Didier Deschamps will be hoping to make history by becoming only the second manager to win the World Cup when he takes his France team to Argentina in the final on Sunday.
With the Selecao job changing hands between successes, former Azzurri coach Vittorio Pozzo is the only nation to have won two men’s World Cups in a row—Italy in 1934 and 1938 and Brazil in 1958 and 1962.
Pozzo was referred to as “Il Vecchio Maestro” (the “Old Master”) in coaching circles. He was regarded as a pioneer of the era and is credited with developing the Metodo formation, which is the earliest example of the 4-3-3 formation that we are familiar with today.
Pozzo, despite his status as the only manager to win the men’s World Cup twice, is still relatively unknown. That’s for a reason, too.
The Football and War network’s chair and co-founder, historian Dr. Alex Alexandrou, asserts, “It’s deliberate that few people know who he is.”
“The one thing they didn’t want to do, if you think about Italy after 1945 and how Fifa and the Italian Football Federation project and promote themselves, was to give credence to Pozzo and what happened in the 1930s, because there is a significant link with the far right and fascism,” Fifa said.
Pozzo’s story is inextricably linked to the far right movement that culminated in Benito Mussolini’s dictatorship, despite the fact that he never joined the National Fascist Party and only managed the national team for the 1912 Olympics.
Although Italy’s four World Cup victories of 1934 and 1938 are proudly represented by the four stars on their national team shirt, there is still a sense of unease surrounding them.
In his new book, How to Win the World Cup, Italian football expert John Foot says, “There’s this slight sort of smell, if you like, after the war, and Pozzo isn’t as famous or exulted as he might be because he won his trophies under a fascist regime.”
“He wasn’t pressured into that; He was a part of that. It’s a problem for Italy because the players gave the fascist salute and there was a lot of talk about it. What’s the point of those World Cups?”
Prof. Jean Williams, a sports historian, adds: A lot of people think that Pozzo gives in to the government and goes along with it rather than challenging it.
“It was very difficult to avoid, unless you were going to leave the country, in the same way that many young men would have joined the Hitler Youth in Nazi Germany because it was essentially their version of the boy scouts.”
Dr. Alexandrou concurs: Pozzo loved football and had to survive under that regime, but I don’t think he had much time for politics or even the fascists. He did what he believed he needed to do to finish the work he needed to do, which was to make due.”
After Mussolini’s fascist government took power in 1922, it quickly realized the value of a strong connection to football. As the country became a dictatorship, the government’s involvement with Italy’s national game grew.
In order to give the sport the best chance of success on the international stage, money was poured into it. In 1929, Serie A was reorganized to help develop players who could compete at the highest level and create stronger competition.
The Italian Football Federation’s head was appointed by military general Giorgio Vaccaro. Pozzo, on the other hand, was the face of the national team.
Italy were World Cup has in 1934. The country’s rulers thought it was critical that they win because it would show the rest of the world a modern, assertive nation and reaffirm fascism’s strong nationalist values.
There were also rumors of foul play, with Mussolini allegedly meeting with tournament referees the night before key matches. Although a combination of Pozzo’s tactical approach and a fervent home crowd would help Italy win the tournament, there were also rumors of foul play.
Opponents lamented that officials were lenient toward the Azzurri’s physicality, despite the fact that there was never any evidence of corruption. In a heated quarterfinal replay, Italy edged past Spain, and Swiss referee Rene Mercet was even suspended by his own football association for making a number of controversial decisions.
There was no doubt that Pozzo’s tactical ingenuity had an effect, despite the accusations. In five games, the Italians only gave up three goals, which is impressive considering how few goals were scored at the time. They were able to stand taller against the popular 2-3-5 formation thanks to the coach’s preference for playing with four defenders and a holding midfielder.
Williams provides the following explanation: “We start to see the beginnings of the catenaccio defence where the centre-half is a kind of stopper.”
“Under Pozzo, the midfield became more important, with a holding midfielder and an attacking midfielder, or inside rights and lefts, as they were referred to in those days,” the author explains. “Instead of a centre-half being the one who spreads the ball around,”
Pozzo could in one more sense at any point be viewed as a progenitor to the cutting edge worldwide director in his emphasis in having full command over group choice. Many national teams had been selected by appointed committees in the past, but Pozzo said that the coach should take responsibility, as Sir Alf Ramsey did when he was manager of England in 1963.
As a result, Pozzo was able to enlist the assistance of the oriundi, Italian-born foreigners, to bolster his side’s ranks. Inside that diaspora, he called up Luis Monti, who had played in the 1930 World Cup last for Argentina, and Raimundo Orsi, another previous Argentina player who might score for Italy in the 1934 last, a 2-1 triumph over Czechoslovakia.
The possibility of forming a more powerful national side swayed the discussion in Pozzo’s favor, despite the fact that this was not widely accepted by the fascist regime. His new-look side were efficient, treated matches like fights and would persevere relentlessly to win. Strong nationalistic messages dotted the training camps, and the squad was treated almost like soldiers during exercises like marches through the woods.
In the subsequent four years, Pozzo developed his strategy further, guiding Italy to victory at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and becoming the first manager to win the World Cup in France in 1938.
In their first match of the tournament against Norway in Marseille, Pozzo and his players held a fascist salute in defiance of a vociferous anti-Italian crowd and refused to lower their arms until the jeers subsided. The noise returned when they lowered their salute, and Pozzo yelled for them to raise their arms once more.
The Azzurri switched from their usual blue shirts to play in all black rather than their second color, white, on orders from above as they advanced through the tournament, and a quarterfinal matchup with hosts France only increased the political tension.
Giuseppe Meazza’s growing influence in the center of Pozzo’s carefully constructed midfield gave Italy a little more creativity to go along with their influence. The captain played a crucial role in the holders’ 3-1 victory over France; He then converted a penalty to win the semi-final match against Brazil; In the final, he set up forwards Luigi Colaussi and Silvio Piola, who scored twice each to help Italy defeat Hungary 4-2.
There is a legend that Mussolini sent the team a telegram with the words “win or die” on the eve of the final to emphasize the significance of their second World Cup victory in a row. It’s a detail that hasn’t been proven in any way.
But Pozzo’s World Cup story would come to an end as a result. The tournament did not resume until 1950 due to the outbreak of World War II, at which point he had been relieved of his duties. Because of his connections to the now-defunct fascist government, he was also barred from playing football in Italy.
After that, Pozzo went on to become a respected journalist who covered the Italian national team for the daily newspaper La Stampa, but he never got back in the dugout. He passed away at age 82 in December 1968.