Tiring Spain still have some fight left
ANALYSIS:Opening draw against the holders was a watershed for Cesare Prandelli’s Italy, writes BRIAN KERR
WHEN TALKING to business people about leadership I always add a cautionary note; wait before discarding the wayward or unconventional employee who, on occasion, delivers better than anyone else, but always frustrates with their laziness or antics.
Overlook their petulance and immaturity, or general lunacy, especially if you know there is something special bubbling beneath the surface.
It’s a conundrum in all walks of life. At what stage do you give up on a wayward genius? Lord knows the patient Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini was pushed to his very limits.
So too, I am sure, was Cesare Prandelli. But at this very moment, on the eve of Italy’s first European title since 1968, he is a master tactician.
He was even abused by Mario Balotelli after the acrobatic goal against Ireland. Thankfully, Leonardo Bonucci managed to get a hand over the young striker’s jabbering mouth.
The coach persevered because he knew there could be a massive pay-off. But it was a massive risk. Rarely have I seen a coach rewarded in the manner Prandelli was by Balotelli last Thursday night. They were two wonderfully taken goals from the non-conforming, undisciplined one.
I’ve coached the odd character like him at club level. Nobody as stone mad as Balotelli, mind. None of them ever managed to set fire to their own house. But I have often had a fella so infuriating that people within the club told me to kick him out the door.
I’d say: ‘No. Let’s stick with him. You can see the obvious reward if he’s minded.’
Paul Osam used to leave me fuming; he’d miss training, always something wrong with him, but you would get some brilliant performances out of Paul when they were really needed.
Prandelli would be asked countless times in recent weeks, ‘How do you put up with him?’ He can forever point to the tip of the spear that gutted Germany.
Before Thursday, Balotelli’s contributions in the tournament had been sporadic, but Prandelli’s masterful handling of Italy’s youngest player displays a serious talent in man management.
The coach and his team went into the tournament under a dark cloud but, as is the Italian way, they have been galvanised by the match-fixing allegations.
It started as it ends. Against Spain.
Achieving a 1-1 draw with the defending champions in the first match initiated a momentum that has deservedly carried them to the final.
That game was undoubtedly the watershed.
I have watched them closely during qualification, playing them twice as Faroe Islands coach, and that performance against Spain surpassed anything seen by the Azzurri since they were knocked out of Euro 2008 on penalties.
A watershed moment in the history of Italian football.
Prandelli deserves massive credit for switching from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2 to counter the mesmeric tiki-taka passing game. It worked because Daniele De Rossi was employed as an extra centre back along with Bonucci and Chiellini.
De Rossi’s aggressive defending spread throughout the team, working as an antidote to the potential for this Italy side to self- destruct (like at the 2010 World Cup).