Italy’s Catenaccio: If They Can’t Score, They Can’t Win

Fabio Cannavaro, the only defender to ever win the Ballon D’or By Mohammad Hassanzadeh [CC BY 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

by Andrew Jordan

Most nations’ football philosophies are concerned with producing goals on offense. In Italy it is the opposite. For the Italians, defense is the key to success. Instead of seeking to produce goals, the main objective is to prevent them. The hyper-defensive Italian style of play has come to be known as catenaccio which means “door bolt” in Italian. This strategy is not native to Italy. It was first implemented by Austrian coach, Karl Rappan coaching a Swiss team in the 1930s. However, it caught on like wildfire in Italy after Helenio Herrera used it to lead Inter Milano to a handful of Serie A Championship in the 1960s (“Cantenaccio Style Football).

Catenaccio bolstered defenses by man-marking attacking players and trading in a midfielder for a sweeper, or libero, who played behind everyone. Man marking helped lessen the effect of standout star players and the libero’s job was to play deep on defense, clean up any loose balls, and assist in marking a striker who broke free. Despite the heavy emphasis on defense, catenaccio is also very conducive to counter-attacking with defenders playing a significant role. The libero, or sweeper, can jump start the offense by playing long balls from the defensive half to open players downfield. The fullback, or wing defender, also moves downfield on the counter-attack and can even score the occasional goal. The strategy for a squad playing catenaccio is to focus on defense and then get a quick goal off a counter attack. This led to many 1-0 victories in Italian Serie A matches (“Catenaccio Style Football”). Thanks to catenaccio, Italy is world-renowned for producing some of the greatest defenders the world has ever seen, including the only defender to win the Balloon D’Or, Fabio Cannavaro (Wilkinson).

Even though Italy ended up losing that final, Franco Baresi demonstrates all of the skill and aggression of a true Italian defender.

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How to Cite this page: “Italy’s Catenaccio: If They Can’t Score, They Can’t Win”, Written by Andrew Jordan(2016). Olympic Football 2016 Guide, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University,…re-they-cant-win/, (accessed on (date)).