Catenaccio is a tactical system in football with an emphasis on defence. In Italian catenaccio means "door-bolt" and it means a highly organized and effective backline defense which is intended to prevent goals.


The system was made famous by Argentine trainer Helenio Herrera of Inter Milan in the 1960s who used it to grind out 1–0 wins over opponents in their league games.

The Catenaccio was influenced by the verrou or "chain" system invented by Austrian coach Karl Rappan. As coach of Switzerland in the 1930s and 1940s, Rappan played a defensive sweeper called the verrouller who was highly defensive and was positioned just ahead of the goalkeeper. Nereo Rocco's Padova, in the 1950s, pioneered the system in Italy where it would be used again by the AC Milan team of the early 1960s.

Rappan's "verrou" system, proposed in 1932 when coach of Servette, was implemented with four fixed defenders, playing a strict man-to-man marking system, plus a playmaker in the middle of the field who played the ball together with two midfield wings.

Rocco's tactic, often referred to as the "real" catenaccio, was shown first in 1947 with Triestina: the most common mode of operation was a 1-3-3-3 formation with a strictly defensive team approach. With catenaccio, Triestina finished the Serie A tournament in a surprising second place. Some variations include 1-4-4-1 and 1-4-3-2 formations.

The key innovation of catenaccio was the introduction of the role of libero or sweeper, a player positioned behind the line of three defenders. The sweeper's role was to recover loose balls, nullify the opponent's striker and double-mark when necessary. Another important innovation was the counter-attack, mainly based on long passes from the defence.

In Herrera's version in the 1960s, four man-marking defenders were tightly assigned to each opposing attacker while an extra sweeper would pick up any loose ball that escaped the coverage of the defenders.

Over the years, the original catenaccio has been slowly abandoned for other, more balanced tactical approaches; in particular, the increasing popularity gained by an attacking-based approach like Total Football has contributed to make catenaccio a tactic of the past.

Catenaccio today

Real catenaccio is no longer used in the modern football world. Two major characteristics of this style—man-to-man marking and the libero position—are no longer in use. What many consider catenaccio is rather a hyper-defensive or retreat style of defending from teams, with rare forward movement. This hyper-defensive style is still commonly referred to as catenaccio. Nowadays, catenaccio is used mainly by weaker teams, in order to reduce any technical gap against stronger teams by showing a more physical approach to football. The slow disappearance of the role of sweepers in modern football has also contributed to the decline in its use.

The catenaccio system is often criticized for reducing the quality of football games as a spectacle. In certain parts of Europe, it became synonymous with negative football since the focus is so much upon defending.

One frequent mistake is to define catenaccio as any defensive tactical system used by a football team. This is actually untrue, because catenaccio is just one of the possible defensive tactics which can be used. Nowadays catenaccio is used less and less by top teams, and generally only under particular circumstances, such as when suffering from a numerical inferiority following a sending off, or when needing to defend a marginal scoreline until the end of the match.

Catenaccio is often thought to be commonplace in Italian football; however, it is actually used infrequently by Italian Serie A teams, who instead prefer to apply some other, more modern, tactical systems, like 4-4-2 and others. This does not apply to the Italian national football team, however. Italy's previous coaches, Cesare Maldini and Giovanni Trapattoni, used the catenaccio at international level, and both failed to reach the top. Italy, under Maldini, lost on penalties at the 1998 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals, while Trapattoni lost early in the second round at 2002 FIFA World Cup and lost at the 2004 European Football Championship during the first round, although after this, Trapattoni would apply catenaccio football successfully, securing a Portuguese Liga Title with SL Benfica. However, Dino Zoff employed it to good use for Italy, securing a place in the European Championship Final in 2000, which Italy only lost on the "golden goal" rule.

When Italy was reduced to 10 men in the fiftieth minute of the 2006 FIFA World Cup 2nd round match against Australia, coach Marcello Lippi changed the Italian's formation to a defensive orientation which caused the British newspaper The Guardian to note that "the timidity of Italy's approach had made it seem that Helenio Herrera, the high priest of catenaccio, had taken possession of the soul of Marcello Lippi". It should be noted, however, that the ten man team was playing with a 4-3-2 scheme, just a midfielder away from the regular 4-4-2.

However, after the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the media picked up the fact that modern football is becoming increasingly defensive: the number of goals scored in that World Cup was only 147 (an average of 2.297 per match), and the Golden Boot winner Miroslav Klose only scored five goals as opposed to the eight of the previous winner, Ronaldo. Additionally, the 2006 World Cup was the first not to feature any forwards in its official top three "Best Players".

See also


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