Luigi Simoni may have only won one major trophy as a coach, but his greatest achievement was getting the best out of Ronaldo at Inter.
Simoni, who died earlier today at the age of 81, will go down as a legendary figure in Italian football.
He won seven promotions to Serie A with five different clubs – Genoa, Pisa, Brescia, Cremonese and Ancona.
His work with smaller sides caught the attentions of Inter, who hired him in the summer of 1997.
It was on the blue half of San Siro that Gigi enjoyed his greatest success in management, finishing second in Serie A, winning the UEFA Cup and being named Italy’s coach of the season in 1997-98.
Simoni’s arrival coincided with that of Ronaldo, who signed from Barcelona for a then-world record €28m.
The Brazilian was given the freedom to strike fear into Serie A defences, scoring 25 goals in just 32 appearances.
Whereas tactical innovations have helped Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo flourish, none were needed for the Nerazzurri’s No 9.
“Ronaldo was our leader and we treated him as he deserved to be treated,” Simoni explained to Planet Football in January 2019.
“He was not a primadonna, but everybody knew he was special and that he could bring us to the top, so everybody supported him.
“There was not any kind of envy among the other players towards Ronaldo, also because he was so friendly: I never saw him blaming some teammates for a bad pass, he always was in a positive mood. He was a model for everybody in and outside the pitch.
“I never thought that all players should be managed in the same way if someone is special – and Ronaldo was exceptional.
“I never asked him to run, he just needed to train and play with the ball, someone else would have run for him. And his teammates were glad to do that because they knew to be part of a strong team with a genius on the top.”
Sadly for Inter, Simoni was sacked in November 1998 after a poor start to the season and the 98-99 campaign marked the start of Ronaldo’s physical decline.
Massimo Moratti’s club was also denied the Scudetto just months earlier by the virtue of a controversial 1-0 defeat to eventual champions Juventus.
“That team could’ve won so much and proved it was strong, but I wanted to shake things up in terms of results. It was a mistake, I regret it and I paid for it, changing three Coaches,” Moratti later rued.
“The regret does remain by wondering what would’ve happened if he had remained, but I am convinced we would’ve achieved great things together, as well as less controversy within the club.
“It was a genuine mistake to send him away, but I continue to admire Simoni, as he never made me feel embarrassed about it. There is great reciprocal respect.”
Image credit ansa.it
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