Arrigo Sacchi: Commissario Tecnico (1991/1996)
When Arrigo Sacchi left his post as AC Milan Manager at the conclusion of the 1990/91, it was an open secret that he was waiting to take over from Azeglio Vicini as Italy’s National Team Manager in the near future.
The Azurri had been struggling in their UEFA European Championships qualifying Group that seemed destined to be won by the Soviet Union.
The writing on the wall had been their defeat against an emerging Norway squad in Oslo in June of 1991 (1-2 defeat).
Arrigo Sacchi’s strongest proponent had been the Italian Federation President Antonio Matarrese.
He had been captivated, like most of the continent, with Sacchi’s brilliant AC Milan squad that had captured two Champions Cups (1989 and 1990) by playing an attractive, pressing attacking game.
Sacchi had been credited with changing the mentality of the Italian soccer tactics away from the traditional defensive Catenaccio into an attacking game (zonal tactics) with many goals that the public clamored for.
Photo From : World Soccer, April 1994(Arrigo Sacchi)
Matarrese was hoping for a similar style for the National Team. He had publicly stated the need for the future National Team Manager with the experience of International success at club level.
To the media this was a clear hint that this could only be Sacchi.
In essence, Azeglio Vicini was a dead-man walking until Italy were eliminated from the qualifiers. He still managed for the early parts of the 1991/92 season.
The key match for Vicini (and his future) was the qualifier against the Soviets in Moscow on October 12th, 1991.
The scoreless result sealed his and Italy’s fate. He resigned shortly thereafter and as predicted Arrigo Sacchi was appointed as National Team Manager on October 18, 1991.
Sacchi upon taking over had to contend with two inconsequential qualifiers still on the horizon. He used those two matches for preparation and experimentation.
His immediate brief was to qualify Italy for the 1994 World Cup and those qualifiers would start in the Fall of 1992.
The very first match under his reign was against Norway on November 13th, 1991 at Genoa.
His first selected squad contained many familiar faces from the Vicini era.
These included then back-up goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca, Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Ciro Ferrara, Riccardo Ferri, Nicola Berti, Fernando De Napoli, Attilio Lombardo and Gianluca Vialli.
The only notable regular missing was Roberto Baggio, who was unavailable, but his place in the squad was beyond question.
Youngsters such as Stefano Eranio, Gianluigi Lentini and Pierluigi Casiraghi had been first capped during the tail end of Vicini’s reign, but were tipped to have more prominent roles in the new regime.
Sacchi surprisingly called up veteran Carlo Ancelotti, who was not even a regular at his club AC Milan. Ancelotti had been a cornerstone of Sacchi’s Milan and had been included, for this match, perhaps as a guide to implement his ideas in his first match in charge. At the conclusion of that season, Ancelotti would retire from playing and would join Sacchi’s staff as an assistant.
Another one of his old Milan players, Alessandro Costacurta, earned his well-deserved first cap under his old boss.
The brilliant Gianfranco Zola of Napoli also received his first cap, along with surprising Foggia striker Francesco Baiano.
Torino goalkeeper Luca Marchegiani was called up for the first time as well.
The first notable casualties of the new Sacchi regime were former Captain Giuseppe Bergomi, as well as others such as Luigi De Agostini, Giuseppe Giannini and Italia 90’ top goalscorer and sensation Salvatore Schillaci.
Perhaps out of loyalty, Vicini had maintained confidence in Schillaci, despite his poor form, but he would be discarded in the new Sacchi era.
Some other Vicini era mainstays would also slowly be pushed to the wayside in the coming months (due to age, new tactics and/or personal problems with Sacchi).
The new official team Captain was to be Franco Baresi just like in Sacchi’s Milan days.
This first match with Norway ended in a (1-) tie. The only significant fact was that goalscorer Ruggiero Rizzitelli never played for Italy again (short International careers would be a running theme in the Sacchi years).
Sacchi followed his experimentation in the next qualifier at the end of the year (December 21st, 1991) against Cyprus.
Sacchi recalled starting goalkeeper Walter Zenga, who had been unavailable for the previous match.
Young players (and 1992 Olympics Internationals) Dino Baggio and Demetrio Albertini were given their first taste of International Football, as Sacchi was clearly eyeing the future.
