Crooks’ Soccer Journal: Italian Legend Graziani Talks U.S. Youth Dev’t, More

Graziani Italy

by GLENN CROOKS

For World Cup historians, Italy’s 3-2 triumph over Brazil in the second round of the 1982 event ranks among the most extraordinary matches in the tournament’s history. Paulo Rossi broke a 2-2 tie with his third goal of the day against a side rated by pundits, players and coaches as the best XI soccer had ever witnessed. Rossi went on to win the Golden Boot and Italy defeated West Germany in the finals for their third World Cup title — but first since 1938.

Less memorable was the third match of the group stage against Cameroon. Francesco Graziani, who started along side Rossi, scored the lone goal in a 1-1 draw versus the Africans. Without that acrobatic finish, Rossi would fail to become a national hero and 40-year old Dino Zoff would not earn the distinction of eldest player to win a World Cup. Italy became the only team in World Cup history to advance out of the group stage with three ties.

Presently, Graziani treks the globe as Director of the AS Roma Academy. He was in New Jersey last week working with youth players at the Players Development Academy (PDA) in Zarepath.

Prior to a training session with the PDA U-15 girls, Graziani sat with me to review a wide range of topics including soccer development in the states, Totti, Ranieri and the next national team coach in Italy.


Glenn Crooks: How would you describe your position with AS Roma – what are you hoping to gain?

Francesco Graziani: I have the responsibility of the Academies around the world – in South Africa, Dubai, Cameroon and here in the USA. This project for me, is very, very important. The President (AS Roma President, James Pallotta) says, find me a new Bradley (USMNT midfielder, Michael Bradley played for Roma from 2012-14). In the United States, one Bradley is possible to find. A new (Francesco) Totti, that is very, very difficult to find. But it is possible with this project to find one player who is good enough to come to Italy.

GC: There has been speculation that Totti will finish his playing career in the states with the New York Cosmos or join the Milan boys, Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta at Miami FC.

FG: No, no, I think no. If Totti said to Mr. Pallotta that I would like to play another season in Rome, I think Mr. Pallotta would say yes. And then Francesco will remain in another position with the club. He is very important for Roma. He will either continue to play for Roma or retire.

GC: Do you think Totti has earned proper recognition in the states?

FG: Yes! I was with a group of young boys at training last night and I asked them who their favorite player in Italy was. Totti, Totti, Totti they said.

GC: How would you describe your training with the boys and girls at PDA?

FG: We stay for one month with our Academy teams. The important age group is 12-14, the best period for development. We train each day, 40 minutes of tactics and 25 minutes technique. You can see the level go up. The players in USA are very strong but need more attention to space.

GC: What are some of the obvious things that you are working on with the youth players?

FG: In the USA, if we put the guys out in 8v8 and just tell them to play you will see three, four, five touches. No! We play one, two, maximum three touch. One-two, one, one-two-three, one-two. A rhythm. Play and moving, play and moving – always. Four and five touch – this is not football for us.

GC: Are there simple things to show the players?

FG: (At this point he gets up and gestures for me to rise as well) It is the movement of the body for proper technique. (He demonstrates an open body to play out to the opposite side in two touches). Rapid. Many times here I see the ball stop. No, rapid. It is technical movement of the body.

GC: You told me earlier that you had an opportunity to go to a New York Red Bulls match.

FG: I saw the match against Orlando. It is a beautiful stadium – I took a picture.

GC: How about the level of the match?

FG: The game, I saw too many mistakes passing the ball. Another problem was tactics. The teams played just ball away, ball back, ball away, ball back. They did not play in space. If you have the ball you should use every bit of space, not stay only this (with dotted lines extending from the opposite edges of the penalty area, Graziani was diagramming the Red Bulls narrow attack as they moved closer to goal on my note pad). I saw this as a problem for me.imageimage

GC: You often observe Luciano Spalletti (Manager, AS Roma) – can you share with us what a typical session looks like?

FG: This is what I mean. I don’t think the coach in MLS spend enough time on the tactics. Every day in training – every day – Spalletti spends 50 minutes on tactical movement, 25 minutes when we are in possession and 25 minutes when defending. Because when you play the match and you are in this situation, then no problem.

GC: What was it like to score a goal in the World Cup – especially one that provided an opportunity to move to the second round?

FG: That goal was very, very important for me – and the national team.

GC: You scored that goal with your head – were you always a dangerous player in the air?

FG: I scored 21 goals for Torino in 1975 – 11 with my head!

GC: Tell me about the influence of Dutch football in the early 70’s while you were with Torino.

FG: We were playing with a libero (sweeper) and two marking backs. Our coach, Luigi (Radice) called us to a meeting to watch Holland and Ajax on TV. He said, “look, look.” They were playing a back four. He said tomorrow in training, we are doing that. The team said, oh my god! We were the first team in Italy to play with four backs.

GC: In modern football, you would not be playing for a small club like Torino. Now the big clubs buy all the top players.

FG: I played in Turin for eight years. Many, many clubs like Juventus, Milan, Inter spoke to the President and said, “We want Graziani.” The President said never. It is impossible. The money was not important and my heart was with the club.

GC: The story of Leicester City, another small club without the resources of the top teams in the English Premier League, must be satisfying for you.

FG: It is a great story because of Claudio (Ranieri). He is a nice man, a professional, an intelligent man. For Italian football, it is beautiful, it is nice for us. He is a friend and I will send him a text message after he wins. Great, great, great Claudio. (This interview took place four days before Leicester City clinched the EPL title).

GC: Do you think Ranieri could be the next coach of the Italian national team?

FG: He told me, no, no, no – his time coaching any national team ended with his experience with Greece. He said he prefers remaining in Leicester or with another club.

GC: What do you mean, another club?

FG: If he wins the championship, I think he will go to another team. The future could be difficult there. What is the best they could do next season – fifth, sixth or seventh? When you win it is the best moment to change. For me, Leicester could have a problem.

GC: Who is your preference to be the next coach for Italy?

FG: Fabio Capello. He is perfect for this moment. He is 71 and he has experience. He has personality, he has character and he knows football.


For more from Glenn Crooks, visit WFAN.com and listen to his weekly show, The Coaching Academy, every Wednesday on SiriusXM FC.