Having taken over as Italy coach in July 2006, Roberto Donadoni had the unenviable task of replacing Marcello Lippi, the man who had led the Azzurri to their fourth FIFA World Cup™ win. His first challenge was by no means easy, yet he rose to the occasion, guiding Italy to the final phase of EURO 2008 despite being drawn in the same group as the likes of France, Scotland and Ukraine.
Donadoni not only won the Italian Scudetto no fewer than five times with AC Milan, for whom he made 261 appearances, but he also had a solid international career. The ultimate prize eluded him, however, when he only managed a runners-up medal at the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™, but he nevertheless has three UEFA Champions League titles, two Intercontinental Cup winners' medals and 63 caps in his trophy cabinet.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, he looks back on his career and also his first few years in his new role as Italy coach.
what was your reaction when the Italian football
association offered you the coach's job, even though you only
had four seasons' managerial experience behind you?
Roberto Donadoni: I immediately accepted the challenge they were giving me. In any case, it is not the kind of offer you turn down. I knew that I had a tough time ahead of me but I accepted the job with enthusiasm and commitment.
Has your experience as a player helped you?
Not exactly, because we are talking about two different approaches to football, both of which are equally difficult. But it's true I do sometimes try to apply what I learnt out on the pitch as a player. The most important thing is to give it your all in this job and prove that you have a love and a passion for it.
Have you drawn inspiration from Fabio Capello's style
of management, as he was your coach for a number of years at AC
Milan and is now in charge of the England team?
I've always got on really well with him, as was also the case with Arrigo Sacchi. Whenever we meet up, I make sure that I listen to what they have to say as they are two great coaches, and not just from an Italian perspective.
How do you go about rebuilding and bringing fresh impetus
to a group which has just won football's ultimate
I didn't have to rebuild the group. I just tried to bring my own skills and my idea of football. For me, the main thing was to build up a squad where everyone gets on, which is competitive and where all the players are happy to help each other out. I made a few changes and I didn't hold back from making decisions which seemed to me to be the right ones. Even if a team has already won a number of top trophies, it doesn't necessarily mean that that they will then automatically lose or stop playing as well. On the contrary, this team had acquired a taste for victory which made it easier to get my message across.
Did any doubt set in after the first two qualifiers (a draw
at home to Lithuania and defeat in France)?
I was never worried, particularly since I was missing certain players. I made sure that I stuck by the same principles, as I knew that one day, the confidence that I had and that I was trying to pass on to the squad would bear fruit.
Did your glittering career on the pitch make it easier to
build up a rapport with the players?
I don't know whether that was a help but I got off on the right foot with the players from the very beginning. Being well known is obviously important, but you have to build up a reputation on the pitch based on the way you behave and not your past.
When did you feel that the group was coming together?
There wasn't really one defining moment. We had two tough results to start off with, namely the draw against Lithuania when we deserved to lose, and the defeat to France when we really could have no qualms. It wasn't the results that were the problem though. Teams aren't merely based on whether you win or lose, but instead on what the group can take from a good performance. And in any case it was very satisfying for me to see how the youngsters behaved out on the pitch and how well they settled into the group.
Speaking of youngsters, are you going to bring any new
faces into the squad of 23 for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South
Yes, I think that I will bring in a few young players. That won't be a problem. But the short-term aim is the European Championship. After that, I'll have all the time in the world to prepare for the 2010 World Cup.
You recently said that you were thinking about Alessandro
del Piero after the excellent season he has just had. He believes
that he is better as a striker rather than an attacking midfielder.
What do you think?
My position has always been clear. I respect and understand what other people think but I'm the one who has to make the choices. If certain players are on form, that's all well and good, but when it comes to handing in my squad list for the 23, I will decide based on my own criteria and taking all the relevant factors into consideration.
Up front, you have an embarrassment of riches with
Boriello, Del Piero, Iaquinta, Di Natale, Inzaghi, Quagliarella,
Toni and even Cassano, Gilardino or Palladino. Will that cause you
a few headaches?
It's important to have as many choices as possible! It's definitely not a problem, on the contrary it is something that is highly positive. In the end, it will be up to me to make my decision and I will have no hesitation when it comes to choosing.
What do you think of the EURO 2008 draw, with people saying
that you are in the worst group out of the four?
There is no doubt that it is a very difficult group, but our qualifying group was just as difficult as that and we got through. The order of the matches does not make a difference, and we will treat each match as if it were crucial, which is actually what will be the case. The fact that we face France in the final match won't have any affect on how I prepare my team.
Having spent most of your playing career with AC Milan,
what do you think about how football has changed and in
particularly the increased number of transfers?
Player mobility is pretty much a reflection of football today. When I was still a player, we had a different way of thinking. Nowadays, I don't really pay much attention to it all, even if I don't agree with how things have turned out. You need to be able to accept things and come to terms with today's reality.
Twelve years after playing in the US,what do you think of
the development of football in that country?
Football over there is really taking off and it needs to take all the chances that are presenting themselves. Despite all that's already been done, there is still a lot of room for improvement. I hope that football will soon become an important sport in the United States.
Regarding the penalty you missed in the semi-final of the
1990 FIFA World Cup, the Argentinian goalkeeper Sergio Goycochea
said that it was the best day of his life. Was it the toughest day
The day of the semi-final was an important one for him but the day of the final must have been the worst [Argentina lost to West Germany]. The history of football is full of joy and pain. In any case, it wasn't the worst day of my life. Taking the penalty that could have got us through to the World Cup final means that I'd almost achieved all that I possibly could.