Just as Dino Zoff did in the wake of Italy’s defeat to France in the final of UEFA EURO 2000, Cesare Prandelli tendered his resignation following La Nazionale’s exit from the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ on Tuesday.
“When the project is a failure, then you have to take responsibilities,” said the coach after watching his side go down 1-0 to Uruguay, a bitter blow that prompted him to call time on his stint in charge.
Honest, demanding, upright and committed to playing the game the right way, Prandelli is a fair-minded coach who has always been committed to team discipline, even going to the length of introducing a code of conduct after agreeing to take on the job in May 2010.
Getting down to work after La Nazionale’s deflating display at South Africa 2010, the new man won over his bosses, the players and the fans alike, breathing new life into the national team. Aside from taking La Squadra Azzurra to the final of UEFA EURO 2012 and overseeing a fine performance at last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup, perhaps his biggest achievement was to transform the image of a side long noted for its commitment to catenaccio.
While his unconditional support for the fiery Mario Balotelli was the trigger for much debate whenever the player overstepped the line, Prandelli stood tall in the face of criticism and calmly explained the reasons for his faith in him.
“When you have someone as talented as he is, you just have to be patient,” he once said of AC Milan striker. “The time will come when the talent has to start taking responsibilities.”
The buck stops here
Before Prandelli had even announced he was stepping down, national team captain Gianluigi Buffon offered some veiled criticism of his team-mates.
“People often say that changes need to be made, that Buffon, (Andrea) Pirlo, (Daniele) De Rossi, (Giorgio) Chiellini and (Andrea) Barzagli are too old,” said the veteran keeper. “The fact is, though, is that when the cart needs to be pulled it’s these old guys who are there to pull it. They should be given a little more respect, not for what they’ve done in the past but for what they still represent.”
Following the 1-0 defeat to Costa Rica, a game in which Italy looked worn out after their exertions against England, Prandelli stayed true to his principles by replacing the incapacitated De Rossi with a striker, Ciro Immobile, rather than another defensive midfielder. Yet, having never played together, Balotelli and his new strike partner failed to click against the Uruguayans.
“We didn’t create a single chance, probably because we have technical limitations or because the structure of the team wasn’t right,” said the coach. “It’s my mistake. I take full responsibility for the project’s failure.”
That mistake could possibly have been covered up by a piece of Balotelli inspiration, though there was none of that on show in Natal. Disappointed with his striker’s efforts, to the extent that he hauled him off at half-time, and no doubt aware that a more adventurous choice of tactics might have changed the outcome, Prandelli followed his principles once more at the final whistle.
Irked by comments about the extension of his contract through to 2016 – signed just before the tournament – and knowing full well he would be the focal point for the inevitable criticism, he took the decision to step aside and let a new era of Italian football begin.