THE BLOG

Veni Vidi Vici! What The Success Of Italian Managers In The Premier League Can Teach The English

16/03/2017 12:22 GMT | Updated 16/03/2017 12:22 GMT
Reuters Staff / Reuters

Claudio Ranieri lasted just 19 months in charge of Leicester City, miraculously somewhat below the average tenure of 23 months for a Premier League manager, as recorded by the ​LMA at the end of last season.

From start to bitter end, Ranieri's whirlwind rise and fall defied all explanation and rational analysis. In a uniformly structured world of Premier League 'haves and have nots', the Foxes, for a brief and shining moment, tore apart the space time continuum of what was believed possible.

While Ranieri may have departed Leicester's bonkers ride, one of the few predictable things to come from the wider story is that his torch should be passed to Chelsea's Antonio Conte.

Barring a fall almost as great as Leicester's rise, Chelsea will be 2017 Premier League champions and Conte, remarkably, will be the fourth Italian to win the competition as a manager since its inception 25 years ago.

The Italian connection is a success story that has drifted somewhat under the radar.

To give context, there have been just eight Premier League winning managers in total (not yet including Conte) and, apart from the Italians, only Scottish has more than one title winning manager to its nationality (Sir Alex Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish), while the other medals are shared out between Arsene Wenger (French), Jose Mourinho (Portuguese) and Manuel Pellegrini (Chilean).

To make matters more impressive still, there have only been 11 Italian managers in Premier League history, meaning over a third are (or rather will be very shortly) Premier League winners.

Of the victors: first there was the avuncular Carlo Ancelotti, in 2010. He was followed by the stylish and brooding Roberto Mancini (2012), then along came the uber avuncular Ranieri (2016) and now the hard, tactical innovator Antonio Conte (2017).

Of the others who didn't claim a league title, Gianluca Vialli (the first Italian to manage in the Premier League, when he became player-manager at Chelsea in 1998) achieved a third place finish and won the FA Cup, League Cup and Cup Winners Cup in the space of two pre-Abramovich years, while Roberto Di Matteo defied expectations at the Blues to win a scarcely probable FA Cup and Champions League double.

Beyond the confines of England, Italian is also the only nationality to have had a winning manager in all of Europe's 'big five' leagues, and has won the Champions League six times since its 1993 rebrand - level only with Spain for the number of managerial victories by nationality.

The underlying successes of the masters of calcio in England (and across Europe) could be written off by some as coincidences. The advanced tactical nous and in-built fanaticism of the Azzurri may be a slightly tired, fetishised cliche, but there is undeniably something more going on that is breeding success among coaches time and again in a way that is fundamentally not happening in other countries.

Other countries like England.

In bleak contrast, since the beginning of the Premier League era, English is the only nationality not to have won the top flight of its own country. Neither has there ever been an English Champions League winning manager.

In the same period of time, Serie A has been won by an Italian every year but three - with Sven Goran Eriksson and Jose Mourinho the only foreign bosses to lift Scudetti thus far.

Myriad factors come into play, but still the question is begged: what is it that they are doing right, that the English are so obviously not?

Adaptability

For one, many Italian coaches seemingly possess a fluid approach and adaptability to travelling abroad in search of work and new challenges that is virtually unparalleled by other nations, particularly those from the British Isles.

While this season may mark Conte's first term away from his homeland, Ranieri and Ancelotti have worked in five different countries apiece, while Mancini currently lags behind on three. The ability to study and hone one's skills outside the comforts of home is something Italians seem to do especially well.

Experience

Secondly, contrary to popular myth, Blighty-bound Italians don't receive preferential treatment in the most expensive league around. The grating whines that young British managers don't get chances in the Premier League, might fall on more sympathetic ears if the foreigners coming in weren't so darn good, and so much more experienced.

Despite his status as a Juventus legend, Conte wasn't ushered to the high rollers tables without paying his dues. Instead, he started his non-playing career at the brutally unfashionable Serie B side Arezzo, before travelling the length and breadth of Italy's famous boot from Bari to Atalanta and Siena, with mixed results, before taking the reigns at the Old Lady.

Ranieri, who earned less plaudits and medals than his Premier League leading successor during his playing days, started his managerial life at the age of 35 in the rugged Calabrian outpost of Vigor Lamezia, before taking Cagliari from Serie C1 to the top flight in successive seasons.

Ancelotti was given the privilege of learning under Arrigo Sacchi as national team assistant coach, before pacing the dugout at Reggiana in Serie B, with whom he earned promotion before he earned his stab at the big time.

Resilience

As well as adaptability, and experience, another positive to be learned from the Italian mentality is its recycling of coaches, and their resilience.

Serie A might have a reputation for putting the manager's head on the chopping block quicker than a medieval prince, but perceived failure in one job has never hindered the persistent from getting back on the horse, learning from mistakes and improving.

Ancelotti built his reputation with a ludicrously talented Parma squad that contained the likes of Hernan Crespo, Gigi Buffon and Fabio Cannavaro but his subsequent move to Juventus was an objective failure.

Despite having Zinedine Zidane, the current Bayern boss could only muster an Intertoto Cup from two seasons in Turin, and embarrassingly surrendered a five point lead in three games to Lazio at the end of the 2000 campaign to throw away the Scudetto.

However, rather than being blacklisted, the young coach was given the opportunity at AC Milan, with whom he enjoyed his longest spell to date and took home two Champions League titles.

Obviously, England needs to catch up to the European crowd by producing more UEFA qualified coaches, that much is certain - and the statistics are damning. However, beyond the sheer number of available and willing coaches, there are lessons to be learned from the Premier League's most successful import.

The quartet of Conte, Ranieri, Mancini and Ancelotti should not just be viewed as disparate, otherworldly super bosses hand picked from Europe at the expense of homegrown options, but rather as case studies in longevity and durability, and as a possible blueprint for building winners.

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