“There is a need for quality and I will ask it from the men who are able to give it to me.” Cesare Prandelli’s manifesto as Italian manager originated from the following consideration: Italy sunk without a trace at the 2010 World Cup because they had disregarded the technical aspect of their game. “Perhaps it was too much gratitude towards the men with whom I won the World Cup in Germany four years previously that led me to pick a worn-out squad,” Marcello Lippi admitted after the fiasco, but quickly added: “But I did not leave anyone at home who would have done any better.”
For Prandelli, however, there were three players whom his predecessor could have picked for the World Cup because they had the talent, but they were left at home. Giuseppe Rossi, who was dropped from the squad at the last minute, as well as Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli, could have been selected but Lippi felt that the characters of the latter two could have upset the harmony of the squad.
Prandelli, immediately, wanted to use all three of them. The idea was to play them together in a team with an attacking spirit, who would be good at keeping the ball and run games, abandoning completely the Italian style of defensive tactics and counter-attacks. In reality, it was never possible to realise Prandelli’s project because of various reasons, not least injuries.
At Euro 2012 Prandelli will have to manage without Rossi, who has again ruptured a cruciate knee ligament, after the one that forced him to have an operation in October. Cassano has had serious heart problems and, although he returned to action in April after six months out, he may not reach top form during the tournament.
As for Balotelli, Prandelli has needed a lot of patience and may be about to see the best of the controversial striker. How has he done that?
Jekyll and Hyde
Well, he is pretending that the Balotelli who turns out for Italy is very different to the one who appears in a Manchester City shirt. “I can’t possibly put my trust in someone who could get sent off in the first game,” Prandelli has said.
Prandelli had initially hoped that his Italy would line up in an attacking 4-3-3 formation but in his two years in charge of the national team only two qualifiers were played with three players up front. In the other games he has started with two strikers, with a third coming off the bench, like he did in Florence in September when Giampaolo Pazzini came on and played together with Balotelli and Rossi in the final game against Slovenia, which secured qualification for the tournament. Tactically, the problem keeps recurring. Prandelli claims he does not have good enough wingers to play 4-4-2 so the system of choice has been 4-3-1-2 with players filling in as central playmakers without playing in that position for their clubs.
At first, Prandelli tried Stefano Mauri but then he got injured and dragged into the match-fixing scandal (which, in recent weeks, has caused havoc with the manager’s plans, considering that Domenico Criscito was left out). Thiago Motta and Riccardo Montolivo were alternatives for the No 10 role, although not very convincing ones.