Ladies and gentlemen, the man responsible for the FIGC 4-Star logo is back! With him, the hopes of an entire nation to defend a World Champions title, obtained less than 2 years ago and somewhat tainted by Italy’s mediocre performance at Euro 2008.
If they want to have any hope of repeating their 2006 success, the Azzurri will have to make serious improvements before their South African adventure: defensive organization, physical preparation, and more importantly fighting spirit, were all lacking last month in Austria/Switzerland. However rest assured people: if there is one man capable of bringing the boys in blue back to glory, that man is Marcello Lippi.
Gazzetta dello Sport was there on Tuesday, for the press conference with Italy’s new manager. Here are some excerpts:
ROME, 1 July 2008 – Tanned, a few kilos overweight, enthusiastic (as he repeatedly pointed out) and confident. This is how Marcello Lippi presented himself as the new Italy boss, successor to Donadoni, having won the World Cup with the Azzurri only two years ago.
Talking for over an hour, the topics Lippi covered in his press conference ranged from anything to everything.
PREAMBLE – “Good to all see you again. I’m very happy to be taking up where I left off. This means that things didn’t go very well at the recent European Championships unfortunately, or I’d still be on the beach in Viareggio. Have I settled into an easy life? I’ve put on a couple of kilos, that’s all. I’ve greatly enjoyed this past two years. But I’ve also watched a lot of games, and worked on TV with Sky to keep myself up to date with international football
RETURN – “You’re asking if these two years been lost, both for me and the national team? I would never have left the national side if I hadn’t had to do so for certain reasons not connected with the outcome of the World Cup. But these two years haven’t been wasted for the Azzurri. Donadoni integrated important new players into the world champions group. The true expression of a nation’s football isn’t found in its clubs but in its national team. Why did I want to come back? For a year I didn’t even consider a return to management, despite the many offers, including those from other national sides. As the European Championships approached I felt a great desire to take up the place I had left, and I made myself available should the circumstances arise for my return. I felt a certain debt towards the FA. And turning down other offers in order to return was a way for me to pay that debt.”
CHOICES – “To those asking me ‘Which group should be the focus, the “old” or the “new” group?’, I say this: we have a group of players who won the World Cup two years ago, and we need to build on that strength. We mustn’t casually discard anyone, but nor should we be burdened by a debt of gratitude. Not everyone will continue. This group needs to be integrated: the right balance has to be found.”
STYLE OF PLAY – “Should we play traditional Italian football, or a more expansive game based on the Spanish model which triumphed at Euro 2008? Good question. The Spanish play a very distinctive game, very technical. But they have achieved this great result after a long process of development, going though disappointments along the way. The Spain team is the ultimate expression of Spanish football. What we will do is construct a style of play in which even the big stars (like the Ronaldos or Rooneys) will work hard and sacrifice themselves for the team. Italy aren’t about catenaccio any more, but a modern, down-to-earth game mixed with a bit of open-mindedness. We will try to play an aggressive, expansive and resourceful game. A great side needs to be able to do everything, attack and defend.” (note: in other words, a style of play following that of the 2006 World Cup semi-final, when Italy finished the match by playing with four strikers on the field).
INTERNATIONAL FRIENDLIES – “We have some important tests already arranged. In fact, next February we will play Brazil at Wembley stadium, in England.”
PERUZZI AND FERRARA – “I told the President that I wanted to work with the same people as in the past. That includes Angelo Peruzzi, who is studying for his coaching licence at Coverciano and will then join the FA’s technical staff, as well as Ciro Ferrara, who is now working for Juve but will work for us whenever the national team assembles.”
TOTTI AND NESTA, THE RETURN? - “People’s opinions must be respected, in this case players who have given a great deal to the national team. I am not contemplating a return for either of them, and I won’t be calling them up. If they call me, we’ll discuss things together. As a general advice to everyone, I say never to issue a definitive goodbye to the Azzurri. Every Italian player between 18 and 40 is under consideration, and each one of them should still be proud and ready to wear the national shirt.”
WINNING – “I’m coming back to win, to enjoy the same sensations once more. The feeling of triumph, but also that of unity and group cohesion. We mustn’t assume that qualification for the next World Cup will be a formality, we must focus on trying to replicate our success. My responsibility, as in the past, will be to coordinate the work of all the national sides, including the youth teams.”
On a final note, FIGC president Giancarlo Abete commented:
“I would like to thank Donadoni and emphasise his personal and professional qualities. Lippi is the right man to undertake the journey towards the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. His choice was entirely based on technical aspects, not marketing.
With Donadoni we had a mutually loyal relationship. On 20 May we agreed a contract extension with him, including a €900,000 gross compensation clause. Then on 22 May he told me that he didn’t want the compensation clause, and returned to the original proposal of an automatic renewal if Italy reached the semi-finals of the European Championship.
There were no other pre-established situations, we had no contracts with anyone else. If an extra penalty kick had been scored [against Spain] the automatic renewal would have operated, as it didn’t happen I had to make a choice. But there was no sacking.”