Another one of Sacchi’s old Milan contingent, midfielder Alberigo Evani (just couple of weeks shy of 29 years) earned a long deserved cap (that he most likely would never have earned under Vicini).
Roberto Baggio was also back and celebrated with a goal.
Francesco Baiano joined a long list of future Internationals, who disappeared without a trace (under Sacchi) after just a handful of caps. He was perhaps fortunate that he earned at least two caps; many would be even less fortunate (some never even left the bench).
Sacchi’s first full year in charge (1992) started with some controversy.
Italy’s first match of the year, a friendly vs. San Marino at Cesena, had been arranged (at the behest of Federtion President Matarrese) just so that Gianluca Vialli would serve out his suspension and be available for the prestigious friendly against Germany in Turin in March.
Vialli had been sent off in a friendly match vs Bulgaria on September 25, 1991 and was to serve a one-match suspension for Italy’s next friendly match.
In any case, Vialli would be sent off in an Italian Cup match with Sampdoria against Parma prior to the Germany match and be suspended for that match regardless.
Sacchi used the San Marino friendly to give new caps to Massimo Carrera (only cap), Moreno Mannini and Alessandro Bianchi. He also recalled another one of his former Milan charges, Roberto Donadoni.
The Germany friendly in March 25th, 1992, was Sacchi’s first serious test since taking over. Italy was at near full strength, though missing the suspended Vialli and the unavailable Maldini. The latter’s absence allowed Sacchi to give a first cap to Amedeo Carboni. Italy won via a late penalty kick by Roberto Baggio.
This match also turned out to be Fernando De Napoli’s last match for Italy and would not be called upon by Sacchi.
The Italians were involved in the US Cup in the summer of 1992. The Americans were hosting this mini-Tournament as part of their preparations for the World Cup that they would be hosting in two years.
Sacchi decided to recall Luca Fusi and Roberto Mancini, as well as giving first caps to Giorgio Venturin, Roberto Galia, Giuseppe Signori, Lorenzo Minotti and Alberto Di Chiara.
Of the seven newcomers, only Signori, Minotti and to a lesser extent Di Chiara and Mancini would still be part of the set-up for the near future. The others, like many before and after, would not be called up again after a handful of appearances.
Sacchi also used the tour to call time on the careers of Inter pair of goalkeeper Walter Zenga and Riccardo Ferri.
The results on the tour were satisfactory. A scoreless tie with Portugal was followed by a win over the Republic of Ireland, where the neo-Laziale Signori distinguished himself by scoring in a (2-0) win.
The Italians rounded out the tour with another tie (1-1) with the American hosts.
The serious business of World Cup qualification started in the Fall of 1992. Italy were in a Group with Switzerland, Portugal, Scotland, Malta and Estonia that did not seem too difficult.
They started the season with a friendly at Eindhoven vs. Holland on September 9th. Holland quickly took a (2-0) lead through two goals by Dennis Bergkamp.
Instead of giving up, the Italians stormed back to win the match (3-2). Many (falsely) predicted that this win showed that the new Italy would be just as impressive as Sacchi’s Milan.
The Italians were in for a rude awakening in their first match of the qualifiers vs. Switzerland on October 14th at Cagliari.
On October 1st, Team Captain Franco Baresi had announced his retirement from the National Team. In addition, Paolo Maldini was out through injury.
Sacchi gave a first cap to Marco Lanna in defense and also made another one of his former Milan players, Mauro Tassoti, the oldest debutant for Italy at the age of 32.
Former starting goalkeeper Walter Zenga had not been called up since the US Cup in the summer.
There were reports that Sacchi and Zenga did not get along and had disagreements. Inter General Manager Piero Bochi claimed that Sacchi had formally promised him that Zenga would have been called up after the friendlies of the start of the season. His omission for this vital qualifier confirmed that he was completely out of Sacchi’s plans.
After discarding Zenga, Sacchi had surprisingly appointed Luca Marchgiani as Italy’s number one goalkeeper at the expense of Gianluca Pagliuca, who had seemed set as Zenga’s heir apparent for a number of seasons.
It was a decision that would rue him, as Marchegiani made two errors that gifted the Swiss with two goals minutes apart before halftime. Sacchi later stated that he did not give a pep talk during halftime and preferred to let his own team to get themselves out of the mess. The Italians fought back and tied the match in the closing seconds.
