Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi told keen younger footballers wearing his former club’s shirts how his heart, and that of his nation, has been broken by the county’s failure to reach this summer’s World Cup Finals in Russia.
The once-mighty European nation will be staying at home but the current China coach believes his home country’s fortunes will soon change for the better … and the display of Serie A teams in the Champions League appear to support his optimism.
Lippi, was the main speaker at the First Arab Conference on Sport staged in Amwaj Islands, but travelled across the island to call in to the Juventus Academy’s HQ in Saar. The children were not shy in showering their esteemed guest with questions and one shot they fired at him, was to ask his reaction about Italy’s World Cup woe.
Speaking in Italian, beside translator Stefano Pettinato, the United Nations Development Programme’s Deputy Representative, using English to communicate with the children, he replied: “We are suffering … this is only the second time in the competition’s history that we have not made it to the Finals.
“For 98 years there have been World Cups and Italy has won the trophy four times. The team that has won the most competitions, Brazil, has won in five times, and one of those was by penalties in a final against Italy.
“There will be other opportunities. Italian football remains strong.”
To prove the point, 24-hours later Roma pulled off one of the great Champions League comebacks by knocking Barcelona out with a remarkable 3-0 win in their quarter-final second leg, overcoming a 4-1 deficit from the first leg to reach the semi-finals on away goals.
And Juventus came close to defying the odds too. They beat Real Madrid 3-1 only to be eliminated 4-3 on aggregate in the quarter-final after English referee Michael Oliver awarded the Spaniards a hotly-contested 97th-minute penalty.
The club’s protesting goalkeeping legend Gianluigi Buffon was given his first ever red card in 117 Champions League games. It was another blow for the charismatic former World Cup winner, who was reduced to tears after Italy dramatically failed to qualify for the global showpiece in playoffs in November.
His former coach would have known exactly how he felt.
Lippi remains as one of the greatest and most successful managers in football history and pundits suggest Juventus produced their slickest football under his control as he steered them to incredible success at home and in Europe.
In fact, throughout his career as a coach he won one World Cup title, five Serie A titles, three Chinese Super League titles, one Coppa Italia, one Chinese FA Cup, four Italian Supercups, one Champions League, one AFC Champions League, one UEFA Supercup and one Intercontinental Cup. He is the first and, to date, the only coach to win both the Champions League and the AFC Champions League.
Former players have praised him for his coaching skills and tactical prowess, as well as his ability to communicate with and motivate his players to foster a competitive team spirit and a winning mentality.
He showed those skills, earlier addressing the conference, held in cooperation with the United Nations Office in Bahrain and the International Council for Health, Physical Education, Sports and Recreation. It was staged at Art Rotana, Amwaj Islands under the title ‘The Role of Sport in Achieving Sustainable Development Goals’.
Later addressing the Juventus Academy students, he was visibly moved as he sat in front of the rows of young Bahrainis and expats wearing the famous Old Lady’s Black and White.
“You are wearing a shirt that is very important to me,” he said, “and the fact that you come from so many different countries is something wonderful.
“Football is a beautiful sport that can teach you a lot of things. At your age it is important in so many ways, it allows you to socialise and learn to be a part of a team.
“But it is more than just wearing the same coloured shirts, shorts and socks. It means sharing your special qualities – each one of you has different skills, different attributes, and they have to be allowed to shine for any team to work.
“This is what you need to become a good player, but even if you do not become a professional you can take what you learn into other disciplines and it will become important throughout your life.
“As far as football is concerned, forget what your parents say, listen to what your coaches tell you because your parents would love for you, especially the fathers, to become whatever they were never able to become.
“As for everything-else, listen to your parents!
“All you have to go is have fun, participate in activities with your peers and your mates, study and become men. Play well for yourself and your teammates.”
Keeping a diplomatic silence, Italian ambassador to Bahrain, Domenico Bellato, who watched the discussion from the side-lines in Saar, declined to elaborate on how the rest of the Italian community in the kingdom was feeling about the coming FIFA World Cup football extravaganza. “It hurts,” he said.
Stanley Louis Szecowka
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