Serie A’s overachievers this season all have one thing in common and it should serve as an example to other clubs, says Richard Thomas.
By the time the average Italian football Coach reaches a certain age, his CV would seem to resemble a list of stops on a particularly long, arduous and confusing train journey rather than an account of his actual footballing accomplishments.
Take Udinese’s Francesco Guidolin, for example. His particular voyage departed from Giorgione in 1988 and briefly called at Treviso, Fanno, Empoli, Ravenna and Atalanta before a lengthier stopover at Vicenza. Udinese, Bologna, Palermo, Genoa and Monaco then preceded a farcical two-year period during which he was flagged back in, then waved away again, three times by whistle-happy Rosanero conductor Maurizio Zamparini.
The locomotive of the 58-year-old’s career appeared to have ground to a confusion-induced halt in Sicily, but it eventually got back on the right track and headed for Parma before pulling back into another old haunt, Udinese, where it has remained ever since. Will that be his final destination though?
In his 26 years as a senior Coach, Guidolin has had a whopping 17 jobs. His nomadic career is an example of the norm rather than the exception in Italy and casts light on an almost laughable lack of forward thinking and perspective that many clubs have to this day. The most recent example of this was Sassuolo’s decision this month to reappoint Eusebio Di Francesco less than two months after sacking and replacing him with Alberto Malesani. If Di Francesco wasn’t the man to keep the Neroverdi up in January, why is he now? The logic behind the whole saga seems at best extremely flawed and at worst completely non-existent.
Perhaps some Presidents around the peninsula are finally starting to see sense, though. Guidolin is heading towards his four-year anniversary at the helm in Udine where, despite a slightly underwhelming season this time around, he has done a fine job overall. With limited resources, he has twice gained Champions League qualification and won the prestigious Panchina d’Oro in 2011 as recognition for his efforts. Perhaps if Zamparini had allowed Guidolin the time and space to do his job properly at Palermo it would have been them who reaped those rewards. Instead, they are currently fighting to get out of Serie B.
It is no coincidence that all of Serie A’s other surprise packages this season have had their Coaches in place for a considerable amount of time too. Stefano Colantuono arrived at Atalanta in 2010 and has made La Dea a firm fixture in Italy’s top flight again. They currently sit seventh and look set for a top half finish at the very least this season. “It’s strange in today’s game,” he admitted when asked about his ‘long’ tenure so far. “But I want to build something important here with players I know inside out.”
It’s a similar story at Verona, who are still having an excellent season despite their recent slump and have had Andrea Mandorlini in place for four years. Giampiero Ventura has been at Torino for three and has the mid-table Granata playing with skill and flair following promotion in 2012. Though Parma, perhaps the biggest overachievers of the lot, only appointed Roberto Donadoni in 2012, they too have a clear long term plan for stability. “The youth academy’s results are showing that we are doing our jobs well,” President Tommaso Ghirardi recently said. “We have built a medical rehabilitation centre and a club house that allows the players to eat and sleep in the same place. I think even that has played a part in helping us produce good players.”
By contrast, anarchy reigns supreme at the bottom and Chievo are incredibly the only one of the League’s lowest five placed clubs not to have changed their Coach at least once since the start of 2014. They, incidentally, look the best placed of the relegation contenders to avoid the drop. Sassuolo on the other hand look set for a return to the second tier following a shambolic couple of months.
If ever there were a season that so clearly demonstrated the benefits of long term forward planning over looking for short term quick fixes, it is this one. As the end of the season approaches and club Presidents around the country rack their brains wondering what has gone wrong over the last eight months, they would be well served to look at just how the likes of Atalanta, Udinese, Torino, Verona and Parma put foundations in place to become greater than the sum of their parts. That means you too, Silvio.