It was clear that qualification would not be easy as hoped for. Sacchi immediately installed Pagliuca as the starting goalkeeper.
He also convinced Franco Baresi to reverse his decision and come out of retirement, as his absence was clearly felt in a suspect defense.
Baresi announced his decision to make a comeback on November 2nd.
Italy’s next qualification encounter was at Glasgow vs. Scotland the following month (November 18th).
With Baresi back in defense, the Italians secured a valuable away point and came away with a scoreless tie. Roberto Baggio took the brunt of Scotland’s fouls and had to be replaced. He later remarked that ‘I’ve never been kicked so much in my life.’
Italy’s last qualifier and match of the year was also away at Malta, a seemingly easy match at La Valetta.
It turned out to be a disappointing match for the Italians that could well have ended in a tie.
The Italians seemed set to win after scoring twice in the second half. However, just minutes later Captain Franco Baresi was sent off for a professional foul in the box. Fortunately, for the Italians, Kristian Laferla missed the ensuing spot kick and despite a late goal by the hosts, the Italians came away with the full points.
The manner had been disappointing and the unsatisfied Press were disappointed in not seeing Italy performing like Milan as had been assumed.
Yet another one of Sacchi’s old Milan players, the young Marco Simone earned his first cap in this match (He would not be capped again for almost three years).
This also would turn out to be Gianluca Vialli’s last cap, as injuries would restrict him for the following couple of seasons and then… (We’ll get to that later).
Italy started the year 1993 with a friendly at Florence against Mexico on January 20th. The Italians won (2-0) without much trouble.
Sacchi pulled one more surprise by recalling veteran defender Pietro Vierchowod as extra cover due to Baresi’s suspension.
The everlasting Vierchowod had been an Enzo Bearzot era International. He earned the distinction of being recalled by two succeeding National Team Managers (Vicini and Sacchi).
Eugenio Corini joined the list of players called up, who never got the chance to leave the bench.
On February 24th, 1993, Italy visited Porto for a key World Cup qualifier vs. Portugal. Sacchi once again selected a surprising newcomer in midfield. Diego Fuser, who was having an outstanding season at Lazio, earned his first cap.
The pair had a contentious relationship in Milan during Fuser’s first season (1989/90), to such an extent that Sacchi had loaned him to Fiorentina for the following season. Sacchi explained to him that all their problems were in the past and they could make a fresh start.
The Italians were on fire from the start and took a quick two-goal lead. After Portugal pulled a goal back, some would have expected them to buckle under the pressure, but Dino Baggio confirmed his growing status within the squad by scoring the third from a long-range shot. This was their most positive display in the qualifiers and could have been seen as a reference match.
Italy followed this win with two easy wins against the Group’s weaker sides.
Malta were defeated on March 24th by the score of (6-1) and Estonia were defeated on April 14th (2-0).
Sacchi added two further newcomers in these matches by selecting defender Sergio Porrini and Parma’s in-form young talent Alessandro Melli.
While Atalanta striker Maurizio Ganz was also selected but did not earn a cap.
Porrini and Melli were not called up afterwards either.
The last match of the season was against surprising Group leaders Switzerland at Berne on May 1st. The improving Swiss squad that had shaken Italy in October proved their display and position was no fluke as they inflicted Italians with their first defeat. In fact this was the first defeat Italy had suffered in the Sacchi era (In addition Dino Baggio was also sent off).
Marc Hottiger’s strike halted Italy’s run of positive results and now were in a competition with Portugal for the second position in the Group.
Sacchi continued his unconventional selections by selecting Parma’s Daniele Zoratto, who at 31 years of age was hardly a choice for the future.
Needless to say, this was solitary appearance. Always the experimenter, Sacchi even stated that he was open to recalling Inter pair of Giuseppe Bergomi and Nicola Berti, who had been out of favor.
When the new season started (1993/94), Italy had three matches left to achieve qualification. They had the misfortune to lose Gianluigi Lentini before the season had even started. On August 3rd, 1993, he was involved in a car accident and was out of action for many months. He was lost for the season as far as National Team contention and the World cup.
On September 22nd, they faced Estonia at Tallin and won (3-0).
