Cesare Prandelli travelled to Brazil safe in the knowledge two more years at the Azzurri helm lay ahead. By the time he returned home he was without a job, resigning after admitting the ‘technical project failed’. Prandelli copped the failure on the chin, but that it ended so abruptly was a shock. While not favourites to win the tournament, Italy had the goods to go far. Instead they were on the first flight home.
It ended at the same stage as in South Africa four years ago. The difference was Marcello Lippi’s disastrous second reign finished as expected. It was a crash that could be seen a mile away but with no desire to veer from its course. Prandelli’s was more of a sudden sideswipe, but just as brutal.
When the former Fiorentina boss took over from Lippi, the Nazionale was at its lowest ebb since the 1960s. And not since those dark days of rotten tomatoes had the public been so out of love with the Azzurri. Prandelli’s aim was to change this. It was to be a Nazionale the Italian public could admire. He introduced the ethical code and took the team to all regions of the country - it was after all for all Italians. This fact was made clearer by his open-door policy towards Oriundi, foreigners of Italian extraction.
In order to make people fall in love once more, Prandelli had much to do on the pitch. His Italy would be a proactive team, taking its cue from the all-conquering Spanish. It took greater risks and would not be the Azzurri of old. Andrea Pirlo, reborn at Juventus, was the focal point in midfield. Alongside him and other veterans such as Gianluigi Buffon and Daniele De Rossi, Prandelli nurtured talented youngsters coming through the ranks - from Mario Balotelli to Marco Verratti near the end. He put faith in Antonio Cassano and Giuseppe Rossi where Lippi had not.
It wouldn’t be all about results, but they were impressive nonetheless. In 56 games Italy won 23, drew on 20 occasions and lost 13, nine of which were friendly matches. Prandelli’s Italy were unbeaten in qualification for Euro 2012 and Brazil 2014. And when the question was asked of this new Italy ahead of the European Championships, they responded with gusto. This fresh brand was taken to the world, as Italy thrilled on the way to the final.
Prandelli said he dreamed of winning the World Cup with seven formations in seven games. Throughout his reign he was open to new ideas, adapting where he felt was needed, but keeping the same principles. This chameleon-like Azzurri nearly tasted victory in Poland and Ukraine, but Prandelli’s first glaring mistake came in the most important encounter, as he failed to use the same plan in the Final which had so successfully stifled Spain in the group encounter. The Azzurri paid dearly.
They had exceeded expectations in reaching Kiev. It also meant expectations rose for the World Cup. The Confederations Cup experience offered valuable insight on and off the pitch and the 2014 campaign started well enough with the win over England. Then the CT lost his nerve.
Where Italy had a chance to take command of Group D, they gave an old Italian showing. The Costa Rica reversal was the start of the downfall as Italy looked shorn of imagination and belief. His tinkering hindered the team and when the fine margins went against them versus Uruguay, Italy headed home following 180 minutes of un-Prandelli football.
It’s easy to look at its culmination and think the worst, but Prandelli deserves praise for his overall achievements the past four years. The Nazionale is at a healthier point now than in 2010, when he had to redesign Italy. The new tactician has the platform to build ahead of Euro 2016, with only tweaks required. Players given a chance by Prandelli are now better positioned to make their mark in France in two years time, then in Russia.
And that will be the legacy of Prandelli’s reign. The new Coach can continue down his path, one forged for four years.