Soccer-World-Prandelli a calming influence for drama-prone Italy

ROME, April 29 (Reuters) - Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has no time for the near-hysteria, conspiracy theories and negative football that have often been too close for comfort to the four-times world champions. In just under four years in charge, Prandelli has rebuilt the team from the ashes of the bitter 2010 World Cup failure and has turned Italy into a far more palatable, likeable outfit. The histrionics, gamesmanship and rough defending have been replaced by a more open, attacking game, even if it occasionally leaves them open to the sort of 4-0 hammering they suffered in the Euro 2012 final against Spain. One of Prandelli's first moves was to impose a new code of ethics on his team under which players would be dropped from the team if he felt they had set a bad example in club matches. Daniele De Rossi and Mario Balotelli have both fallen foul of Prandelli's rules and spent time on the sidelines, as has Dani Osvaldo, who missed last year's Confederations Cup after he publicly criticised his club coach at AS Roma. Yet at the same time Prandelli has managed to nurture the talents of so-called "difficult" players and he has repeatedly voiced his faith in Balotelli, saying the maverick striker "needs love". He also has not been afraid to call up "oriundi", foreign-born players such as Brazilian-born Thiago Motta and Argentine-born Osvaldo, whose selection is always a political hot potato. During Euro 2012, Prandelli became exasperated at media criticism for a team change he had not even made and refused to accept suggestions that Spain and Croatia would play out a draw to eliminate his side in the final round of group games. "At the end of the day, this is a simple game of football and football needs to bring happiness to people," he told his excitable countrymen. In the event, Spain beat Croatia and Italy went on to reach the final, far surpassing expectations. Before the same tournament, Prandelli said it would not be a problem for him if Italy had to withdraw because of its latest match-fixing scandal. PERSONAL TRAGEDY Prandelli has also taken the players to a prison in Florence and made the squad train in the heart of Calabria, on the new Rizziconi ground, which was built on land confiscated from the 'Ndrangheta (the Calabrian mafia). When second division defender Simone Farina from Gubbio turned down 200,000 euros ($274,300) to fix an Italian Cup match against Cesena, Prandelli praised his "courage and extraordinary inner strength" and invited him to train with the national side. Prandelli's own personal tragedy may have put it all into perspective. In 2007, his wife of 25 years died after an eight-year battle against cancer, an episode that moved the country. Prandelli had interrupted his coaching career to look after her, leaving AS Roma only days after signing for them in 2004. A former midfielder whose playing career included six seasons with Juventus and two stints at Atalanta, Prandelli made his name as a coach during five seasons with Fiorentina after previously coaching Atalanta's youth team, then Lecce, Verona and Parma. Having taken over in 2005, he guided the relegation strugglers to a fourth-place finish in 2006 and a place in the Champions League qualifying round, only for them to be docked 15 points in the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal. Undeterred, he succeeded in taking them to the Champions League twice in a row and by the time he accepted the Italy job in 2010, a year after being named Serie A's Coach of the Year, he had become the longest serving coach in Fiorentina's history. ($1 = 0.7291 Euros) (Reporting By Brian Homewood; Editing by John O'Brien and Mike Collett)