Defenders Antonio Bennarivo and Andrea Fortunato earned their first caps. This would be Fortunato’s only appearance. He seemed like a bright hope for the future, but he tragically passed away in 1995 due to Leukemia.
Inter midfielder Antonio Manicone would also earn his one and only cap.
The following month on October 13th, Italy defeated Scotland (3-1) at Rome in impressive fashion to inch closer to qualification.
Sacchi once again gave first caps to two of his former club level players. The selections of Roberto Mussi and Giovanni Stroppa seemed odd, as neither had been a regular under him at club level.
It all came down to last qualifier against closest challenger Portugal (Switzerland had already qualified) on November 17th at San Siro.
Italy narrowly defeated Portugal (1-0) with a Dino Baggio goal to qualify for USA’ 94.
Italy looked dismal and unimpressive in the first two friendlies of the New Year (1994). They lost at home (at Napoli), for the first time during the Sacchi era, against France (0-1). The match marked the recall of Lorenzo Minotti, as well as new caps for Massimiliano Cappioli and Andrea Silenzi (who were not given further opportunities). The next friendly was a high prestige match vs. Germany at Stuttgart. The Italians once again looked vulnerable and out of sorts. The Germans won (2-1) with a double strike from Jurgen Klinnsman.
Sacchi recalled another one of his former players for this match. AC Milan’s veteran Striker Daniele Massaro, who had been last selected by Bearzot nearly a decade before (and even then his appearances had been sporadic) was rewarded by his old boss for an excellent run of form that had enabled him to score many key goals in Milan’s quest for the Scudetto and the Champions League.
After the match vs. Germany, Roberto Mancini declared himself unavailable for the National Team. He could not be guaranteed of a starting position and perhaps could not bear to experience another World Cup, where he would not play (no playing time in 1990).
Once the season ended Sacchi selected his World Cup squad. It contained majority of AC Milan and Parma players, whose playing styles he appreciated.
Stefano Eranio had to be withdraw due to injury on May 6th, which gave an opportunity and recall to Inter’s Nicola Berti. Some observers were surprised that Sampdoria winger Attilio Lombardo was not selected.
After squad selection Italy played three friendlies all won (2-0 Finland, 1-0 Switzerland and 1-0 Costa Rica).
Italy faced the Republic of Ireland in their World Cup opener in East Rutherford, New Jersey on June 18th, 1994.
The region had a large ethnic Italian community that many felt would have been to their advantage. But Italy once again played a hesitant match and succumbed to an early goal from a long-range shot from Ray Houghton.
Their next match at the same venue on June 23rd would turn out to be even more eventful and potentially could have shattered their World Cup dreams right then. In the 21st minute of the match, goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca was sent off for a professional foul. To the amazement of most observers (and especially that of the chosen player), Sacchi decided to take out the team’s mains star Roberto Baggio to make way for substitute goalkeeper Luca Marchegiani.
Upon being substituted the Television Cameras showed Baggio mumbling ‘he’s mad’ directed at Sacchi.
The under-manned Italians showed resilience by defeating the Norwegians through a Dino Baggio header.
For their key last match in the Group, they faced Mexico in Washington, D.C. on June 28th. They were not only faced with the two-match suspension of starting goalkeeper Pagliuca, but their Captain Franco Baresi was virtually out until the end of the Tournament with an injury.
In a tight match, Italy and Mexico tied (1-1, Massaro scoring for Italy).
In this hard fought Group, Italy had done just enough to qualify for the next round.
In the second round, they faced Nigeria on July 5th at Boston. It was yet another match, where the Italians suffered and looked headed for the exit. Nigeria went ahead in the first half through Amunike and despite constant pressure; the Italians were unable to breach their defense. That is until the last minute of the match, where Italy (and Roberto Baggio)’s fortunes changed in this World Cup.
Roberto Baggio, on whom Italy’s hopes and expectations had been placed, had been scoreless in the Tournament until then and was considered the greatest disappointment of the Cup until then. By scoring in the last minute, he saved Italy from elimination and forced the match into overtime. This gave the squad a confidence and in the Overtime, they were able to win a penalty and Baggio stepped up and scored to advance Italy into the quarters.
