Enzo Bearzot The Hero of Italian Football’s Finest Hour

Written by Paolo Sedazzari
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Like many celebrated football managers, Bearzot was only a moderately successful  player, capped for Italy just once. It wasn’t until he put on a suit and strode the touchlines did he become football legend.

In the obituaries in the Gazzetta today no less than three players – Zoff, Rossi and Conti - praise Enzo for his paternal influence.   It seems that Bearzot’s success is not so much about strategies but more about a philosophy on how to conduct yourself under hardship. Bearzot over-riding image is one of a man keeping calm in the eye of a storm - and Italy’s reputation for being tough to beat even (or especially) when the chips are down stems directly from Bearzot’s tenure as the Azzuri manager.

After learning his trade with Nereo Rocco at Torino, Bearzot was appointed deputy to Ferrucio Valcareggi in the disastrous ’74 World Cup. Italy came into the tournament as one of the favourites with a strong defensive record – for it all to become undone by a shock goal from Haiti. The Azzurri did not react to adversity well – players were dropped, dressing rooms were smashed up.  The team were welcomed home by a hail of rotting vegetables. The experience was a black one for Enzo.

Enzo remained the Azzuri’s deputy manager under the strange unsuccessful reign of Fulvio Bernardini, but he got his chance to shine in 1977 when he was finally given the top job.

The ’78 World Cup campaign couldn’t have had a worst start with an early goal conceded against France in the first minute, but this time Italy reacted positively. They came out of their defensive shell and really turned it on to win the game 2-1.  Italy came fourth in that tournament, but more importantly pride had been restored in Italian football.  An Italian team playing ‘exciting’ football? Whatever next?

The success in ’82 is especially remarkable because Italy were so unbelievably dismal in the group stages. Has there ever been such a Jekyll-Hyde world cup winner? Out-of –sorts doesn’t even describe the lacklustre, pitiful display. Naturally the Italian press went into over-drive and Bearzot with nothing to say to them declared a press black-out. The press became even more scathing.

enzo bearzot  paolo sedazzari matteo sedazzari zani 4

Bearzot ‘s approach to team selection is very different to the squad rotation of today. Bearzot had his first eleven and that was it – only to be replaced in the event of injury or very, very bad form.  For all Italy’s bad performances he stuck with same 11 players for the next round against Argentina, the press went mad. But wait - somehow these players who had been so poor in the group stage were now turning it on. Paolo Rossi especially was a man transformed; repaying the faith Bearzot had placed in him.

Italy’s 3-2 win against Brazil in that tournament remains Italian football finest hour, a fine, thrilling game to be enjoyed by neutrals and football connoisseurs for a long time to come.

But controversy and criticism continued to rage in the lead-up to the ’82 final against West Germany. Midfield general Giancarlo Antongoni was injured and instead of replacing him with a like-for-like play-maker Bearzot had chosen an 18 year old defender Giuseppe Bergomi. What was he thinking?  But somehow it all worked. Cabrini  and Gaetano Scirea - the libero who liked to shock opponents by getting forward and setting up chances - were given more freedom. Things were tight a half-time, but with twenty minutes to go it was all but over, and with Tardelli’s memorable goal. Italy had won the world cup. A nation went mad.

After the disappointment of the ’86 World Cup Enzo chose to retire – 12 years in one of the most highly pressurized jobs in football was enough. He probably never had to pay for a meal in a restaurant ever again, basking in the glory of being the man who somehow found victory when all seemed hopeless. 
enzo bearzot  paolo sedazzari matteo sedazzari zani 1.Enzo Bearzot (26th  September 1927 – 21st  December 2010)
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