of the nature of Italy’s World Cup campaign, Lippi was pre-decided to relinquish the national duties. Now, not even the epitome of cynicism would have bought the idea of Azzuri faring as shamefully as they did at the biggest footballing carnival and as a result, Prandelli’s job instantaneously got reduced to making the players realize the value of the shirt they were sporting in the first place.
From the very onset, Prandelli has made the difference in his policies from those of Lippi’s more than clear and the idea has been pretty well exemplified with the regular inclusion of players who were quite incredibly ostracized under Lippi’s tutelage. The very fact that Prandelli has had a half a decade long association with both Juventus and Fiorentina – two of the most dominant and vocal zones in Italy with far too great variability in interests for any manager’s liking – has helped him grasp the demands and expectations of fans and media alike in a relatively quick fashion.
One of the very sophisticated features of his approach of looking at Italian football is he has never refrained from admitting and acknowledging the dire state of affairs and an unprecedented dearth of talent in the country. He hasn’t overestimated the squad’s potential and quite categorically has set realistic, short-term and tangible goals for the near future. The experimentation with the tactics is there for all to see and the choice of players too has varied accordingly but the consistency in Prandelli’s ideology has emerged apparent in his inventive yet safe approach. As a result, Italy stand handsome at the top of the group in the qualifiers for the Euro 2012 and the coach now has some luxury by his side to tinker with this group of players a little more.
The re-work however is still an unfinished article but one that seems pretty well-versed as of now, if not exactly poetic. However, the manner adopted by Prandelli to tackle the adversities has been pretty wise as he has very cautiously remained only responsive and not reactive to the situations. One of the very important aspects to ponder over is there is a very peculiar difference between the downfalls of France and Italy; although they have coincided at a similar time-frame. While Les Blues are wrongly parked in a political conundrum where apparently nobody likes nobody, Italy’s problems are far more technical in nature and in his one-year stint; Cesare Prandelli has addressed the issues in a near-perfect mode.
Owing to the apparent shortage of world-beaters in almost every department, the road to tread ahead promises to be tougher than ever and undoubtedly, Prandelli’s initial agenda is to minimize the damage when Italy actually begin to face the ‘real’ oppositions at the international stage. The talent pool has so far been quite meticulously explored and the refurbishments in almost all the playing areas have been visible in the process. Few of the names, that were otherwise destined to remain anonymous in international football, have managed to make their presence felt while donning the famous blue shirt. Even the players plying their trade in clubs outside Italy, have received the right call at the right time, something that is not exactly Italian in nature. Meritocracy, thus, has been the mantra and it already appears to have carved a niche for Prandelli in the recent history of Italian managers.
It is quite impossible for any manager to juxtapose the eleven best players in the country in a tactically good looking blueprint and expect the unit to immediately excel beyond expectations. It is a usual sight in football to find a group of surreally talented players end up forming a team that makes up for far lesser than the sum of its parts. In the purview of the same, it is important to know the best man for each of the positions and deploy a model that incorporates the flexibility in ideas as seamlessly as possible, especially when applied dynamically. This is where the real test lies, excelling upon which, Prandelli is prospected to do a world of good to his managerial resume. There is no shortage of players breaking into their club’s preferred eleven week-in and week-out in their respective leagues but the key is to find a utopian design that allows the best of everyone’s potential to surface.
Goalkeeping is one of the areas where Prandelli has got the liberty by his side to rest Gigi Buffon as and when required as there are world class replacements aplenty in Emiliano Viviano, Salvatore Sirigu and Federico Marchetti. However, Milan’s number one Christian Abbiati must be appointed a direct deputy to Buffon and it is baffling to know he hasn’t even been considered to warm the bench despite a truly industrious season with the Italian champions.
It is the shortcomings of the defense that has unfortunately let even the most hard-working Italian goal-keepers look ordinary. From the current roster, only Giorgio Chiellini is one with the qualities to lead a defense but there are bright young prospects in Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Ranocchia. Chiellini’s presence however, is of immense importance, as apart from his excellent defending and distributing skills, it is the versatility that he brings on to the table takes the entire strength of the defense to another level. There are numerous options for both the full-back positions and to be fair to all the candidates tried yet, none has fared badly, though they haven’t been tested yet under the extremes. One of the highly surprising exclusion has been that of Ignazio Abate. Easily the best right back in the country presently, he has failed to impress the national team coach enough to receive the right nod.
Much like the previous two departments, in the midfield and attack too, there are too many players to choose from but a number of parameters here are worth taking into due consideration. The first and the foremost being, among the available lot, there is no hardcore defensive midfielder whose physical presence ahead of the defensive wall can be protective enough to shield the center backs. There are ample players at Prandelli’s disposal who typify a modern day midfielder’s role, given their effectiveness at spreading the ball across the pitch and maintain a fluid movement.
The likes of Aquilani, Marchisio and Montolivo are all extremely functional with their skills on ball, and have the devastating power to shoot from distance but they lack the subtlety to control the tempo of the game against the bests in business. That makes Pirlo’s presence in the deep ever more important, as he is the chief source of creativity, orchestrating the play from the deepest point in midfield. His vision for goal and an instinct to find the right player at the right spot with his long balls make him almost indispensable from the team, regardless of the setup the manager opts for. The rest of the positions in the midfield are up for grabs between as many as seven players depending on the demands of the hour. There aren’t really players offering width to the attack which makes the right choice of full backs even more important.
Lazio skipper Stefano Mauri has finally been able to find a place in Prandelli’s plans. He is a highly professional individual who plays in the hole behind the two strikers but his passing range requires to improve considerably for him to find a regular place as the trequartista. Should Prandelli opt for a text-book three-man attack, there are number of regular forwards to fill the positions. Among others, Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano almost select themselves whereas there are some potential candidatures for the third place in the attacking line but it is all subject to formation the manager chooses to deploy for a particular match.
Pazzini, Quagliarella and Floccari have all announced their arrival with their impressive work-rate and shooting abilities but are yet to be sharpened further before reserving their places. Antonio Di Natale is a proven legend in Serie A football but sadly, has never been able to translate his club form at the international stage and it looks unlikely for him to find a place in Prandelli’s plans. The curious case of Mario Balotelli is one that has to be tactfully handled as he exactly boasts of the kind of firepower Italy have been missing for some time. It remains to be seen how elegantly the young talents like Verdi, Beretta, Macheda and Borini are monitored before they turn professional enough to step into the team.
From the looks of it, Buffon, Chiellini, Pirlo and Rossi are the four imperative assets for Prandelli’s plans to succeed. Any prolonged spell of injury to any of them can cause damage of great proportions. As it nears to one year since the horrible debacle in Africa, Italy appear to be a stabilized unit nonetheless and Cesare Prandelli deserves the fair share of credit. A lot is left to be desired but things have at least begun on positive notes.