Psychologically Baggio’s performance did wonders not only to him but to the rest of the squad as well, as they grew in confidence.
In the quarterfinals on July 9th vs. Spain at Boston (Pagliuca back in goal), Roberto Baggio once again came to the rescue by scoring Italy’s winner near the end.
In the semifinals on July 13th (back at East Rutherford, NJ), Baggio played one of his best matches and scored twice in the first half (2-1 win) and helped Italy qualify for the World cup final.
Giuseppe Signori ruled himself out of the Final after refusing to play deep left wing in the semifinal (A decision that Sacchi would not forget).
Photo From : World Soccer, August 1994(Arrigo Sacchi, July 13, 1994, World Cup, Italy 2-Bulgaria 1)
The Italians, who at one point looked certain to be eliminated, had passed many hurdles to arrive to this point.
The Final was held at Pasadena, California on July 17th, with their opponents Brazil being slight favorites due to their better displays.
For the Final, Sacchi took a human and sentimental decision by starting Franco Baresi (who had been injured for most of the Tournament) and Roberto Baggio (who was carrying a slight injury). Sacchi’s reasoning was that it would have been heartless and inhuman to deprive two players who had done so much in the previous couple of years.
Italy had to do without Alessandro Costacurta, who was suspended.
The match as we know went to penalty kicks after a scoreless draw and both Baresi and Baggio missed their respective penalty kick attempts.
One would have thought that taking a team all the way to a World Cup Final would have made elevated any manager, but not so in the demanding world of Italian Calcio. It actually made Sacchi even less popular than before.
The general belief was that Italy had not advanced in the Tournament due to Sacchi’s tactics, but due to key performances from a handful of players. This belief was endorsed by Sacchi’s predecessor Azeglio Vicini. Vicini stated in contrast to Sacchi’s Italy, his Italy performed as a team and followed a concise strategy and had not had to rely just on the individual brilliance of certain players.
A new season had begun and this time the Qualification matches were for the UEFA European Championships to be held in England in the Summer of 1996.
Veteran Captain Franco Baresi had announced his retirement from the National Team (for the second time) at the end of the World Cup. However, just weeks later on August 11th, he reversed himself again (again for the second time) and once again made himself available.
Italy’s first match of the qualifiers was on September 7th, 1994 at Maribor against newly independent Nation of Slovenia. Once again, Sacchi’s Italy were hesitant and luckily came away with a point (1-1 tie).
AC Milan defender Christian Panucci earned his first cap. He would displace veteran Mauro Tassoti at club and International level that season.
In any case Tassoti’s International career had ended after he had received a lengthy suspension for elbowing Spain’s Luis Enrique during the World Cup.
On October 4th, 1994, France Baresi announced that he is finally retiring (for the third time) from the National Team and he would not reverse himself this time. Paolo Maldini was now the official Team Captain.
For their next qualifier they met Estonia away at Tallin on October 8th and came away with a (2-0) win.
The Lazio pair of defender Giuseppe Favalli and forward Roberto Rambaudi earned their first caps.
AC Milan goalkeeper Sebastiano Rossi was also called up, but never played a match for Italy.
The pressure on Arrigo Sacchi increased following their defeat at home in their next qualifier at Palermo against new emerging Footballing Nation of Croatia on November 16th.
Davor Suker scored twice against a disappointing Italian side struggling at home.
Lazio pair of defender Paolo Negro and midfielder Roberto Di Matteo earned their first, while their club mate Rambaudi earned his second and final cap.
Italy finished off the year with a friendly vs. Turkey at Pescara. The Italians comfortably won (3-1) in a match where Parma goalkeeper Luca Bucci and Fiorentina defender Daniele Carnasciali made their debuts.
In addition, Massimo Crippa, a former Vicini man, earned a recall after impressing at Parma.
It was in the early months of the New Year (1995) that Sacchi’s feud with Gianluca Vialli came to the forefront.
Gianluca Vialli, with his injury struggles behind him, had been in outstanding form, playing some of the best football of his career for Juventus in their quest to end their nine-year Scudetto drought.
Despite intense media pressure for his recall, Sacchi did not select him for Italy’s first matches of the New Year. In March Italy faced Estonia (March 25th at Salerno) followed by a trip to Kiev to face Ukraine (March 29th).
