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Italian pedigree helps quick learner Donadoni

SoccerNews in La Liga, Serie A 22 Jun 2008

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He may not have their experience in the hotseat but Roberto Donadoni is benefiting from the twin benefits of the pedigree associated with being Italian coach as well as relative youth which has helped him establish a close bond with his squad.

As a result, under the 44-year-old the Italians have steadied the ship after their traditional slow start and are just a quarter-final win over Spain away from a potential revenge meeting with a Dutch side which made the Azzurri look ordinary at the start of Euro 2008.

Since that 3-0 loss in Berne on June 9 the Italians have survived a missed Romanian penalty and then sent France packing courtesy of a spotkick of their own and a deflected clincher.

And Donadoni, having looked as if he might struggle to impose himself owing to his comparative youth and experience, is reaping the benefit as his star rises along with that of his team.

In terms of living up to his predecessors he appears to be on a hiding to nothing. Those in whose footsteps he would follow are the authoritarian, charismatic, visionary – and title-bedecked – trio of Giovanni Trapattoni, Arrigo Sacchi and Marcello Lippi.

Donadoni won enough silverware as a player in his time as a midfielder with AC Milan from the mid 80s to mid 90s.

But stepping into a void left by Lippi, who stepped down after World Cup glory in 2006, has been a tough call.

The sceptics have hovered like vultures and were ready to swoop after the opening two games which left the Squadra Azzurra on the brink of disaster.

For the detractors, Donadoni is too young, still considering the arena from a player's point of view and above all someone whose tactical nous has not been honed to a fine art.

Yet here they are again in the last eight, facing a Spanish side which has not beaten them in a senior tournament for 88 years.

And the players say they have been won over.

“Even Lippi, who had won everything, had his tough times,” says World Cup winner Gennaro Gattuso, who is suspended for the Spanish match.

“It's normal that should happen with Donadoni, who is just cutting his coaching teeth.

“He is a good guy. with him you can talk over little misunderstandings which are always resolved through dialogue. Above all, he knows what he wants from his players.”

In training, where he takes an active part, Donadoni will joke and josh with the players and, for example, challenge them to score direct from a corner.

The closeness of age that bolsters the feeling of complicity is tempered yet bolstered by the fact that the squad respect Donadoni's achievements as a player. He did after all win three European Cups and five Serie A titles with AC Milan

“He knows what we feel, his memories of being a player are still fresh,” says midfielder Massimo Ambrosini.

Donadoni occasionally gives the impression he thinks of himself as still actually being a player.

“We are footballers. We live for this kind of match,” he said ahead of the France game.

“The recognition of the players touches me. No doubt they see me as someone a little bit more than a coach. That's very positive. At any rate, I never feel I am on my own.”

In that sense, he has the closeness to his men as do German handler Joachim Loew, 48, or Croatia's 39-year-old Slaven Bilic.

And it is not just the players who are convinced of his merits.

A voice of the 'old-school' generation also supports him and thinks the critics should back off.

“Roberto is a great coach. He needs a bit of time but those who understand nothing of football should just be quiet. And the others too,” says none other than compatriot and England coach Fabio Capello.

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