Italian Football FederationIn August 2011, following Italy’s poor showing at South Africa 2010, Sacchi was appointed to overhaul Italy’s International youth teams. Based at Coverciano, the National Italian Football Centre in Florence, Sacchi inherited a development system which locked young players into specific positions and admitted that defensive mastery was prioritised above all else.
More worryingly he found a fractured player pathway: “each national group had a different style and system”. Resultantly, the 68 year-old made significant changes to the coaching staff, retaining only one member of the group he inherited, and worked to develop a more unified approach with greater consistency in message and overall vision: “when you coach a national team you are not an U16s coach, you are a coach of Italy”.
Inside Club Italia: an overview of Sacchi’s programmeTechnical/Tactical Training programme
Players are brought up to understand different systems, with a focus on playing 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1. Sacchi has introduced the importance of the style in which teams play and the manner in which they win games rather than just simply winning. This is followed all the way through to the senior team.
The stated technical objectives of the development programme include: developing multi-dimensional players who understand how to play Italian total football.
Much work is done in 11v11 game realistic practices with one group challenged to build play out from the back and one team challenged to press. Although there is greater focus on possession and build up play, Sacchi stressed that there’s still a lot of work done on the structured organisation of pressing as a team.
After all national team sessions all the coaches involved review a video of the session and discuss areas of improvement ahead of the next training camp.
U15 is the first age-group for Italian players to represent their country. Four regional trials, held in north, central and southern Italy, feature a total of 80 players with the best 30 progressing onto Coverciano for further training camps.
Scouting programme and player release
Each weekend between 30-40 scouts work on behalf of the federation identifying, monitoring and selecting talent for the development teams. The identification of players is very much based around the type of player that will fit the Italian total football way.
Unlike some of the player-release difficulties we have faced in England there are very few issues with the release of Italian players to represent their country. Each squad meets for a two/three-day training camp every month.
Developing Italian coaches
Twice a year Italian club coaches are invited to Coverciano for a presentation where the methods and philosophy of the Italian federation are shared. Additionally, coaches from other national federations are welcomed to view training and to learn more about the programme on two days each season.
Issues and challenges
When Sacchi first arrived at Coverciano he found much evidence of the old Italian football stereotype: “Italian clubs can play 90 minutes without one mistake in defence,” he said.
He also believes that the varied styles adopted by teams in the Serie A poses a problem for the national set-up with the national team having to unite the players in a different style in a very short period of time. There is a feeling that many Serie A clubs still play with a very defensive Italian style, which in many respects goes against the more European style the new-Italy wish to play.
Article image courtesy of Grazia Neri/ALLSPORT.
This article was first published in The Boot Room magazine in April 2014.