Italy’s best export: their coaches

The Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga are all propped up by some of Italy’s best coaches: Carlo Ancelotti, Claudio Ranieri, Antonio Conte and Cesare Prandelli to name but a few.

Conte, Ancelotti, Ranieri

Antonio Conte, Carlo Ancelotti, Claudio Ranieri Source: Getty Images

Imagine if they were all to return to coaching in Italy and what Serie A might look like then.

But it’s not just these bigger names that are missing because there are others such as Walter Mazzarri, Gianni De Biasi and Walter Zenga who have all been lost, at least temporarily, by Italy.

Marcello Lippi is another one - Italy’s most successful national team coach, and one of the most successful Serie A coaches of the modern era, spent the past few years of his illustrious coaching career in China in charge of Guangzhou Evergrande. He has now been appointed boss of China's national team.

It’s been the case now for over 20 years that the best and most successful Italian coaches, either with the national team or at club level, have all experienced life outside of Italy. Arrigo Sacchi, Giovanni Trapattoni, Fabio Capello and Alberto Zaccheroni have all had successful – and some less successful – stints abroad.

The obvious reason that these coaches left Italy was financial gain and that’s fair enough, but surely there are clubs in the Serie A with the resources and the willingness to entice some of them back.

Italian club football is at a stage where it needs every possible advantage as it can’t continually rely on the Juventus juggernaut to bring it respectability in the UEFA Champions League and beyond.

For instance, what are both the Milanese clubs doing besides masquerading around on the back of their past glories? Inter and AC Milan fans deserve better.

Ancelotti was reported to be close to signing with his former club AC Milan but opted to move to Bayern Munich instead.

After conquering the domestic leagues of Italy, England and France, and four titles in Spain, the German Bundesliga may have been seen to him as the last frontier.

Ancelotti is definitely in the elite echelon of club coaches and, while it is a futile exercise to subjectively rank them in order, it must be recognised that Ancelotti is coaching royalty. Success at AC Milan, Chelsea, PSG and Real Madrid is testament to his pedigree.

Ranieri did the unthinkable and unimaginable with Leicester City last season and is so far achieving wonderful success in the Champions League with his team.

While Ranieri was no stranger to overseas adventures – Valencia, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Monaco and Greece are all on his C.V. – he was also well known in Italy having coached at some of the country’s biggest clubs: Juventus, Roma, Inter, Napoli, Fiorentina and Parma.

Pragmatic and successful with often limited resources at his disposal, Ranieri was cast aside in Italy as yesterday’s man and left to take up the reins at unfancied Leicester after being sacked as manager of Greece.

One assumes that humble pie must be on the menu of some of the Serie A owners given his Premier League success.

Conte was another who slipped under the radar. Outstanding at Juventus and very impressive with the Azzurri, Chelsea was allowed to sneak in and drag him away from under Italy’s nose.

How a young coach, in his absolute prime, was allowed to leave to the national team post after two very successful years is still a mystery.

Hindsight may well prove what a poor decision it was to let Conte go without ever having guided the Azzurri at a World Cup. Surely he needed to remain at the helm until at least after Russia 2018.

On the subject of former national coaches, Prandelli at Valencia is another who got away.

His crime? A not so successful Brasil 2014 World Cup after easily guiding the Azzurri through a very successful qualifying campaign. He resigned from his post and was all but forgotten about in Italy.

When he was in charge of Fiorentina for six seasons he was very highly regarded, just as he was previously at Parma. 

In between his Parma and Fiorentina years, Prandelli signed a contract with AS Roma only to rescind it a short time later when he wife was diagnosed with cancer.

Prandelli is not only an astute coach but a man of integrity and principle who has strongly campaigned against racism and homophobia in football. Italian football needs quality people like Prandelli.

Watford’s current boss Walter Mazzarri is another who should be coaching in Italy but somehow he’s at Vicarage Road working miracles with the unfancied Premier League team.

He changed Sampdoria’s style of play in his two seasons there, was very successful at Napoli in his four seasons including almost claiming a Scudetto and was unfairly sacked by Inter in 2014 in his second season in charge. The Nerazzurri have been a basket-case since his departure.

Wolverhampton Wanderers have Walter Zenga in charge. One of the most brilliant goalkeepers in his playing days, he has coached all over the world – USA, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, UAE, Saudi Arabia and now England.

The three seasons he had scattered in between of all this overseas odyssey in Italy’s Serie A, were at three different clubs: Catania, Palermo and Sampdoria.

On all three occasions he wasn’t given a second season to build on anything he had started. How can an accurate assessment be made after only one season?

And therein lies the problem. Some of Italy’s best coaches are too quickly discarded and judged, while others are simply allowed to slip away in what many consider to be the normal course of the transfer markets.

Well it’s not and, as the Serie A attempts to remain relevant, it can least afford to allow such intellectual property to prop up other leagues.

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6 min read
Published 21 October 2016 at 3:47pm
By Joe Russo