Roberto Baggio, like his clubmate Vialli, was also frozen out of the National Team as he was struggling with injuries. Parma’s in-form Gianfranco Zola was now the number 10 and would remain so for the rest of Sacchi’s tenure.
Sacchi took the opportunity to offer new caps to three of Vialli’s Juventus’ teammates. Goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi started after Pagliuca had withdrawn due to injury.
Juventus’ new young sensation Alessandro Del Piero and striker Fabrizio Ravanelli earned deserved caps. Ravanelli also managed to score in his debut and Gianfranco Zola scored his first two goals for Italy in a (4-1) win.
A few days later at Kiev, Italy earned a positive result and managed to win away (2-0) with Zola scoring once more.
Zola confirmed his growing status within the new set-up by scoring Italy’s winner in their qualifier vs. Lithuania on April 26th, 1995.
Despite some positive results, the press chatter was about Vialli’s continued absence.
It was reported that the feud originated during Italy’s World Cup qualifier vs. Malta in December 1992. Apparently Vialli had privately complained about Sacchi’s restrictive management methods, such as waking up at 8 AM sharp and among other things: behaving correctly on the dinner table, on the team bus, etc..
Sacchi was informed of these comments and decided to exclude Vialli from his plans.
Sacchi had also stated that there are players who did not possess the moral requisites to represent the National Team. The press and Vialli himself believed these comments were directed at him specifically.
After Italy had lost to Croatia in November 1994, Vialli had sarcastically stated that it was a positive result, as Italy had played three matches in ten days and won two of them (against the reserves and Amateur club Arezzo).
This was a dig at Sacchi’s methods of preparations. Many observers had remarked for some time that Sacchi took preparations and training to the extreme by imposing many different tactical schemes. The critics felt that by over-training the players, Sacchi was depriving them of their natural abilities.
In a magazine interview, Vialli declared that he had been so angry with Sacchi that he even supported Brazil in the Final of the 1994 World Cup.
At the end of the season in June, Italy participated in a tri-angular Tournament celebrating the Swiss Federation’s Centennial featuring the hosts Switzerland and Germany.
Italy defeated Switzerland (1-0) but were defeated by the Germans (2-0). Sacchi gave first caps to the Roma pair of Francesco Statuto and Fabio Petruzzi.
Inter striker Marco Del Vecchio had also been selected, but did not leave the bench.
Prior to the start of this Tournament, on June 1st, 1995, Sacchi’s Assistant Coach Carlo Ancelotti announced his resignation to enter club management.
Italy faced Slovenia in their first qualifier of the new season at Udine on September 6th.
Juventus’ Alessio Tacchinardi played his solitary match under Sacchi by starting in defense.
Sacchi also established Angelo Peruzzi as his starting goalkeeper.
Italy won thanks to a Fabrizio Ravanelli goal. Roberto Baggio (now an AC Milan player) was also recalled after nearly a year and played as a substitute.
He showed his disappointment of his new status, by stating that past achievements do not matter, it is only the current form that matters. It would be his match under Sacchi.
The Sacchi-Vialli controversy took another turn when Sacchi said he was open to the re-integration of Vialli back into the Team.
In fact Sacchi announced that he had actually wanted to recall him back in March. However, the rest of the squad (presumably mostly AC Milan senators) had opposed the idea and as a result Sacchi had chosen to continue to discard him.
On September 8th, Gianluca Vialli angrily took himself out of contention and announced his retirement from the National Team. He stated that in all his years as a professional he never knew a selection to the National Team depended on other players.
This disclosure certainly did not shown Sacchi in a positive light. It could even be perceived that he did not have authority over his squad and/or this was a deliberate move to take the Vialli issue off the table. (Knowing full well that Vialli out of pride would not have accepted a recall in such an environment).
The following month, Italy were faced with the difficult task of getting a result at Split vs. Group leaders Croatia.
Goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi had to withdraw due to injury, as a result the inexperienced Luca Bucci had to start, with the uncapped Francesco Toldo being called up as cover.
Things took a turn for the worse as early as the ninth minute, when Bucci was sent off for a professional foul. It was similar to Pagliuca’s sending off in the World Cup vs. Norway.
Giafranco Zola was taken off and Toldo went in the net for his first taste of International Football under hostile circumstances.
