It is probably a good job that Diego Maradona isn’t the Coach of la Nazionale. Anybody who has seen or heard his rather vivid proposal to the Argentine press pack to engage in a particular act to a particular part of his body, could only dream of what he would have come up with had he been in Marcello Lippi’s shoes on Wednesday night.
Having already qualified for the World Cup as group winners, Lippi opted to change the whole of his starting X1 from the Republic of Ireland game, to that which was to face Cyprus at the Ennio Tardini. As a consequence, the plan backfired on a spectacularly bad Azzurri outfit who found themselves 2-0 down after 76 minutes to the unfancied Cypriots. The performance provoked a barrage of jeers and derisory chants from the 15 000 tifosi in the 28 000 capacity Tardini, who’s very audible and collective abuse of the team incensed the Commissario Tecnico.
An enraged Lippi branded the fans as “shameful” and “a disgrace,” but thankfully stopped short of re-enacting El Diego’s hand movements and hip gyrations: “The supporters should show more love and recognition for this Nazionale. This team are world champions. These players deserve a lot of respect.”
The lip service dished out from the terraces, in truth, was more than just a criticism of their efforts against Cyprus. The growing feeling amongst the support is that the side has been in decline since their 2006 World Cup heroics. Their long unbeaten run was vanquished by Brazil at the start of the year, a result that preceded a catastrophic Confederations Cup when the Italians failed to get out of their group. Even this qualifying campaign hasn’t been plain sailing, and although they remained unbeaten, a series of late goals masked a plethora of under-whelming showings.
But isn’t this just the Italian way? Always a dilemma, Never far from a disaster? A quick re-cap of qualifying for 2006 shows the Azzurri arrived in Germany having scored less, conceded more and with fewer points than this time around. As in so many previous tournaments – 1982 being another classic example – it is rare for the Italians to have their house completely in order. Stumbling through qualification or the early rounds is almost traditional, before getting things right when it matters. Lippi has already proved he can get things right when it matters.
By the end of the weekend when Serie A has resumed and commands the attention, all will be forgotten. Subliminally, Wednesday night’s spat comes down to honour and allegiance. The tifosi giving a timely reminder that they are watching, and waiting. Lippi’s paternal instincts protecting his flock. The acrimonious love won’t waiver. Expect more mud-slinging before the tournament begins, but when it does, Italy and Lippi will be there, knowing they can be (and have been) transformed into champions.
If Lippi’s rant was slightly out of character, another given by a certain Jose Mourinho certainly was not. If a week is a long time in politics, then a fortnight international break must seem like a lifetime for the Portuguese tactician, whom for some reason seized an opportunity to criticise old sparring partners Arsene Wenger and Rafael Benitez. When asked about his own future at Inter, Mourinho ventured off down an ally which saw him question the achievements of Wenger and Benitez: “To stay here I must keep winning and doing well. Wenger has been Arsenal’s manager for 15 years but he hasn’t even won a Carling Cup for six years. Benitez hasn’t won a League title in six years, but he continues to be Liverpool’s manager.” Okay, Jose. Or is it Jesus? Not according to Carlo Ancelotti it isn’t. The former Milan boss has made no attempts to disguise his lack of affection for the Special One, appearing on Italian chat show Chiambretti Night, Carletto rebuffed sarcastic claims made by Mourinho comparing himself to Jesus: “If Mourinho is Jesus, I am certainly not one of his apostles.”
If Mourinho was trying to compare himself to Jesus, then David Beckham could be modelling himself on the Son of God judging by the beard he was sporting for England. Not even Goldenballs could pull the Barry Gibb look off amongst the fashionista’s of Milan when he arrives in January. A deal between the Rossoneri and Major Deal Soccer is imminent with Becks confirming a deal is ‘95% done’, claiming he always wanted to return to the San Siro. A repeat of his form at the San Siro in the second half of last season would be a welcome hand for the struggling il Diavolo, with an upturn in form drastically needed if Coach Lenoardo has any chance of ah-ah-ah-ah staying alive.
News from the Peninsula
Week 6-7 –
Milanese managerial mess – September 27 – October 3
Week 7-International week (Rep. of Ireland vs. Italy, Italy vs. Cyprus) –
Cannavaro stung by doping claims – October 4 – October 10
International week (Rep. of Ireland vs. Italy, Italy vs. Cyprus)-Week 8 –
Lippy Marcello blasts the tifosi – October 11 – October 17