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Born: Monday 26 September 1927, Aiello del Friuli, Italy
Died: Tuesday 21 December 2010, Milan, Italy (aged 83)
One of Italy's longest serving national team managers, Enzo Bearzot led his country to triumph in the 1982 World Cup in Spain, a first world title in 44 years. Having passed up the opportunity of a managerial career at club level, he spent many years working with the national team in various capacities. He introduced a new flair to the team which was missing from many defensively minded Italian teams over the preceding decades.
Enzo Bearzot was born in Aiello del Friuli, near Udine in north-eastern Italy, on 26 September 1927. Although much of his playing career would be spent at the highest level in Italy, he was never one of the country's leading players but his superb tactical understanding of the game led him to become one of Italy's finest coaches. Bearzot played primarily as a right-half, a modern day defensive midfielder, but began his career at centre-half with Serie B side Pro Gorizia in 1946, having missed his final school exams to have a trial at the club.
After two seasons of struggle in the second tier, during which Pro Gorizia were reprieved from relegation for political reasons in 1947 before dropping down a year later, Bearzot got the chance to play in Serie A when he signed for Internazionale. Although Inter were never out of the top three during Bearzot's three seasons at the club, he was never able to establish himself as a first team regular and dropped back into Serie B with Catania in 1951. At Catania he was almost an ever present, helping the club to win the Serie B title in 1954 and earning a move to Torino.
Apart from a brief return to Inter in 1956-57, Bearzot spent the remainder of his playing days with Torino and made more than 200 league appearances for the club. During his first season at Torino in 1954-55, he was called up to the national team for a game against Hungary in Budapest. Italy lost 2-0 and the game proved to be his only appearance for Italy. He stayed with Torino after relegation in 1959, helping the club to make an instant return to the top flight by winning the Serie B title a year later. Bearzot retired from playing in 1964, aged 37, becoming an assistant coach at Torino.
Leaving Torino after a disagreement with the manager, Bearzot took charge of Serie C side Prato during the 1968-69 season. He did not stay long however and that appointment proved to be his only experience of club management. In the summer of 1969 Bearzot took a job with the national federation and was appointed manager of the Italian under-23 team. He held that job until 1975, but for much of that time also worked as an assistant coach to the full national team.
Bearzot was an assistant coach to the team which reached the final of the World Cup in Mexico in 1970. Shortly after the disappointing group stage exit in the finals in West Germany four years later, he found himself offered the chance to take joint charge alongside Fulvio Bernardini. Relations between the two were often tense, on the grounds that Bearzot had never managed a club side at the highest level. By 1977 Bernardini had retired leaving Bearzot in sole control and he set about rebuilding both the team and style of play.
Having been working with many of the players for a number of years, Bearzot knew the national squad inside out. Italian football had a reputation for being dour and defensive, with the 'Catenaccio' style employed by Inter in the 1960s being the common tactic of the time. That was not Bearzot's style, he believed in using wingers and playmakers as well as being the first Italian coach to utilise attacking full-backs. He was not afraid to lose friendly matches if it meant learning more about his players and developing their character.
Bearzot's first international tournament with Italy was the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. Although they fell a goal behind in the first minute of their first game against France, Italy went on to win all three group games and reach the second group stage in style. In that second stage, a draw with West Germany and a win over Austria left Italy needing to beat the Netherlands to reach the final. Italy ultimately lost 2-1, with an identical result against Brazil in the third place match leaving them in fourth place.
Despite the failure to reach the final, much of the lost pride from the disappointing tournament in 1974 had been largely restored with a more attractive style of play. Two years later, Bearzot led the national team into the European Championship on home soil. Trailing Belgium on goals scored with one group game to play, Italy needed to win but the Belgians frustrated them with a 0-0 draw, pushing Italy into the third place match. Defeat on penalties to Czechoslovakia left Bearzot's team in fourth place again and sections of the Italian media began to criticise the coach for his loyalty to his preferred players.
At the 1982 World Cup, that criticism grew when Italy failed to win any of their three group games, reaching the second stage only on goals scored ahead of Cameroon. Although they may not have been the most talented team in the tournament, Italy were certainly one of the most intelligent. Having closed ranks and stopped talking to the press, they took on highly fancied Argentina and Brazil in the second group stage. After a 2-1 win over Argentina, they needed to beat favourites Brazil to reach the last four and after a Paolo Rossi hat-trick, duly did so by three goals to two.
Bearzot's team were growing in confidence, cruising past Poland to reach the final. A dominant second half display earned a 3-1 win over West Germany in the final, making Bearzot the first coach to lead Italy to World Cup success since the legendary Vittorio Pozzo in 1938. His critics were forced to eat their words, having failed to understand that by sticking by his own favourites, he was building a solid team unit which was able to move away from the dependence on Catenaccio which had been holding Italian football back in the 1970s.
Unfortunately for Bearzot, that loyalty to certain players would prove to be his undoing as the 1980s progressed. Italy's attempt to qualify for the 1984 European Championship was a shambolic failure, with the team finishing fourth in their group and winning only their final match against Cyprus. As holders there was no need to qualify for the 1986 World Cup, but with many of the same players as they had used in 1982 Italy were a fading force.
After unimpressive performances in the group stage, their crown fell in the last 16 with a 2-0 defeat to France. That game had seen Bearzot uncharacteristially play more defensively in a failed attempt to subdue French star Michel Platini. Bearzot left his post as manager after the tournament, following a record 104 games in charge of which he won almost half. He retired from football, although he would return to the Italian federation in 2002 for a three-year spell as a technical advisor. Enzo Bearzot died in on 21 December 2010, at the age of 83.
References (all accessed 1 April 2012):
- Published on Sunday, 01 April 2012 22:50