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.

A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn