The fact that strong Coaches can leave the peninsula with the league actually being improved suggests the presence of an extraordinarily ferocious competition in the field. This leads us to the second false paradigm that we wished to deconstruct – that Coaches are leaving because they find better conditions abroad (pay included). As stated, this reason is not completely untrue – how to deny the unending magnetism of money? – but it is not at all exhaustive. Coaches leave the Italian game because they get devoured. They get chewed up and spat out. Ancelotti actually represents a miracle of tenacity, given how decadent his team was becoming and how much contestation he had to take before leaving. Most of the Coaches are just thrown out because they do not satisfy the (often hysterical) needs of Italian football, of Italian culture. Italian Coaches who leave are exhausted, sucked dry by the eternal rage of the piazza, by the ingratitude of a world that is willing and able to replace them at the first mistake. Coaches, even good Coaches, are the easiest commodities to replace in Serie A.
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Evidence for this is provided by the evolution of this year’s rankings in the league. Until Week 17, about 12 teams out of 20 were grouped within four points of each other. Several had no right to be there, judging by their technical roster. Today, every race is still open – from the struggle for the Scudetto to qualifications for Europe and salvation from Serie B. The reason is pristine – the teams are simply very competitive. And since the disparities between the rosters of richer and poorer teams is self-evident, the conclusion inevitably goes back to the Coaches. The tactical preparation of the Coaches is on average so high that for their colleagues, even those with the best teams, there is never an easy day in Serie A. Not only are these Coaches almost all Italian, they are also men who have been internally groomed – they get educated within Serie A, they grow in the systems of the teams themselves, so that when established Coaches leave the country, there is always a freshly cultivated batch ready to replace them. Some of them fail, like Ciro Ferrara is doing at Juventus. But some of them explode.
The English philosophy of management is based on stability. Coaches need time to envision a project and build it, starting from its foundations and going all the way to the details. The Italian system is based on kill-or-get-shot pressure. If a Coach doesn’t get results, he is thrown out, while long-term planning is left to the President and higher executives. Does the Italian system work? Everything suggests that it does. No less than nine teams in Serie A (Atalanta, Bologna, Catania, Livorno, Napoli, Palermo, Roma, Siena, Udinese) have replaced their Coaches since this season’s kick-off, and not a single one of these teams has failed to improve on their average points-per-match. They have all climbed up in terms of rankings, too. It must be kept in mind that the above numbers are exceptional, of course. Such a whirlwind of employment would have been impossible before Calciopoli, when football was under the stable grip of the saurian magnates from behind the scenes. Today, the situation is different.
People who read the current departure of Coaches as a symptom of decline in Serie A would do well to remember that not only are teams improving thanks to this turn-over, but the mercilessly competitive atmosphere is breeding a generation of tacticians which seems inexhaustible in its vigour. It is the ferocity of Serie A which produces these managerial masterminds, by sheer survival-of-the-fittest principles. If Spalletti had been ‘raided’ by the Russians four years ago, when he had just started his work with Roma, no-one would have called it much of a loss for the peninsula. He was just a young Italian strategist thrown onto a demanding piazza after the last ones had been exonerated. It was those very demands which forged him into the Napoleon that he is now reputed to be. The current situation in Serie A sees an impressive number of young Italian Coaches, ranging from competent to brilliant, all of whom bear promise like Spalletti did and achieve results in the meantime. Francesco Guidolin, Gian Piero Gasperini, Massimiliano Allegri, Walter Zenga, Delio Rossi, Luigi Del Neri – all men who took teams with limited talent and led them to results well beyond their range (Rossi just scoured Milan in their own home, Guidolin kept Parma in fourth until Week 17, Gasperini turned Genoa into a force to contend with over two years, Del Neri was battling for Scudetto positions before his unexpected Sampdoria crisis). And all of this without mentioning Cesare Prandelli, the Fiorentina Coach whom everyone wishes to see with the national team after Marcello Lippi.
The idea that Serie A is being impoverished by the emigration of tacticians is obviously a myth. In fact, the league has never been stronger in terms of competitive tacticians. It simply has a different philosophy than the English league – relaxed and trusting up North, furious and criminal down South. The quality of the Coaches who leave the country is less remarkable a fact than the quality of those who are emerging inside it. This also suggests that if these tacticians leave, it is not simply a question of money. It is just as much a need for breathing space. A question of survival. Whether the English Premier League is becoming more powerful by adopting Italian minds is a different question, one which we do not feel qualified to confront. What is certain is that the phenomenon cannot be explained (away) by simplistic arguments such as the two we have challenged in this article. Another thing that is certain is that the sight of another Italian Coach entering the English leagues seems far, far more likely than that of an English Coach entering Serie A, and this situation is bound to stay unchanged for years. As for the nationality of those who will lead the respective national teams – well, that is hardly worth discussing.
Understanding Italian football
Part 1 –
Part 2 –