To rebuild from the rubble of 2018 Mancini had a vision and put it into practice: rediscover the smile and the beautiful game. So we got to play Europe against England
We were in St. Gallen, the chicchirichì of a new dawn. Friendly match Italy-Saudi Arabia, 28 May 2018, 1,140 days ago. Now that we have come out of the “pelago a la riva”, as the Poet would say; now that we’re here at Wembley; now that England-Italy, Euro 2020 final is about to begin, it’s nice to turn around and see the sea we have crossed in these three years. The Azzurri in midfield will also do it tonight, rethinking all the games played to get to the highest point of their career.
As a child, Gigio Donnarumma was reproached for being too tall and had to show his identity card every five minutes to certify his age. Lorenzo Insigne, on the other hand, was criticized for being too small. When they also told Inter Milan by slamming another door in his face, he burst into tears and almost stopped playing. Now, the two former children are lined up in midfield, the longest and the shortest in the blue row.
That day in Switzerland we were sparring partners to the Arabs who were about to compete in the World Cup in Russia, from which we had been banned with ignominy, we who have won four World Cups. As if Tyson had lent himself to making gloves with an amateur. Out of the 32 participants in the World Cup. The lowest point. Roberto Mancini, the new coach, understood that winning was not enough to restart from the Apocalypse, you had to offer more: a vision. While everyone was watching the dust that rose from the rubble, Mancini pointed to the sun beyond the fog: “We will win the European and then the World Championship”. They looked at him like crazy. But the vision was still not enough. It was necessary to give back the smile to those guys who had bumped into Sweden and had hurt themselves to tears, like Buffon. They had to be entertained, as did the cardinal of Milan, Schuster, who had built a sports center in the Lambro Park for children who had come out of the rubble of the bombings after the war. How do you entertain a footballer? Leaving him the ball, the toy, as much as possible. Hence the founding idea of the new Italy, the proposal at the first training session: “We will win with merit, dominating, holding the ball, always attacking, running forward to recover it. Dare even at the cost of making mistakes. Have fun and entertain the Italians ”. Fun: the key word. Did you hear from Mancini yesterday? At the last conference before the final he did not say: “We need a game to become champions”. No. He said: “The boys still have 90 minutes left to have fun. If we can have fun, we will win ”. After the goal against Belgium, Insigne explained: “I enjoyed it like playing soccer with friends”. The fun. That’s all it is. This was Mancini’s real revolution: not so much the renunciation of defense and counter-attack speculation, but the search for beauty and fun. It was not a tactical revolution, but a revolution of taste. We came here, in Wembley, because we had fun for three years. And tonight, as Mancio says, we try again to win. Even if it will be tough.
If we’ve been waiting for a European title for 53 years, they haven’t celebrated something for 55. They gave us a headache with It’s coming home, with a cup to take home. Wembley, full as it hasn’t been for a long time, will be a pit of English. Boris Johnson, disheveled and stuffed into his white T-shirt, will dance like a witches’ sabbath. The European, after the Champions League, would consecrate the splendid new isolation of the founders, who have returned to domination. And then they too were children with the power of dreams. During the hymn they too will remember where they started from. Declan Rice, aged 7, went to follow a cousin who was playing a tournament in Guilford. They convinced him to put on two soccer shoes and it all began. Tiny Raheem Sterling, aged 8, discarded everything and everyone without ever spending it in a suburban playground, one step away from Wembley. Clive Ellington, angel-scout passed by and the future began. England, who have conceded only one goal from a free-kick, are as strong and tough as former child Rice, who has become a terrifying half. He has that devil of Sterling who also dribbles the blades of grass as if he had never left the playground and often falters in the area. He has Kane, the center forward we miss. That first time, in San Gallo, they scored Balotelli, the 9th of the old cycle, and Belotti who, with his friend Immobile, would share the new three-year period, but without ever fully convincing. Neither. But perhaps Mancini is right here too and in the end, at the last Ciro, “the most criticized becomes the one who decides”. We believe it. Because it will be tough, but we can do it. Wembley will also be an English pudding, but outside there is a world cheering for us, from that great gentleman Luis Enrique to Ursula Von der Leyen, EU president. And above all there is an Italy that is waiting to take to the streets to celebrate a triumph and the end of infected years that this national team has partially alleviated with its beauty.
The English know that they have not bent us in a real match since ’77 and that we have been unbeaten in 33 matches. The Wembley bedlam could put more pressure on them than it does on us. Bonucci and Chiellini are people who do not tremble. Chiesa and Barella are souls who exalt themselves in the fire. Insigne’s genius is as good as Sterling’s. Donnarumma’s hands do not have them. Nor our empathy that Mancini has cultivated artfully, like a Bearzot. Spinazzola is here, on crutches. Today is July 11, as in 1982, when we triumphed at the Bernabeu, in front of President Pertini. President Mattarella is on the way. We are ready to suffer as with Spain, if they take away the toy. But if we manage to have fun, Mancini is right: we will win.
July 11, 2021 (change July 11, 2021 | 00:29)
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