The plain-speaking Arrigo Sacchi has lost nothing of his bluntness over the years. Now 66, the so-called Prophet of Fusignano is still regarded as one of the finest coaches Italy has ever produced.
His influence on the game there is beyond question, with a host of former charges, among them Carlo Ancelotti, Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten, Roberto Donadoni, Ruud Gullit and Mauro Tassotti, having all successfully followed him into coaching.
Now working as a youth-team co-ordinator in Italy, describing himself as a “coach of coaches”, the former AC Milan boss has never missed an opportunity to express his opinion on players, managers and all matters football. As he himself says: “It’s the one and only thing I’m qualified to talk about.”
FIFA.com underlines that point by bringing together some of his most colourful observations on the game.
“I stopped playing football when I was 19 because I soon realised that I’d never be a champion.”
On his decision to hang up his boots at an early age.
“I never realised that to be a jockey you had to be a horse first.”
Dismissing the idea that only former players make successful coaches.
“In this country you’ve got clubs where coaches are coming and going all the time. They’re not teams but Towers of Babel where you’ve got all these different people involved. And the upshot of all that is lots of totally different results.”
On Serie A coaches receiving their coaching badges too soon.
“The accent today is on results, not on how well you work. You can’t build a skyscraper in a day, but you can build a shack.”
On one of his bugbears – coaches not being given enough time.
“When I arrived at Milan, Berlusconi said to me, ‘I’m giving you three years’, to which I said, ‘That’s too long’. That’s because in this game people never give you enough time to achieve success.”
As it turned out, Sacchi needed just one year to win Serie A, and two to claim the European Cup.
“God gave him a surfeit of talent and he hasn’t made use of it. I can guarantee he’d have been training if he’d been my player. I’m not interested in a player who doesn’t work, even if he’s the best. I want players who train with passion, discipline and motivation.”
On Ronaldinho during his time at AC Milan.
“I think Mario Balotelli needs to mature and do it quickly. God has given him great skills as a footballer but he’s frittering it all away with his behaviour.”
Sacchi expresses similar views on a different player, some years later.
“Barcelona made a mistake in buying [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic. He’s a loner. I said to Pep Guardiola at the time that he’s just bought the best solo artist in the world.”
On the importance of the team over individual talent.
“Juventus did a great piece of business in bringing in [Andrea] Pirlo, especially on a free. Pirlo is top class.”
Sacchi’s tribute to a quintessential team man.
“The only way you can build a side is by getting players who speak the same language and can play a team game. You can’t achieve anything on your own, and if you do, it doesn’t last long. I often quote what Michelangelo said: ‘The spirit guides the hand.’”
On his philosophy.
“My Milan team was brilliant because it was full of great professionals who wanted to be together and have fun.”
On his tenure at AC Milan, where his star players worked for each other.
“That Catalan team is not really a team. It’s a culture. The style, the harmony, the talented youngsters: everyone’s working towards the same idea.”
On Guardiola’s Barcelona, often compared to Sacchi’s Milan.
“Barcelona’s unfair advantage is their style of play. I heard the same thing at Milan. We didn’t run more than the others. We just ran better.”
On the criticism levelled at both sides.
“It’s only in Italy that you can get away with saying things like that. There’s no way you can beat your opponent by playing worse than them.”
On the result-comes-first culture.
“Italian football is the football of fear: two players attack, ten defend, the youngsters stay on the bench and no one comes to the stadiums anymore.”
On the Italian game of the 2000s.
“I watched Milan play last night and I thought some of the players were as old as me.”
Sacchi gives his view on an AC Milan game this season.
“The other day I was watching an U-15s match and the defenders did nothing else but mark their opposing forward. They’re already specialists but they aren't making the most of the game. That’s not fun – it’s suffering. That’s not football. If you do the same thing all the time, then you’re bound to get good at it. But is football really just about doing one thing?”
On his aim to change attitudes in the youth game.
“Florentino Perez loved quality players. I asked him one day what his ideal team would be. He had [David] Beckham at right-back and [Zinedine] Zidane at centre-half because he had a whole heap of strikers and midfielders in there. Florentino is a great man and his period in office here will go down in history.”
On his spell as director of football at Real Madrid.
“He’s a maestro who has his own style. He needs to aim for quality, not the superficial and what comes easy. I don’t go to the bakery because of the baker but because of the bread. A maestro is someone who demands the best, who demands rigour.”
Sacchi’s definition of a coach.