Football / World Cup USA '94 / The Final: Sacchi staying faithful to his radical regime: Trevor Haylett believes the Italian manager's controversial methods are already well justified

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The Independent Online
IN THE heady moment of victory, as he dallies on the threshold of his greatest triumph, Arrigo Sacchi, the coach to the Italian team, dare not even allow himself so much as a smile of self-congratulation.

An 'I told you so' glare at the familiar figures facing him but no longer confronting him in the press conference would not have been out of place after Italy's defeat of Bulgaria which sent them to their fifth World Cup final.

But that is not the Sacchi style. There was too much on which to ponder to be bothered with petty point-scoring, because that would deflect him from the next task, which was to find a way past Brazil, something that so far has proved beyond every other challenger at USA '94. Would Roberto Baggio defy a hamstring injury to offer Italy their best hope of success? With Alessandro Costacurta suspended, how much of a gamble would it be to restore Franco Baresi to the defence so soon after knee surgery?

'This is not the time to celebrate,' Sacchi said. 'We are still fighting to reach our goal, and we need to concentrate on the final. After that we will celebrate.'

Hard to please, Sacchi cannot resist tinkering with his line-ups, seeking improvements here, refinements there, reluctant always to take the easy managerial option which is to keep unchanged a winning team. Every Italian game has brought at least one change, and now the meddling policy could serve him well because the squad will all be fully prepared.

This time it is Costacurta who must pay the penalty for two yellow cards; earlier, Sacchi had been denied the services of his goalkeeper, Gianluca Pagliuca, and Gianfranco Zola after they were sent off, and Mauro Tassotti for illegal use of the elbow. From the second game of the tournament he has been deprived of Baresi, his captain, who runs the disciplined defensive regime.

And yet, through all the adversity and the worry of when Roberto Baggio was going to join the World Cup for real, Sacchi has distanced himself from intolerable pressure and unfair criticism to carry his team the full distance and, along the way, enhance his own managerial stock.

The 48-year-old hails from the same central Emilia Romagna region that spawned Benito Mussolini. Not solely because of that, he has been accused of being dictatorial. At Milan, he faced open rebellion from the Dutch striker, Marco Van Basten, who objected to his tough training and exhausting tactics, the same he uses with the national side which call for a hard-running, chasing game in which defenders press up and squeeze space from the opposition.

In his defence, Sacchi says his methods will not work unless there is total commitment from the players. 'My schemes are demanding and players must be in their best condition to accomplish them,' he says. It is a fashion more British than traditional Italian, and he admits: 'There was a time when I would have loved to train a British side. I often felt that British professionals were the best in the world in terms of attitude and physical commitment. That time is past, however, and now I'd say that Italians are the most professional footballers in the world because of their technical and physical attributes, and on and off the field attitudes.'

After joining Milan in 1986, Sacchi won the Italian championship in his first year and from 1987 to 1991 collected a host of international trophies: two European Cups in succession, two World Club Championships, two European Super Cups and the Italian Super Cup.

In 1991, after Italy had failed to qualify for the European Championships, Sacchi was the choice to replace Azeglio Vicini. Qualification for the World Cup was not easy; the warm-up games did not hint at a place in the final. Then to 18 June, and the humiliation by Ireland. From there, Italy have done well to survive, and while Sacchi has been lucky in so far as Baggio has hit unbelievable form, credit must go to the coach because he stayed faithful when many would not have had him in the team.

'I never promised a victory in the World Cup. I could only offer my utmost engagement and that of my players,' he said. 'I only tot up the account at the end of the tournament, not before.' This father of two daughters is already substantially back in credit, and by tomorrow night he could be breaking the bank.

(Photograph omitted)

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