[Source: Gazzetta dello Sport (paper edition), July 9, 2008, article by Fabio Licari]
One day, Marcello Lippi closed his eyes and a magical scene went through his mind: entering Berlin’s stadium to play the FIFA World Cup final against Brazil. Then, he reopened his eyes and told everyone about his dream, without any concern that he might be made fun of. Indeed, Marcello had a strong belief that his boys “could match any team in the world”.
With the exception of Brazil (crumbling to leave their place to France) Lippi’s vision came true, including the story’s “happy ending” that the Italian coach never dared prophesizing, but which could not have been any different. After all, this was a dream not a nightmare.
Two years ago (almost to the day, it was July 9, 2006) Italy were crowned FIFA World Champions, sending the country through an unforgettable but much-needed collective euphoria, given the dark cloud that the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal had brought over Italian soccer. Precisely due to those unfortunate circumstances, Lippi had already decided that at the end of the Germany 2006 adventure, he would leave the Azzurri bench.
Times have changed now. Lippi is back, and he is looking forward. Towards 2010. Gazzetta had a chance to speak to him and gather his thoughts.
Close your eyes again and imagine July 9 in Berlin. What do you see?
Everything I have seen over and over again these past two years, everywhere I have been. A magnificent canvas painted in Azzurro, an immense emotion, the boys’ joy, the triumph in the heart of the Italian people.
Unlike your dream, Brazil wasn’t there however. France was.
I still don’t understand why. [Brazil] were the strongest team but their champions did not perform to the best of their potential.
How important was the drama surrounding those days, those that were asking for your resignation to unite the group?
In truth, as you know and as everyone knows, the real uniting force for our group were two years of intense work. Two years during which we built a tightly-knit group, incredibly strong psychologically and where everybody sacrificed himself for everyone else. A unique group.
When did you realize, without necessarily saying it out loud, that Italy could go all the way?
Day after day. It was a crescendo. After we won the first match, we went all the way despite a few obstacles on the road. The key moment was right before the match against Czech Republic.
The famous “highway” towards Berlin.
I heard the boys saying ‘If we beat them, we’ll avoid playing Brazil in the Round of 16′, who was the most fearsome team at that point. Even I realized that our opponents until the Semi-final match weren’t going to be impossible.
Any decisive episodes?
Totti’s penalty-kick against Australia, in the 94th. And the extraordinary match against Germany. The belief in ourselves was growing more and more.
“Belief”: not a foreign concept, but something that you had been repeating ad nauseam in those two years.
Because our team grew following a project and passing important test-matches. We travelled to the Netherlands and obtained a victory with great plays and personality. Then we beat Germany 4-1, at which point we realized we were a really strong team. That we could match any other team in the world.
The new cycle begins from Berlin 2006?
Berlin was the reward for two years of intense work, and Italy’s new chapter must begin from that very moment, starting from day one. That night must become the pyschological prerequisite to build a group with the same characteristics. That doesn’t mean winning at all costs, but at least that no objective will be out of our reach.
So, we’re starting over from Berlin, but with a few new faces. Not too many mind you…
I won’t name names, but I’m optimistic: every two years we have an extremely competitive Under 21 team, among the best in the world. This means that despite foreign players, we have youngsters in every part of the field. I’ve watched them grow up in these last few months, and followed them on TV: those players are a warranty for Italy’s future.
Then there are the “old” ones. How can you give up a player like Cannavaro for example?
I don’t like that word, “old”. There’s no one to throw away here, only people to re-evaluate. La Nazionale must not be built on debts of gratefulness, but before discarding certain players, who have that enormous capacity of uniting the team [note: the reference to Fabio is obbious] one must think very carefully. But we will still keep the date of birth on their ID card under consideration.
The gas tank for Italy’s national team will be the Serie A, who within moments will be hit by the Mourinho “hurricane”, one who always had words of praise for Lippi.
And I always appreciated him as well, his originality, the great enthusiasm he already transmitted to Inter’s players and fans. Plus there is an unmistakable feature with Mourinho: his players only have positive things to say about him. That means he’s always done a great job.
Inter must watch out from Juventus you think?
Juve have already made an extraordinary 2007-08 season: third in the standings after a season in Serie B. I have no doubts they can improve on that performance.
And now they’ll also have Amauri, who it seems, is heading towards the Brazilian national team.
I’m not worried about that. We will wait upon the decisions of Amauri with a serene mind.
Someone like Amauri would be quite useful though, in Lippi’s new Azzurri team. Don’t you think?