Long known for its conservative approach to the game, Italian football is undergoing something of a metamorphosis. The ongoing financial crisis has prompted some clubs to balance the books by selling their star assets and giving their young players the chance to step up from the reserves and fill the breach.
A major change has also been taking place in dugouts up and down the land, with most Serie A sides now coached by ambitious young tacticians who have moved straight into coaching after ending their playing careers.
Taking a close look at an exciting new trend in calcio, FIFA.com puts the spotlight on the new breed of Misters, as coaches are colloquially known in Italy.
Italian coaches have always been studious scholars of the game, known in the main for their in-depth appreciation of defensive systems and strict tactical discipline.
Yet, having learned his trade at home, the formidable Giovanni Trapattoni set off to conquer the world and has since been followed abroad by the likes of Fabio Capello, Alberto Zaccheroni, Marcello Lippi, Claudio Ranieri, Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Mancini.
Explaining the exodus, another high-profile exile Luciano Spaletti said: “It’s virtually impossible to work for a long time in Italy because directors can be so impatient. They can get rid of coaches even before a season starts or just on a whim, or because of three bad results.”
A number of high-ranking figures and personalities in the Italian game have lamented the “brain drain”, though there is perhaps another reason behind it, namely the emergence of a young and ambitious breed of coaches, who are hungry to prove themselves in the ever-demanding surroundings of Serie A.
Tough and single-minded
The influx of young coaching blood has brought the average age of Italy’s 20 top-flight tacticians plummeting down to 48.95 years this season. Some 17 of them are former players, with four of them amassing 156 Italy caps between them.
Furthermore, the only foreigner among them is Lazio’s 49-year-old Bosnian boss Vladimir Petkovic, with the Czech-born Zdenek Zeman, the oldest coach in Serie A, having taken out dual nationality after arriving in Italy in the wake of the Prague Spring of 1968.
The youngest member of the pack is 36-year-old Inter Milan coach Andrea Stramaccioni, an ex-defender whose career was tragically cut short at the age of 19 by a serious knee injury.
In the eyes of club captain Javier Zanetti, three years his senior, the new man is cut out for coaching: “He’s got very clear ideas and bags of personality.”
Meanwhile, Nerazzurri president Massimo Moratti is already comparing Stramaccioni to Jose Mourinho, who steered Inter to a historic treble during his time at the club.
“The reason I made that comparison is because of the amount of time they both devote to their work,” said Moratti. “Coaches can sometimes get distracted by all the hype that surrounds them and their popularity. Stramaccioni has that natural appetite. We’ll just have to see if he gets the same results as Mourinho.”
Livewire forward Vincenzo Montella played his last game in July 2009, having scored 237 career goals and making 20 appearances for La Nazionale. A close friend of Stramaccioni, he also started coaching Roma’s youth sides before taking charge of the first team and then moving on to Catania.
Now with Fiorentina, this advocate of attacking football is aiming is to make the club great again and is enjoying pitting his wits against the equally youthful Stramaccioni: “Andrea is a friend of mine and we’ve been working hand in hand and climbing our way up the ladder. Nothing comes easy in football.”
Voices of experience
Current Parma boss Roberto Donadoni, aged 49, held the reins of the national team between 2006 and 2008 and is the most capped coach in Serie A at the moment with 46 in all, some 14 more than his Sampdoria counterpart Ciro Ferrara. Now 45, Ferrara spent ten years at Napoli and 11 at Juventus during his playing days, while Juve chief Antonio Conte, two years his junior, moved into coaching as soon as he hung up his boots.
In contrast, the likes of AC Milan boss Massimiliano Allegri, Pescara’s Giovanni Stroppa and Chievo’s Eugenio Corini, who are all in their early to mid-40s, were all journeyman players. Allegri spent his career in Italy’s lower divisions before being appointed to the Rossoneri hotseat by Silvio Berlusconi in 2010, while the much-travelled Stroppa played 456 games over 22 seasons, the same number of years for which Corini plied his trade.
With that kind of experience under their belts, one thing their players cannot accuse them of is not knowing what they are talking about.
Remarkably, there are even more young bucks waiting in the wings, chief among them ex-Milan gunslinger Filippo Inzaghi, who at the ripe old age of 39 is now passing on his finishing expertise to the club’s youngsters. When it comes to coaching, it seems there is no limit to Italy’s pool of talent.