Giovanni Trapattoni played the diplomat as he and his Republic of Ireland players were honoured at a civic reception in Montecatini this evening.
The 73-year-old, who was welcomed to the Tuscan spa town’s Stabilimento Tettuccio by the current Miss Italy, Stefania Bivone, will lead his adopted nation into Euro 2012 battle against his native country in the final round of games in Group C next month.
But he told an audience of local dignitaries, including Irish ambassador Patrick Hennessy, and invited guests he would be making no predictions as to the result.
Trapattoni said: “Italians must be very jealous because there’s a town in Italy that has been painted in green and even Miss Italy, who is the symbol of Italy, is actually here on the side of the Irish.
“I often compare the Irish and Ireland to the town where I grew up. I always give merits whoever deserves them.
“I’m not going to say let the better team win. I’m just going to say, ’Let’s be competitive’.”
Montecatini has laid on a warm welcome for their visitors with many shops decked out in their colours for what has been declared ’Irish Week’.
The Italians are also preparing for the tournament in Tuscany, where their Coverciano base was today visited by police investigating new allegations of match-fixing.
Trapattoni chose Montecatini having used the facilities on several occasions in the past, but admitted he did not expect to have his former player Cesare Prandelli’s side so close by.
He said: “We chose Montecatini not knowing Italy would be nextdoor, but we will continue to focus on our work because we think we can be very competitive and play against any team.”
Trapattoni, of course, was born on St Patrick’s Day, although he told guests even he cannot rely on divine intervention.
He said: “When John Delaney, the chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland, came to me, I asked him if he chose me because I was born on St Patrick’s Day.
“I told him straight away, ’I don’t do miracles – only the players can do miracles’.”
Delaney said: “People often talk about the luck of the Irish – we are lucky to have Giovanni Trapattoni with us and we are lucky to be in such a beautiful town.
“Giovanni always says the Irish and the Italians have a lot in common. He feels at home in Ireland and we also feel very welcome here.
“We know that Giovanni likes Montecatini. He has been here many times and one of the reasons he has chosen to come here is that the town has always brought him good luck and success.
“Of course, we hope this trend will continue and we hope we will have a successful tournament at Euro 2012.”
Trapattoni and his players were formally welcomed to Montecatini by Mayor Giuseppe Bellandi, who said: “We are lucky that the coach of the Irish team - we call him ’Mister’ – is a beloved man in Italian sport and in sport in general.
“He is a unique person. We offer you what we have, which is art, culture and health – and we also have Miss Italy, who has honoured us here today with her presence, and she is a lovely sweet girl.”
Referring to the forthcoming game between the two nations, he added: “You bring the beer and we will bring the wine and whoever loses, we will get drunk together.”