Catenaccio is the dreaded Italian defensive system or formation which terrorised and dominated football world in the sixties. It was born in Seria A, though we can find its roots in the style of Austrian Coach Karl Rappen and then the legendary Nereo Rocco , it’s greatest employer and brain stormer was Helenio Herrera with his majestic Inter Milan side, “Grande Inter”, who ruled Club football in the sixties.
Catenaccio of Rocco or its predecessor, the verrou or doorbolt/chain was a typical 1-3-3-3 formation with three flat defenders, and an asymmetric hexagonal midfield and attack. Though stated as 1-3-3-3, in those times when there was no positional play, fluid inter movements or pressing like modern times, it was often four to five defenders in defence and four to five players in attack. It was a strict man marking system suited to nullify the WM formation which was prevalent at that time.
Now let’s go to the man with whom Catenaccio is eternally connected, Helenio Herrera. After a successful spell at Barcelona, he went to Inter and had a timid start due to defensive frailties. One day he was travelling besides the beach when he saw a fisherman catching fish with his net. He noticed some fishes are escaping the net and wondered if those escaping fishes could be caught with another net below the main net. Thus the idea of the most notorious defensive system in history was born.
Herrera’s team formation was a 1-4-3-2 or a 5-3-2 in modern sense, but it brought forward the idea of a “libero” or “sweeper”, Picchi being the sweeper of his team and perhaps the most famous one in Seria A history apart from Baresi. He nullified the WM by pitting 4 defenders, two centre backs and two half backs or full backs in modern term. He gave license to his full backs in Facchetti and Burgnich to bomb forward to join in attack with Facchetti often scoring in double digits a season, unthinkable for a defender even today. He also moved the withdrawn striker role, deeper in the midfield, and thus the modern “regista” position was born in Europe and Seria A. His team was the first European side to give emphasis on team structure and the first great counter attacking side was born. Inter counter attacked using Facchetti, Suarez, Jair, Corso and Mazolla. They defended in packs with Picchi acting as the auxiliary net to clear up any attack getting passed their man marking back three or back four . the great Hungarian side was the predecessor of the Total Football and the Dutch school and the Grande Inter was the father of the Herrera school or Italian system of football.
The reason Catenaccio was so despised upon was the extremely dark and physical defending, to go to any means to win a match, be it fair or unfair, but nobody can deny, it was a fantastic tactical system which revolutionised football in its day, introduced the roles of the sweeper, regista and wingbacks (albeit not like modern positions, but their predecessor) and was extremely successful. The Seria A is still dominated by modern versions of the Catenaccio in the form of 5-3-2 and 3-5-2 and Managers like Maldini, Vicini , Zoff, Prandelli and now Conte and Mourinho as the modern exponents of the Helenio Herrera school of football.Who would have thought that an entire branch or sect of football throughout half a decade will be inspired by a fisherman.