Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Maldini: Don't Underestimate the Italians

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Maldini: Don't Underestimate the Italians

Article excerpt


CESARE Maldini was reflecting on just how brutal Italian football can be. "When you go out there to a World Cup as the national team manager, you have the whole country with you," he pondered.

"Then, when you come back and it hasn't gone your way, nobody wants to know you."

At 70, you wonder how he could look still quite so young after his experiences at France '98. He didn't do much wrong, really.

They reached the quarterfinals and if Luigi Di Biagio hadn't hit the bar in the penalty shootout with France, who knows?

Perhaps the Azzurri, uninspiring though they were, still might have gone on to win the whole thing rather than Les Bleus.

Within a month of their exit, though, he was history. Maldini smiles ruefully at a distant memory. These days, Italy's World Cup prospects don't consume him as much as Paraguay's. He is taking the South Americans to Japan and Korea because he fancied one last crack at the biggest prize and it all sounds a chaotically different sort of challenge.

He directs operations from a golf club hotel in Asuncion where, away from his family, he admits to feeling a bit homesick.

Paraguay's club coaches, annoyed at the sacking of the previous manager and indignant about an ageing coach with practically no Spanish having been appointed, claimed he only had a tourist visa and was thus working illegally.

Now he's apparently appeased them and sorted out the problem, he reckons he's had a wonderful reception from all Paraguayans, but only now - arriving wearily here for last night's friendly at QPR against Nigeria after an exhausting 30-hour, three-stop journey - was he starting to really appreciate the logistical nightmare of gathering together a squad scattered between nine different countries. How tempting, then, it must be for him to think of what might have been, especially when glancing at the Italian side playing in Leeds tonight, studded with the star names he used to direct. …

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