POZNAN, Poland – To Cesare Prandelli, Giovanni Trapattoni will always be “the mister.”
The two managers are set to square off on Monday with Prandelli’s Italy set to take on Trapattoni’s Ireland. And while the Irish are already eliminated, the Azzurri must win to have any chance of progressing to the second round. It’s a matchup that Trapattoni has long said he wished to avoid, given his long involvement in the Italian game, one that included a stint as national team coach from 2000 to 2004. And on Monday, he’ll not only be taking on his country, but he’ll also be going up against one of his former players as well, as Prandelli was part of the Juventus side that Trapattoni led to the 1985 European Cup.
Hence Prandelli’s use of the term “mister,” one that in Italy is not only a reflexive label attached to a coach, but it’s also meant as a sign of respect. And it’s clear that the Italy manager still holds his former boss in high regard.
“I had [Trapattoni] at a special time in my career,” said Prandelli at Sunday’s news conference. “I was only 20-years-old at the time. I grew up playing under him, so from a human perspective, he’s always respected everyone. We had a team of great players, but even us, who didn’t play very much, he still thought we were very important elements in the squad.”
The years that followed have seen Prandelli’s appreciation grow, even as Trapattoni left his home country for coaching stints in Germany, Portugal, Austria and, now, Ireland.
“We’ve always discussed [Trapattoni’s] strength, and he’s got great strength,” Prandelli said. “He’s got the desire to never give up; he wants to always keep moving with the times and to always be competitive. And he still is. He still is very competitive. So I think he is a fantastic person. He is ‘the mister,’ he is the coach.”
The subject proved a pleasant diversion for Prandelli, who is under immense pressure to make amends for Italy’s flameout at the 2010 World Cup, even though that debacle happened under Prandelli’s predecessor, Marcello Lippi. And even if Italy does prevail on Monday, it still might not be enough, as a high-scoring draw between group rivals Spain and Croatia could still see the Azzurri eliminated. That would give Italy the unfortunate experience of seeing history repeat itself. It was Trapattoni’s Euro 2004 side that finished third in its group on five points after Denmark and Sweden played to a highly dubious 2-2 draw in the group finale.
Trapattoni remains convinced that the match between Spain and Croatia won’t repeat the suspicious circumstances of 2004. And he’s also been won over by his former protégé’s performance as Italy manager.
“[Prandelli] has changed the players in the squad, and given the squad a sense of professionalism, respect,” said Trapattoni at Sunday's news conference. “In terms of playing style, he got through the qualifying campaign in excellent fashion.
“He’s demonstrated that he’s very wise, and he’s shown this in the way that he’s dealt with players like [Mario] Balotelli and [Antonio] Cassano. So I’m very happy for someone who I really rated as a player, and especially as a coach.”
Come Monday, we’ll see if the apprentice can put one over on the mister.