August 4, 2021

Europeans, Italy: new challenge to Spain to reach the final

The Azzurri want to impose possession on the masters of dribbling: this is also a revolution. Until not too long ago, midfield was their unassailable kingdom. Now no longer

Steve Jobs explained: “I’m not interested in becoming the richest in the cemetery. I’m interested in falling asleep every night with the feeling of having done something wonderful.” On Friday night Roberto Mancini fell asleep with such a feeling. Not so much because his national team defeated Belgium and qualified for the Wembley semifinal against Spain, but because he saw his boys play the game from start to finish against the first team in the world rankings; why Martinez and De Bruyne acknowledged that they lost to a superior opponent; because, while compliments rained everywhere, the team sent to print a first page with the words: “Lesson of Italian”. That “something wonderful” that sweetened his sleep was not the result, but the way he got it. We didn’t mention Steve Jobs at random. Remember his most famous recommendation to young people: “Be hungry and crazy”? Mancini’s young Italy would have been liked by the founder of Apple. The blue coach seemed crazy when, among the ruins of the Apocalypse, he picked up the national team and promised: “We can win European and World Cup”. And he seemed even crazier when he ordered his boys: “Dare even if you make a mistake. Have fun and enjoy the Italians. Always attack, even without the ball, even if we are already ahead”. But how? In Italy, where the result is not the most important thing, but the only thing that matters; where the tables of the law prescribe: “You will have no other scheme than defense and counterattack”. A madman, that Mancini, who on Friday night commented: “We deserved an extra goal”. A short-nosed victory is not enough for him, he wants full recognition of the merit. Steve Jobs said something else: “The difference between a leader and a follower is innovation”. Never having done something does not rule out the possibility of doing it.

Bob a 4

Jamaica has always expressed great sprinters, but one day they decided to participate in the Winter Olympics in the 4-man bobsleigh. Innovation, genius, fun, not madness. Chiellini would not have devoured Lukaku in that way, if our unattainable defensive knowledge had not come to him by inheritance, through generations of scorers. Tradition serves, but it can be enriched. This is where the innovating leader comes in. Mancini taught Bonucci the courage to move the line forward and leave a lot of ground behind him. He taught Verratti and Jorginho to keep the ball and dominate. He taught everyone to have fun. After the game, Bonucci proudly explained: “We always play” and Insigne confessed: “I had fun like playing soccer with friends”. There is no longer a need for the mystique of suffering to win, we can do it even with a smile. Our last Golden Ball came down from the Berlin barricades, Cannavaro; the next could come out of midfield, Jorginho. Now they praise us because we create, not just because we know how to destroy. The last time we beat England at Wembley, in ’97, a defender, Costacurta, jumped the midfield with a pitch and sent Zola into goal. Now let’s go back to Wembley to lay down the law in midfield, our new comfort zone; we don’t skip it anymore, that’s where we build the victory and it will be there that Jorginho will try to deserve a Golden Ball. We did it against Belgium, we can also do it with Spain.

V for Vittoria

The sense of the team gathered in a circle at the end of the match and Mancini’s harangue was this: “See? The game we have studied for three years also works with the greatest”. And then the index finger and the middle finger raised to mean two but also victory: “We only have two victories left!”. After having amassed 15: 10 out of 10 in the qualifying round and 5 out of 5 at Euro 2020. The crew, who believed with faith in the crazy flight of the leader, does not want to stop, because they see land and are still hungry. Route to Luis Enrique’s Spain, not with the usual intention of wrapping it up, but of stealing the ball and keeping it there. Mancini’s hobbyists want to impose possession on the masters of dribbling: this is also a revolution. Would you trade Barella, Jorginho, Verratti with their median (Koke, Busquets, Pedri)? We do not. Not too long ago that was their unassailable kingdom. In defense we are better, in attack they have our problems with the center forward. We’ve played better so far, but we don’t want to feel too much favored. Let us remember that foxes like Busquets, multiple champion of Europe and the world with national team and club, are exalted in certain matches. And above all let us remember that culture has deep roots: those used to holding the ball, do not give it up easily. We remain humble. Without the push of Spinazzola, the best so far, we lose a lot. But yesterday, before leaving Coverciano waving his crutch, he hugged each teammate in the restaurant and left them with something that will make him stronger, just as Eriksen, with other drama, swelled the heart of the semi-finalist Denmark. The images of Spina’s greeting in Coverciano were exciting, spontaneous and promising because historically, every time Italy has achieved such group magic, then it has beaten everyone.