Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Return of the 'Special One'

This past weekend, the Italian Serie A kicked off amidst far less fanfare and excitement than what the beginning of the Barclays Premier League attracted. In my opinion, the Serie A is miles ahead of the Spanish and the English league in terms of application of tactics and it comes as no surprise to me that the enterprising Jose Mourinho chose Inter Milan over the several other offers that he surely must have had from the crème de la crème of England and Spain, not to mention the English national team. In spite of all these promising options, I am convinced Mourinho made the choice that would best serve the furtherance of his resume. There is no place like Italy to learn the finer tactical nuances of the game and for all his managerial achievements, the stint at Inter Milan will do Mourinho a world of good.

In Italy as opposed to England, managers are always experimenting with tactics and formations in a bid to ensure that they get the right result for the team. In a day and age where managers are highly unwilling to move away from a pedantic four man back four, Italian managers, constantly think out of the box and use differing formations to suit diverse match situations. Gianluca Vialli in his book with Gabrielle Marcotti titled ‘The Italian Job’ compares the footballing ethos of England and Italy and makes several interesting points about how Serie A managers are never shy of playing three at the back with a conventional sweeper and two wing backs, thereby bringing about a certain level of fluidity to the team and permitting in the process the ‘number 10’ to pull the strings from whatsoever position he deems fit to take. Even a game between Lecce and Palermo generates greater tactical battles than one between Liverpool and Chelsea or one involving Arsenal and Manchester United. In England, we are used to witnessing man to man battles between a Jamie Carragher and a Didier Drogba, but we seldom see teams adapting differing tactical plans, in the manner in which the shrewd Italians do. To me, the greatest tragedy of the commercially colossal BPL has been the lack of adequate tactical combats.

Even though, Italy is the birthplace of the ill-acclaimed Catenaccio, the description of Italian football as boring and dull continues to baffle me. A fiercely contested Milan or Rome Derby will in the midst of all the excitement, generate exceptional tactical contests, the likes of which can be witnessed in no other league. Mourinho has always been more focused on the results that his side achieves as opposed to the manner of football played by them and whilst he was lambasted by most critics of the English game, he will be applauded for such an approach in Italy. Italian football fans for generations have been bothered about the result of the game as opposed to the manner of football played by their team. If the manager gets it tactically wrong, he will be crucified by one and all, but if the team nicks an early goal and defends the lead brilliantly, the manager will get all the applauses even if the team hadn’t managed a single attack of significance subsequent to the goal. Although such an attitude isn’t always healthy, it certainly pressurizes the managers to think more about the game and adjust to different match situations. In Italy the fans take pride in the fact that their team was compact enough to defend their lead magnificently or in the fact that their team outthought the opposition at a pure strategic level.

Mourinho however isn’t in my opinion going to find it all that easy in spite of the great wealth of talent that Inter Milan possesses. He would have to acclimatize quickly to the Italian game and get his tactics spot on if he wants to enjoy success in Italy. As expected he has taken extremely well to the glitz and glamour of the Italian league in so far as his handling of the media is concerned, but he has unexpectedly failed to make an early mark on his Inter team as they struggled to manage a draw away at Sampdoria. But then none of the big guns have started off too well, with last season’s runners-up Roma and Juventus both managing only a draw from their opening fixtures. Carlo Ancelotti, a genius of a manager continues to suffer from AC Milan’s bemusing dealings in the transfer window as he saw his side lose to Bologna of all teams at the San Siro on Sunday. I think we can certainly expect a hugely interesting season at Italy, with Fiorentina likely to join the Milan teams, Roma and Juventus as potential challengers for the Scudetto. But the big question remains whether the self proclaimed ‘Special One’ will be able to deliver the goods in Italy? Jose is a winner through and through and I for one would expect him to succeed sooner rather than later not merely in the Italian Serie A, but in the UEFA Champions League too.


Unknown said...

Mourinho will be under far greater pressure there, and he hasn't exactly gotten off to a great start - especially considering that he seems to have antagonized the Italian media with some of his comments (I believe with regard to Ranieri).

Suhrith said...

But then thats his style aint it. He did it pretty much throughout his time in England. I dont think anyone can doubt his managerial credentials. Expect Inter to challenge for the champions league much better than they did under mancini.