When idealism and realism collide: Why Prandelli was right to relax his Italy code of conduct

The Rio Report

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Put it this way, it was a lose-lose situation for Cesare Prandelli.

When Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini threw a forearm at Roma playmaker Miralem Pjanic during a set-piece on Sunday evening, an offence that went unpunished by the referee but wouldn’t escape the attention of video evidence, the Italy coach must have known he’d be condemned for whatever decision he made.

Exclude Chiellini from his World Cup squad and there’d be uproar at how nothing other than Prandelli’s holier-than-thou principles were depriving the Azzurri of their most-capped centre-back. Include him, and he’d stand accused of hypocrisy, of applying one rule for some and another for someone else. It was a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

And so when Prandelli said: “Chiellini will be in the 30 [man squad]: For me, it’s not a violent gesture. He didn’t raise his arm to do any harm,” there was inevitable outrage.

The Twittersphere had a field day. One handle imagined him saying:  “I have reviewed the sequence of play and I can rule out that Brutus and Cassius had any intention of harming Julius Caesar.”

Joking aside, the issue many people have here is one of consistency. For the only constant since Prandelli introduced his ethical code four years ago is that it has been a regular source of controversy. Discrepancies have been found in its use. But it depends on the individual and on the context.

For example, it’s one thing not taking Dani Osvaldo to the Confederations Cup. He wasn’t an assured starter and it was not a ‘major competition’. It’s another thing altogether to perhaps not take Chiellini to the World Cup. His name is guaranteed to be in the starting XI and this is the biggest tournament of all. Had he hit Pjanic in March like Daniele De Rossi did Mauro Icardi or like Mattia Destro did Davide Astori in April, I suspect he would have been excluded from their final friendly against Spain or their physical tests at Coverciano.

That Chiellini hasn’t is not an example of preferential treatment for Juventus players at the expense of those from Roma, it’s something else. It’s Realpolitik.  Had Prandelli said that and not “For me, it’s not a violent gesture” perhaps people would have been more understanding. Instead he was roundly criticised in the press. Revealingly, not once though has a player called Prandelli’s ethical code into question.  Why? Because they know the rules, they know what to expect, they bought into it.

You have to remember why it was introduced in the first place. After watching Italy finish bottom of a group comprising Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand at the last World Cup, the reaction back home was one of general weariness with modern footballers. The perception was that players don’t seem to care. They aren’t held accountable for their actions. They act in self interest and forget they’re representing a country.

“So my collaborators and I chose a card from the deck and gave it the priority: to make the people fall back in love with the blue shirt again,” wrote Prandelli.

“We had to come across in a different way: more generous, more normal, with humility to win back the confidence we’d lost with little steps.”

One of these steps was the ethical code.

Its aim - to make players more responsible and to change their behaviour - is a good one, a noble one. Together with the other measures taken - like, for example, playing the way they do and training in areas afflicted by natural disasters or under intimidation from the ‘Ndrangheta and the Camorra in a display of solidarity - it has brought the national team closer to the people again, which in turn has restored a sense of pride. And for those reasons rather than say: Death to the ethical code, proclaim long may it live.

Its intentions are good.

So it’s unfortunate that the code is often misunderstood. That can’t be helped. When  idealism and realism collide, difficult decisions have to be made.

And, as Prandelli has discovered, they are not always popular.

By James Horncastle, on Twitter @JamesHorncastle

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