Enzo Bearzot: Italian football coach who led the Azzurri to World Cup glory in 1982

It is rare that a coach changes the football culture of a nation to its advantage and satisfaction. Several England managers have tried, without success, to bring a Continental possession-based style to the national team; various Brazilian managers, including World Cup winners, have been vilified for imposing a greater pragmatism on the purveyors of the beautiful game; at this year's World Cup, Bert van Marwijk, the Dutch coach, reached the final but at a price; a team admired for three decades of playing "total football" was reduced to clogging.

Enzo Bearzot was an exception. He transformed the approach of the Azzurri, Italy's national team, from one of cynical, defensive brutality to enterprising attack. He also steered Italy to triumph in the 1982 World Cup finals, their first such success in 44 years. Either one of these achievements would deserve acclaim; to manage both earned him legendary status in the passionate world of calcio. Thus the outpouring of grief and tributes when Bearzot died on Tuesday after a long illness, aged 83.

It was not always so. Fortunate is the coach who does not experience some period of intense, often unreasonable criticism. Like Sir Bobby Robson in his early years as England manager, or Sir Alex Ferguson in his initial period at Manchester United, Bearzot was trashed before he was hailed. In the opening stages of the 1982 finals the abuse from the Italian media was so vituperative, and personal, he spoke of having "a Brutus at my back". The squad imposed silenzio stampa, a ban on talking to the press. This only intensified the criticism, but it also helped to bond the team. Italy, who had played poorly in the early stages, subsequently lifted the trophy with a series of impressive performances. The pipe-smoking Bearzot confronted his tormentors not with reproach, but champagne, asking them to join him in a toast, "Forza Italia".

Bearzot's triumph was a long time in the making. Born in the country's north-east, near Udine, the bank manager's son enjoyed a long playing career. He was primarily a defensive midfielder, a position often entrusted to players with an understanding of the game. He played once for Italy, and more than 250 times in Serie A, Italy's elite division, being twice employed by Internazionale and Torino. He moved into coaching with the latter before becoming a head coach with a lowly Serie C club, Prato. He soon switched to work for the Italian federation, initially at under-23 level, then as an assistant to the national team. It was in this capacity he saw at close hand the Azzurri's disintegration at the 1974 World Cup when, riven by in-fighting, they went out in ignominy.

A year later, despite criticism that he lacked practical experience, he became the national coach. A principled man, and an admirer of the Dutch "total football" (which involved players being flexible in their positions, a contrast to Italian football's regimented game), he began to effect a sea change in the team's attitude, seeking to rid it of the negativity that bedevilled Serie A.

That he was making progress became clear at the 1978 World Cup, for which he omitted Fabio Capello, effectively ending the current England coach's international career. Bearzot was famously close to his players, but not that close. "I saw it announced on television," Capello has recalled.

Unusually for a conservative football culture, Bearzot included several young players, including the promising young striker Paolo Rossi. Italy began well, beating the hosts, Argentina, before running out of steam and losing to the Dutch in a de facto semi-final. They had led 1-0; a traditional Italian team would have sought to close down the game – but Bearzot's did not.

Despite this, and a disappointing European Championship on home soil, Bearzot held on to his job for the 1982 finals. For this he controversially recalled Rossi, who had just returned from a two-year ban for his part in a match-fixing scandal.

It seemed a foolish move, for Rossi struggled to find match sharpness as Italy stumbled through the first group stage with three dull draws. Paired with Argentina and Brazil in the second stage, an exit seemed inevitable, but both were defeated, the latter in thrilling fashion, Rossi scoring a hat-trick. This is regarded as one of the great World Cup matches. Amid the plaudits, though, there was a caveat. Bearzot was a moralist, but he was not above utilising an enforcer. The inappropriately named Claudio Gentile took the role in 1982, kicking a young Diego Maradona out of the Argentina game.

Italy cruised past Poland in the semi-final then, in an indication of the composed atmosphere Bearzot had built, overcame the anxiety of a missed penalty, and the early loss of a key player, to brush West Germany aside in the final.

Bearzot should probably have quit there and then, but he stayed on for another four years, leaving after a wan defence of the trophy in 1986. He was out of the game for 16 years – during which, it is said, he indulged his love of literature – before accepting the post of technical director of the Italian coaching federation. He retired for good in 2005, but his influence lingered. The following year, Marcello Lippi, to whom Bearzot had been something of a mentor, steered Italy to their first World Cup success since Bearzot's.

Bearzot once said of his philosophy: "I select my players and then I let them play the game, without trying to impose tactical plans on them. You can't tell Maradona, 'Play the way I tell you'. You have to leave him free to express himself." Later he noted: "Coaching Italy was a vocation which has become a profession. Football has become a science, but for me it's still first and foremost a game."

Glenn Moore

Enzo Bearzot, football coach: born Aiello del Friuli 26 September 1927; married Luisa (one son, one daughter); died Milan 21 December 2010.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice