On this day in 1919 a man by the name of Ferruccio Valcareggi was born in Trieste. He became a Serie A football player but also the Italian national team coach between 1966 and 1974.
His claim to fame? Valcareggi was the man that put La Nazionale back on the map after the disastrous World Cup of 1966.
‘Zio Uccio’, as he was sometimes known, had a modest playing career that spanned 15 years. His major achievement being a Coppa Italia victory whilst at Bologna in 1946. He also featured for Fiorentina, having been signed by the Viola whilst he was on his military service in 1940.
Bizarrely, with World War 2 bringing about the suspension of the league, the sport was still played but on a regional level. In 1943, Valcareggi temporarily turned out for AC Milan and played in the derby match against Inter in front of a packed stadium. With the game in full swing, the sudden sound of air raid sirens filled the arena to signal an imminent bombardment.
However, the calcio-crazy fans ignored the warnings and the the game continued with Valcareggi’s Rossoneri side going on to win, earning himself a 650 lira bonus.
On his return to Florence, he received the news that he was to be sold to Bologna to clear debts amassed by his club Fiorentina.
But his career as a coach is what really makes Valcareggi a legend of calcio.
Having ended his playing days, he became coach at Piombino in Serie C but quickly moved up the ladder running Prato, Atalanta and then to Fiorentina where he had spent time as a player. Back at his old club results were not very promising and it ended with his one and only sacking in 1964.
However in 1966, Italian football president Artemio Franchi who had been impressed Valcareggi, asked if he would join the national team set-up as number two to current head coach Edmondo Fabbri. Valcareggi accepted and was part of the Italy squad that went to England for the World Cup.
It was a terrible time for the Italians though, who became instantly infamous for that fateful 1–0 defeat to North Korea that saw the Azzurri eliminated in the first round.
The following day, after the sacking of Fabbri and the rotten fruit thrown at the players, Valcareggi took over at the helm and was asked to rebuild the pride and stature of a nation that had been humiliated at the hands of Korean part timers.
And in 1968 he did just that, as Italy became European Champions, defeating Yugoslavia in the final after a replay. Back then, there were no penalty shootouts and after a 1–1 draw, the Italians won the second match with goals from Gigi Riva and Pietro Anastasi.
In 1970, he took his side to Mexico for the World Cup and forever cemented his name in history by finishing runners-up to arguably the greatest national side to ever play football, Pele’s Brazil.
The tournament was a roller coaster ride for Valcareggi with plenty of highs and lows. The eternal dual between Gianni Rivera and Sandro Mazzola for a starting shirt, the incredible 4–3 extra-time victory over West Germany and his limited use of Italy’s golden boy, Gianni Rivera, who only saw six minutes of action during the heavy 4–1 defeat in the final.
On his return to the Peninsula he surprisingly received huge criticism for the loss and needed a police escort from the airport. But despite this, the Italian federation was happy with his performance and he remained in post. Results remained good and in 1973 the Azzurri went 11 games without conceding a goal, including their first ever victory over the 1966 World Champions, England.
The outlook was bright for the start of the World Cup in 1974 but ultimately ended in disaster, as Italy were knocked out in the first group phase. An altercation between Valcareggi and striker Giorgio Chinaglia, who didn’t take kindly to being substituted during the 3–1 win over Haiti, soured the mood in the camp and defeat to Poland sent La Nazionale back home.
Valcareggi had decided that this was his lot and resigned as coach. Many tried to change his mind, including famous film-maker Mario Cecchi Gori, but his mind was made and on June 25 1974 he informed president Franchi that he was leaving his role.
He returned to club football in 1975, leading Verona for three seasons as well as a stint at Roma, helping them avoid relegation. 1979 saw Valcareggi once again re-unite with the Azzurri set-up, this time as coach of the Italy B team and was credited with launching the fledgling international career of Gianluca Vialli.
One final season with Fiorentina in 1984-85 was the last of Valcareggi’s coaching assignments before ending his years as the head of youth development at ‘Settignanese’ football academy, very close to the Italian football headquarters at Coverciano.
The academy went on to rename itself after Valcareggi when he died in 2005.
In 2011 his achievements were officially recognised, as he entered the Italian Football Hall of Fame.
Having dedicated his entire life to the sport and for lifting the country from the embarrassment and depression which engulfed the Peninsula after 1966, Ferruccio Valcareggi is without doubt a ‘Legend of Calcio’.