With a man down, the Italians played with courage and just twenty minutes later took the lead through Albertini. The hosts tied up the match in the second half with a spot kick from Suker, but an away point was a good result, especially playing with ten men.
Italy were left with two home qualifiers in November vs. Ukraine (November 11th at Bari) and Lithuania (November 15th at Reggio Emilia.
Italy won both matches (3-1 vs. Ukraine and 4-0 vs., Lithuania) and qualified for the Finals as the second team in the Group behind Croatia.
Photo From : World Soccer, January 1996(Arrigo Sacchi, November 11, 1995, EC Qualifier, Italy 3-Ukraine 1)
Italy started the New Year (1996) and its Euro preparations with a friendly vs. Wales on January 24th at Terni and easily won (3-0). Juventus defender Moreno Torricelli earned his first cap.
They played two more friendlies in late May and early June after the season had concluded and the Euro Finals squad had been selected.
Italy tied with Belgium at Cremonese (2-2) on May 29th and defeated Hungary at Budapest (2-0) on June 2nd.
Sampdoria striker Enrico Chiesa was rewarded with his first cap after an excellent season. Fabio Rossitto of Udinese also earned his first cap (He was called up after Antonio Conte had withdrawn due to injury). Diego Fuser was surprisingly recalled by Sacchi,
Young Lazio defender Alessandro Nesta was also selected after Ciro Ferrara was injured (though he would see no action at the Euros).
Sacchi somewhat made history by not calling up a single Internazionale Milano player for the Tournament. The first such instance since the 1978 World Cup.
The major talking point was the exclusion of Roberto Baggio and Giuseppe Signori. It appeared Signori had not been forgiven for his ‘transgression’ during the 1994 World Cup. Despite being Serie A’s top goalsorer in three of the last four seasons, he was out of Sacchi’s plans.
Italy started its Euros at Liverpool on June 11th vs. Russia. Italy defeated Russia (2-1) with Pierluigi Casiraghi scoring both goals.
For its next match vs. Czech Republic (also at Liverpool) on June 14th, Sacchi baffled everyone (including most likely his own players) by making five changes from the team that had played well and defeated Russia, including double goalscorer Pierluigi Casiraghi.
Casiraghi, along with Di Matteo, Di Livio, Del Piero and Zola were dropped in favor of Donadoni, Fuser, Dino Baggio, Ravanelli and Chiesa.
Sacchi’s reasoning was that it was going to be a long tournament and he wanted to keep the players fresh. In any case this decision backfired as Italy were defeated by the surprising Czechs, for whom Pavel Nedved probably caught the eyes of Lazio recruiters that day.
The Czechs won (2-1) and left Italy with the difficult task of defeating Germany for its third match on June 19th at Manchester.
Italy should have won this match but Gianfranco Zola missed his penalty kick, in a match where Thomas Strunz was also sent off, thereby giving the Italians an extra man advantage.
The Italians, who had been one of the Tournament favorites, were eliminated in the first round. By all indications it seemed like Sacchi should do the honorable thing and resign.
The Euro debacle had forced the resignation of his greatest supporter Antonio Matarrese, the President of the Federation, in August.
Photo From : Onze-Mondial, Issue 90, July 1996(Arrigo Sacchi during the 1996 Euros)
But Sacchi himself was determined to stay on. He felt it was better to be eliminated by playing good positive Football. He also felt that all the hard work done up to that point should not be disregarded.
He did take some responsibility by stating that he should have motivated the squad after the win over Russia, but had failed to do so.
As far as Sacchi was concerned on the technical front the team had performed well, but it was the mental approach that let them down.
The next day, the prestigious daily sports paper ‘La Gazzetta dello Sport’ blamed Sacchi of Arrogance with the headline ‘But This Sacchi, He’s learned Nothing.’
Sacchi had signed a lucrative contract extension just a month prior to be the coach until 1998 and that was another reason he chose to stay on.
Matarrese’s successor, Raffaelle Pagnozzi (with the title of Commissioner General) stated the Federation was financially unable to pay both Sacchi and his successor; as a result they could not fire him.
Many had tipped Olympic Team Manager Cesare Maldini to take over from Sacchi after the Euros, but his own credit had somewhat diminished after Italy’s poor showing in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanata.
