Let’s see a show of hands on who believed Gennaro Gattuso would become a top-level coach? There can’t be many. From the outside, Gattuso’s snarling, full-blooded personality that epitomised his playing career didn’t exactly scream a potential coach with tactical intelligence. Yet much in the same vein in which Simone Inzaghi has confounded critics in his four-year spell at Lazio, so has Gattuso.
It’s fair to say that Gattuso is somewhat underestimated as a coach. It was a theme that Antonio Conte touched upon before Inter’s game against Napoli earlier this month. “I think his achievements at Milan were underestimated,” said Conte. “I have great respect for him, because he worked abroad and also in Serie C, which not every coach is willing to do.”
Gattuso’s 18-month stint in charge of the Rossoneri really is a case of the old adage ‘you don’t know what you have until it’s gone’, especially in light of the disastrous Marco Giampaolo reign that lasted all of seven games at the beginning of this season.
Gattuso took a Milan side desperately short on experience to within a single point of Champions League football last season. Whilst his iteration of the Rossoneri didn’t play the most exhilarating football in Serie A, they were a solid unit: compact, organised, stubborn and effective. A team much in the image of their coach as a player for the same club.
An over-reliance on specific individuals, namely Suso and Hakan Calhanoglu, to create chances was arguably Gattuso’s downfall. In the end it cost him points, and the top four finish that the club’s new owners demanded.
Yet what has happened to the club this season has made some fans pine for the days of Gattuso’s dull-but-cohesive team. Milan’s troubles, with what is essentially the same squad that Gattuso inherited, retrospectively raised his coinage. There’s a growing appreciation for the work he carried out at the club where he made his name as a player.
Gattuso has endured a rough start as Napoli coach, equalling Zdenek Zeman’s 2000-01 record of four defeats in his opening five games, however he masterminded two victories against Lazio and Juve inside a week, and slowly looks to be lifting the sinking Neapolitan ship, or at least plugging holes to stop it from going under.
Much in the same vein as his Milan side, Gattuso is attempting to mould Napoli into a solid, cohesive unit, completely dismantling the last dying rays of the swashbuckling Maurizio Sarri era. Gattuso’s Napoli will be functional, hard-working, full of grit and running. Remind you of anyone?
Gattuso is gradually proving the naysayers - who believed that the 42-year-old was nothing more than a motivational coach – wrong. Recent reports suggest that the wins against Lazio and Juve convinced President Aurelio De Laurentiis to keep faith with Rino, even past this season.
Gattuso will now get the chance to showcase his tactical nous and build on a burgeoning reputation in the Italian game, and to prove once and for all that he isn’t just a barking-style coach, but that he has all the necessary tools to succeed at the highest level.
It would be foolish to bet against him.