Nigel Martyn started between the sticks for England; Vincenzo Montella scored twice to win it for Italy after Robbie Fowler gave England the lead. Ledley King earned his first cap and nearly scored on Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, the only link between the two sides that collided at Elland Road and the ones that will go head-to-head in Sunday’s Euro 2012 quarterfinal in Kiev.
Ten years is a long time between friends. Too long. Especially with more than a dozen matchdays on the international calendar. England-Italy is a rivalry, a relationship, that merits celebrating. It is, in the words of Italian outlet La Repubblica, “a family feud—almost a derby…There are so many reasons why the two countries are intertwined.” Indeed.
Italian football has been entangled with its English roots since the very beginning. Genoa and Turin became the early hotbeds of calico thanks to an English doctor and a local merchant employed in a Nottingham textile company, and all the way down the Mediterranean coast to Sicily the English sailors, on their way to and from the Far East, left their accidental export at every port of call.
Napoli was established as a football and cricket club by a pair of Englishmen in 1904; Palermo got its start thanks to a member of the English consulate. It’s a similar template at many clubs throughout the country.
In recent years, however, it has been the Italians who have been leaving their fingerprints all over the English game. The last three managers to have won the FA Cup were Italian, and two of them—Carlo Ancelotti (formerly of Chelsea) and Roberto Mancini (currently with Manchester City)—also guided their clubs to the Premier League title. The other, Roberto Di Matteo, became the first manager of a London side to lift the European Cup when Chelsea defeated Bayern Munich in the Champions League final in May.
It’s a similar story at international level where Fabio Capello, a Friulian, took England into the last World Cup finals. His record of 28 wins from 42 matches is good for the highest winning percentage in English national team history and his successor, Roy Hodgson, spent four of his formative managerial years in Italy with Inter Milan and Udinese—an experience, in the words of La Repubblica, that “Italianised” the current Three Lions boss.
There’s certainly some truth to the notion. Hodgson’s England is defensively sound and offensively practical. Not quite catenaccio, but not all that dissimilar from the pragmatic approaches of numerous Italian managers such as Giovanni Trapattoni and Cesare Maldini—tacticians who surely played at least an indirect part in Hodgson’s education. If nothing else, the language rubbed off. In his Saturday press conference the 64-year-old answered a handful of questions in fluent Italian.
And so, more than a decade after their last encounter, England and Italy will finally renew an acquaintance that should never again become so unfamiliar. They simply have too much to offer one another; their football was, and remains, intertwined. The present, as much as history, bears that out.
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer