Calcio in Heels – The Annual Managerial Sack Race
It’s all about the men in the dugout and the club’s season aspirations in ‘Calcio in Heels’ debuting piece for Goalden Times. Rossella Marrai takes a look at the change of faces on bench, the ones who remained, their club’s season ambitions and finally what to expect from the beguiling Zdenek Zeman
Eleven same faces on the benchCoaches around the Italian peninsula of Serie A can all breathe a collective sigh of relief as they made it through their first three weeks of the season after giving their dramatic touchline orders from the dugout.
Rewind back to a year ago and things were quite dissimilar. Cagliari and Palermo had already replaced their coaches before the teams even walked onto the field. Massimo Cellino’s dispute with Roberto Donadoni saw him being shown the door before even completing pre-season with the Isolani, while further down the Mediterranean, in Sicily, the volatile Maurizio Zamparini was at his bid. At the end of the 2010-11 campaign, he had bid farewell to Delio Rossi and replaced him with Stefano Pioli, but a third round Europa Cup preliminary elimination to Swiss side, FC Thun resulted in Pioli feeling the wrath of Zampa as he was surprisingly replaced by Under-19 coach Devis Mangia. It didn’t end there; a few weeks later, Gian Piero Gasperini was already on route to Exit Week Five, before the eventual sacking of over a dozen coaches hit the headlines that season.
Two weeks into yet another eventual football season and every team has, albeit surprisingly, still managed to retain their coach, with Juventus in an awkward situation of having Massimo Carrera fill in for Antonio Conte due to his match-fixing and betting ban. Despite the summer break providing more twists and turns than Jennifer Lopez and Shakira battling it out in a dance-off, Juventus are undoubtedly the favourites to take the title.
Juventus director, Beppe Marotta can proudly sport a pompous look of triumph after he managed to scoop Udinese’s brightest players in Kwadwo Asamoah and Mauricio Isla, who will add stability, creativity and a much needed depth and versatility to the squad as they enter the Champions League season.
The promising Paul Pogba’s switch from Old Trafford to the Old Lady infuriated Sir Alex Ferguson immensely – something which puts a smile on any Italian face – while Nicklas Bendtner is still a young promising striker who could very well fit into the Italian game. Conte’s loss from the sidelines may not seem as extreme as one would think when looking at the squad and their 4-1 riot over Udinese in Week Two proved to be the situation as they surpassed a run of 500 days without a defeat.
Carrera is well suited to be the man to take over on match days after he was appointed the understudy to Conte at the start of their triumphant campaign, and he knows a good thing or two about going undefeated. La Bandera, as he is known to the fans, unwittingly played a key role in Milan’s 1991-92 unbeaten campaign, when they embarked on a 58-match unbeaten run. It was Carrera who headed in an own goal that tied Milan against Juventus and it would remain a key factor to that legendary match. But Carrera maintains that Conte is and will be the real man behind any success this season: “[Conte] is the real coach. I’m looking to take inspiration from him during the week so the team can continue to feel his presence,” he told the club’s official website.
Astonishingly only eleven coaches who ended off last season has remained on the same bench.
Stefano Colantuono will be seen waving his arms on the edge of the area in the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia. For Atalanta, their ambitions are never one of reaching for the stars, but that of just keeping their kayak afloat in tepid water. The shaved head loud-mouthed coach always seems to get the best out of his team but fails to keep the momentum flowing throughout the year, and their two-point deduction at the start of the season isn’t an easy digestive. Meanwhile, Pioli and Donadoni got their own back on Zamparini and Cellino after they managed to make a success with their new teams, in Bologna and Parma, respectively.
Sebastian Giovinco’s departure may result in a loss in quality in the Parma squad, but Donadoni has proved on timeless occasions he doesn’t necessarily need a star man in the squad, rather a cohesive unit working together. His interchanging from a back four to a back three to suit his opponents has seen him create a more confident and open-minded Ducali side, who seem willing to go out on a limb. Should they mirror their impressive run at the final stages of last season, they could very well be the surprise package competing for Europa League football.
Former Cagliari trainer, Massimo Allegri is currently undergoing a much talked about and highly controversial revolution whilst in his third season with Milan. No longer are the days when Alessandro Nesta will be standing guard in defence, Clarence Seedorf doing tricks with the number 10 jersey on his back and Gennaro Gattuso prowling up and down the field like a hungry dog. The mass exodus, and minimal action in the transfer market, has seen a large amount of blame being shunned upon the coach’s shoulders, after reports suggested a rift amongst the players and management. Completely written off as league contenders, the Rossoneri would consider themselves as fortunate if they grab the final Champions League place next season as they line up their weakest squad in years.
Across the town of Milan, the highly rated Andrea Stramaccioni will continue to oversee Inter after he took over as interim coach from Claudio Ranieri. The fans are expecting a lot from young and fresh blood coming in along with the creative flair of Antonio Cassano, Wesley Sneijder and Rodrigo Palacio to supply balls to their leading striker, Diego Milito. Though the well worked and under the radar transfer window may have seemed a success, Stramaccioni’s backline is an area which leaks more than a colander. The 5-4 win over Genoa, in his first game in charge in March, was easy pickings for the Grifoni’s frontline, while their latest 3-1 loss to Roma in Week Two still proved there is work to be done. Should Stramaccioni find a secure material to plaster the holes whilst continuing their fluid attacking play, the Nerazzurri could favour themselves in giving Juventus a run for the prize money.
New kids on the block
Simplicity is not a word in the Sienese dictionary. In a town renowned for its cantuccini and baked treats, the Tuscans once again found themselves being dealt the biscotto. As if staying alive in their return season wasn’t hard enough, they lost coach Giuseppe Sannino and sporting director Giorgio Perinetti to Palermo in the off-season, all whilst being deducted a colossal six points for their involvement in the match fixing and betting scandal. In return, they welcomed Serse Cosmi to save Lecce, after coming in midseason, and he now faces the rarity of taking over a team from the beginning and the monstrous task of survival. “This is a very nice day for me, I finally have the chance to return to being a coach from the start of the season,” he announced in his unveiling. “It has been my privilege in an 18-year career that several times I have been called in to take over a club midseason, but it is definitely not ideal for any coach. Siena has for many years been in Serie A, with just one term in B, and they have always proven to have the right ambition and the awareness and strength to compete at the highest level.”
In addition, Ciro Ferrara and Giampiero Ventura made their return to the hot seat of Serie A. The former replaced Giuseppe Iachini on the Sampdoria bench, despite handing them promotion from Serie B, while the latter got his Serie A season underway against Siena, for the first time since his Bari days. The pressure was on for Ferrara to make the season a success, following the impressive reinforcements of Enzo Maresca, who returns to Serie A for the first time since 2005, Simon Paulsen, Maxi Lopez and Marcelo Estigarribia. The swoop of the former Malaga player was the coup of the transfer window for the club, and one, which Ferrara pushed for. He told Sky Italia: “I strongly wanted Maresca here, as I know his qualities both in technical terms and with regards to his experience.”
On the calf of the Boot, it will be an uphill battle for Giovanni Stroppa’s men in this campaign. Following their instant promotion back into Italy’s elitist club, Pescara have since been caught in the baptism by fire and it is doubtful that things will get easier. f it wasn’t for Siena’s six-point deficit and Atalanta’s two points at the start of the season, the two consecutive defeats to Inter and Torino would in fact see them lying stone-last on the table.
Their cause was not aided by the transfers of the crème de la crème of the next generation of Italian players: Ciro Immobile (Genoa), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli) and Marco Veratti (PSG). And vital in their push in becoming Serie B champions, was the chain-smoking, outspoken and drastically aged, Zdenek Zeman.
The return of Zemanlandia
Originally leaving the game due to its lack of purism, Zeman became famously known for his anti-Juve banter after he openly questioned the muscular explosion of the Juventus players of 1998. And he made no hesitancy in resorting back to his old ways when Antonio Conte was hit with his match day suspension. “A suspended player can train, but I think a coach with a long ban shouldn’t be able to train his team,” commented Zeman in a Press conference. “I haven’t read the full verdicts of the betting trial, but if people want to weaken this phenomenon then they have to be more decisive.”
Zeman once again stirred up the same warm emotion in the hearts of Giallorossi faithful when he announced his return to the club. Ironic or befitting, his return to the capital coincided with the exact day of his release from his duties at the club 13 years ago. The haze of fumata bianca was warmly welcomed by new owner Thomas DiBenedetto as the second stage of the Roma project enters its midst. Originally brought in to head the project was the Spaniard, Luis Enrique. But like so many of his opposite numbers mentioned previously in this column, he divorced from the club labelling his reasons as a result of ‘tiredness’. The inevitable return of, what is highly uncommon in the capital, the former Lazio and Roma coach sparked enthusiasm across both divides of the fans as they labelled it: ‘Zeman Part ll: The Revenge’. His flamboyant character in front of the media is a site to behold, with his football even more so. Continuity is expected to be kept in the same 4-3-3 formation implemented by the Spaniard before him, but while Enrique’s play was highly possession based and full of horizontal play, Zeman’s will be in complete contrast. Known for his attack-minded style of play, one can expect hard and endless runs from his players, vertical balls, bursting moves and a large percentage of the squad poking around in the box. With Pescara last season, his squad tallied in a master stroke of 90 goals – a feat no team could reach in Serie A, with the Rossoneri hitting the highest with a 74-goal mark.
Concerns in the defensive area continue to circulate around the Eternal City, after last season 54 goals seep in under Enrique – the second highest in the top half of the table. Nevertheless, the Czech still remains unperturbed over it: “It’s normal that every now again you risk something but when you score 90 goals [like Pescara did] it’s not important to see how many you let in.”
Zeman’s love-hate relationship with Italian football was nothing short of pure chaotic entertainment, when he first started coaching in the capital, and he will undoubtedly provide truck load more of quirks, giggles, anti-Juve rants, and, above all, entertaining football.
Marrai’s prediction table: Who will get the sack first?
Giovanni Stroppa – It may be considered near insanity to try to take over from the phenomenon labelled Zemanlandia, but to take over when the plush stars have parted ways is a mission not even James Bond would sign up for.
Two heavy defeats in the first two weeks of the campaign have only but put a heavy dent in the players’ confidence, and should Stroppa fail to get some points out of his next two games against Sampdoria and Bologna, he will be turning left at Exit Week Four. Survival is the minimum they will be aiming for.
** Editor’s Note: Last week at Palermo, Gian Piero Gasperini was appointed as their new coach after dismissing Giuseppe Sannino. **