Trapattoni personifies Italy's classic tradition

England's decision to entrust their fate to a foreign coach would never be considered by the Azzurri
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The appointment of the new England coach, like the single currency, has clearly touched a raw nerve. You only have to look at the "little Englander" reaction of the Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, to Sven Goran Eriksson's recent appointment to appreciate that a football coach's nationality can be as sensitive an issue as those involving national sovereignty.

The appointment of the new England coach, like the single currency, has clearly touched a raw nerve. You only have to look at the "little Englander" reaction of the Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, to Sven Goran Eriksson's recent appointment to appreciate that a football coach's nationality can be as sensitive an issue as those involving national sovereignty.

Taylor is not alone in such sentiments. Last week the former French coach Aimé Jacquet told the weekly magazine France Football that it would be disastrous if a non-French national took charge of Les Bleus.

Similarly, it is unlikely, if the reaction of Antonello Valentini, a spokesman for the Italian Football Federation, is anything to go by, that Italy would ever countenance the appointment of a non-Italian national to coach the Azzurri.

"Look I don't want to get into this polemic," said Valentini, before proceeding to dismiss the idea. "It's obviously an English problem. The Italian federation has never considered this question in 30 years." The reason the federation has not considered the question and is unlikely to do so in the future is that in Italy coaching is viewed as a profession and is treated as such. Two years ago the Italian league managers' association was horrified at the prospect of David Platt taking charge of Sampdoria without therequired coaching qualifications.

In England, until the Football Association's technical director, Howard Wilkinson, began to overhaul the fabric of this country's coaching structure, management has tended to be a path trodden by ex-professionals, whose idea of a coaching badge was a woven woollen motif worn by boy scouts.

This explains why English club sides, having at first turned to more technically gifted overseas players, have also increasingly turned to overseas coaches brimming with coaching qualifications.

While Serie A clubs have always imported plenty of overseas players, they have shown a greater reluctance to entrust the coaching chores to outsiders. Of the 18 Serie A coaches, Eriksson at Lazio, Zdenek Zeman at Napoli and Fatih Terim at Fiorentina are currently the most high-profile overseas coaches working in Italy.

The difference in the countries' coaching stock are clear. In England the last Englishman to win the League title was Howard Wilkinson with Leeds in 1992. In Italy over the last decade, apart from Eriksson last season, the only time the scudetto has been won by a non-Italian was back in 1991 when Vujadin Boskov guided Sampdoria to the title.

Whereas the FA's appointment of Eriksson signalled that it was singularly unimpressed by the competence of the home-grown stock, the Italian federation has plenty of indigenous coaches to choose from should the reign of the incumbent, Giovanni Trapattoni, unravel. That shortlist would probably include Marcello Lippi, Fabio Capello, Alberto Zaccheroni and Alberto Malesani.

It is also worth pointing out that, in Italy, success at club level, which seemed to be one of the English FA's primary selection criteria, is not necessarily a prerequisite to obtaining the top position. Arrigo Sacchi, in 1992, was the last Italy coach to get the job solely because of his success at club level, with Milan.

Having said that, if the England job has been characterised as impossible, the Italian equivalent could not be described as congenial. Trapattoni's contract only runs up to the end of the next World Cup campaign and if the precedent of his predecessor, Dino Zoff, is anything to go, the current Italian coach will do well to lead the Azzurri to Portugal, for the European Championship in 2004.

Valentini dismisses out of hand the suggestion that Trapattoni's job is an insecure one. "There is no question of thinking of his successor. He is doing a very good job. Trapattoni has continued the work of Dino Zoff and is trying to find the right mix between the young and the experienced players." Zoff, of course, was the man who guided Italy to the Euro 2000 final and was 70 seconds away from victory over France when Sylvain Wiltord cancelled out Marco Delvecchio's goal, before David Trézéguet's "golden goal" won the game for Les Bleus.

Zoff then resigned in response to criticism, from all of people the opposition centre-right leader, Silvio Berlusconi, over his decision not to man-mark Zinedine Zidane.

The difference in experience between Trapattoni and the England caretaker coach, Peter Taylor, could not be greater. "Trap" is Italy's most successful club coach ever, having won seven league titles with Juventus and Internazionale, though his last scudetto was in 1989 . He was the Juventus coach in 1985 when they beat Liverpool to win the European Cup in the Heysel stadium and in 1997 he became the first Italian coach to win a league title abroad with Bayern Munich. He has also coached Milan, Cagliari - the only club where he was sacked, in 1996 - and Fiorentina.

Although ultimately successful in Germany, Trapattoni's time in Bavaria was not altogether happy. During his two spells with Munich - he was also with Bayern for a year during the 1994-95 season - Trapattoni struggled to master an unruly squad as well as the language.

During his second spell he was mercilessly lampooned after he was televised at a press conference having problems with his German syntax and ended up describing his players as playing like "empty bottles." Trapattoni, recently speaking to the Uefa coaching journal, the Technician, gave a flavour of the problems he faced at Munich. If his experience of working in a different country is anything to go by, then Eriksson may well have to deal with some early turbulence when he arrives in England. "I was able, through my experience," said Trapattoni, "to understand what a foreign player goes through - problems of communication, lifestyle, etc.

"As an Italian coach in Germany, I was trying to change a mind frame - a congenital condition. I met with resistance, because you don't change a mentality in two or three months. I wanted them to get accustomed to thinking tactically, developing the play and seeking options.

"I had to let them play their way and gradually blend in my tactics. The players said: 'We always trained like this, played like this, and we usually won.' I said: 'Europe is moving forward - we need to take off blinkers and advance.' After my first year, they began to change a little, but it was a cultural clash. I tried to get into their reality and to offer something. In Germany, they follow a fixed plan. In Italy, we are more flexible."

Trapattoni says he is flexible, but he nevertheless espouses the classical Italian tradition; a tradition of man-marking and the art of counter-attack. No wonder he says that Helenio Herrera - the originator of the defensive system catenaccio - is one of his key influences, along with, more surprisingly and lately, Sir Alex Ferguson and Sacchi.

"My target has always been the result," says Trapattoni. "I slowly introduced my innovations to my teams. If you try to change things and you lose, you are removed from your job. I walk slowly - proposing changes. I remain cautious. I don't play high-risk football; I don't endanger the result. My approach involves a calculated risk."

The Nottingham Forest manager, David Platt, who played under Trapattoni's Juventus and Eriksson's Sampdoria, during his stay in Italy, says he infinitely preferred the latter's approach.

"Trapattoni's idea of football was to defend first and risk nothing. It was frustrating for me as a midfield player who wanted to score goals because I was expected to defend. I was perfectly happy to do that but when we won the ball I wanted to go forward.

"Eriksson was by far the best coach that I worked under because he had a sense of balance in that Sampdoria were difficult to break down, but, when the team got the ball, there was an offensive tactic and a willingness to gamble. I have never been so well prepared for games tactically and mentally. "

Not that the Trapattoni modus operandi does not work; it clearly does. Italy have gleaned seven points from their three World Cup qualifying matches and Trapattoni, who, at 61, is one of the oldest men to have taken charge of Italy, is relishing the challenge of international football.

"We must have an international team. It's fundamental and part of the roots of a nation. Italy will always have a Latin root; there will always be a Spanish school. These styles will always be there, at the heart of football." The English root, unlike the Italian, is just about to experience cross-fertilisation with a Swede.