Football: Maldini's mischief with the media

Mike Rowbottom joins the Italian squad at Wembley

Mike Rowbottom
Sunday 23 October 2011 06:53

"Somewhere in here, I promise you, is the Italian coach Cesare Maldini,'' the TV reporter said yesterday, gesturing to a media scrummage on the Wembley terracing which resembled an Agoraphobics' Convention.

As he spoke, the white pick-up truck on which he stood revved into life. "Oh,'' our intrepid reporter shouted to his cameraman. "He's driving away!''

In the meantime, the man who will guide his country's fortunes in tonight's World Cup qualifier was busy saying as little as possible.

No, he was not waiting to see what line-up Glenn Hoddle picked before announcing his own and if his plans involved bringing in the Real Madrid defender Christian Panucci as sweeper in order to deal with Alan Shearer, he was not letting on.

No, he did not think Wembley would hold any psychological sway over his men. "These guys play all over the world,'' he said. "This is no different to other big games.''

For all Maldini's down-playing, however, the game does indeed feel big and that sensation is not wholly the product of the febrile coverage it has stimulated in recent days.

Perhaps it is something about the inherent glamour of any Italian team. Even reciting the names of players only previously glimpsed on Channel 4 creates a sense of esoteric relish. Di Livio... Di Matteo... Casiraghi...

They were all out on the Wembley turf yesterday, wearing blue bobble hats and gloves against the insidious dampness of a grey February day but their session offered little clue as to their tactics for tonight. Unless, of course, they plan to spend time hopping, stretching and chattering in an attempt to lure England off their guard.

The players were helped to feel at home by energetic chanting - "It- al-ia, It-al-ia'' - from a group of around 30 supporters carrying Italian flags. "We are all Italian and proud of it,'' Enza Dato, of Archway, said. Neither she nor her companions - from Highgate, Golders Green, The Angel, Islington, and, in the case of Matteo, Quagliarini, Perugia - had tickets. But there were high hopes expressed that Dato's uncle, chauffeuring for the Italian squad, might be able to do something about that.

Much has been made of the potential advantage to Italians playing in the Premiership when it came to knowing about their English opponents. "Playing here is a very big help,'' Chelsea's Gianfranco Zola said. His club-mate Roberto Di Matteo proferred a different opinion. "I don't think playing here helps,'' he said. "It doesn't really matter.'' Good to get that cleared up definitively.

Di Matteo did, however, venture the opinion that tonight's game would be very tight. "Each team will treat the other with a lot of respect. If we lose it will be difficult for us. But we always have the return game in Italy...''

As the Italian coach manoeuvred out of the narrow players' entrance, the media dispersed to evaluate the information it had gathered.

One onlooker was more than satisfied. The supporter from Perugia had managed a word with his city's more famous son, Fabrizio Ravanelli. And the Silver Fox had given him his blue hat.

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