MILAN • A Ferrari with an empty tank makes it nothing more than a lemon. And, right now, the Italy national football team are more like a Fiat.
That was the withering assessment of former manager Arrigo Sacchi, slamming striker Mario Balotelli and Roberto Mancini's men for lacking "intelligence" as Italy struggled to a 1-1 draw against Poland in their Nations League opener in Bologna on Friday.
"Everyone has a car, but to get it moving, you need petrol," Sacchi, who led the Azzurri to the runners-up spot at the 1994 World Cup, told Italy's Radio Deejay in an interview on Saturday. "And, in football, petrol is intelligence, passion, professionalism.
"Football is a collective sport and intelligence matters more than the feet. So first, I would choose players who have intelligence.
Balotelli was heavily criticised for his lacklustre performance in what was only his third international game after a four-year exile and the former AC Milan manager, who led the Serie A club to back-to-back European Cup crowns in 1989 and 1990, did not pull any punches.
"When Balotelli wanders around by himself and doesn't even attempt to stick to the plan, what are you supposed to say to him?" Sacchi said.
The Nice forward, who is struggling for full fitness, is a doubt for Italy's second Nations League game against Portugal today, but Sacchi wants new coach Mancini to focus on the team and not individuals.
TEAM OVER INDIVIDUAL
Let's just say that having the concept of team spirit is a strong start to making you a worthy person.
ARRIGO SACCHI, Italy's coach at the 1994 World Cup where they lost to Brazil in the final on penalties, on picking committed players.
"Let's just say that having the concept of team spirit is a strong start to making you a worthy person," he added.
But Alessandro Costacurta, the Italian Football Federation vice-commissioner, believes former Manchester City boss Mancini, who was appointed in May, is doing his best to pull Italy out of the doldrums and urged Balotelli's team-mates to step up their game.
"Since Roberto arrived, there has been growing enthusiasm and he brought a great breath of fresh air after a difficult period," he said.
"Everyone must have more courage to perhaps give Balotelli better service and then he can deliver the goals."
Mancini is also hoping that a switch in personnel and tactics will help his side to rise to the occasion in Lisbon.
"I will change a few players compared to the game against Poland, and we could change the playing system too," he said.
"We have to rediscover the performance of the second half in Bologna and earn a better result in Portugal. We need to win games to restore morale within the team and among our fans."
While Portugal will be shorn of star forward Cristiano Ronaldo, who was not called up, with manager Fernando Santos saying he needed to rest, the European champions are still preparing for their Nations League campaign opener with the utmost professionalism.
"We look at the Nations League with total commitment. We will not look at this as a minor competition," he added. "This is also the beginning of a new cycle, a cycle that ends at Euro 2020, where we will defend our title so we have to be prepared for it."