Marcello Lippi was hailed as a hero after guiding Italy to their first world cup success in 24 years in 2006. He retired after his victorious run in Germany with a promise to return to the football world.
So Italy signed former AC Milan player and Italy international Roberto Donadoni to take the Azzurri‘s helm. He managed to guide Italy through a tough qualifying group, but stumbled along the way like a 1-1 draw against Lithuania and a 3-1 loss to hated rivals France. EURO 2008 started with a disastrous 3-0 loss to the Netherlands, and Italy would’ve been out if it hadn’t been for Gianluigi Buffon’s spectacular save on Adrian Mutu’s penalty in the 1-1 draw with Romania. They then needed to defeat France and for the Netherlands to beat Romania, and they silenced their rivals 2-0.
The next hurdle however was Spain, perennial underachievers. In what was perhaps the most boring football match in the history of the sport, Roberto Donadoni displayed his startling inexperience by playing a range of players that were new on the international scene and only bringing on Alessandro Del Piero in the closing stages of extra time. Then came the penalty shootout. Donadoni made the horrific mistake of letting Antonio Di Natale take a penalty before Del Piero, and Italy’s campaign was over. Cesc Fabregas scored his first penalty ever to take Spain further in the tournament they were later going to win.
It was inevitable that Donadoni would be sacked by the FIGC, but who would be his successor was a question that remained to be answered. Many people believed Lippi to be the right man for the job and he was finally unveiled as the new manager. He started his new reign by rejecting Alessandro Nesta’s and Francesco Totti’s offers to rejoin the national team, stating that ‘players who desert their country should not be allowed back’. He also went on to announce that he would be playing an increasing amount of younger players in the team to prepare the new generation of superstars. Brazilian-born Juventus striker Amauri was also in Lippi’s plans.
But I question the popular belief and ask if Lippi is indeed the right man. He walked away with praise and a satisfying victory, but what if he gets it wrong this time? What if the next World Cup, or the qualifying, is an embarassment for Italy? He would walk away in shame, with the World Cup triumph a distant memory. He is an excellent coach, but no manager has ever managed to win two world cups in a row. How this story plays out remains to be seen, but I expect bitter disappointment on behalf of all of Italy.