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Have you seen this manager? Cesare Prandelli

Friday 5th May 2017

Whether still chasing silverware, desperately seeking to avoid relegation, or sitting comfortably mid-table, clubs across Europe are beginning to plan for next season even as this one runs down. Some will be searching for a new manager. One or two are already available. Since Simon Pegg was allowed to make a three flavored Cornetto trilogy, I thought I'd start a milk carton series on managers who have been away from the public eye for a time but may be on a few clubs' radar as the off-season approaches. Cesare Prandelli is the fifth missing boss in the series.

The first thing non-Italian football fans should know about Cesare Prandelli is his given name rhymes with Desirée. Next, they should be aware he isn't your typical coach from a nation steeped in catenaccio. Prandelli doesn't bolt the door; his sides play with freedom more familiar to Spanish football. His management style is also less confining. He coaxes performances from his players rather than drilling them into shape. Unfortunately, the relaxed attitude that propelled him into coaching's elite ranks has also led to his fall from grace.

As a player, Prandelli patrolled midfield for Cremonese, Atalanta (twice), and Juventus from 1974-1990. After ending his second stint with La Dea--the Goddess to you, Inglese--he immediately took over the Lombardy-based club's youth side, learning his new craft for seven seasons. For seven months in the middle campaign, he was Atalanta's caretaker manager in Serie B.

In 1997-98, he accepted his first permanent post, moving to Lecce. Responsibility for a first team is different than being youth or caretaker manager. A senior boss is held accountable for everything, including matters beyond his control. Even seven years training doesn't fully prepare one for the role. Prandelli made rookie mistakes. Plus, this was Italy, where no managerial job is ever truly permanent.

Sacked at that first season's conclusion, he hopped on the Calcio manager-go-round, spending two years at Hellas Verona, another at Venezia, then two more at Parma. Prandelli improved at every stop. In his first campaign at Verona, the side earned promotion from Serie B. In his second, in Serie A, Prandelli consolidated the Gialloblu's top flight status, finishing ninth. Alberto Gilardino and Adrian Mutu were his top scorers in those respective seasons. He went back down to Serie B for the next campaign, to bring Venezia up. Next, he took the Parma job, il Crociati having finished tenth just before his arrival. In consecutive competitions, he led the Emilia-Romagna club to fifth-placed finishes.

His work at Parma signaled his readiness to lead a big club. Roma invited him to become il Lupi's alpha male. Prandelli accepted. Unfortunately, personal tragedy also struck. His wife became seriously ill with breast cancer. Prandelli resigned to care for her less than a week after joining the Giallorossi. When her condition improved, he joined Fiorentina in the summer.

It's safe to say, during his five years in Tuscany, il Viola were Serie A's most interesting side. Prandelli's squad did not win a trophy, yet consistently finished in European places, excepting his last campaign. More importantly, his teams' positive approach dragged Serie A kicking and screaming into football's modern era.

In his first two years, Prandelli's attacking style was spearheaded by Luca Toni and former Verona standout Adrian Mutu. Toni, a career mercenary, then signed with Bayern. The manager reached into his past to reunite Alberto Gilardino with Mutu, instantly filling the void left by the big forward over the next three campaigns.

When his first season concluded, Prandelli again learned a first team manager is often held responsible for matters beyond his control. Having finished fourth, Fiorentina was stripped of its Champions League place and docked 15 points for the coming season, punishment for participating in the Calciopoli match-fixing and bribery scandal prior to Prandelli's arrival. Finishing sixth in 2006-07 earned il Gigliati entry into the UEFA Cup qualifying rounds. Yet, it's 58 points would have been 73 without penalty, placing them third, two points behind Roma, with a chance to make the Champions League group stage. The greater loss for Prandelli, however, was his wife's passing.

Prandelli's third and fourth seasons both ended in fourth place, thus Champions League qualification. In 2009-10, he took Fiorentina to the knockout round, where it lost to Bayern Munich (1-2, 3-2) on away goals. Prandelli's former striker, Luca Toni, was not on hand to provide any irony in defeat, his wanderlust having already taken him from Munich to Rome.

Instead, Prandelli's open play and relaxed man-management led to another striker's betrayal. Adrian Mutu was banned for a year, mid-season, after testing positive for doping. Despite Mutu's breach of contract controversy with Chelsea over cocaine use, the club had taken a chance with the Romanian on Prandelli's recommendation. Initially, its risk paid off with successful partnerships between the player and Luca Toni, then Alberto Gilardino. Yet, a player willing to cross a line once is more apt to do so again. Now bereft its top scorer, Fiorentina tumbled to eleventh.

For once, the manager was not held responsible for his player's action. Prandelli left Fiorentina, though not in disgrace. Rather, he was honoured with an opportunity to replace Marcello Lippi as Italy boss.

The Silver Fox, who had led the Azzurri to 2006 World Cup glory in Germany, failed miserably four years later in South Africa. Italy finished bottom, in what should have been a straightforward group, after two uninspiring draws with Paraguay and New Zealand were followed by a stunning loss to Slovakia. FederCalcio decided it was time to trust a new generation, both players and coach.

Initially, Prandelli's style proved refreshing. The Azzurri became surprise finalists at Euro 2012. Italy's success was largely credited to its new manager's ability to coax bright performances from moody young striker Mario Balotelli.

