For Giovanni Trapattoni, a man whose managerial career has been played out in the San Siro and the vast bowl of Munich's Olympic Stadium, the sight from the dugout at Barry Town would seem a feeble one. And yet this little ground tucked away in an anonymous corner of what was once the world's greatest coal port but which has long since fallen prey to decay last night played host to what could be the most important training session of his career as Italy's coach.
While the Italian public just about forgave a desperately disappointing World Cup campaign which featured one half-hour of entertaining football in the opening game against Ecuador and a plethora of disallowed goals, a lacklustre draw in the Naples rain on Saturday appears to have snapped patience across the country.
"Enough, Trapattoni. Bring back Zoff," was the headline in Corriere dello Sport and should a side without Francesco Totti, Christian Vieri and Pippo Inzaghi fail to overcome Wales in tomorrow night's European Championship qualifier at the Millennium Stadium, his fate will almost certainly be sealed.
Leading his team through the little club bar which has in its time hosted delegations from Dynamo Kiev and Porto but has seldom squeezed in a dozen camera crews or 70 journalists, Trapattoni seemed a man pursued from within and without.
Totti was highly unamused to be called to the Azzurri's headquarters in Florence to be examined by the Italian FA's doctor after claiming he was unfit to play in these two back-to-back qualifiers. Vieri, meanwhile, has been withdrawn by his manager, Hector Cuper, for what appears a slight ankle injury. The fact that his club, Internazionale, take on Juventus at the weekend, a match for which Vieri is expected to be fit, has not escaped Trapattoni's notice. The fact that neither the president of the Italian FA nor his deputy are accompanying the team to Cardiff has not escaped the press.
"The truth is that you journalists would like to change the coach every two months," Trapattoni said. "When I was 40 I reacted to results differently. Now I'm calm. I sleep at night and see no ghosts." Nevertheless, he acknowledged that a side which two years ago should have beaten France in the final of Euro 2000, a result which triggered the resignation of his predecessor, Dino Zoff, was misfiring badly, having won two of its last nine matches.
"A couple of years ago, Italy was responding better and winning easily against the likes of Georgia and Romania; something is missing but let's see what happens. With a good start we can stay on top of the group and wait for better times."
For Massimo Maccarone, who in the absence of Vieri, Inzaghi and Totti, will probably be asked to lead the Italian attack with Alessandro Del Piero, the sight of the towers of the ICI chemical works at Cadoxton on the horizon might have triggered a reminder of Middlesbrough, his adopted home where he has erased the sour memories of Fabrizio Ravanelli.
"I feel comfortable being compared to Ravanelli, I am a comfortable kind of guy," Maccarone said. "I'm not bitter that I had to leave Italy; nobody wanted me. I am quite capable of doing what I have to against Wales. I watched Italy's game with Yugoslavia; our problem was that we came up against a team managed by someone who has deep experience of Italian football and who knew how to close us down. On Wednesday it will be different."
His partner, Del Piero, was more defensive, not prepared to discuss the consequences of a defeat by a nation ranked 66 places below them. "We are going to defend our football honour," he announced. "We are here to slug it out, to fight in the same way you journalists say the English and Welsh players perform."Reuse content