A trainer realises his position is under threat the moment his team fails to deliver results on the pitch. Napoli’s Roberto Donadoni must be feeling the heat following an abysmal start to the season, having lost two out of three games played. The pressure is intensifying on Donadoni with names of potential replacements already being dropped by the media. First it was ex-Juventus player Antonio Conte, and now Delio Rossi, the former Lazio Coach, is being mentioned as a possible candidate for the post.
The playing credentials of Donadoni however, are not to be disputed- he was an exemplary player and a crucial cog of the successful Milan teams of the early 1990s and he was part of the Italian setup during the 1994 World Cup, helping the team reach the final which culminated in a heart-breaking penalty shootout loss to Brazil. Yet as a trainer, Donadoni has had a rough time in the past few years.
He was not welcome as Italy Coach and given little room for error during his tenure with the national team and he often had to address rumours about his job security while all the time working in the shadow of his World Cup winning predecessor, Marcello Lippi.
His time with Italy raised a number of interesting questions about his coaching ability and temperament. The media and experts claimed he did not have the sufficient tactical know-how to manage a team with critics alleging he is inexperienced or even naive when it came to strategies.
A case was made that he even did not have the charisma to motivate the players and that, unlike the great Lippi, the players only had mild respect for him. Donadoni’s coaching resume did not intimidate opponents nor did it inspire his own squad and he was never cut out for the big-time. These assertions were backed by the fact he only managed mediocre clubs prior to taking over the Azzurri. The likes of Lecco, Livorno and even Genoa (under Donadoni) were not heavyweights on the domestic scene.
Euro 2008 was the decisive blow to Donadoni’s career with the Azzurri. His team choices and tactics were scrutinized, and he was heavily criticised following the crushing defeat to Holland during Euro 2008. The Dutch triumphed 3-0 inflicting the biggest defeat on the Azzurri in over two decades. La Nazionale performed poorly and Donadoni faced inexorable pressure, resulting in the return of the crafty Tactician Lippi as Italy Coach.
Donadoni’s next Coaching job was with his current side Napoli, but he has endured criticism in this position too and last weekend’s humiliating loss to Genoa has sharpened the voices of discontent. Despite having talented players such as Slovakia star Marek Hamsik and Italy international Fabio Quagliarella, Napoli were dealt a 4-1 blow by Genoa. Those who asserted he could not handle La Nazionale were now declaring he was also incapable of managing his current squad. Besides Quagliarella, Napoli have German Denis and Ezequiel Lavezzi amongst their forwards. That Roberto was not even considered by Milan once Coach Carlo Ancelotti departed also suggested the Rossoneri board did not rate him highly.
On the other hand, Donadoni’s spell with Livorno yielded one top ten finish and a respectable sixth in his last season at the club. The Labronici were never a top team in terms of pedigree, so finishing sixth was an excellent achievement. Under Donadoni, Livorno played attractive, attacking and free-flowing football, spearheaded by local hero Cristiano Lucarelli.
The Coach was able to achieve these results despite a rather pedestrian squad- besides striker Lucarelli, Italy reserve goalkeeper Marco Amelia was perhaps the only other recognised name. He deserves credit for this accomplishment, considering, in particular, his limited training experience at the time, having only previously Coached Lecco in Lega Pro Prima Divisone A.
For Livorno to be competing for European places indicates the team were lead by a talented Coach. Following the resignation of Donadoni however¸ Livorno barely made the UEFA cup, only qualifying in the aftermath the match-fixing scandal. The club suffered from seven successive defeats under his successor, the experienced Carlo Mazzone.
Though Italy stuttered at the onset of his managerial career, the national team did put in a five-game winning streak and Donadoni, unlike Lippi, was able and willing to incorporate the indomitable Antonio Cassano into his Azzurri line-up. With Donadoni in charge, Italy achieved victory against France without the need for extra-time or penalties. Excepting the 2006 penalty triumph, the victory in Zurich was the Azzurri’s first over France for some time. It must also be mentioned that Donadoni was unlucky to lose Italy’s inspirational captain Fabio Cannavaro, in the run up to Euro 2008, due to injury. With Cannavaro’s leadership and organisation of the defence, Italy may have progressed further in the tournament than they did.
Furthermore, La Nazionale managed to qualify from a tough group in the European Championship, which including the Netherlands and Romania, and were only eliminated in the quarter finals on penalties by eventual Champions Spain. La Furia Roja were certainly no push-overs with Fernando Torres and David Villa spearheading a skilled team, yet it was a tight encounter and but for a key save by Iker Casillas from a Mauro Camoranesi shot, the history books would now tell a different story- hailing Donadoni as a hero for beating La Roja to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2008.
Donadoni’s task of following in the footsteps of Lippi, a man with an enviable Coaching record and who had just lifted the World Cup, was always going to be difficult. Further to mammoth expectations, Roberto had the job of reinvigorating a group of players who had just accomplished a paramount ambition, in winning the biggest prize in international football. Moreover, his squad was largely, whether motivated or not, approaching the twilight of their football careers. He also had to replace those players, like Francesco Totti and Alessandro Nesta, who had chosen to retire from international football.
Napoli must win this weekend to provide Donadoni with respite, while any other outcome will give the critics added ammunition to call for his head.