The notoriously mercurial forward didn't score until added time against Ireland. His goal put the match to bed, though, ensuring Italy's progress to the knockout round in a pivotal third group stage match. A goalless quarterfinal draw with England followed. The Azzurri advanced on penalties. Balotelli peaked in the semi, dominating Germany's vaunted defence while scoring both Italian goals in a shock win that left many punters with lighter wallets.

Then, a four-nil thrashing from Spain, which Italy had played to a one-goal draw in their opening group match, shattered the dream.

Balotelli subsequently fell back into a self-destructive pout which contributed to Italy's failure to survive Brazil's 2014 World Cup group stage. The youngster did score the winner in the first match against England, briefly inspiring hope the Azzurri would enjoy a similar run to the Euros. But he went missing in the next two matches, both 1-0 defeats, to Costa Rica and Uruguay respectively.

Against the Ticos, he drew a rash yellow after Claudio Marchisio had gone off for Italy's third change.

Balotelli's first-half performance against Uruguay was so dreadful, Prandelli lifted him at the interval. The change was largely forgotten when Claudio Marchisio was sent off on the hour, Luis Suarez infamously bit Giorgio Chiellini on 79', with no response from the official, and Diego Godin scored the winner two minutes after, banishing the Italians from the competition in the group stage for the second consecutive tournament.

The FIGC's experiment with touchy feely positivity ended. Prandelli conveniently resigned, with maniacally intense Antonio Conte brought in as manager. Conte gave Balotelli an opportunity with one cap in November, 2014. When the player struggled at Milan and Liverpool, though, the less tolerant Conte refused to consider him further. For his part, Prandelli admits Balotelli continues to disappoint but holds out hope.

Both Antonio Cassano and Balotelli were extraordinarily motivated. They knew they could be important for the team and therefore had an incredible Euros. They had some difficulties, I invited them back and unfortunately one game against Costa Rica ruined everything. I don't regret those decisions. I have affection for Balotelli, always, because he's an extraordinary lad. I always read that the day he decides to prove to the world he's a top class player, he'll do it. Maybe that is not the first priority in his life, to be the best in the world.

Prandelli's socially progressive outlook is largely underappreciated for the players who couldn't live up to his trust. Yet, the Italian has not changed, expressing opposition to racism and support for LGBT issues, noting how the former has so negatively affected Balotelli's career.

After leaving the Azzurri, Prandelli went abroad for the first time, taking over for Roberto Mancini at Galatasaray. As he experimented with his squad, Gala did enough to sit third in the Super Lig but were hammered in the Champions League. Prandelli drew supporters' animus, naively stating an emphasis on league success in his first season at a club that has traditionally embraced European nights. Nor was his rotation appreciated by a veteran squad with a sense of entitlement. He was sacked after sixteen games.

Prandelli's next destination was Valencia but he departed as quickly as he had left Istanbul, expressing dissatisfaction with Los Che's board.

I leave here with a lot of emotions, and feeling very sad. A dream has come to an end. I knew that I had accepted a difficult challenge, but I came here convinced I could help Valencia out of their difficulties.

Sadly, it didn't happen that way. This club is made up of respectable people but they are obsessed with numbers. Football is about passion and feeling and if you don't have these ingredients, it's hard to go anywhere. I wanted to open training up to the fans but they said it was not possible. I tried to talk to the press but they had a blacklist.

They told me from Singapore that they would have strengthened the club in January... The [board in Valencia] asked me to pick between a forward and a midfielder, forgetting all about the four they had promised me.

In Prandelli's words, you can hear an echo that sounds eerily like Arsene Wenger. Both are idealogues who prioritise their footballing philosophies, although the Frenchman has enjoyed the influence to marry his to pragmatism. While the Italian isn't likely to top the Gunners' list should Wenger ultimately leave this summer, his hiring would be a more seamless transition than some being mooted.

Similarly, he should also be considered a dark horse candidate to take up residence at the Nou Camp. Barcelona has only ever had one Italian boss, Sandro Puppo in 1954-55, as catenaccio and tiki-taka occupy opposite ends of football's stylistic spectrum. Yet, Prandelli embraces open attacking football and, while the Barca hierarchy can be prickly, he will not have to worry over any refusal to spend.

Given his patience and willingness to work with players looked upon as 'projects', a Chinese Super League or Major League Soccer side is also a strong possibility. Prandelli would need to accept MLS' salary cap realities but should Tata Martino's initial success at Atlanta United prove lasting, other North American clubs will be looking to copy the upstart franchise's blueprint.

It wouldn't be surprising to see Prandelli at a lesser Premier League side, either. He would be ideal for Southampton if the coastal outfit decides to move on from Claude Puel, or Bournemouth, should Eddie Howe move to a bigger club. If Swansea survive, he might be considered a better option than Paul Clement. On the other hand, he's already ruled out Leicester.

I immediately said no. You don't accept a job like that. You don't go there after seeing how Ranieri was treated.

A return home is always possible. Milan, Inter, Napoli, Lazio, and Fiorentina are all looking to make the next step, as is Torino. The Bulls have a young striker, in Andrea Belotti, the sort whom Prandelli likes to lead his line. The buzzards are circling Belotti, however, waiting for the summer window to secure his signature. Without the starlet, Prandelli might instead look across town to Juventus as an opportunity to crown his career, should Massimiliano Allegro leave.

One thing is certain. The principled Italian's hard lessons learned, inside the game and out, mean he will choose carefully, looking for a post that offers happiness first, success second.

Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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