“I’m not a coach or a magician. That’s a fact and I’d be a liar if I said otherwise." So warned former Italy international Marco Simone back in September 2011, upon taking the reins of an Monaco side languishing in 18th place in Ligue 2 at the time. “But, after 18 years as a pro, I do know football. I will find ways to improve this team and get the players back to their best.”
Though it is true Simone did not perform miracles, the ex-Monaco striker did guide L’ASM safely home in eighth place. It therefore came as a real surprise when the club relieved him of his duties come the end of the campaign, particularly given that Simone’s first steps on the coaching ladder seemed to be so positive. Not only did the Italian steer the club up the standings, his side’s performances continuously improved and he favoured a spectacular, rigorously attacking brand of football – a style that reflected his own time as a player.
Indeed, throughout his career, Simone was always an entertainer as well as a goalscorer, capable of tremendous pieces of skill and strikes seemingly out of nowhere. With a CV that also included productive spells at AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain, fans at all his ex-clubs have wonderful memories of the diminutive front-man.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Simone looked back at some of those memorable moments, as well as giving his verdict on his fledgling coaching career.
FIFA.com: You’ve just come off the back of your first coaching experience. Did you enjoy it as much as when you were a player?
Marco Simone: A coach’s job is very intense. Obviously your work doesn’t stop after training is over, it continues into the afternoon, evening and late at night. You’ve always got matches to prepare for, opponents to analyse: it never stops. But in some specific areas, the two roles are very similar. And I must admit the feeling I get when one of my players hits a winning goal is just the same I might have if it was me who’d made the net bulge.
You took charge of the team when it was in 18th spot and Monaco ended up eighth. Are you satisfied with the job you did?
My level of personal satisfaction is partly linked to the quality of football my team played and partly to the end result. The end result was there, since we managed to avoid relegation. As far as the way we achieved that aim, I realise that I need to keep improving. That said, if you take into account it was my first experience in the dugout then I am pleased. The overall verdict is positive.
You’ve worked under some genuine coaching greats, including Arrigo Sacchi, Fabio Capello and Alberto Zaccheroni. In your view, which were the most inspirational?
I’d go with Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello, with a slight preference for the former. For Sacchi, tactics were at the root of absolutely everything, and his coaching sessions were all focused around that. We’d work exhaustively on how to occupy space, positioning, movement etc. In his view, what mattered was what happened out on the pitch, he wasn’t too concerned with what went on off it. Capello, for his part, is exemplary in terms of how to manage a squad. He’s a genuine manager [as opposed to a training-ground coach], and he’s an excellent communicator.
Why did you decide to start your coaching career at Monaco?
It’s a really great club. It’s always had a special place in my heart, I’ve made some very strong ties there. Besides which I’d decided to live there after I hung up my boots. In a certain way, Monaco has become my homeland. It’s fantastic to be able to train one of the clubs closest to your heart one day. And, speaking in more general terms, I really like France. I feel a bond with the country, I love its championship and the people’s attitude.
Given your in-depth knowledge of French football, is there any one player that you particularly admire?
Kevin Gameiro is a player I really like, and someone I’d love to have in one of my teams.
Small, quick and clinical in front of goal, Gameiro has an air of Marco Simone about him don’t you think?
Yes, it’s true. But that’s not the only reason why I like him, I’m not quite that narcissistic! (laughs)
Turning back to your playing days, what is your fondest memory of your career?
Two things spring to mind. The first encompasses all the trophies I won at each of my clubs: AC Milan, Monaco and PSG. I had some very intense and emotional experiences at those three clubs. The second thing goes back to the day when I arrived back at Milan, on loan from AS Monaco, in 2001/02. I’ll never forget the ovation I received from 90,000 fans in the San Siro when I took the field. I’d left the club the 1998 and it was really moving to be welcomed back like that. It’s an image that will stay in my mind forever.
You were fortunate enough to play alongside no fewer than six Ballon d’Or winners at different stages in your career (Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Jean-Pierre Papin, George Weah, Andriy Shevchenko and Roberto Baggio). Which of them made the biggest impression on you?
Marco van Basten, no doubt about it! He’s the greatest. He’s a player who always impressed me, whether it was in training or in matches. It was simply extraordinary to watch his play. I treasure the fact I was lucky enough to work alongside him.
How do you rate the current Italian national squad?
There have been changes, which is something Italy needed because, even though the side was getting positive results, the players were starting to age. Some things have also changed at the heart of the FA too, with Arrigo Sacchi and Roberto Baggio playing a key role in that. To sum up, the team’s younger, fresher and is working to a different game plan – one which is a bit less defensive. I’ve got high hopes for La Nazionale at EURO 2012.
Are they your favourites for UEFA EURO 2012?
Italy are among the favourites in my view, along with Spain, France and Germany. France are in very good shape, I think. They’ve got talent and they’re capable of winning this EURO. Laurent Blanc is doing a good job and he’s known exactly how to make the most of his experience in club football.
Is one day becoming a national-team coach an ambition of yours?
It’s hard to even think about that. That kind of offer usually doesn’t come until the latter stages of a successful coaching career. I’m just not there yet.
Finally, is there any particular club side that you dream of taking charge of?
I think that you need to keep your ambitions realistic, depending on your status as a player or coach. Back in my playing days, at a certain point I was playing for a Milan side that was one of the best in the world. So, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to dream of eventually playing for Real Madrid or Barcelona, because my status was high enough. Until now (coaching-wise), I was simply focused on following my dream at Monaco, and doing my best with a club I never imagined I’d get the chance to coach. Right now though (after losing my job with L’ASM), it’s hard to come up with a new dream.