Italy’s Catenaccio: Modern Implementation and Critiques

The stern face of defensive mastermind Jose Mourinho. By Aleksandr Osipov (José Mourinho) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

by Andrew Jordan

The prowess of true Catenaccio football was undeniable, but short lived. Its Kryptonite: total football. The Dutch strategy of having players constantly switch positions and move all over the pitch rendered man-marking obsolete. The defensive masterminds of Inter Milano and AC Milano fell to the total football of Ajax two years in a row in interleague play. These crushing defeats spelled the end of catenaccio as it was known (“Catenaccio Style Football”). However, Italy never truly gave up its love of defense. They developed the “Zona Mista” system which is a fluid mixture between zone and man defending. This new defensive approach helped produce World Cup victories in 1982 and 2006 (“Italian Soccer).

Despite it’s success, ultra-defensive football has had its fair share of criticisms. Many consider it to be a form of anti-football that only wins because the defensive team doesn’t have the talent play a more attacking style. It has even been referred to has cowardly and weak (Wilkinson). Jose Mourinho, manager of Inter, is a strong proponent of having an airtight defense and relying on counter-attacks to create goals and a modern torch-carrier of catenaccio. Mourinho prioritizes winning over aesthetics, and his defensive style has earned him championships in the Barclays Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, and UEFA Champions League. Despite being considered to be the greatest manager of all time, Mourinho has received more than his fair share of flack for using a defensive style of football (Reuters).

The Jekyll to Mourinho’s Hyde, Arrigo Sacchi believes that Italy and Serie clubs need to start playing a more attacking form of football. Arrigo coached AC Milan for four years, and won two European Cups and a Serie A title between 1987 and 1991. Arrigo denounces catenaccio has being ancient, lacking beauty, and focused solely upon winning matches. Sacchi’s arguments have merit. Of the four major football leagues in Europe, Serie A consistently has the lowest viewership ratings. Fans love watching goals, and hyper defensive play seeks to prevent what many go to soccer games to see (Wilkinson). In addition, a new crop of young playmakers and strikers like Mario Balotelli, Ciro Immobile, and Lorenzo Isigne are driving the Italian national team to adopt a more offensive playmaking strategy (Dhar). Nonetheless, catenaccio established Italy as a defensive superpower and they still produce the best defenders in the world. Defense is imprinted in the football DNA of the nation and we should expect to see high quality defense from the Italians for years to come.

The high-powered offense of Arrigo Sacchi was a far cry from the stereotypical Italian strategy.

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How to Cite this page: “Italy’s Catenaccio: Modern Implementation and Critiques”, Written by Andrew Jordan(2016). Olympic Football 2016 Guide, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University,…ion-and-ctriques/, (accessed on (date)).