Italy coach shows softer side in ethics clampdown
A hasty punch may have cost Mattia Destro his place in Italy's World Cup squad under coach Cesare Prandelli's code of ethics campaign. But then again maybe not.
Prandelli, who comes across as a hard man for rules, remains a master of pragmatism in applying his code of conduct.
Roma striker Destro scored a hat-trick against Cagliari but was then caught in a video playback punching opposing defender Davide Astori. He was suspended for three matches and missed Prandelli's fitness tests for 42 players last week.
"Even in the last month of the season, whoever slips up stays at home because it means he won't be able to handle the pressure of the World Cup," Prandelli said.
"I'm sick of seeing certain attitudes. National team players must be strong enough not to allow themselves to react to provocation."
Destro's moment of madness appeared to be a fatal blow in the battle with Torino rival Ciro Immobile for a place in the 23 man World Cup squad.
Immobile, Serie A's top scorer on 19 goals, is long believed to have had the edge over his Roma counterpart in grabbing Prandelli's attention.
But Prandelli always keeps his options open. The Italian coach has shown his softer side applying his code with temperamental stars Mario Balatelli, Daniele de Rossi, both prone to a red card but who should still be on the plane to Brazil.
Italy will need every footballing weapon when they start World Cup Group D against England in Manaus on June 14.
Prandelli says his code has always been a pillar of his selection policy: "The code of ethics is part of our rules. From the first day of the season, if I have seen something that I deem inappropriate, I will not call up that player."
Prandelli has been clear in stating that the code does not apply to players' off-the-pitch pecadilloes. "I do not care about their private lives," he said.
Both Roma midfielder De Rossi and AC Milan striker Balotelli have served three match bans this year, but remain part of Prandelli's pre-World Cup squad.
Balotelli was banned in September for "insulting and intimidating" a referee.
De Rossi -- who has always had a problem with on the field discipline and served a four match ban at the 2006 World Cup finals for elbowing USA striker Denis McBride but returned to play in the final against France -- punched Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi in March and got the same punishment.
Asked last week why Balotelli -- whose 13 yellow cards with AC Milan this season is close to his goal tally -- was still part of his squad, Prandelli replied: "He had already sat out a three-match ban. He's served his punishment and afterwards was free to be called up."
Prandelli omitted De Rossi from his squad for a friendly against Spain in March.
"I saw what happened with De Rossi on television and decided," Prandelli said getting tough. "I don't want any untoward incidents occurring in Brazil, so this has to serve as a warning."
But like Balotelli, De Rossi has since returned to the fray. And Italy would arguably be weaker without them.
Prandelli, who succeeded Marcello Lippi after Italy's first round exit from 2010 World Cup in South Africa, is backed by the Italian Football Federation in applying his code.
The federation is also backing the 56-year-old coach who against all odds took Italy to the final of the 2012 European Championship where they lost 4-0 to Spain. Prandelli has signed a two-year extension to his contract that will take him up to the Euro 2016 finals.
In the month before he announces a squad of 30 for the World Cup on May 13, Prandelli is still showing his pragmatism.
Veterans such as Francesco Totti, Luca Toni and Antonio Di Natalie have been told they will not be going to Brazil but he is leaving the door open to Destro, at least in public.
"There's no truth to the suggestion that they both can't be in Brazil," he said of Destro and Immobile.