by Charles Ducksbury
After the calm and progressive nature of Cesare Prandelli’s four years coaching Italy, the national team is now in turmoil. Minutes after Prandelli handed in his resignation following Italy’s World Cup exit, the man in charge of Italian football and essentially Prandelli’s boss Giancarlo Abete also resigned, leaving Italy in a race against time to be ready for a September Euro 2016 qualifier in Norway.
Prandelli’s four years in charge of Italy have been a steady if unspectacular period of progression. Famed in his homeland for his calmness and serenity, Prandelli’s Italy seemed slightly different to those of his predecessors. Upon his appointment, the Lombardy native drew up a ‘Code of ethics’ in a bid to deal with unruly players, insisting that any player wanting to be considered for a national call-up must behave not only on international duty, but at club level too. Dani Osvaldo found this out to his cost when he was left out of Prandelli’s 2013 Confederations Cup squad after insulting his then Roma boss following the capital clubs Coppa Italia final defeat to arch-rivals Lazio.
Italy were hailed for their professional and tactical awareness during Euro 2012 where they reached the final, and again impressed at the Confederations Cup a year later, reaching the semi-finals. Prandelli made his name as coach in the renaissance city of Florence coaching Fiorentina, and if those two tournaments were rough sketches, this summers World Cup was planned to be the tacticians masterpiece. The Italian FA (FIGC) tolerated poor displays in friendlies (1-1 with Luxembourg for example) as long as the team performed when it mattered. Indeed Prandelli only lost 2 competitive games in 90 minutes before this summer, an impressive record. In friendly games he experimented and kept everyone guessing throughout his tenure. After using 3 formations in the Luxembourg game, the coach was asked ‘Have you played a system tonight you will use against England in Manaus?’. Prandelli answered with a poker-face ‘I don’t know’. If the job was to confuse Roy Hodgson, it was mission complete.
The opening game was a fascinating encounter, in which Italy won 2-1 despite the general consensus that England were unlucky but Italy very clever in seeing out the game once they took the lead for a second time. Many pundits argued it was the weakest Italian side for years, which was veiled praise for Prandelli in that he could win a big game without a team of household names that other Italian managers have had the pleasure of working with. Little did Prandelli know, that was to be his last victory as national team coach. Uninspired, slow, complacent football in defeat against Costa Rica, followed by a similarly lethargic performance against Uruguay saw Italy crash out. After the win against England, no-one could have predicted such a limp exit from footballs showpiece event. Prandelli’s eyes were closed as the final whistle blew in Natal. He knew what would happen next, even if no-one else did.
Weeks before the World Cup, Prandelli had signed a two-year contact extension to lead Italy to Euro 2016. This was a show of commitment from the former Verona and Parma coach who often thought aloud of his desire to return to club football sooner rather than later. Minutes after exiting Group D, Prandelli announced he was quitting. He told reporters ‘I chose a certain technical plan and it did not work. That is why I am leaving’. The 56 year old continued ‘I spoke to (FIGC president) Abete and informed him of my decision. It is irrevocable’. Whilst reporters filed in their reports to their editors, Giancarlo Abete spectacularly announced he too was resigning, saying ‘I will go to the board and offer my irrevocable resignation too. When we have our board meeting when we get back, I will try to convince Prandelli to stay’.
All of this now leaves the azzurri (blues) in a huge predicament. Replacing Prandelli would be a relatively straight forward process, but Abete quitting that process becomes rather complex. According to Milan legend and now FIGC vice-president Demetrio Albertini, the process of appointing a new president will take months. Unfortunately Italy’s first Euro 2016 qualifier against Norway takes place in September, and with the decision of the new national coach resting with the FIGC chief, Italy could theoretically line up in Oslo with no permanent coach.
So what is the solution? There is no doubt that a top-quality coach will be taking charge of the Italian side at some stage. The three favorites are all title winners and importantly out of work in Massimiliano Allegri, Luciano Spalletti and Roberto Mancini. However will any of the tacticians take on the role knowing that whoever comes in at the top may not want them? A short-term deal leaves all three in a no-win situation also, meaning the FIGC have three options. Firstly, bring forward the elections for a new president. Secondly, try and convince Prandelli to stay. And thirdly, allow under-21 coach Luigi Di Biagio to lead the team in their first qualifier. Of these, option three seems the most logical. Bringing forward the election leaves the FIGC and particularly Albertini in a difficult position, because should (as expected) he win, his opponents can point to the conveniency of the voting being moved. Option two seems a long shot as Prandelli seemed very assertive when announcing his resignation. Even if he did stay, could the players and his employers trust that his heart is in the job? And what of his code of ethics? Option three allows a deal of continuity whilst allowing the FIGC to vote in a new president and in turn appoint the correct coach.
In the build up to Brazil 2014, no-one could have predicted how the tournament would end for Italy and the confusion that is now sinking in. One thing that can be assured is that the next months will be in stark contrast to the calmness and security of Prandelli’s reign.