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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"Why Can't Italy Beat England?" The Wall Street Journal Asks and Answers the Question

The title of this post was from a very interesting article that appeared in today's edition of The Wall Street Journal. It was written by Leila Abboud and Davide Berretta.

A few hours ago, Arsenal defeated AS Roma on penalties 1 x 0 AET (6 x 7). At Old Trafford, Manchester United beat Internazionale 2 x 0. Both advance to the quarterfinal round of the UEFA Champions League. Last night, Juventus and Chelsea drew, 2 x 2, and the West London side advanced, 3 x 2, on aggregate.

Champions League: United Draw In Italy
No Italian teams survived. Even though all three exited with their heads held high. But at this level, pride is not enough. All three English sides had a little more quality and organization over the two respective legs. Both Juventus and Roma had significant injuries; however, that is not an excuse. In modern football, with games every three days, teams need a deep roster at this level.

Which unfortunately, if you support Italian calcio, what happened this week was not a welcome reminder of the recent history of the Anglo-Italian soccer rivalry. Since 2004, AC Milan is the only Italian side to appear in a UCL final. Both times were against Liverpool FC. They lost in a memorable final in 2005, and gained a bit of revenge against the Scousers in 2007.

Featured Quotes from the Article
"In the 1990s, Italian teams were the toast of Europe, appearing in eight Champions League finals and winning twice. The best players in the world including Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane flocked to the Serie A where the wages were the highest and the best tacticians in the world served as coaches.

Now, the English Premier League is the destination for the best players, who have turned the once-stodgy competition into a showcase for a flashy, fast-paced physical brand of soccer. Meanwhile Italy's club teams often play with a more tactical, defensive approach, inspired by a strategy in the 1970s called "catenaccio," which means "door bolt" in Italian.

Gianluca Vialli, 44, a former star striker for Juventus and the Italian national team who went on to coach for Chelsea in England, thinks these stylistic differences have historical roots. 'The British are islanders who conquered and colonized throughout their history. After the Roman Empire, Italians have always been invaded and dominated, so we had to learn how to defend ourselves. We developed a very shrewd mindset where I defend myself but in the meantime I quietly move my pawns underground.' "

il Mister

In Italy, the players refer to their coach as "Mister." It is a sign of respect for the early English teachers of the game on the Italian peninsula. Actually, the oldest Italian professional club, Genoa, was founded by English ex-pats. Their first coach, Mr. William Harbutt, can be credited for the "Mister" title that has marked his legacy on the game in Italy. For example, AS Roma coach, Luciano Spalletti, has a simple title on his door: "Mister."

How English are Their Clubs?

Despite the seeming superiority of English sides over their Italian counterparts, let's remember three key facts:

1. Italy has won four World Cups to one for England.

2. An Italian, Fabio Capello, manages the Three Lions.

3. Most top English sides have very few native born players, and are owned by foreigners.

4. None of the top four EPL sides have an English manager. In Italy, Mr. Mourinho is the only foreign manager in the Serie A.


AC Milan is the last team to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford (Quarterfinal UCL round of 2005). Since May 2007 when they lost 3 x 0 to Milan, the Red Devils are unbeaten in 21 consecutive Champions League games.

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