Sacchi continued on to manage Italy for the World Cup 1998 qualifiers as the season started.
In October, they faced Moldova (October 5th) and Georgia (October 9th).
Italy defeated Moldova in Chisinau (3-1) but their display left critics unsatisfied. Sacchi’s only explanation was that it had been a mistake to sue a three-man attack.
Lazio defender Alessandro Nesta earned his first cap in this match.
On October 9th, at Perugia, Italy defeated Georgia (1-0). The Italian team was roundly jeered by the home crowd after yet another poor display.
When asked on Television about this, Sacchi dismissed it by claiming that it was an ‘orchestrated campaign’. The other prestigious sports paper ‘Corriere dello Sport’ called for his firing after these poor poor double performances.
The following month on November 6th, Sacchi managed what would turn out to be his final match in charge, a friendly at Sarajevo vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Sacchi had decided to experiment for this match and inject new blood.
Fiorentina’s Daniele Carnasciali was recalled after two years, while his clubmate Pasquale Padalino earned his first cap.
Gianluigi Lentini, now at Atalanta, was recalled after more than three years away. Perugia’s Federico Giunti also earned his first cap.
It would be yet another poor performance and the Italians were defeated (1-2) and the calls for Sacchi’s dismissal increased further, as the team seemed lost with no signs of progress.
Finally, the inevitable happened and Sacchi announced his resignation on December 1st just before midnight.
His old Boss, Silvio Berlusconi, had called him that night and offered the same salary as the Federation’s for a two-year deal.
AC Milan were in free-fall and struggling under their Manager, the Uruguayan Oscar Washington Tabarez.
Sacchi seemed happy to return to where he had achieved his greatest successes, but he was unable to stop the rot and left at the end of the season.
He was appointed as Atletico Madrid manager for the 1998/99 season (Under controversial president Jesus Gil), but was left midway through the season.
He vowed that he was finished with Football, as the stress of top level Management had taken a toll on him. He was coaxed out of retirement in January 2001 at Parma, but resigned within weeks, once again stating that he could no longer bear the pressure and stress of Management.
He was briefly (2004/05) Director of Football at Real Madrid.
When Sacchi was appointed as National Team Manager in 1991, he was expected to transform Italy to play just like his AC Milan in their heyday.
Of course, Italy could not call upon the exceptional Dutch trio of Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard.
From the start, the performances did not match the rhetoric. His team preparations and trainings were also questioned. Even his own former players deemed his methods as mentally and physically stressful.
His experimentations with player personnel were also questioned. In his five years he was unable to build a set solid squad, constantly calling up and discarding players.
He called up more than 80 players for National Team duty in a five-year period. Some of who made a fleeting appearance (if that at all) and left without a trace.
Many felt that there could not so many players of International quality for any Football generation at any given time.
His treatment and handling of stars such as Roberto Baggio, Signori and especially Vialli were also criticized.
German striker Jurgen Klinnsman was one of many who were astonished at the exclusion of Pierluigi Casiraghi for the match vs. the Czech Republic in the 1996 Euros after he had scored twice against Russia.
For Klinnsman it was unthinkable that any manager would have dropped him after he had scored twice.
Defender Moreno Torricelli was another case. After playing an outstanding match in the 1996 Champions League Final vs. Ajax, many had tipped a more substantial role for him in the Euros. However, Sacchi chose to ignore him during the Tournament.
To ignore Gianfranco Zola in the early rounds of the 1994, after his outstanding season with Parma, was also questionable (That is before the player was sent off and suspended in the macth vs. Nigeria).
His extensive preparations and training camps were also a subject that the press would often harp on.
Many remembered Sacchi’s final days at Milan had also been disappointing as his own players (especially Dutch striker Marco van Basten) felt they were being burnt out by his methods.
Sacchi was a different appointee than many of his predecessors. Whereas others such as Bearzot and Vicini had been groomed within the Federation with little or no club management experience, Sacchi was chosen precisely for his experience at club level and had tangible achievements to show for.
Despite all the criticisms, Sacchi’s importance in Italian football history will be for changing the mentality and culture of the Italian game from decades of defensive tactics to a more open and attacking one and his relative failure with the National Team cannot eclipse that.