Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cometh the hour, cometh Prandelli

While Mario Balotelli once again proved he has enough talent to justify any of his off-field misdemeanours and Gigi Buffon has intimated that all he's still the silent member of the World's Best Goalkeeper club, the man most crucial to Italy's semi-final triumph wasn't a player but their manager, Cesare Prandelli.

Prandelli has achieved an Italian harmony through measures both regulation and unorthodox. He ha changed formation as required – employing Daniele De Rossi as a libero in a 3-5-2 – as well as deployed Serie A's most effective as his stalwarts, regardless of repute. However, what has set him apart has been his deft handling of a forward corps brimming with unharnessed, childlike energy.

Few managers have managed to obtain the best from Balotelli. However, without him the Italians would tonight start to return home to start their holidays. When at midseason Balotelli indulged his amusing wilful streak, he found himself banished from the Italian team with only an even chance of making the squad for Euro 2012. However, with time he was reintegrated into the Azzurri squad and has formed its most potent attacking weapon thus far.

A potential collaboration between Mario and the man he superseded as the enfant terrible of calcio? The stuff of Marcello Lippi's sweat-drenched nightmares? Rather than fearing a situation of knucklehead-squared, Prandelli has with an attitude of easygoing respect made that couplet not just workable but fearsome, all silky skill and unpredictability.

If Lippi wouldn't countenance leading his line with the terrible twosome, backing them up with the venerable Antonio Di Natale would have been an act of fevered imagination. Yet when Balotelli hobbled from the field with cramp against Germany, the manager turned not to a defensive option but to the diminutive Udinese marksman. This is indicative not simply of the faith he has in Di Natale, but of a changed culture around the Azzurri.

The mark of an excellent coach is that they achieve buy-in from their players.  From the way that Italy plays - from the performances he's mustered from players as wide-ranging as Andrea Pirlo, Buffon, Emanuele Giaccherini, Thiago Motta and, ultimately, Balotelli - it's obvious that he has his men completely invested in his gameplan, and he himself as leader.

A sense of controlled adventure is encouraged, an endeavour that has served them well against Spain and Germany. It appears an entirely different side from the one that didn't make it out of their World Cup 2010 group. That was disgruntled side who were trying to get back to where they once had been; this one has accepted that rejuvenation was inevitable and embraced it. That open attitude is engendered by the mangement of Cesare Prandelli.

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