April 1979: As Internazionale and Juventus meet at San Siro, the sides are level on points. The hosts eke out the visitors on goal difference. Both, though, are unhappy with their position, sitting a respective fourth and fifth in the Serie A. With six matchdays remaining Milan are four points ahead. Only the winners could reasonably hope to catch them.
Nearly half of the Italian World Cup winning squad of 1982 is on display. Six future champions lace their boots for Juve in this match, four feature for Inter. The two coaches who would help shape this emerging generation of Italian talent were recent managerial additions for their clubs. Eugenio Bersellini had only just taken over as the Nerazzurri head coach in the summer of ‘77. In his first season in charge, Inter finished fifth but claimed their first Coppa since 1939.
Giovanni Trapattoni had a year’s head start on Bersellini. In 77/78, his second of ten seasons in Torino had netted the second consecutive Scudetto. Of 30 matches the Bianconeri only lost one. Defence was their claim to fame. A stretch from late November ‘77 to mid March ‘78 saw Juve concede just two goals in 16 league matches, one coming via penalty. Goals were hard to come by at both ends of the pitch. Roberto Bettega was the team’s top goal scorer with just 11 goals to his name. For contrast: young Paolo Rossi had netted 24 times for Vicenza. Continue reading
Eight years after Brazil beat Italy to claim top honours at the World Cup 1970, the two sides met again in the “small final” of 1978. From a team etched into history only one player, Rivellino, was left. Italy too, had seen a generational shift with a golden future looming on the horizon. It is a testament to both footballing nations that even while re-building, they could still be considering two of the top four sides in the world.
Overseeing their respective country’s efforts in Argentina were Enzo Bearzot and Claudio Coutinho. During their playing days the coaches had earned one cap between them. Bearzot had featured for the Azzurri in a 1955 defeat to Hungary. After hanging up his boots, Bearzot learnt the managerial craft under Nereo Rocco at Torino, would take charge of Italy’s Under 23 side and assist Ferruccio Valcareggi’s coaching staff at the World Cup 1974. Soon after Italy’s dismal showing in West Germany Bearzot got the nod to select and prepare the Squadra for Argentina.
Brazil under Cláudio Coutinho
While Bearzot, for nearly two decades, had donned the jerseys of such notable clubs as Inter, Torino, and Catania, Cláudio Coutinho’s resume read much different. For one, he lacked the playing background. Coutinho was more theoretician than practitioner, having graduated from the Brazilian Army’s School of Physical Education. In the lead up to the World Cup 1970 he was tasked to oversee the conditioning and fitness training of the Brazilian team. Several appointments in Peru and France followed, until, in 1976, Flamengo offered him the first opportunity to cut his teeth as a head coach.
When Admiral Heleno Nunes, in his position as President of the Brazilian Football Confederation, was in need of a replacement for Osvaldo Brandão, Coutinho provided the perfect blend of military background and coaching knowledge. Continue reading