Italian coaches flourishing on foreign soil
Italian coaches are in increasing demand abroad, their impressive achievements on and off the pitch respected far and wide. Experience, tactical flexibility and a strong focus on results are some of the hallmarks of the modern supremo, and these attributes are part of the reason why Italian bosses have become so highly sought after.
Join FIFA.com as we profile some of the Italian coaches who have found success away from their native shores, both in familiar locations and in the more remote corners of planet football.
Roberto Di Matteo’s rise to managerial stardom has been nothing short of extraordinary. After seeing his sparkling playing career ended prematurely by a serious injury at the age of 31, di Matteo moved into management in 2008 before rejoining Chelsea in June 2011 as assistant to Andre Villas-Boas. Nine months later, the Italian found himself named caretaker manager, charged with salvaging the Blues’ poor season. In just three months, and without the luxury of any new signings, Di Matteo almost effortlessly imposed a new tactical approach, won over the senior players and dressing room and led the side to FA Cup and UEFA Champions League glory.
For big-spending owner Roman Abramovich, the achievement is no doubt still sinking in. Di Matteo showed that a well-timed word of encouragement can achieve more than the flash of a chequebook, and needless to say, the triumphant caretaker was recently given the job full time.
Meanwhile, around 200 miles north of London, another Italian was busy making his own mark on the English game. Roberto Mancini led Manchester City to the Premier League title for the first time in 44 years, having notably succeeded in rallying his feisty compatriot Mario Balotelli to the Citizens' cause.
Gianluca Vialli, who together with Mancini formed one half of the famous Gemelli del gol (goal twins) strike partnership with Sampdoria, won a European Cup Winners’ Cup, a UEFA Super Cup and an English League Cup as player/manager of Chelsea. Vialli is another example of a former Italian international whose exemplary career immediately commands respect in foreign dressing rooms.
Russia is also home to an Italian coach, albeit the slightly less well known figure of Luciano Spalletti. When Spalletti was approached by Zenit St Petersburg in December 2009, he had no titles to boast of from his playing days, and his coaching achievements were limited to two Coppa Italia titles with Roma. But that did not deter Zenit from giving him free rein with recruitment, management and training.
Their faith was duly rewarded, as Spalletti went on to lead Zenit to two league titles, a Russian Cup and a Russian Super Cup in the space of three years. The Italian’s intense training sessions initially took the Zenit players by surprise, but they now swear by his methods and his contract has been extended for a further three years.
Few would have predicted that Alberto Zaccheroni, who coached some of the biggest clubs in Italy between 1983 and 2010, would also make the move overseas. However, in 2010, the then 57-year-old packed his bags for Japan and took charge of the country’s national team. On 18 October 2011, Zaccheroni was given the rare honour of an official reception by Emperor Akihito, having led the Samurai Blue to AFC Asian Cup glory and overseen a run of 19 games without defeat.
Marcello Lippi, another Italian coaching great, may well have drawn inspiration from Zaccheroni’s achievements with his most recent career move. On 17 May 2012, after 28 years of success with Italy’s top club sides and national team, the 64-year-old started afresh in PR China by taking charge of Guangzhou Evergrande.
Carlo Ancelotti was a touch more cautious in his most recent choice of managerial challenge, opting to oversee a rebuilding job at Paris Saint Germain with the financial backing of the club’s Qatari owners. Claudio Ranieri, meanwhile, will have his native Italy just a stone’s throw away as he attempts to guide Monaco back to the French top flight.
All of the aforementioned coaches follow in the footsteps of 73-year-old Giovanni Trapattoni, who, since 1994, has held roles at high-profile clubs including Bayern Munich, Benfica and Stuttgart. In 2008, Trapattoni took over as head coach of the Republic of Ireland and subsequently guided them to UEFA EURO 2012 – their first European finals in 24 years.
The mass exodus of Italy’s best coaches has had a ripple effect, enabling a new wave of talented technicians to move away from the catenaccio style of old and towards a system that is more attack-minded but every bit as effective. Exponents of this approach include Antonio Conte, who recently led Juventus to the league title, Massimiliano Allegri, coach of Juve’s nearest rivals AC Milan, and the fresh-faced Andrea Stramaccioni, who led Inter’s late-season revival.
But the most notable of them all is current Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, the man responsible for transforming La Nazionale into a team characterised by free-flowing, attractive football.