Google+ Blueprint for Football: Why Italian Coaches Continue To Excel

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Why Italian Coaches Continue To Excel

If there is a big difference in the mentality of Italian coaches from that of the rest of Europe (especially non-Latin countries), it emerges from a quick search about why Italian managers are so sought after.  One of the top results in that search leads to a thesis that discusses what is to be learned from being dismissed from a job. 

Whereas in England a manager's dismissal is seen as a failure on the manager's part (and a burden that he will have to carry for throughout the rest of his career) in Italy there is a different attitude.  Instead, given that the sporting director who wieds most of the power, whenever a manager is sacked it is the whole project that is considered as having failed.  In other words it isn't the individual who is seen as being 'a bad manager' but rather that he was 'a bad manager for that particular job'.

Whilst this might seem like a detail, the distinction is quite significant.  It provides managers with greater freedom to fail without risking their reputation to any huge extent.   Naturally opportunities are not unlimited and someone who is constantly failing will find himself running out of options.  In general, however, if a manager gains a good enough reputation they will keep getting  opportunities.

Carlo Ancelotti, for instance, was sacked by Juventus before going on to achieve incredible success with AC Milan.  Massimiliano Allegri made the opposite journey when Milan decided that he no longer fit what they wanted to achieve.  Could you imagine a top English side doing likewise?

In fact if you look at the history of top Italian managers you will see that most of them will have experienced at least one dismissal in their career.  Every manager knows to expect this and as a result their actions aren't bound by the conservative and fearful attitude that is typical of those who work under the pressure that losing a job could effectively kill their career.

In his book “The Italian Job”, former Italy and Juventus striker (as well as an ex-Chelsea manager) Gianluca Vialli talks about this difference in mentality.  “Italian clubs are much more willing to recycle managers.  This is a positive and, I think, intelligent approach.  In football a good manager learns from his mistakes just as a good leader anywhere, in any profession”.

The fact that Italian clubs still trust Italian managers above all else is an obvious, important and crucial distinction.  Last season there were only three foreign managers (Rudi Garcia, Sinisa Mihajlovic and Paolo Sousa).  All other clubs were coached by Italians.  Indeed, by the end of the season only one of that trio (Sousa) was still in the job.  
In England the situation was completely different.  Excluding the very brief caretaker spells of Alan Curtis, David Unsworth and Joe Royle, there were only six English manager throughout the whole season (Eddie Howe, Sam Allardyce, Tim Sherwood, Gary Monk, Alan Pardew and Steve McLaren) plus a further five from the British Isles (Brendan Rodgers, Eric Black, Tony Pulis, Mark Hughes and Alex Neil).  

Given that over the course of the season there were twenty seven managers at Premier League clubs, this translates to sixty percent of coaches being foreign compared to the mere eight percent in Italy (in total there were thirty six managers in the Serie A throughout the season).  It is easy to laugh off Allardyce’s claim that there could be no English managers in the Premier League "very shortly" but in all probability he is right.

The English case might be a rather extreme one yet it is also reflective of the absolute faith that Italians have of their coaches.  So much that it isn’t too unlikely to see a top club go for a manager who did well with a significantly smaller outfit.

Massimiliano Allegri, for instance, was at Cagliari before he joined AC Milan.  Mauricio Sarri who has done so well at Napoli had previously been in charge of minnows Empoli.  In fact most managers go through what is known as the “gavetta” meaning that they started in the lower leagues before gaining experience and moving up. 

It might be a dying idea even in England but in Italy the notion of having a player-manager is a wholly alien.  One does not simply move from playing to managing.  Instead they need to prove that they have their own ideas and way of doing things.  Their reputation as a player helps but to a very limited extent.

All of this breeds a managerial class that is not only extremely comfortable with the tactical side of things but who are also supremely confident in their abilities.  Any manager who has been through the sieve so many times will inevitably grow in their belief that they know what they’re doing.  They are also not unwilling to look back to any experience and what they should have done differently.  This allows them to develop what is known as a Growth Mindset; a way of thinking that allows one to take the positive out of any situation that they experience.

