His CV speaks for itself, but two lines are particularly eye-catching. He is the only coach in the world to have won both the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA Champions League, two major trophies requiring mastery of the highly contrasting roles of national team manager and club coach.
The Italian Marcello Lippi, newly crowned champion of the world, was guest of honour at the FIFA International Football Symposium and the conference for UEFA's national coaches this 11 to 13 September. In a few short minutes, he adeptly explained the recipe for his success to the assembled coaches and shed light on his philosophy as a coach and manager. Listening to his great clarity of expression, it was easy to understand how he has achieved so much in the game.
FIFA.com: Signore Lippi, what have you been doing since lifting the FIFA World Cup on 9 July?
Marcello Lippi: I've been relaxing, enjoying time with my family… and going fishing. But if truth be told, I've also watched the tapes of our World Cup matches a few times. I can't really say I've consigned it all to the past yet, as people talk to me about it every day.
Do you see it as your finest hour?
The World Cup is the supreme trophy. The Champions League and the Intercontinental Cup are highly prestigious events too, but for me, the World Cup has always had that special magic. It's a cut above the rest.
To what would you attribute your success?
Whether for club or country, the most important aspect of coaching is to choose the best players available. That might seem obvious, but it's absolutely fundamental as it affects the playing style. In Italy, not all of the clubs use the same system, so I had to adapt my tactics to suit the players I called up. In my view, a coach shouldn't choose players who fit in with his tactics, but should instead adapt his tactics to the players he calls up. In any case, certain players could get injured, so a coach needs to have command of several different tactical systems in order to be able to respond to unforeseen events.
What, for you, is the chief difference between the position of club manager and that of national coach?
Some people think being a national team boss simply involves picking the players, but I wouldn't go along with that idea at all. When I was with the players for a week, I used to coach them, and when they went back to their clubs, I would watch them. I was lucky enough to have the national team for 50 days for the World Cup, so I was able to really work with them, not just tactically or physically, but also in terms of technical ability and mental preparation. The real job of a national team coach is to shape the team into a closely-knit unit.
About the World Cup Final: how did you approach the match?
We treated it the same as the previous games. In the third match, we changed our system. At the start of the tournament, I played with Francesco Totti behind two strikers, but Totti wasn't operating at full capacity. We made as much use as we could of his vision and flair, but we then had to change tactics. With the new more secure system, the players had more confidence and felt able to express themselves more. Lads like Gennaro Gattuso and Gianluca Zambrotta started to really believe they could win, and their fitness levels also improved. To be honest, I think things developed in a similar way for the French side at the tournament.
How would you describe the match itself?
We had a very good first half, but then the 120-minute semi-final we'd played started to catch up with us physically and mentally. We dropped down a gear after the interval and the French had their best period of the match. I decided the team needed more steel, but without losing its attacking potential. That's why I brought on Vincenzo Iaquinta and Daniele De Rossi. After that, we were better balanced.
You won the FIFA World Cup at a time when Italian football was in crisis. How did you cope with this tricky state of affairs?
If you count the qualifiers, we had a year's preparation behind us. It was an excellent year for us, with friendly successes against the likes of the Netherlands and Germany. We grew stronger gradually and the players knew they had the ability to win. In a strange way, the difficult situation on the Italian domestic scene was somehow converted into positive energy. The players wanted to show that they had nothing to do with all that, so their will to win was magnified tenfold.
But how did you instil such a positive spirit in the players?
Young coaches need to understand that command of tactics or technique is no guarantee of success. The most important thing these days is managing the players. The role of coach is all about guiding them, giving them the impression that you can lead them to their ultimate goal. It's not so important whether you adopt a friendly or disciplinarian approach. A national coach has to build a team, which doesn't mean just putting 11 players out there on the pitch, but also constructing an entire organisation.
Was your ability to adapt the system to the situation on the ground crucial?
I like teams that are capable of changing the system and adapting to the circumstances, even during the course of a match. I don't subscribe to the coaching school of thought which believes in maintaining the system at all costs. But in order to be able to switch tactics, knowledge is required. A club coach sees his players almost every day and can therefore easily transmit both tactics and technique. A national team manager only spends time with the players intermittently, but, with time, a good understanding can be developed. I believe I did that with the Azzurri squad.
Do you have a mentor, a particular coach whom you've learned a lot from?
Like all coaches, I guess, I picked up things from every coach I played under. However one, Fulvio Bernardini (ed's note: Italy's coach when Lippi was an international during the 1970s) made a great impression on me at a psychological level. He oozed charisma, was highly sophisticated and was a great man all around. He had a strong personality, which he imposed without riding roughshod over others. He's always been my benchmark.
What do you think of football today?
I love the game in all its forms. I watch a lot of matches and never get fed up of it. Having said that, I don't like coaches who force players to fit in with their system. Football, like life itself, isn't perfect, and that's the way I like it.