World Cup 2022: Vittorio Pozzo’s legacy and a record that might finally be under threat

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Italy celebrates winning the 1938 World Cup
Pozzo holds the Jules Rimet trophy after Italy’s 1938 World Cup victory

When Didier Deschamps leads his France side to face England in the World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday, he will be hoping to take another big step towards becoming only the second manager to retain the trophy.

Only two countries have won the men’s World Cup in recent times, Italy in 1934 and 1938 and Brazil in 1958 and 1962, but with the Selecao career changing hands between successes, former Azzurri coach Vittorio Pozzo he stands alone.

Called Il Vecchio Maestro (The Old Master) in training circles, Pozzo was considered a visionary of the time and is considered one of the minds behind the Metodo style, e.g. the first 4-3-3 we know today.

Yet far from being revered as the only manager to win the men’s World Cup twice, Pozzo remains relatively unknown. And there is a reason for that.

“It is on purpose that few people know who he is,” says historian Dr Alex Alexandrou, chairman and co-founder of the Football and War website.

“If you think about Italy after 1945, and how Fifa and the Italian Football Federation set themselves up, the one thing they didn’t want to do was give permission to Pozzo and what happened in the 1940s. -1930, because there is an important issue. the relationship with the right is far from fascism.”

Despite the fact that Pozzo first managed the national team for the 1912 Olympics – before the fascists came to power in Italy – and was never a member of the National Fascist Party, his story is related to an inevitable trend and far-reaching movement that resulted in the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini.

The four stars are proudly emblazoned on the Italian national team shirt to represent their quartet of World Cup triumphs in 1934 and 1938, but there is still uncertainty surrounding them.

“There is this faint smell, if you like, after the war, and Pozzo is not as famous or happy as he could be because he won his awards under the fascist regime,” explains Italian football expert John Foot in the new book How. to win the World Cup.

“He wasn’t forced to do that; he contributed to that. The players gave the fascist salute and there was a lot of talk around them, so it’s a problem for Italy. Do those Earthquakes even count?”

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Sports historian Professor Jean Williams adds: “Many people describe Pozzo as giving in to the regime – going with it rather than standing against it.

“Unless you were going to leave the country, it was very difficult to avoid, in the same way that many young men would have become part of the Hitler Youth. [in Nazi Germany] because it was their kind of boy scouts.”

Dr Alexandrou admits: “I don’t think Pozzo had much time for politics per se or even for the fascists, but he loved his football and had to live in that regime . He did what he felt he had to do and did the job he wanted to do, which was to rule.”

Vittorio Pozzo
Pozzo, pictured in October 1938. In the women’s game, Jill Ellis matched her success of two consecutive World Cup titles with the USA (in 2015 and 2019)

Mussolini’s fascist government quickly recognized the value of a strong relationship with football after taking power in 1922 and participation in Italy’s national sport declined as the country became a dictatorship. tyranny.

Money was poured into the game in search of a better chance of success on the international stage, and Serie A was reorganized in 1929 to create a stronger competition and help develop players who could compete at the highest level.

Army chief Giorgio Vaccaro was appointed head of the Italian Football Association. But when it came to the national team, Pozzo was the post boy.

Italy was the host of the World Cup in 1934. The country’s rulers felt it was important for them to win, thus confirming the nationalistic value of fascism and conveying the image of a modern independent nation to the world. the whole.

While the combination of Pozzo’s tactical style and an active home crowd would help Italy’s chances of glory, there were also rumors of foul play – Mussolini was said to have met with match officials on the night they are ahead of important games.

Although no corruption was ever proven, opponents complained about the leniency of the officials regarding the Azzurri’s body. Switzerland’s Rene Mercet was even suspended by his own football association after allegations he made a number of controversial decisions as Italy edged past Spain in a thrilling quarter-final.

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Despite the accusations, there is no doubt that Pozzo’s wisdom was influential. The Italians have conceded just three times in five games – quite impressive given the nature of the season compared to free-flowing. The coach’s penchant for playing with four defenders and a champion player gave them a much stronger force than the famous 2-3-5 formation.

“We’re starting to see the beginnings of the catenaccio defense where the center-half is kind of a blocker,” Williams explains.

“Under Pozzo, instead of the center-half being the one spreading the ball around, the midfield became more important, with a midfielder and an attacking player, or within the rights and the left, as they were called in those days.”

Pozzo in some sense can be seen as the grandfather of the modern international manager with his insistence on having complete control over team selection. Previously most national sides were selected by select committees, but Pozzo said the best chance of success was for the manager to take responsibility – which Sir Alf Ramsey did when he became England manager. in 1963.

This meant that Pozzo could call origin, a term used to describe foreigners with Italian ancestry, to strengthen his position. In that diaspora, he called Luis Monti, who had played in the 1930 World Cup for Argentina, and Raimundo Orsi, another former Argentine player who would score for Italy at the end of 1934, a 2-1 victory against Czechoslovakia.

This was not universally popular among the fascist regime, but the prospect of creating a strong national side tipped the argument in Pozzo’s favor. His new side was well organised, treated games like battles and would not stop at anything to win. The training camps were written with strong nationalist messages and the group behaved almost as if they were soldiers, with exercises such as marching through the woods.

Pozzo continued to improve his style over the next four years, leading Italy to victory at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and becoming the first manager to win the World Cup abroad in France in 1938.

Pozzo is celebrated in a 1934 cartoon
Pozzo’s first World Cup victory with Italy is celebrated with cartoons in 1934

Facing an anti-Italian crowd in their first competitive match against Norway in Marseille, Pozzo and his players treated the fascist salute as an act of defiance and refused to give up until the jeers die As they lowered their salute the noise started again, as Pozzo barked the order to raise his hands again.

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As Italy progressed in the competition, the quarter-final meeting with the French forces continued to stir political tension and the clash of kit saw the Azzurri, changed to their usual blue shirts, prefer to play in black instead of their second color, white. , by orders from above.

By now Italy had more creativity to match their intensity, with Giuseppe Meazza flourishing in the center of Pozzo’s carefully constructed midfield. The manager was instrumental as the hosts dispatched France 3-1; then scored the winner from the penalty spot against Brazil in the semi-final; and finally caught Luigi Coloussi and Silvio Piola as the strikers scored twice in a 4-2 win over Hungary.

The importance of the second consecutive victory in the World Cup was not lost on the fascist government at home, with the emerging legend that Mussolini sent a telegram to the team on the night of the final statement “win or die” . This is unconfirmed information.

But that would be the end of Pozzo’s World Cup story. The outbreak of the Second World War meant that the competition did not return until 1950, by which time he had been relieved of his duties and banned from playing Italian football due to his relationship. and the fascist government that has been overthrown.

Pozzo went on to become a well-respected journalist covering the Italian national team for the daily newspaper La Stampa, but he would not return to the pit. He died in December 1968, aged 82.

“Obviously, Pozzo was a very good leader and he was able to rally and motivate his teams,” Foot continued in How to Win a World Cup.

“He saw football as a war and used national language around international games. It was as if the war had been taken to the field.”

Chris Evans is the author of How to Win the World Cup: Secrets and Insights from Top International Football Managers.


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