Sunday, June 02, 2002

Crafty Italy coach ready for World Cup exam

Associated Press Writer

        SENDAI, Japan — It's exam time, and Italy coach Giovanni Trapattoni, who has won just about everything in soccer except the World Cup, is ready.

        His squad's first test against Ecuador is Monday.

        “I was never much taken with exams,” the tongue-twisting wizard of Italian coaching said Saturday. “We've always managed to sneak through, and this time we've done everything necessary to get ready.

        “Let's hope we don't get any questions we can't answer,” he added with a smirk.

        In the past, very little has stumped Trapattoni.

        As a midfielder with AC Milan in the 1960s and early 1970s, he won two Italian League titles, one Italian Cup, two European Cups, one Cup-Winners' Cup and an Intercontinental Super Cup, as well as playing with the national team.

        His coaching record is equally impressive:

        — With Juventus in the 1970s and 1980s, he won six Italian League championships, two Italian Cups, one European Cup, a Cup-Winners' Cup, a UEFA Cup, and other titles;

        — With Inter Milan, he won the Italian championship and a UEFA Cup;

        — At Bayern Munich, he won the German championship and a German Cup.

        Now, he has a strong national squad working for him. And with France losing to Senegal on Friday, Italy is considered one of the World Cup favorites.

        After running several of the best European clubs, he recognizes there is even more exposure — and pressure — in his current post.

        “The national team is a point of reference in my past. If I hadn't lived it, I wouldn't be here,” he said. “I know what obligation this brings.

        “Without doubt, having this obligation, one feels proud. Most Italians live on this team, live on its results.

        “It's a great honor.”

        Trapattoni did have to deal with reports of a spat between team members Francesco Totti and Vincenzo Montella. He said those reports were greatly exaggerated.

        The difficulties began early last week after Totti failed to mention striker Montella among his top choices for a spot in Italy's attack. Montella seemed disappointed, saying he was “surprised” by Totti's words.

        But Trapattoni said he spoke to the two players and that peace reigned in the Italy camp.

        “That argument wasn't even real — it was a simple statement by Totti. There was no malice,” he said.

        Trapattoni, known in Italy as “Trap,” is not just a magician on the sidelines. He's also a wizard with words. Some say the spells he casts with language are a little mystifying — so much so that Italians call his peculiar language “Trapattonese.”

        But seeing the glint in his light-blue eyes, one can't help wonder if he's doing it on purpose. No one doubts the 63-year-old's wisdom and cunning. And his charisma and energy with the team — running and kicking the ball alongside players 40 years his junior — commands respect.

        Trapattoni is undoubtedly prepared for this test. But he's too smart to make any promises.

        “Nothing's sure in life,” he said. “Only birth and death — that's the only certainty.”


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