This is also reflected by the increasing desire of Italian coaches to travel abroad to work.  The language barrier might be tough on them but once they settle their value inevitably shines through.  And as more managers seek their fortunes overseas – and go on to achieve the kind of success that Luciano Spalletti, Claudio Ranieri and Carlo Ancelotti have achieved – then more will be encouraged to do so.

For a thorough examination of Italian football, Gianluca Vialli’s the Italian Job is probably the best read.  It provides an insight into the Italian way of thinking and why it is so unique (particularly when compared to English football).

Italians Do It Better
Italian football has lost some of the aura that surrounded it in the eighties and nineties yet Italian coaches are still highly sought after by foreign clubs.  Here are some who have excelled away from Il Bel Paese

Giovanni Trapattoni
The grand old man of Italian football may be nearing his eightieth birthday but he has lost none of his passion for the game.  Earlier this year he was on the verge of taking over as manager of the Ivory Coast before a terrorist attack there changed his mind.  A pity, not only because of the senseless deaths but also because it deprived the African nation from putting one of the game’s greatest strategists in charge.  Apart from his successes at Juventus and Inter, Trapattoni has won the league title in three countries outside of Italy (Germany with Bayern Munich, Portugal with Benfica and Austria with Salzburg).  Arguably his finest achievement, however, was with the Republic of Ireland who he led to the European championships of 2012.

Luciano Spalletti
A managerial career of constant progression reached its pinnacle between 2005 and 2009 when he was in charge of AS Roma.  Despite failing to win the league title during his time there (although he did win two Italian cups) he was still highly regarded for his tactical insight which saw him develop a system that could operate without a recognised striker.  When his time at Roma came to an end, he moved to Zenit St Petersburg in Russia where he won two league titles (2010 and 2012) as well as a Russian Cup (2011).

Carlo Ancelotti
One of the most successful managers in the history of the game, Ancelotti has proven that he can win in any country and, when Pep Guardiola announced that he was moving to Manchester City, Ancelotti was the obvious choice to replace him at Bayern Munich.  For all of that, he had a tough start to his managerial career.  Promotion to the Serie A wasn’t enough for Reggiana who replaced him after a season whilst Parma sacked him in spite of promotion to the Europa League.  His time at Juventus was equally disappointing – Juventus failed to win the league title – but he then get another opportunity at AC Milan which proved to be the making of him.  Two Champions League titles won there provided the launch pad for him to move to England (league and cup double with Chelsea), France (league title with Paris St. Germain) and Spain (Champions League with Real Madrid).

Claudio Ranieri
Another of the old school of Italian football managers, Ranieri has always been a tactically capable, charismatic and intelligent manager.  Now he can add the word ‘winning’ to the adjectives that apply to him after the dramatic and wholly unexpected Premier League title win with Leicester last season.  For years it will be remembered as one of the unlikeliest triumphs in the modern history of the game.  In the aftermath of that success a number of factors have been identified as the reasons for Leicester’s win – excellent identification of players, the explosion of the likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, lack of injuries – but the biggest factor has to be the manager who helped show the team a manner of playing that suited their abilities to perfection.

Gianni De Biasi
Undoubtedly the less known of those in this list, De Biasi rose to prominence in the first decade of this century first by getting Modena from the Serie C1 to the Serie A in two consecutive seasons and then by guiding Torino to the Serie A following their bankruptcy.  Nevertheless, his subsequent appointments all ended prematurely and he was forced to turn to punditry until Albania appointed him as their manager in 2011.  There he managed to transform the fortunes of the nation, guiding them to an unprecedented qualification to the European Championships.

If you enjoyed this piece then you might like Il Re Calcio, a short e-book published by the same author and which contains ten stories from Italian Football.  This can be found in e-book here (for US readers, go here).

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