The Italian Job

The Italian Job : A Journey to the Heart of Two Great Footballing Cultures (2006) by Gianluca Vialli and Gabriele Marcotti is an exploration of British and Italian football. Gianluca Vialli was an excellent Italian striker who won titles with Sampdoria, Juventus and Chelsea. He  then went on to manage Chelsea for 2 years and then Watford. Marcotti is a football journalist.

The book contrasts the way the game of football is played and supported in Britain and Italy. The emphasis on tactics and results in Italy against the emphasis on putting in effort in England is analyzed. It’s a fairly standard view. The remarkable support given to English teams by their fans is praised.

The book presents a really detailed view of how the games differ and why things like the way managers are trained, hired and fired results in very different outcomes. In England managers are usually successful former players and have little training before coaching teams at a high level but once hired they are less likely to be fired. However, once they are fired they tend not to come  back. In Italy a coach gets extensive training, starts in the lower leagues and is frequently fired but the coaches are also frequently rehired and there is little shame in having been fired. Vialli and Marcotti think this results in coaches that are more tactically aware.

The different junior setups in Italy and England are looked at. The authors wonder if players will maintain the skills required as countries get richer and kids have more entertainment options. Viallia, Ferguson and others reminisce about how they spent their childhoods playing football whenever they could.

Arsene Wenger, Alex Ferguson, Sven Joran Eriksson, Fabio Capello, Jose Mourinho and Marcello Lippi have all been interviewed and contribute substantially to the book. As players get older the more technical and tactical approach is contrasted with the English approach.

The way that finance affects football is discussed in great detail. How transfers work and where the money goes to the various middle men is fascinating. The impact of the Bosman ruling is given a thorough dissection. The breakdown of TV revenues, with the top division having them more equitably distributed in England than Italy is described. The drastic decline in attendance figures in Italy is described and the impact of that discussed.

The book is well worth a read for anyone interested in football. Vialli and Marcotti understand their subject in depth and the book provides a host of facts and interesting points about the game in Italy and in England.

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