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“Distinguished for his fair play, honesty and social commitment”: these are the reasons for which Italy manager Cesare Prandelli has recently been honoured with an “ethics in sport” award, one of the many gathered in his life as a player and then manager.
Prandelli, 55 years old, is from a little town near Brescia. In 2010 he became coach of the Italian national team, and took them to the runners-up spot in the European football championships in June.
As a footballer he grew up in Cremona, starting as a midfielder. Atalante heralded the bigtime, but it was at Juventus he enjoyed his peak years, 1979 to 1985 : three Championships, one Champion’s League title, and a Cup-Winners cup, Italian cup and European Supercup. Yet the regular’s spot in the team always eluded him.
His is a long career, spanning some of the modern game’s most significant developments. Euronews’ Roberto Alpino caught up with him at Parma’s football academy.
“Welcome to Euronews. How good a player do you think you were?”
“I think I did all right considering I wasn’t super- skilled, but I still had a successful 10 years as a professional, so a good career.”
euronews: “So, congratulations, you’re now a grandfather”
CP: “Yes, it’s a wonderful experience, especially as I’ve already told my son and daughter-in-law that I’ll be a grandfather just like any other, I’ll be spoiling the children, not bringing them up.”
“And being around all the time!”
His first managerial steps are taken at Verona, whose fans are currently under fire for abusing Livorno’s Piermario Morsini. He is on record as saying “When morons say things like that, I leave the ground.”
“Yes, we should be outraged, and not only with words but action; we all have to realise we are responsible, and not just blame society,” he insists.
Prandelli’s managerial star rose in the 2002-3 season, driving Parma forward and discovering players like Mutu, Adriano, or Gilardino
“Yes, I was lucky to find these good players, who had the talent we see today even then, and they’ve given me incredible satisfaction.”
euronews: “While we’re talking about youth, is this the Year of the Young Coach?”
CP: “There’s a whole bunch who are proving not only technically skilled, but good at management, which is vital for a young coach.”
In 2005 he is poached by Fiorentina where Prandelli takes charge and takes a stand against the clubs’ ultra supporters who taunt rivals Juventus with vile chants about their victims in the Heysel disaster 15 years previously. Prandelli had been there.
CP: “We cannot pretend this never happened, we must face this, like I did in Florence. If after that everyone understands you are honest and sincere, the feedback is positive.”
In 2010 Italy came calling, giving him a four year deal replacing Marcello Lippi after an inglorious World Cup. He immediately installs a “code of ethics” and refuses to select violent players. Italy easily qualifies for the Euros, but by the end of 2011 a new betting scandal erupts.
“I approach all these scandals believing they can be important for maturing and developing the game. They cannot be hushed-up, and we must be ready to learn from them, and get something out of them,” he says.
euronews: “So, in Italy, who are Juventus’s main rivals this season?”
CP: “There are several. I think Fiorentina look good, they look like matching Juve over the season; Inter have momentum after a few wins, but Naples aren’t finished, nor are AC Milan. They can all come good.”
Prandelli’s Italy cap for Simone Farina was a deliberate snub to the cheats; he refused a 200,000 euro bribe to throw a match.
“We’ll always be proud to see Simone represent Italy in the way he does,” says Prandelli, proudly.
euronews: “So, to get the negative stuff out of the way, how do you react to the recent negative comments by a journalist in Turin saying Naples fans smell?”
CP: “Everyone’s laughing at all Italians over one journalist making some inappropriate comments. I don’t even want to comment to give this person any more importance.”
euronews: “You have a lot of praise for Mario Balotelli as an extraordinary player, despite his suspect temperament.”
“He’s better than he likes to seem…”
euronews: “He does it deliberately?”
“No, but he needs to learn to manage his popularity now he’s a public figure, and understand that it’s what he does on the pitch that’s the most important.”
euronews: “What about Daniele de Rossi, a player you’ve always admired, breaking your code and lashing out at the Rome derby?”
CP: “Daniele’s a boy who in the derby matches becomes a fan himself, and drives himself over the top sometimes, but he has an extraordinary heart; he’s already given so much, and will continue to do so.”
Euro 2012 began with draws against Spain and Croatia. A win over Ireland took them to the quarter-finals, beating England on penalties. Germany succumbed in the semis, but Italy were overwhelmed as Spain made sure at the second bite in the final.
CP: “Spain were just too strong. We hadn’t recovered, and too many of our players missed their chances in the box. The one time we had a sniff, we were down to 10 men.”
euronews: “So, to change the subject slightly, are you thinking of abandoning football for the cinema? I see you are playing yourself in a Christmas movie…”
CP: “No, absolutely not, I want to be a fulltime Grandfather.”
euronews: “Italy’s the first country to have two extra officials behind the goals…”
CP: “…a very good thing. I think the coordination between them needs improvement, because we now have five officials.”
euronews: “Are you satisfied with a FIFA number 5 ranking, or is this just the start?”
CP: “It’s the result of the work we’ve done over the last few years, but we need to improve. The team is in development, with many young players. We have a duty to do better, and as far as I’m concerned, yes, five is just the start.”
Italy’s qualification for the 2014 World began in hesitant style, before a brace of three-nil wins against Armenia and Denmark this autumn.
euronews: “You seem fair set for Brazil. I can feel you’re superstitious, but in the light of your brilliant Euro performances, what’s your target for 2014?”
CP: “Well, we want to leave superstition out of it; qualify quickly, because it’s not as easy, mathematical, or predictable as everyone seems to think. Once that’s done, the idea is to grow and develop the team, because a World Cup campaign needs to be undertaken in the best possible way.”