England against Italy is often a strange contest. For two nations with rich and diverse histories, often involved in the same interlocking spheres of European influence, very little is found to link the two nation's politics, cultures and, at least now, football teams.
All, however, was not always like this. England and Italy fought two of the same world wars, one on the same side, one on opposing sides, and a quick glance through the crests of many Serie A club indicates a deeper link between Italian football and England than first may be thought.
AC Milan and Genoa, both featuring a St George's cross in their club crest, were founded by a group of Englishmen under the guise of 'Cricket and Football club', Catania's first incarnation was 'Royal Yacht Catania', named by a group of English cargo sailors, and there's some debate as to the formation of Palermo, although both conflicting stories point to an English link. From then on, though, the bond between English and Italian football fades.
There were fleeting moments in the 80s and 90s with players, including Chris Waddle, Paul Gascoigne and even Luther Blissett, taking a taste of Calcio, Carbonara and Calabrian wine. Even the majority of players to enjoy modicums of success in the Premier League, Gianfranco Zola, Fabrizio Ravanelli and to an extremely lesser extent Massimo Taibi, have now left our green isle, but the cultural differences, as this Euro 2012 tournament have emphasised, have started to grow steadily less important.
Both England's current and former managers, Roy Hodgson and Fabio Capello, understood and worked within Italian football culture, with Hodgson having two spells at Internazionale in Milan and Capello, quite obviously, hailing from Italy. The two most successful managers in the Premier League last season, Roberto Mancini and Roberto Di Matteo, also represent this growing link, having both played and now managed in England. And then there is the current walking news story, filling page after page of both English and Italian newspapers, one Mario Balotelli, set to start tomorrow night against his current day-to-day home.
This growing tie, perhaps reaching its highest point since the late 19th century, is also expressed with the style of the current England team, and the way in which Chelsea went about winning the 2011/12 Champions League. Here, it can be said, Catenaccio pervades, with defensive displays, for England against France, and for Chelsea against Barcelona and Bayern Munich, leading to English success both at international and club level.
Whether this link in footballing styles and cultures lasts may be something that does not sit easy with England fans or the powers at be at the FA, with the complex at Burton-upon-trent close to completion and a wider use of small sided matches for children being brought in, it appears that the model of English football schooling is focussed on the Spanish rather than Italian way. And if the distinct divide between the Italian and English journalists in the press centre here in Kiev is anything to go by, the current Anglo-Italian link is but a mere anomaly in wider football history.
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