Sacchi quits Italian job for the call of Milan

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The Independent Online
Arrigo Sacchi has gone home. Bruised and battered by months of media persecution, the 50-year-old made a dignified exit from guiding the fortunes of the Italian national team and returned yesterday to Milan - the club where he made his name.

The man who set the managerial merry-go-round in motion was, predictably, Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire media mogul who owns Milan. A late- night meeting at his villa on Sunday led to the resignation of Milan's unpopular coach, the Uruguayan Oscar Washington Tabarez, and a call by Berlusconi to Sacchi. That afternoon, Milan had suffered a 3-2 defeat at humble Piacenza in a Serie A match, and action was called for.

"I can't say no to Berlusconi. Milan calls me, I can only resign. Try to understand," Sacchi said yesterday. He had been coach of Italy since 1991, after five trophy-laden years at Milan, and he had a contract until 1988 - but few people expected him to see out 1996, let alone another two years.

Sacchi took Italy to the 1994 World Cup final in Los Angeles, where they lost on penalties to Brazil, but he has been under intense pressure since his side made a humiliating first-round exit from the European Championship in England last summer. His last match in charge also ended in embarrassment: a 2-1 defeat in a friendly against Bosnia in Sarajevo last month. His final record was 34 wins, 10 draws and nine defeats in 53 matches.

Sacchi's critics, and there were many, said that he never had a settled side - he used almost 100 players in those 53 matches - and that he fell out with his key players too easily. Men like Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Baggio found themselves out of favour when they still had much to offer.

After the summons from Berlusconi, Sacchi contacted the Italian football federation late on Sunday to announce his resignation. "Let's just say it was in the air," Antonio Matarrese, the former chairman of the federation, said. "It's what so many Italians wanted."

Italy's next match is not until February, when they return to England for a World Cup qualifier, so there is no rush to appoint Sacchi's successor. The two leading candidates are the Under-21 coach Cesare Maldini, the father of the full-back Paolo Maldini, and Dino Zoff, the former goalkeeper and captain of the 1982 World Cup- winning side who is now the president of Lazio.

Two men initially included among the likely successors ruled themselves out of the running last night: the Real Madrid coach Fabio Capello, who replaced Sacchi at Milan in 1991, and Giovanni Trappatoni, the Bayern Munich coach who won six Serie A titles when with Juventus.

But what of Milan? Since the unfortunate Tabarez replaced Capello in the summer they have looked like mere also-rans rather than front-runners in the Italian League - an intolerable situation for the San Siro faithful. They languish in ninth place in Serie A after Sunday's defeat, and will be eliminated from the European Champions' League if they lose at home to Norway's Rosenborg Trondheim tomorrow. Sacchi will be in charge for that match, when instant success will be demanded.

"I think that we have made the right choice by turning to Arrigo Sacchi," Berlusconi said. His new coach has a contract that runs until the end of the 1997-98 season.

"I come here with pleasure and enthusiasm," Sacchi said last night. "I have come home to the people who always respected me."

SACCHI'S CAREER

1946 Born in Fusignano on 1 April.

1972 Leaves job as a shoe salesman for his father's factory to take on his first coaching job - at Fusignano.

1980 Joins Cesena as youth-team coach.

1985 Joins Parma after spells coaching at Rimini and Fiorentina's youth team.

1987 Joins Milan after impressing owner Silvio Berlusconi when Serie B Parma knock Milan out of Italian Cup.

1988 Wins league title with Milan.

1989 Wins European Cup and Italian Super Cup.

1990 Wins European Cup, European Supercup and Intercontinental Cup.

1991 Wins Intercontinental Cup and then appointed Italian national coach. Made his debut with a 1-1 draw against Norway on 13 November in Genoa.

1994 Reaches World Cup final in Los Angeles, losing to Brazil on penalties.

1996 Takes Italy to European Championship finals in England, but fails to progress beyond first round. Last match in charge of Italy is a 2-1 friendly defeat to Bosnia in Sarajevo on 6 November. Resigns as national coach to rejoin Milan on 1 December.

WHO NEXT FOR ITALY?

Cesare Maldini (Age 64). Italy Under-21 coach. Former national captain who played for Milan, like his son Paolo who now captains Italy. Has an excellent record as Under-21 coach, winning the European title three times but failing at 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Widely seen as a stop- gap rather than permanent replacement but increasingly the favourite, particularly if a longer-term candidate proves unavailable until end of season.

Dino Zoff (54). Former national goalkeeper who captained Italy to 1982 World Cup win. Most capped player in Italian history (112). President of Lazio, whose recent League form has been dismal. Federation chairman- elect Luciano Nizzola, who will make decision on replacement for Sacchi after his election on 14 December, is a great admirer - although Zoff's coaching record is not impressive.

Nevio Scala (49). Former Parma coach. Lacks playing pedigree of his two main rivals, with just two appearances in Italy B team, but has far stronger record as a club coach. Took Parma to Uefa Cup win in 1995 and Cup-Winners' Cup in 1993. Left the club at end of last season without job to go to - so would be available immediately.

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