Some things are just meant to be. Approaching the final stretch in preparations before the World Cup, Italy received her strongest boost with news that Cesare Prandelli would be extending his time in charge. The all-but-signed renewal of the love affair to 2016 came as important confirmation of a country truly starting to believe on the eve of the FIFA showpiece.
Winds of change have come swiftly during the 56-year-old’s spell. Clocking almost four years at the helm now, Italy have progressed into a truly modern outfit under his watch. Even the timing of an extension hinted at the changes in mindset afoot. “Strange to renew without a sporting achievement first? In fact this is the first time it has happened in Calcio. This is proof that we have worked well and that our path may continue regardless of what happens,” Prandelli underlined.
But even if it is unusual, it is thoroughly deserved. Few from the Italy camp have tired of the bounce the former Fiorentina boss has introduced since being hired as Marcello Lippi’s successor, after the Azzurri were unceremoniously dumped out of the group stages at the 2010 World Cup. Prandelli’s open-minded ways were to basically save Calcio from itself in the aftermath. His solution to the rut has been simple - hard work and fresh ideas.
Part of the rethink meant severing ties with the nostalgic heyday of Italy becoming World Champions that was weighing heavily on steps taken forward. Rather than sticking with the winning relics leftover from Berlin, the trainer has given his nation a future by advocating fresh blood. Hungry, eager and flourishing starlets such as Mario Balotelli, Ciro Immobile, Stephan El Shaarawy, Marco Verratti and Mattia De Sciglio all owe their senior international debuts to Prandelli.
Presently, up to 10 players aged 23 and below find themselves in contention to make this summer’s trip to Brazil. You can sense the school of thought behind Prandelli’s decision to blood those youngsters of great potential yet who can also show their worth today when he says: “The younger players have in recent weeks emerged from their shells, convinced many doubters and proved they can handle the pressure.”
The Azzurri beginning their assault on the World Cup in Manaus will not be composed of spring chickens, however. There is fresh blood in the national team, but its core remains. Prandelli is counting on his remaining veterans to great extent: “I am like Lippi - if we are without Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon then we will be in bad shape. Players like Pirlo, Buffon and Daniele De Rossi have always responded in an extraordinary way and have shown the right spirit.”
The result of such an approach? A team that has looked assured in dictating play and constantly demonstrated to be greater than the sum of its parts, such as when it reached the Euro finals for the first time in 12 years, or overcame the oppressive heat to clinch third at the Confederations Cup the next year. A team that, with the code of ethics implemented, has returned the public’s sense of pride in supporting.
Even tempered with reality, it’s hard to suppress the feeling Prandelli could be on to something special in the upcoming tournament as the opportunity to consolidate Italy’s progress approaches. In some ways, in many ways, the growth showcased could mean lifting football’s greatest prize this time out would rival or even surpass the triumphant World Cup campaign of 2006 - thanks in no small part to the Coach, who promises to build a winning era as he continues leading the way.