Sunday, March 18, 2012
But Sacchi was much more than that; he was a man who revolutionised the game. At a time when football was dominated by the ultra-defensive catenaccio inspired tactics, Sacchi had the courage and vision to build a team that pressed constantly to get the ball whilst doing away with man-to-man marking in favour of the zonal system. More than anything, he wanted his teams to play fast, attacking, attractive football.
It was a winning style but, physically, also a very demanding one. Eventually his players couldn’t keep up with the intensity he required and his methods became less effective. He moved on to manage Italy and led them to a World Cup final in 1994 but never achieved the wide acclaim that such a result deserved. When, two years later, Italy failed miserably at the European Championships he was dismissed and subsequently shunned by Italian football.
No one wanted to hear what the Profeta di Fusignano (Prophet of Fusignano) had to say.
No one bar Demetrio Albertini. When the Milan legend was appointed vice-president at the FIGC in 2007, he turned to his former mentor tasking him with co-ordinating the technical side of Italy’s youth teams.
There have long been debates about Italian football's declining standards at youth level but matters seem to be getting progressively worse. Last year there were four international youth football tournaments: the European Under 21 championships, the Under 17 and Under 20 World Cup and the European Under 17 championships. Italy failed to qualify to all of them.
That is why Italian football has once again turned to Sacchi's vision. And, true to form, he isn't holding back.
As from next season, the Primavera (as the main youth football league is called) will be restricted to Under 18 players, thereby putting an end to the common practice of including some overage players.
It is a move that was instigated by Sacchi. "I hope they all get in line with the new age limits we've set in place for next season," he said during a brief visit to this year's Torneo di Viareggio, perhaps Italy's most popular youth football tournament. "Here I'm seeing ninteen and twenty year olds. These are men, not kids. In other countries at that age if you're good enough you're playing in the first team."
"The Spanish U21 side that won the European championships had a much younger average age then most of the clubs here at the Viareggio. It is unthinkable. In Italy we've become used getting last (to change) but we need to change quickly. Without new generations coming through, our football is in danger of disappearing."
Equally scathing were his views of the managers in charge of these teams. "I've read and heard some absurd interviews. Managers who talk of their team as if they were in charge of a group of Serie A professionals. Here they're thinking only of winning and of the tactical ways to achieve this. They tell the kids to hoof the ball so as not to run any risks or that they should all stay behind the ball so they don't concede any goals. Nothing could be more wrong in youth football."
"When are we going to teach them to play, to take risks, to finish moves where all the team play a part? We have to take back the abc of technique, create a solid framework of basics. Then, through the play, you'll see that the results will come. Instead they want to win everything instantly. Too often a manager isn't chosen or judged because of his intelligence or his ability to teach but for the honours won. A disaster."
"There is a lot of talk about investment in youths," he continued, with focus shifting towards the Serie A. "What investment if in Italy we're barely spending a quarter of what Real Madrid or Barcelona are putting in? And what sporting culture is there if the only thought is to bring foreigners to Italy without paying attention to the best local talent? Not to talk about the difficulties that the few talented Italians have to find a bit of space in the Serie A"
His words might not be comforting but, then again, they're not meant to. What's important is that people listen to what he's saying and act on it. The future of Italian football depends on it.
Quotes from an interview made by the Italian magazine Guerin Sportivo.