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The Gianluca Vialli Series - The English game vs the Italian game

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The Gianluca Vialli Series

The English Game vs The Italian Game

Part 1

Gianluca Vialli is now a commentator for Sky Sport Italia but as a highly successful player he picked up a host of domestic and European titles for Sampdoria, Juventus and Chelsea. He also picked up domestic and European trophies as manager of Chelsea.

The Gianluca Vialli Series - The English game vs the Italian game

He was also capped 59 times by his country so it's fair to say he knows about both Italian and English football from a playing, managerial and approach to the game perspective.

Italian managers present a thesis to their colleagues and teachers at the Italian Federation (FIGC) site in Coverciano, Italy and Vialli did his during his Masters Course there in 2003/04. His thesis surrounded the mental side of the game. He also co-authored "The Italian Job" with Gabriele Marcotti and a line in that summed up the difference in approach between the two countries beautifully.

"The Italians play with their heads, and the English play with their hearts."

For his thesis he interviewed a host of football personnel including Arsene Wenger, Marcello Lippi, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Marcel Desailly, Gordon Taylor, David Platt and Ray Wilkins. David Platt and Ray Wilkins of course played in both Italy and England. Platt played at Bari, Juventis and Sampdoria as well as managing Sampdoria, while Wilkins played for AC Milan.

It is a fascinating thesis which is well worth a read so here is your chance to catch up on it in a new set of articles, The Gianluca Vialli Series - The English game vs the Italian game.

In part 1 we'll take a look at his thoughts on the English game as he saw it, the mentality and playing style, then the Italian game and then how each perceives the other.

We'll begin with his thoughts on the English game and for those of you who would prefer to read the thesis in Italian you'll find the source at the end of the article.
"A few months ago, during a wintry night, I couldn't sleep. My thoughts were pondering between Italy and England. Reflecting upon the football of both nations. Being a captive to my mind, I took out some paper, a pen, and wrote down my thoughts in a flash. That which follows is the fruit of my sleepless night.  
"I've never seen the English take their foot off of the pedal. They always go full out. The rhythm is elevated and there aren't any breaks. The referee calls very few fouls, the footballers love physical challenges, they accept them and don't ask for any help from the physio or masseuse unless in serious cases. 
"The supporters get excited and cheer situations of play such as the defensive tackle and the change of play by a fullback who pushes up top. Or for the winger who lies in wait wide out in a typical position of those who expect it. Once receiving the ball, he goes straight for his direct rival. 
"The physical challenge, a tackle, is applauded, encouraged and appreciated. They want the player to put his opponent under immediate pressure. There is no stalling nor expectation. The English player, once he wins back his position, more or less depending on the manager's wishes, throws himself at his rival with desire, determination and courage. 
"The mentality of the players is offensive, one of conquest and attack even in the defensive area. When the first objective is conquest, as quickly as possible, of the ball above all so that the defence stays sealed in their own goal mouth.  
"This is the mentality that we find in the DNA of the British people. Island dwellers, masters of defending themselves with decisiveness if attacked. Lovers of adventure and courageous conquerors of any land. Almost as if it were the only reason that makes coming out on the pitch worthwhile."

On his views of his countrymen, the Italian, he wrote of their mentality and playing style.

"The Latin, an Italian in particular, is instead more adverse to domination of foreign lands. He isn't interested in enemy territory. He holds on tightly to his own but is ready to submit even if not compromising his way of life. He has a great amount of creativity, he likes art and the genius touch. He appreciates class and adores his own heroes.

"He is an individualist and insubordinate who is ready to raise the white flag at the first difficulty. He makes a virtue of necessity, strives, gets irritated, and becomes the master of defensive tactics which compensate for very little courage and a scarce force of impact. 
"With the ball at his feet, the Italian is an individual artist, a creator of personal glory, unfriendly but kind. One who studies the weaknesses of his opponents and lands the knock-out punch with class and elegance. 
"The defence of his own territory is constant, careful, passive, almost involuntary. The tactical wit, the crafty-slyness, is universally known. Feared for his capacity to annihilate each vague adversary of the play and spectacle. The spasmodic defence of the goal mouth and the consequential necessary patience to wait for a good opening: A breach between the lines.

Vialli then moved on to the important area of how each perceives the other.

"The Italian fears the Briton for his superior physique, for his extraordinary courage, his team spirit, his desire to throw himself and submit to his tactical belief: Strength, rhythm, courage and always forward! 
"The Briton does not fear the Italian. He doesn't envy, deride or commiserate. There is nothing that he would like to resemble him in. Underneath it all, however, he knows that he can't underestimate cunning, malice, unpredictability, and the bravura of tactical and defensive technique. Along with the capacity to obtain the maximum result with the least offence force. 
"The Briton is confident, almost arrogant, and if he finds a glimmer of light he hits it. If not, he stubbornly continues in attack to satisfy the necessity to relish the taste of victory. He doesn't fear his opponent on principle and this makes him dangerous but also vulnerable. 
"The Italian can produce a dangerous result. Like a mirror, he emanates reflected light. He is fragile. He can break; however, if you are not careful, he can cut you profoundly up to the point of making you bleed." 

I think Vialli has hit on the mentality aspect perfectly, fans do love to see action, players getting stuck in or tacklers are revered almost as much as the creative player or the goalscorer. If you took a poll among Spurs fans who was their favourite player during the summer you would possibly have got Sandro as the answer, a destroyer rather than a creator.

The desire is always to go forward, slow play is deemed negative, allowing the opposition to set themselves, which is fine if you can find a way through but we find rather dull to watch. People raved about Arsenal a few years back about the football they were producing but after a couple of seasons it became boring to watch, the same way as people in the UK were turned off by Barcelona and Spain.

Two very successful sides dominating the club and international game but tedious to watch, nothing ever happened.

The premier League is the most watched league in the world, that will partly be down to marketing but mainly down to market forces, it's what people want to watch, action, something happening. If you are a coach or someone with an intricate knowledge of tactics you can appreciate a game of cat and mouse, in affect that's what cricket is, but unless you understand what's happening it bores people silly.

The answer in cricket was to create a game that just smashes the ball everywhere and has something happening all the time. It's what the world wants to see so while we have seen a rise of possession based football, and indeed seen it at Tottenham, fans will always clamour for action. Spurs fans want possession based football that attacks, creates, that produces goals and is entertaining to watch. That is the Tottenham brand the club sell to sponsors.

Are the two sustainable over a long period of time and produce positive results, I'm not altogether sure they can.

Source: Settore Tecnico della F.I.G.C; L’ITALIANO E L’INGLESE, PENSIERI DI UNA NOTTE INSONNE di Gianluca Vialli; Corso Master 2003/2004 per l’abilitazione ad allenatore professionista di 1ª Categoria; No. 4, luglio/agosto 2004.

The Gianluca Vialli Series - The English game vs the Italian game The Gianluca Vialli Series - The English game vs the Italian game Reviewed by THBlogNews on 6:30 pm Rating: 5
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