Cesare Prandelli Not Helping Italy Through Match-Fixing Crisis
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Cesare Prandelli has been praised for turning the Italian national team around since taking over for Marchello Lippi after the debacle that was the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Much of what he has done is worthy of that praise. He has injected youth into a side that had become far too reliant on aging stars and has changed the attitude of the side from the strict defensive doctrine of old-school catenaccio to a more possession-based system in the mold of Spain or the new-wave German teams of the last two years. In the space of two years, he turned the Azzurri from a team in crisis after the World Cup to a team that many tipped as a dark horse to make a deep run into Euro 2012.
However, Prandelli may have totally wasted the work he's done the last two years in the space of a week to 10 days with the way he handled things after the burgeoning calcioscommesse scandal presented itself on his doorstep.
For a deeper understanding of the nuts and bolts of calcioscommesse, take a look at this article by B/R Featured Columnist Mohamed Al-Hendy. It's helpful in learning just what Prandelli was facing down this past week.
The first major mistake he made was the knee-jerk reaction of excluding Domenico Criscito from the side. When Criscito was served an official notice of investigation a week ago, Prandelli almost immediately dropped him from the side. As justification, he claimed that taking the young left-back to Poland would subject him to "pressure which no human being can bear." He also said that he did not want to run the risk of the player being called before prosecutors during the tournament.
The decision to drop Criscito was made, in my opinion, too quickly, and the mistake was compounded by the fact that Criscito then roundly criticized FIGC and refuted the notion that it had been a decision taken up by all sides. From a soccer standpoint, Prandelli had just deprived himself of one of the best left-backs in the world and left him with only one natural left-back on his roster.
Compounding the problem was the fact that Criscito had been excluded despite the fact that Leonardo Bonucci, also implicated in the scandal, is traveling to Poland with the Azzurri.
There are some fundamental differences in the cases of the two young players. Thus far, Bonucci's involvement is based solely on the testimony of former Atalanta and Bari player Andrea Masiello, who played with Bonucci at Bari before the young defender moved to Juventus.
There is no further evidence in the public record—at least not to my knowledge—that corroborates Masiello's claims. Unlike Criscito—against whom the main piece of evidence is a photograph taken of him with two major match-fixing suspects—Bonucci has not been served with an official notice that he's being investigated.
Still, there is much controversy over his playing the Euros, especially considering that with the injury to Andrea Barzagli, he'll likely be starting alongside Giorgio Chiellini in the center of Italy's defense.
The plight of the Italians has been compared to the 2006 World Cup squad, who responded to the revelation of calciopoli right before the tournament by turning in one of the greatest defensive performances in the history of the World Cup, conceding only two goals en route to their fourth world title. But the differences between these two teams going into their respective tournaments are vast.
When allegations became public in 2006, Marcello Lippi immediately insulated his team—13 of whom were on teams affected by the allegations—from the press and created an us-against-the-world mentality in the team, giving them the cutting edge that helped them through to the title.
Conversely, after calcioscommesse broke last week, several Italian players spoke out to the press. Gianluigi Buffon made the controversial statement that teams will often tacitly agree to a draw if splitting the spoils of a game would benefit both sides, then lashed out at media for sensationalizing coverage of the scandal. The Italian media promptly responded with the revelation that Buffon had paid the owner of a Parma tobacco shop that doubled as a betting parlor (tobacco shops serve a myriad of purposes in Italy, from taking bets to selling bus tickets) almost €1.5 million.
The allegation caused a momentary question as to whether Italy's captain would be dropped from the team, but it seems that the story is a non-issue—his lawyer has said that the payments were for various business transactions, including 20 Rolex watches. But the whole affair could have been avoided had Prandelli limited the press' access to his team.
Prandelli himself hasn't helped, either. Several days ago, he said that he would not be opposed to withdrawing the Italian team from the tournament if he was asked to do so. Rather than Lippi's us-against-the world mentality, Prandelli's has been one of acceptance, almost as if he were saying "We deserve this."
If this scandal does end up sinking the Azzurri at the Euros in the coming weeks, a long, long look should be taken at how Prandelli handled the reaction to the news. Much as I never thought I would be saying something like this as little as six or seven days ago, his handling of this crisis for the national team could very well be grounds for his dismissal should the team falter.
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