Italians already revel in their status as football's reigning World Cup winners. One of their greatest clubs, AC Milan, are European champions and could be crowned winners of the Club World Cup on Sunday. So the idea that one of its own will "teach football to the country which invented it" was enough yesterday for Italy to unleash an outpouring of national pride.
The Football Association yesterday unveiled Fabio Capello, 61, the Italian whose cerebral manner and unbending will have earned him the sobriquets "the little professor" and "iron sergeant", as England's new manager. His lawyers thrashed out a 30-month contract which would make him the highest-paid international coach with a salary of at least £4m a year.
But while England fans picked over the details of Capello's past, ranging from his enviable nine league titles in Spain and Italy to his admiration for the organisational talents of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, his compatriots were trumpeting what they consider to be their greatest footballing triumph – the installation of an Italian in what is being portrayed as one Britain's great offices of state.
Excitement about the prospect of the former Real Madrid manager swapping his Milan mansion – and its reputed £10m art collection – for something suitably palatial in London was led by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, which said the move could spark a rapprochement in Anglo-Italian relations. It added: "The arrival of the 'Godfather' in the home of Big Ben could influence British opinion about Italy well beyond the world of football: to have one of us coaching the Three Lions is the equivalent of having an Italian in 10 Downing Street or Buckingham Palace – a cultural, not just a sporting, shock, for the country."
Another paper noted that it was an incomparable triumph "to go and teach football to the country which invented it". The elevation of Capello to the status of national treasure did not pass without the chance to take a dig at England's inability to produce its own candidate for a job that arguably attracts greater scrutiny and discussion than that of Prime Minister. Paolo Rossi, the hero of Italy's 1982 World Cup victory, who is now a television pundit, said: "All Italians should be proud. At a time when English football cannot throw up even one serious candidate to coach the national team, there were two Italians on the [FA's] shortlist." Marcello Lippi, manager of last year's World Cup winners and second on the list, said: "We have a quality of coaches here, even in our second and third divisions, that no other country can match."
Sergio Di Cesare, a former journalist responsible for international affairs at the Italian FA. said: "It is a source of immense pride for the whole Italian football system that England has chosen an Italian to rebuild its football at national level. Despite what [Jose] Mourinho might say, coaching England is every coach's dream."
Some Italian papers said they had detected a plot by the more rapacious elements of the British press to subject Capello to the remorseless scrutiny suffered by his predecessors, McClaren and Sven Goran Eriksson. But La Repubblica's Gianni Mura was adamant "Don Fabio" would not be fazed by the red-tops. He wrote: "It's unlikely someone like him will fall into reporters' traps like the gullible Eriksson."
But William Hill is already taking bets on how long it will be before Capello quits the job.
Graham Sharpe, a spokesman for the bookmaker, said: "It is a national pastime calculating how long the England manager will last and Capello does not seem to have stayed anywhere very long in recent years. We will probably be offering another bet on whether he will outlast McClaren."