Champions at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ only to crash out at the first hurdle of South Africa 2010, Italy have brought in Cesare Prandelli to put the smile back on the faces of their beleaguered fans. Determined to instil a more attractive, attacking style of play in La Nazionale, without sacrificing results, the former Fiorentina coach has already set about making sweeping changes to the Italian footballing mindset.
The 53-year-old chatted to FIFA.com about the pressure of holding the four-time world champions' reins, his desire for the team to play exciting football, using Spain as an example and La Nazionale’s mission to re-establish themselves as one of the best sides on the planet.
FIFA.com: Cesare, how do you feel your first few months in the Italy job have gone?
Cesare Prandelli: I feel very enthusiastic about my experiences so far. From the moment I took the job I knew that a difficult rebuilding period was needed, but the players have also shown a lot of enthusiasm in the games we’ve played to date and everything’s been very positive.
That said, results haven’t been totally positive...
No, to be honest it’s not been easy and it must be said that we’ve not achieved anything yet. What matters at this stage is that we’ve reignited high levels of motivation from everyone involved, including the supporters. One of our priorities was to try and improve the relationship with the fans and I think that, up to now, that message has got across.
Part of that process involved calling up players known for their strong characters, such as Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli. How do you get the best out of individuals like these?
Before you do anything else, you have to make it clear that they’re part of a group. I think it’s always very important to have players with character and great talent, like them, but the key is to make sure they understand they need to help the team.
Italy’s South Africa 2010 campaign made it clear there was a need for an injection of new blood. Do you have the players to do that whilst still getting results?
At the moment we’re looking for those players. From the outset, though, it has to be made clear that it’s a lengthy process and won’t be easy. That said, Italy is a country with a rich footballing heritage and crops of great footballers have always emerged, even during really low periods. I think that will be the case again now and it’s my job to unearth these talents and bring them into the full national squad.
I think that the key is to try and play quality football, football with imagination.
Yet in Italian footballing circles there is a view that the next generations in line aren’t as technically gifted as their predecessors. Is that a problem that can be solved?
The rebuilding work doesn’t start with the senior national side alone. We have to put in the work right from the bottom, with the kids. I’m convinced that at the moment the right steps are being taken, but it’s a process which will take time and requires patience.
That being the case, do you think Spain’s recent successes make them the best example to follow?
(What Spain have achieved) is nothing new, nor is it a surprise, because Spain have been getting extraordinary results at youth national-team level for years now. The key in their case is that they’ve stuck to their values and kept faith in their players’ technical ability and speed. I was really pleased when they won the World Cup and I think they are an example to follow, not just for us, but for any country that wants to stay among the world’s elite.
Can Italy find their way back to the very top?
We want to narrow the gap, but it’s not easy. I think that the key is to try and play quality football, football with imagination. In my view that’s the path we need to follow. When you aim to keep possession of the ball and you play to win the game, that’s when the victories really start to come your way.
Do you think Italy will be ready to compete for the title at EURO 2012?
First of all we have to qualify for the finals and if we think that’ll be easy then we’re very much mistaken. To achieve that goal we’ll have to show both quality and character. Once we’ve qualified we’ll have time to think about the final tournament, but we need to completely focus on the obstacles immediately ahead – the rest will follow in due course.
One last question: what’s been the most enjoyable aspect of the job so far?
Up to now what I’ve enjoyed most has been dealing with the public. The fans have treated us wonderfully well and are completely behind the team. That’s what motivates me to keep pushing forward. Of course there’s a lot of pressure involved with being Italy coach but it doesn’t scare me - on the contrary, I see handling that pressure as a challenge. At the end of the day, not everyone gets the chance to do this fantastic job, so it’s a real privilege.