A young man captivated by the art of beautiful football yet Italian enough to realise the value of a balanced side, Eusebio Di Francesco is the latest ex-Roma player to be handed the reins of a smaller Serie A side in hopes of guiding them to survival. Having signed a two year contract with Lecce, Di Francesco has made the jump into the top league after a successful stint with Pescara in Serie B in which he guided them to an impressive 13th place despite the relentless injuries suffered.
A self-proclaimed admirer of Zdenek Zeman’s footballing philosophy, Di Francesco represents a new wave of young Coaches intent on producing exciting football in a league often falsely accused of demanding defensive football. Attacking yet secure at the back, the young Coach’s footballing vision is founded on the principle of equilibrium. Whilst last season Lecce suffered in defence but boasted a reasonably exciting attack, their new tactician will hope to restore parity within the side, much like he did with Pescara. Last season, his Serie B squad conceded 48 but scored 44, demonstrating the harmony that existed within the side.
Tactically flexible, the ex-Romanista is known to deploy a variety of formations ranging from a 4-4-1-1 to a 4-2-3-1. At Lecce, Di Francesco has already stated his preference of playing with four at the back and three in midfield leaving the attack open to changes and adaptations. However, the Coach likes to experiment with more than just the formations and enjoys changing players’ positions within his set-up in order to resolve minor issues or in an effort to cope with absences. For example, against Vicenza, Cascione Emmanuel, a midfielder whose job it is to sit in front of the defence was moved higher up the pitch playing just behind the striking duo. Di Francesco wanted to exploit the player’s skill in breaking up play in order to stop the opponent from initiating offensive moves in their own half and the move proved both beneficial and successful.
Commended for his astute tactical planning he has also been criticised for robbing his squad of tactical stability leaving the team both confused and vulnerable to exploitation by more cohesive sides. Whilst at times his open mind produces the desired result, he is also liable to get things very wrong. Against Modena in October, Pescara looked void of ideas and were forced to play with a playmaker lacking the necessary skill required for the role. What that match also proved is that the Coach has yet to master the art of substitutions. Known to often avoid substitutions entirely, keeping the same XI on the pitch, in that match Di Francesco threw on players in an attempt to resolve the conundrum only to then realise he had worsened the situation by causing a divide between the team’s departments.
However, his redeeming qualities lie in his human approach to coaching. Being well versed in the differing psychological states of athletes, he brings out the best in his players by approaching them in a manner that will appeal to them. Speaking to them in a way that will produce either the desired response or reaction, he has been praised for the special bond he creates with his squad to construct a proud and hard-working unit. Moreover, his willingness to bench those who do not work for the team and his sympathetic approach to those struggling with form has produced a group determined to please their Coach in line with his ideas of team unity.
Whether he can gloss over his relative inexperience with hungry motivation is one thing but Di Francesco certainly deserves the chance to make the jump to Serie A if only to offer the league another Coach enamoured by the aesthetics of the sport.