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Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Donadoni Looking for A Repreive

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by Paul Grech

Win or bust.  That is what is facing Italy tonight, putting aside that it could be win AND bust if results elsewhere don’t go their way.  That too is the reality for Roberto Donadoni: contract or not, if Italy go out then so too would the national coach.

For many, that would be the predictable conclusion of a rushed decision.  Prior to taking the Italy job, Donadoni’s only previous experience was at Livorno where he was famously sacked by the Aldo Spinelli, the club’s president, on national television.

In truth, his track record there wasn’t at all negative – Livorno were heading for UEFA Cup qualification when he was dismissed – yet not enough to suggest that he could take over the national team especially with the added pressure of guiding the world champions weighing him down. 

It was and remains a surprise decision, particularly as there were other much more qualified candidates like Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti who would have willingly taken the job.  Yet it was also the peak of the calciopoli scandal at a point where no one knew who was in charge of Italian football following a series of resignations and dismissals.

Donadoni has never managed to shake off that impression about him being in the job by virtue of someone failing to really tackle the issue.  His lack of popularity was reflected in the Italian federation’s reluctance into renewing his contract, apparently happy to go into a major championship with a coach whose future was undecided.

To his credit, Donadoni has grown into the role.  Having been outclassed by France in his first game of qualification, he has slowly been shaping the side on his own mentality and so as to handle the loss through retirement of two key players like Francesco Totti and Alessandro Nesta.

By the end of qualifications, it was as if the Italy of old was back: determined, clinical and capable of playing attractive football.  That rumours of an apparent interest by Milan to make him their manager started to surface hinted that Donadoni might be starting to win people over, not to mention finally got him a contract renewal.

Then came Holland and the biggest defeat in a major championship for almost forty years that was followed by an unimpressive draw with Romania.  The critics started crawling back out, even if Donadoni was at least cut some slack thanks to the erroneous referee decisions – perceived or not – as well as the injury to Fabio Cannavaro that has exposed the lack of alternatives at the back.

Not that Donadoni is blameless.  His decision – or deferral thereof - to appoint two captains following the injury to Cannavaro sent out the wrong message, one whereby he was either too undecided or else incapable of managing his players to decide between Del Piero and Buffon.

It was the same after the opening game defeat when he suddenly swept away all that had been prepared in the run up to the championships and opted to bring in five new players.  Some of these were undoubtedly through personal choice or rethinking but there was also the feeling that media pressure had played a role, and an important one, in his decisions.

Even so, Donadoni appears uncertain about his best formation.  Antonio Cassano and Simone Perrotta could play just behind Luca Toni up front tonight meaning more changes that feel too much like being experimental to really be of much comfort. 

In this respect, the contrast with Marcello Lippi couldn’t be more marked. True, Lippi frequently changed his sides but that was to give them different tactical inflections something that proved to be crucial in the World Cup.  He knew how to face each team and which players suited which opponent.

Donadoni, on the other hand, seems to be making changes in hope rather than belief.  Just as talk of hope has been making the headlines for the past days, with talk of whether Holland will be putting much of a fight against Romania.  Because, ultimately, whatever Donadoni and his players do today could prove to be futile.

Just like his best efforts to convince people of his worth.

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Paul Grech



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