Thu, Dec 23, 2010 - Page 18 News List

World Cup-winning Italy coach Bearzot dies at 83

The Guardian, LONDON

Former Italy soccer coach Enzo Bearzot, who has died aged 83, revitalized the national side. He imposed a far more flexible, adventurous style of play and led the team to victory at the World Cup in Spain in 1982.

The Italians made a dreary start in the tournament, drawing all three group qualifying games, against Poland, Peru and Cameroon, and scoring only twice. Back in Italy, there was vicious criticism of the team’s performance.

At a coaches’ convention, a young manager, Eugenio Fascetti, a protege of Italo Allodi, said Bearzot’s team had disgraced Italian soccer.

“How can I function with a Brutus at my back?” complained Bearzot, provoking Allodi’s reply: “If I’m Brutus, he must think he is Julius Caesar.”

In the next round, Italy took wing. Paolo Rossi, who had only just come back to play after a suspension for match-fixing, found his form and scored a hat-trick against Brazil, who were favorites. In the semi-finals, Italy had no trouble against Poland, winning 2-0. Against West Germany in the final, they were far and away the more impressive side, even though injury had kept the chief playmaker Giancarlo Antognoni in the stands. Italy won 3-1, securing their first World Cup since 1938.

Bearzot was born in Aiello del Friuli, northeast Italy. His father was a bank manager and not remotely interested in soccer. The club Pro Gorizia asked Bearzot to play a couple of games in Tuscany, which meant he missed his exams and the prospect of university. His father was appalled, but later realized, according to Bearzot, that “even if I hadn’t finished my studies, they had been good for something. I had realized my dreams.”

Tall, dark and strongly built, Bearzot was a solid winghalf, although when he joined Inter in 1948, he was an attacking centerhalf of the old school. He became, briefly, an inside-forward, before dropping back to righthalf. He played for Catania, in Sicily, from 1951 to 1954, helping the team win promotion to Serie A.

“They treated me like a god,” he said. “At the end of the last year it was a terrible strain to leave because I was so happy there. There were even threats from the fans. They said it was a betrayal to go.”

He went north again to Torino in 1954. At the time they were a struggling club, still recovering from the Superga air crash of 1949 when virtually their entire squad was killed. A season spent back at Inter was less happy, so he returned to Torino for seven more years.

He sometimes paid the players out of his own pocket when funds were short. In 1964, he was put in charge of Torino’s reserve team — his career as a coach was under way. He passed the national coaching exams with flying colors, but fell out with Torino’s manager, Edmondo Fabbri, when they disagreed over a player. He then briefly managed Prato.

After Italy’s failure at the 1974 World Cup, he was appointed joint team manager of the national side, with the elderly Fulvio Bernardini. There was much sniping, based on the fact that Bearzot had never managed a major club. After a somewhat uneasy and difficult partnership, he took over entirely.

Inspired by the glorious “total football” of the Dutch at the 1974 World Cup, he worked hard to wean the Italy team away from catenaccio (highly organized defense). It wasn’t easy, but bit by bit he succeeded.

At the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, his gamble in picking the brilliant young Rossi up front was amply repaid. Italy beat France, Hungary and Argentina in their first matches, but failed to make the final. They lost the match for third place to Brazil.

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