Addio Enzo

Former Italian coach Enzo Bearzot's resplendent triumph was to win the 1982 World Cup quite unexpectedly with the Azzurri.-A.P.

The death of the Italian World Cup-winning coach, Enzo Bearzot, comes as a huge shock to many, writes Brian Glanville.

The death of Enzo Bearzot at the age of 83 deprived Italian football of one of its genuine heroes and myself of an old and valued friend. Bearzot's resplendent triumph was to win the 1982 World Cup quite unexpectedly with the Azzurri. And this, after a dismal start in their Galicia qualifying group, in which all three of their games were unimpressively drawn and there was even some doubt about the authenticity of the result against Cameroon and the Italian goal. This paved the way for Enzo's implacable foe and detractor, the notorious, mendacious and conspiratorial Italo Allodi, to use his role (questioned and criticised in the Italian game at large) as head of the official coaching centre at Coverciano, outside Florence”.

Primed by Allodi, who knew that Bearzot despised him and his machinations, he made the bullets for a young manager, Eugenio Fascetti to fire in a gathering at Coverciano, pouring scam on Italy's performances, blaming Bearzot, saying he had shamed Italian football and claiming that Enzo should be summarily dismissed. To which Enzo plaintively rejoined, how could he operate with a Brutus at his back? To which Allodi, in one of his rare moments of humour, responded, “If he thinks I am Brutus, then he must think he is Caesar.” But things would quickly change.

Italy now left the cool climate of Galicia which had been kind to the players, for the more torrid weather of Barcelona. Their very tough group now included Brazil, the hot, brilliant, favourites, with the likes of Cerezo, Falcao and Socrates, and Diego Maradona's Argentina. Italy's fortunes would be transformed with the transforming of Paolo Rossi.

Arguably, the quicksilver, opportunist little centre forward should not have been playing at all. In a shocking betting scandal, which involved a myriad of leading Italian players, he himself had been a surprising miscreant, accepting a couple of million lire, chicken feed in essence, to help throw a match in Avellino when with Perugia; whom he'd never wanted to join.

Rossi had been successfully launched by Bearzot in the previous World Cup in Argentina, where his prowess was a revelation. But after the Avellino affair, he was suspended for three years, cut down to two, which enabled him to be eligible, just in time for the 1982 World Cup. He began it badly, plainly rusty and not remotely match fit. But when it came to the match against Brazil, in Barcelona, he roared into life, scoring a hat-trick and enabling Italy to qualify for the semi-finals. He'd end with half a dozen goals.

And this Italian team was ready and eager to attack; under Bearzot indeed, it had put far behind it the old sterile counter attacking ways of their negative Catenaccio sweeper system. Moreover as Enzo himself would tell me, when he had to prepare an Azzurri squad for a World Cup, he had to “dis-intoxicate” them. That is to say, purge them for the poisons of the Italian Championship with its unyielding stress.

So Poland were swept aside, again in Barcelona, but this time in huge Nou Camp, the home of the Barcelona club as opposed to the much smaller stadium where the secondary Barcelona club, Espanyol played. Rossi was an irresistible marksman again; how often despite his lack of height would he cleverly nip in to head goals from close range. The final had to be contested against a deeply unpopular German side — their keeper, Tony Schumacher had brutally fouled France's Patrick Battiston in the other semi-final — without the creative skills of the elegant Giancarlo Antognoni in midfield. But Italy won clearly, on merit.

Though Bearzot himself was always a limpid moralist, he had this much in common with his illustrious pre war predecessor, Vittorio Pozzo, who as commissario technico of the Azzuri had won the World Cups of 1934 and 1938. Both men were well educated, Pozzo multilingual and a University graduate, Bearzot a student of classics who his father had hoped would be a doctor. But Enzo's abilities as a footballer, mostly a wing half, had him playing in his native North East — when so many fine players came from the Pro Gorizis Club; and when they needed him for a crucial match he abandoned his final exams so never went to university. His disappointed father, Enzo once told me, still became his fan, but “a silent fan”. In time, Enzo would play for Inter, Torino and, with special joy, for Catania, in far off Sicily.

Both he and Pozzo, despite their education and generally rigorous moral approach, were yet strangely addicted to using the occasional hard men; you might even say, thugs. In Pozzo's case it was the Argentina centre back Luisito Monti, notorious for his brutal play. Bearzot favoured Claudio Gentile, whose ruthless treatment of Diego Maradona in the Argentina match deserved to have him sent-off, and the often violent blonde Romeo Benetti.

Bearzot did make the odd tactical mistake, World Cups included. In the 1974 tournament in West Germany, when he was Italy's coach — he'd have only one very brief spell as a club manager — he went to watch Argentina and decided that the quick little winger, Housemen, was in fact a midfield player. So it was that the hapless Fabio Capello, an inside forward found himself forced into a right back role with Houseman running rings around him, till Benetti was switched to mark him in the second half.

More expensive was Bearzot's decision in the Mexican World Cup of 1986 when France were met, to put the defender Giuseppe Baresi on the dazzling Michel Platini. It didn't work and an unbalanced Italy lost.

When Italy were drawing against England in the World Cup qualifiers for 1978, Enzo was constantly in England to watch potential opponents, ever accompanied by the little Calabrian ex-player agent, Gigi Peronace, now grandiosely named general manager of the Azzurri. I'd known Gigi for many a year: Now he clung to Enzo, who spoke no English, like grim death to a knobstick. And when poor, desperate fellow, he died of heart attack in the bedroom of a Rome hotel just before the Azzurri were due to play Uruguay, Enzo was by his side. As for Allodi, whom he exposed in the Sunday Times for his referee bribing exploits with Inter and Juventus in European Cup matches, he tried to pretend he'd sent me money when I was ill in Florence in 1954 to help me stay in Italy. In fact I returned to London and he didn't meet me till 1973, in Rome, just before a European final. An amused Bearzot said, “you never know what riches could fall from the skies”.