When Udinese dispensed with the services of Beppe Iachini, they moved swiftly to replace him. Less than 24 hours after Iachini received his marching orders, veteran Coach Luigi Del Neri was confirmed as his replacement. The 66-year-old is a familiar face, but one big question remains - is he actually any good?
First, the case for the defence. Having been appointed by Chievo in 2000, the mustachioed tactician led Verona’s second side to promotion at the first time of asking. Chievo are now an established top-flight side, but so unlikely was their achievement back then, fans of Hellas Verona believed “donkeys would fly” before their city rivals would grace Serie A.
Ironically nicknamed ‘The Flying Donkeys’, Del Neri’s men were seen as dead-certs to be relegated, but instead Chievo led Serie A for six weeks.
Del Neri favoured an attacking 4-4-2 formation, really more of a 4-2-4, with Christian Manfredini and Eriberto on the flanks. Chievo won the heart of every neutral, and an unlikely UEFA Cup berth was secured.
After two seasons of consolidation, Del Neri’s stock was at an all-time high, and he left the Stadio Bentegodi to replace Jose Mourinho at Champions League winners Porto. It proved to be a short stay, with the Italian sacked before he had taken charge of a competitive game.
Unsuccessful spells at Roma and Palermo followed, before Del Neri returned to Chievo in October 2006. The magic wasn’t there a second time, and the Donkeys fell to earth, a 2-0 defeat at Catania on the last day condemning them to Serie B.
In a career of peaks and troughs, this was a definite low point and, with his reputation in tatters, Del Neri took over the Atalanta bench in June of 2007. The tactician rebuilt his reputation in Bergamo leading the Orobici to ninth then 11th.
Del Neri was rewarded with the Sampdoria job and found kindred spirits at Marassi. Giampaolo Pazzini arrived in a €9m deal hoping to prove he could fulfil his early promise. Antonio Cassano was a misfit, having been banished from Real Madrid. Samp sporting director Giuseppe Marotta assembled a side with a point to prove, and a Coach with the attitude to match.
Inspired by Cassano and Pazzini, Sampdoria finished fourth, qualifying for Champions League football. Del Neri was once again on top of the world, and he secured arguably the biggest job in calcio.
Following an unthinkable seventh-place finish in 2009-10, Juventus knew a complete overhaul was required. The Bianconeri poached Marotta from Samp, and Del Neri followed him to Turin.
Sadly, and perhaps unfairly, ‘the Del Neri year’ has become a by-phrase among Juventini for the absolute negative nadir in the club’s history. Calciopoli hurt, but there was a thrill in the journey back to Serie A. ‘The Del Neri year’ was no kind of thrill at all.
A side featuring the likes of Marco Motta and Armand Traore limped to another seventh-place, the central midfield partnership of Momo Sissoko and Felipe Melo as hard on the eyes as they were on the ankles of opponents. Del Neri was sacked, and his replacement, Antonio Conte, won the Scudetto unbeaten in the following season.
The Juventus debacle, though not entirely of his own making, put a stain on Del Neri, leading to over a year out of the game. His return was inauspicious, winning two matches in 13 before being sacked by Genoa. Last season brought a return to Verona, with Hellas this time, but the Butei were meekly relegated, despite a slight upturn in form after Del Neri’s arrival.
So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is he any good? In truth, the answer probably isn’t so black and white. Del Neri has shown that, given the players, he can produce entertaining and attacking football, but his career also speaks to a man whose skill set isn’t enough for a truly top side.
After a career of ups and downs, the veteran is looking for one last revival with Udinese, starting in the city where it all went wrong six years ago. If he cannot make the Zebrette fly, he may not get another chance in Serie A.