It’s a lot less bovver with a hover
THE reach of Albion’s influence on international football is long and well known. From the many Throstles who have represented club and country with distinction, to those like Vic Buckingham who have taken the footballing gospel overseas, and those who have had a huge impact as coaches of national teams, such as Sir Bobby Robson and Don Howe.
That latter route is one taken by a man who had just 15 minutes of fame in the stripes, but who subsequently went on to bigger and better things with the likes of Genoa, Napoli and Parma, as well as the Italian national side. Mario Bortolazzi, for it is he of whom we speak, spent the better part of two years at the side of Roberto Donadoni, as the assistant to the manager of the Italian team, going on to hold that brief for the then world champions at Euro 2008.
And all this from a fella who came to the Black Country merely as minder to the young Enzo Maresca and who spent a year in the midlands without ever getting the hang of the lawnmower. It’s a long story. As was the grass in the finish...
But we digress. As a footballer, there was a certain Italian finesse and elegance to Mario, even if he did come to The Hawthorns towards the end of his career, having left his best football on the playing fields of Serie A, most notably the San Siro in two spells with Milan.
Nonetheless, he was still a tidy, cultured player in the Albion midfield, a midfield that took on a remarkably cosmopolitan look that year with Mario’s compatriot Maresca, the Dutch master, Richard Sneekes and the all round renaissance man, Sean Flynn.
In spite of a string of niggling injuries that hampered him and restricted his contribution to the cause, in the course of that 1998/99 campaign, Mario mustered 25 league starts and 10 more substitute appearances.
He registered two goals for the Throstles, the first the meat in a Sean Murphy / Lee Hughes sandwich as we beat Port Vale 3-2 on Boxing Day 1998, the second coming just three weeks later, giving us the lead at Carrow Road before Norwich grabbed a 1-1 draw.
With Maresca acclimatised and increasingly taking Mario’s starting place in the team, Bortolazzi returned home in the summer of 1999, playing for Livorno where he later started his coaching career, before heading into the national sphere.
Italy were certainly cursed with ill fortune at that Euro 2008 tournament, first losing Fabio Cannavaro to injury before a ball was kicked, then, as they progressed to the knockout stages, losing the holy San Andrea Pirlo and slightly less wholesome Gennaro Gattuso to suspension. That led to Donadoni and his think tank abandoning the more attack minded instincts that have been part of Italy’s evolution in the previous two years, opting for a defensive policy that saw them to a penalty shootout with Spain which was lost.
A missed penalty kick saw Donadoni and his team swept out of office for the return of Marcello Lippi, the coach who won the World Cup with Italy in 2006.
Maybe Mario should have got his boots out again, for he still hasd the touch as a player, exporting an Albion game to training sessions with the Azzurri. In training sessions at Euro 2008, the Italians played a variant on the football bowls game in which Joe Corrigan once reigned supreme at The Hawthorns, Mario regularly coming out on top against the likes of Antonio Cassano.
You can take the boy out of the Albion, but you can’t take the Albion out of the boy...