The World Cup is without a doubt the most important tournament in football. Only three men have won it both as a player and as a coach. Didier Deschamps joined Franz Beckenbauer and Mario Zagallo in the exclusive club after France's victory in 2018. However, one World Cup-winning manager remains alone in an even more exclusive club: Vittorio Pozzo, who is the only man to have guided his country to World Cup triumph twice as a manager.
Vittorio Pozzo, the inventor of the Metodo tactical system, is regarded as one of the best managers of all time, having won two FIFA World Cups. The Azzurri won the FIFA World Cups in 1934 and 1938, as well as the Olympic football event in 1936, under Pozzo's leadership. In 1931 and 1935, he also led them to the Central European International Cup, a precursor to the European championships.
Vittorio Pozzo was born on March 2, 1886, in Turin, to a family from Ponderano. Pozzo played professionally for Grasshopper Club Zürich in the 1905–06 season before returning to Italy and helping to form Torino FC, with whom he remained until retirement from the sport in 1911. In December 1929, Pozzo returned to Italy as a permanent coach. The 2-3-2-3 structure, also known as 'Il Metodo,' was born. Il Metodo would be the tactical breakthrough that would unlock Giuseppe Meazza's generational powers, make Italy defensively impregnable, win the country two FIFA World Cups in a row, and, probably most crucially, revolutionise the Italian tactical outlook on Calcio.
Italy won the Central European International Cup in Budapest in 1930, defeating Hungary 5–0. They won the event ahead of Meisl's Austrian team, the so-called Wunderteam, who went on to win the championship again two years later. In the 1931/32 season of the competition, Italy was unable to defend its Central European International Cup title, finishing second to Austria, but they now had a date to look forward to with the 1934 World Cup finals set to be hosted in Italy. Benito Mussolini became involved because he regarded it as an opportunity to promote fascism to the watching world, and Italy was awarded hosting rights ahead of Sweden.
Juventus players were highly represented in the Italian squad, with nine players chosen, but it was an Inter Milan star who would bear the brunt of the home expectations. With a devastating 7-1 victory over the United States of America, Italy got their campaign off to a tremendous start. There was no group stage in 1934; instead, it was a straight knockout tournament. Unlike the shins of many of the players, the teams could not be split after 120 minutes versus Spain, with both teams scoring once. Because of the violence of the first match, the repeat began the next day. Italy eventually won the replay 1-0 thanks to a Meazza goal.
Italy faced a difficult job in the semi-finals against Austria's Wunderteam. Enrique Guaita, one of the Argentine-born Oriundi, scored the game's sole goal to give Italy the victory. The Czechs appeared to be the better team for much of the final, despite the officials obviously favouring the hosts and a hostile atmosphere in Rome with 55,000 Italians baying for blood. Italy won the tournament after coming from behind to defeat Czechoslovakia 2–1 in extra time. Under Pozzo, Italy successfully defended their Central European International Cup championship in 1935. They went on to win the 1936 Olympic gold medal, defeating Austria 2–1 in extra time.
By the time of the 1938 World Cup, Italy was considered one of the favourites to win the tournament. France was the host, and given what would happen in the years leading up to the World Cup, it's no surprise that the relationship between Italy and France was strained. Mussolini's support for General Franco in the Spanish Civil War had not gone over well with the French. Italy's first opponent was Norway, and while the team worked hard to gain a 2-1 win in extra time, it was the events leading up to the match that made the news. Gli Azzurri lined up on the pitch during the singing of the Italian national anthem and gave the Roman fascist salute, which was received with a chorus of boos from the French fans, which led the Italian national team to cautiously lower their arms. Pozzo marched out onto the field after seeing his team yield to the crowd pressure and instructed his men to raise their arms once more.
The following match was between Italy and Brazil. Italy went ahead 2-0 thanks to a penalty from Meazza, and despite a late goal from Brazil, Italy hung on to reach the World Cup final for the second time. Hungary would be Italy's final opponent. The Italians received a message of ‘support' from Mussolini himself before the game. The message's substance has been debated throughout the years, with many believing it simply said: "win or die." Colaussi scored the first goal, and while Italy only led for two minutes, they swiftly regained control with goals from Piola and Colaussi, putting them 3-1 up at the break. On 70 minutes, the Magyars equalised, but any dreams of a dramatic comeback were dashed when Piola matched Colaussi with a brace on 82 minutes, securing a 4-2 victory for Italy and a second World Cup for Pozzo and his team.
Between 1938 and 1939, Pozzo maintained the record for the most consecutive victories for Italy, with nine, until Roberto Mancini broke it in 2019. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War II put an end to any hopes of future success for this generation of players, but Pozzo, unlike his teammates, was able to stay in position throughout the war years. Pozzo's final match as Italy's head coach was a 5–3 quarter-final loss to Denmark at Highbury Stadium in London at the 1948 Summer Olympics. Pozzo completed with a 95-match win-loss record of 63 victories, 17 ties, and 16 defeats. He holds the European men's senior national team coach's record for the longest tenure.
He watched as Italy win their lone European Championship 18 years later, as an 82-year-old, but it would be one of his last recollections, as he died just a few months after. Pozzo was never truly earned the praise he deserved. Italians had to reconcile with their past after the war and the collapse of fascism, and Pozzo was identified with fascism because of an event at the 1938 World Cup. When proof surfaced in the 1990s that he had secretly fought with the Italian anti-Fascist resistance during WWII, he was posthumously exonerated, at least in part. Pozzo gained the nickname "Vecchio Maestro" as a result of all of this, and his legacy demonstrates that he was exactly that. Two World Cup victories is quite an accomplishment, and he did it in his own unique style, for which Italian football will always be grateful.
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