Roy at centre of Anglo-Italian culture clash

A coach who can speak Italian with an intimate knowledge of Serie A after managing one of its leading clubs is plotting the downfall of Italy in Euro 2012.

That man is Englishman Roy Hodgson and not Italian Fabio Capello, who could have been leading England against his own nation if he had not quit in February.

Although it is impossible to know whether Capello would have steered England through as group winners, it is intriguing that Hodgson is now responsible for trying to knock Italy out in Sunday's quarter-final in Kiev.

For he, more than most, understands the chasm and the culture clash between the football philosophies of the two countries.

Although he possesses old-fashioned English charm and modesty, an important part of Hodgson's football education was enriched during two spells at Inter Milan in the late 1990s.

He did not win a trophy but he did take Inter to the 1997 UEFA Cup final which they lost on penalties to Schalke 04 and he is one of the few Englishmen in recent times to work in Italy and enjoy a modicum of success.

Adding to the irony, two of the most successful managers in England at the moment are Italians Roberto Mancini, who has just coached Manchester City to their first English title since 1968 and Roberto di Matteo who guided Chelsea to the FA Cup and Champions League title last month.

DOMINANT NATIONS

England and Italy may be among Europe's most dominant football nations but their footballing paths have crossed relatively infrequently in major competitions since Englishmen formed the first Italian club in Genoa in 1893.

Sunday's meeting will only their third in a major tournament following Italy's 1-0 win in the 1980 European Championship and the Azzurri's 2-1 victory in the third-place playoff at the 1990 World Cup.

Their only other World Cup meetings were in qualifiers for the 1978 and 1998 tournaments and they have not crossed paths since a friendly in Leeds 10 years ago which Italy won 2-1.

So Sunday's match represents a rare coming together of two great rivals who share a great love of defending but have few other similarities.

While England are happy grinding out victories and relying on the long ball game if necessary, Italians increasingly want to see attractive football combined with defensive solidity.

The rise of Latin rivals Spain and their "tiki taka" has led Italy to lust after a similar style even if the players are not yet capable of achieving it and still have a tendency to drop back when 1-0 up, a bit like the English.

The two nations do share an arrogant view of their own leagues and apart from Manchester City's Mario Balotelli and Paris Saint-Germain duo Salvatore Sirigu and Thiago Motta, the Italian players are all with clubs in their own country.

All of Hodgson's 23-man Euro 2012 squad play in England.

However, Italy is increasingly aware that Serie A has slipped down the pecking order behind the Premier League and La Liga.

Italians still struggle with crossing the ball into the danger area, unlike England who thrive on it.

The Azzurri tend to try to walk the ball into the net and when the chips are down they often have trouble imposing a physical game when long balls are a necessity.

Gianluigi Buffon and Joe Hart are arguably the best two goalkeepers at the tournament and have similar philosophies of holding on to the ball as often as possible and rarely punching it.

OLD RIVALRY

Although their on-field rivalry dates back to a first friendly international meeting in Rome in 1933, their games developed along different lines in many ways.

Italy became the first of the two to attract top overseas players in the 1950s and 1960s when "the lure of the lira" enticed the likes of the Swedish "Gre-No-Li" trio Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedhom and Welsh giant John Charles, among others.

In the 1960s, the likes of Dennis Law, Omar Sivori and Karlheinz Schnellinger went to Italy, followed later by Michel Platini, Zbigniew Boniek, Diego Maradona, Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard.

Former England midfielder Ray Wilkins, who played 84 times for his country and spent three years with AC Milan, summed up the cultural differences.

"I thought I was a professional footballer until I went to Italy," Wilkins told Reuters. "The culture was fantastic at the time, I learnt so much at Milan, it changed my outlook on everything connected with football and has had a lasting impact."

Today most of the world's top earners play in England, with Serie A relatively impoverished and Italian football mired in one scandal after another.

The Premier League, in contrast, continues to expand its global reach with a new three-year three billion-pound global TV contract in place.

Whether England can finally beat Italy when it really matters remains to be seen.


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