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 up the Jules Rimet trophy after Italy’s 1938 World Cup triumph

Didier Deschamps is hoping to take a big step towards becoming the second manager of the reigning champions when he leads his France side to take on England in the World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.

Only two nations have won consecutive men’s World Cups, Italy in 1934 and 1938 and Brazil in 1958 and 1962, but with Brazil’s job changing hands between successes, former Azzurri coach Vito Rio Pozzo is in a class of its own.

Nicknamed Il Vecchio Maestro (Old Master) in coaching circles, Pozzo is considered a visionary of his time and one of the minds behind the Metodo formation, the original 4-3-3 formation we recognize today.

However, Pozzo has not been hailed as the only coach to win the men’s World Cup twice and his popularity remains relatively low. There is a reason for this.

“Very few people know who he is, and that’s on purpose,” said Dr. Alexandreou, a historian and president and co-founder of the Football and War Network.

“If you think about Italy after 1945, and how FIFA and the Italian Football Federation planned and promoted themselves, one of the things they didn’t want to do was believe in Pozzo and what happened in the 1930s because there was an important relationship with the far right and linked to fascism.”

Although Pozzo first took charge of the national team at the 1912 Olympics — before the fascists came to power in Italy — and was never a member of the National Fascist Party, his story is inextricably linked to the far-right movement, which The movement eventually led to the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini.

The four stars are proudly emblazoned on the shirts of the Italian national team, symbolizing their four World Cup wins, acknowledging victories in 1934 and 1938, but there is still some unease surrounding them.

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“He wasn’t forced to do that; he was involved. The players saluted the fascists, there was a lot of rhetoric around them, so it was a problem for Italy. Do those World Cups count?”

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Sports historian Professor Jean Williams added: “Pozzo has been described by many as capitulating to the regime – he conforms to the regime rather than standing up for it.

“Unless you’re leaving the country, it’s hard to avoid, just like a lot of young people would be in the Hitler Youth [in Nazi Germany] Because it’s basically their version of Boy Scouts. ”

Dr Alexandrou agrees: “I don’t think Pozzo has much time for politics per se, not even for fascists, but he loves his football and he has to survive under that regime. He does what he thinks he has to do , in order to do the job he wants to do, which is management.”

Vittorio Pozzo
Pozzo, October 1938.In the women’s game, Jill Ellis matches Team USA’s achievement of two consecutive World Cup titles (2015 and 2019)

Mussolini’s fascist government quickly recognized the value of a strong association with football after seizing power in 1922, and its involvement in the national football game deepened as the country became a dictatorship.

With huge amounts of money pouring into the sport to maximize its chances of success on the international stage, Serie A was restructured in 1929 to create greater competition and help develop players who could compete at the top level.

Militia general Giorgio Vaccaro has been named president of the Italian Football Federation. But when it comes to the national team, Pozzo is the role model.

Italy was the host of the 1934 World Cup. The country’s rulers felt it was vital that they win, thereby reaffirming the strong nationalist values ​​of fascism and conveying to the rest of the globe the image of a modern and confident nation.

While the combination of Pozzo’s tactical approach and a party home crowd would help Italy’s chances of glory, there were also rumors of foul play – with Mussolini allegedly meeting the tournament referee the night before the crucial match.

While no evidence of corruption has been proven, opponents have complained that officials have been too lenient with the Azzurri’s physical strength. Swiss referee Rene Mercet was even suspended by his own football association for claiming to have made several controversial decisions as Italy edged past Spain in a bitter quarter-final replay.

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Despite the accusations, there is no doubt that Pozzo’s tactical ingenuity made an impact. The Italian conceded just three goals in five games – particularly impressive given the relatively free nature of scoring at the time. The manager’s preference for a back four and a holding midfielder gives them a foothold against the popular 2-3-5 formation.

“We’re starting to see the beginnings of chain defense, where the halfback is a type of defender,” Williams explained.

“Under Pozzo, instead of being a passing centre-back, the midfield became more important, with a holding midfielder and an attacking midfielder, or right wing and left wing as they were called at the time.”

Pozzo can be seen as the forerunner of the modern international manager in another sense because of his insistence on complete control over team selection. Many national teams have previously been selected by appointed committees, but Pozzo says the best chance of success is for the coach to take responsibility – something Sir Alf Ramsey did when he became England manager in 1963.

This means that Pozzo can call Oriondi, a term used to describe a foreign-born person of Italian descent to strengthen his ranks. Among the diaspora he called out Luis Monti, who had represented Argentina in the 1930 World Cup final, and Raimondo Orsi, another ex-Argentine player who scored for Italy in the 1934 final, Italy beat Czechoslovakia 2-1.

This is not generally popular in fascist regimes, but the prospect of a stronger state sidelines the debate in Pozzo’s favor. His new look is well organized, treating games like battles and will do whatever it takes to win. There is a strong nationalist message from time to time in the training camp, where squads treat them almost like soldiers, and exercises such as marches through the woods are commonplace.

Over the next four years, Pozzo continued to develop his methods, leading Italy to victory at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and becoming the first manager to win the World Cup on French soil in 1938.

Pozzo is praised in a 1934 cartoon
The 1934 cartoon celebrated Pozzo and Italy’s first World Cup victory

In Marseille’s tournament opener against Norway, Pozzo and his players faced loud anti-Italy crowds who raised fascist salutes as an act of defiance and refused to lower their arms until the jeers died down. As they lowered their salute, the uproar began again, and Pozzo growled ordering them to raise their arms again.

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A quarter-final against hosts France would only further heighten political tensions as Italy progressed through the Championship, and a shirt clash saw the Azzurri switch from their usual blue kit, opting for an all-black instead. Not their second color, white, superior orders.

The Italian influence has been more creative so far, with Giuseppe Meazza’s influence growing at the center of Pozzo’s carefully crafted midfield. The captain was instrumental in the team’s 3-1 win over France; he then scored from the penalty spot in the semi-final against Brazil; in the final he was paired with Luigi Colaussi and Silvio Piola, two forwards Each scored two goals in a 4-2 victory over Hungary.

The significance of a second consecutive World Cup victory had not gone unnoticed by the fascist government at home, and a myth emerged that Mussolini had sent the team a telegram saying “win or die” on the eve of the final. This is a detail that has never been confirmed.

But that would prove to be the end of Pozzo’s World Cup story. The outbreak of World War II meant that the game did not resume until 1950, by which time he had been relieved of his duties and banned from Italian football for his links to the now overthrown fascist government.

Pozzo went on to become a well-respected journalist covering the Italian national team for daily La Stampa, but he would never return to the dugout. He died in December 1968 at the age of 82.

“Pozzo is obviously a very good leader, very good at mobilizing and motivating his team,” Ford continued on How to Win the World Cup.

“He sees football as a war and uses national rhetoric in international games. It’s as if the war has been brought to the pitch.”

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

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