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Born: Tuesday 2 March 1886, Turin, Italy
Died: Saturday 21 December 1968, Ponderano, Italy (aged 82)
Pioneering coach Vittorio Pozzo is renowned for having overseen the most successful period in history for the Italian national team. Highly influential in the development of modern tactics, he is by far the longest serving coach in his country's history. Although his team selection policies were often controversial, he led Italy through a long unbeaten run and to this day remains the only coach to have led a team to two World Cup wins.
Pozzo was born in Turin on 2 March 1886, and as a young man travelled around Europe learning about football. During the 1905-06 season, he spent a short time as a player with Grasshopper Club Zürich before returning to his home town. In December of 1906, he played a prominent role in the founding of Torino, and would play for the club for the first five years of its existence. His playing career was never really successful, however, and he made his first steps into coaching at a relatively young age when although still just 26, he coached Italy at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm.
Italy were beaten after extra-time by Finland in their opening match, ending their hopes of winning a medal, and entered the consolation tournament. After a win over Sweden, they were beaten in the semi-final of that tournament by Austria, and Pozzo left his role as national coach after the games. He returned to Torino in a managerial role and remained there for another ten years, combining that job with work outside of football for the Pirelli tyre company, as well as serving in the First World War.
Torino were never successful during this period, their best result in the Italian Championship being to finish second behind Genoa in 1914-15, the final season before the league was suspended due to the war. Following his departure from the club, Pozzo was reappointed as national manager for the Olympic Games of 1924, and led the team to victories over Spain and Luxembourg before a narrow defeat in the quarter-finals, 2-1 against Switzerland. Just as in 1912, he stepped down as coach following the games and this time moved to become manager at AC Milan.
Pozzo remained at Milan for two years, which brought limited success, and spent a couple of years with little involvement in the game before returning to the national team in 1929. Now in permanent charge of the team, his first match was a 6-1 thrashing of Portugal in Milan, and he would remain in the job for almost 19 years. He was the first national coach to be in sole control of the team, without any technical committee, and this allowed him to develop the side according to his own tactical principles.
Like many European countries, Italy did not make the long trip to Uruguay for the inaugural World Cup in 1930, but this just gave Pozzo time to further build his ideas. It was Pozzo who developed and refined the idea of 'inside forwards', lying deeper than the centre forward and the wingers, which would become a regular feature of most teams for several decades. Italy won the first Central European International Cup in 1930 and were runners-up in the second two years later, and with the standard of football rising all the time everything was set up for a successful campaign when Italy hosted the second World Cup in 1934.
That tournament was controversial in many ways. The fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, and that regime saw the World Cup as an ideal propaganda tool. Pozzo, however, was able to manage his team in such a way as to prevent them becoming a symbol of the regime. Also controversial was Pozzo's policy of selecting South American players of Italian ancestry, such as Luis Monti who had appeared in the 1930 World Cup final for Argentina. Pozzo's response to criticism of this was that many of these players had served in the Italian army, and that if they could die for Italy then they could also play football for Italy.
Pozzo's team had to qualify for the World Cup, the only hosts ever to do so, but easily beat Greece 4-0 in Milan in March 1934. When the tournament proper came round, they began in even more emphatic style with a 7-1 thrashing of the USA, before edging past Spain after a replay in the quarter-final. The semi-final was controversial, as the tough tackling of Monti took Austria's playmaker Matthias Sindelar out of the game and allowed Italy to grab another narrow 1-0 win. In the final against Czechoslovakia, they fell behind with less than 20 minutes to go but an equalising goal from another of Pozzo's South American imports Raimundo Orsi earned them extra-time, where an early goal brought their first world title.
Pozzo led Italy to another victory in the Central European International Cup in 1935, and the following year took them to the Olympic Games for the third time. As World Champions Italy were among the favourites for the tournament in Berlin, and duly defeated the USA, Japan and Norway to reach the final. There they faced Austria again, and as in 1934 Pozzo's team were too good, winning 2-1 after extra-time. The next task was the defence of the World Cup in France in 1938, and amid suggestions that they had only won in 1934 because of home advantage, Pozzo was determined to hold on to the title.
There was further controversy in 1938 over the players performing the fascist salute before matches. It has been suggested that Pozzo may not have agreed with this gesture personally but has been quoted as saying "the fascist salute is the official flag of the moment, it's a sort of ceremony and [the players] must show allegiance to it". In the tournament, Italy required extra-time to get past Norway in their opening match before defeating the host nation France in the quarter-finals. Brazil were beaten 2-1 in the semi-final, and Italy would face a rising power of world football, Hungary, in the final. Pozzo's team led 3-1 at half-time, but Hungary fought back to 3-2 and only after a later goal from Silvio Piola could Italy relax and celebrate a second consecutive world title.
The following year, war broke out again, but Pozzo remained as manager until 1948. That year, he took Italy to the Olympic Games for the fourth time, beating the USA in the first round but losing the quarter-final 5-3 to Denmark. That match would be Pozzo's last as national team coach. In all he won 63 out of 95 matches across several spells in charge. Pozzo later became a journalist, reporting on Italy's matches in the 1950 World Cup, but the team spent several years in decline. Pozzo was able to live just long enough to see his country win their first international title since he left the job when they became European Champions in 1968. He died just months after that title was won, at the age of 82.
References (all accessed 12 October 2011):
- Published on Wednesday, 12 October 2011 21:06