Please Don’t Ride the Italian Coaching Carousel

By The Amazing Sneijderman, Friend of the Blog

In an effort to maintain whatever semblance of Italian language skills I had after spending six months in Italy, I often check out the website of the Gazzetta dello Sport, Italy’s top sports paper. A few months ago, they had a poll on the website asking who was to blame for the Lakers’ struggles. By an overwhelming majority, Gazzetta readers pointed the finger at head coach Mike D’Antoni.

D’Antoni had been in charge for ten days.

Italian sports have a deep, fundamental distrust of managers or head coaches. A team loses a close game to a bitter rival? The manager must have lost control of the dressing room. A team’s star player refuses to show up for practice? The coach needs to improve his interpersonal skills. The reasons for this distrust aren’t up for debate, but the fact remains that coaches in Italy, especially in the top levels of soccer, have a shelf life shorter than a carton of milk at the corner bodega.

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Serie A, the top flight Italian soccer league featuring 20 teams, started its season on August 25, 2012. Since then, a period of about 7 months, 8 teams have made a mid-season managerial change. 3 of those 8 have made multiple changes. Those highlighted in pink indicate midseason changes.

Table 1

For reference, the current longest-tenured coach in Serie A is Walter Mazzarri of Napoli, whose position with the same team since 2009 has earned him completely fictional comparisons to Jerry Sloan. But Mazzarri’s contract is up at the end of the year. Odds that he stays are slim.

Javier Zanetti, Inter’s evergreen 39-year old defender, has been with the club since 1995. In that time, he’s had 20 managerial changes. Had he played for Palermo for all that time, he’d have seen 37 changes.

To put it in perspective for US sports, 2 MLB managers were fired midseason last year (though Sandy Alomar Jr. managed only the last 3 games for Cleveland); 3 NBA coaches were fired midseason in both 2011-2012 and so far this year; a record 8 midseason NHL firings in 2011-2012; and 0 NFL midseason firings in 2012.

The reason for this insane turnover isn’t a lack of top managers, either. Italians are in charge of giants PSG and Manchester City, as well as numerous other teams across Europe. Italians are known for their reputation as tactical wizards, especially defensively. Yet that reputation isn’t good enough for managers in Italy to keep their jobs.

It’s also easy to assume that teams that are lower in the standings are the ones who are more prone to making managerial changes. This is true, but only to a degree. Roma, for example, currently sit seventh in the table, yet fired manager Zeman a few weeks ago. Sampdoria, a year removed from Serie B and firmly safe from relegation in tenth, fired its manager in December.

Let’s go back only one season in Serie A, to 2011-2012.

Table 2

Since the start of the 2011 season, 15 of the 20 teams have changed their manager. In roughly 1.5 years, 75% of the teams have decided to start from scratch in terms of playing style and philosophy.

Even more impressive, 9 of those 15 have made multiple managerial changes in the same period. If nothing else, you would think if you have to make that many changes, your problem probably isn’t with the manager. Looking at the teams that have made the most changes unsurprisingly confirms this.

Palermo has made 6(!) manager changes in the last year and a half. Bear with me for a second here, but it’s important. The team started the 2011-2012 season with Stefano Pioli, who was hired over the summer, replacing Delio Rossi, who had coached the team since 2009. Pioli was fired a week into the season, and replaced by Devis Mangia. Mangia lasted until December of 2011, when he was replaced by Bortolo Mutti. Mutti coached the team the rest of the year, but was let go in May of 2012 in favor of Giuseppe Sannino.

If you’re already getting tired of all these names, we’re only halfway through.

Sannino was fired a month into the 2012 season, and was replaced by Gian Piero Gasperini. Gasperini was fired in February of 2013, and was replaced by Alberto Malesani. Malesani was fired a week ago, and replaced with Gasperini. Yes, Palermo rehired the man they fired a month ago as their new manager.

And no joke, as I was writing this piece Palermo fired Gasperini again. After two games. And are reportedly replacing him with Sannino. Who was fired in September. I would say you can’t make this shit up, but that’s exactly what Palermo is doing as it goes along. That’s seven changes in the past 2 years, and 27 since 2002.

Palermo ended the 2011-2012 season in 16th place. They are currently dead last in 2012-2013. Genoa, with 5 managerial changes in that span, has remained in 17th place. Cagliari, with 3, has moved from 15th to 13th.

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It would be one thing to be a fan of these teams if you had confidence that your owner was bringing in the right person for the job. Maybe it’s an up-and-coming young coach with a lot of personality and flair. Or maybe it’s a former player who can lend his experience to a club in need of confidence.

Yet, time and time again, Italian clubs recycle coaches like they’re getting tax credits for separating the trash.

Take Alberto Malesani.  I’m sure he’s a great person and those who know him personally love him. But his recent coaching track record is just not very good.  His teams haven’t had a positive goal differential since 2007. And yet he keeps getting hired. Malesani has been hired by 5 top-flight teams since 2009. Let me repeat that. In three years, this guy has been hired and fired five different times. Apparently Einstein’s definition of insanity was never translated into Italian.

And it’s not just Malesani. Serse Cosmi has been with 4 teams since 2009. Delio Rossi has had 5 different appointments with 4 different teams. It’s unbelievable how uninspired and depressing these choices are. Imagine Bobby Valentine being hired by the Marlins this year, then hired by the Astros the next year, and then rehired by the Red Sox the next year. Shotgun’s in the front-hall closet.

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Now it’s true that the last few years have been “down years” for Serie A. Traditional powers like AC Milan, Roma, and Inter were not as good as they have been in past years. And with poor performances comes more firings. But it’s possible that the league is turning a corner. The top three teams in the table currently have all had their manager since at least the start of 2011.

If this trend contin…just kidding. We already know that’s impossible. There’s no rhyme or reason to the firings. Part of the reason is crazy owners, which is an article for a different day. Part of it is egotistical managers. And another part is crazily unrealistic expectations by fans and media. But why blame yourself when you can just blame the guy who is literally paid, at least temporarily, to take the fall.

It’s like those crime ads you see on TV. In the time it takes you to read this article, one Serie A coach has probably been fired.

 

You can read more of Sneijderman’s depressing ramblings scholarly takes on soccer and other things on Twitter at @amharris26 or on Deadspin as The Amazing Sneijderman.

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4 Responses to Please Don’t Ride the Italian Coaching Carousel

  1. Sneijderman says:

    Thanks.

    I read the other day that Zamparini, Palermo’s owner, made 25 or 26 coaching changes at Venezia from 1987 until 2002, when he bought Palermo. And then 27 at Palermo. He’s insane.

    • cobra says:

      Also worth noting, that of the ten teams that comprise the top half of the table [in order, Juve, Napoli, Milan, Fiorentina, Inter, Lazio, Roma, Catania, Udinese and Bologna], only one club (Roma) has fired their gaffer this year.

      • Sneijderman says:

        Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Although Mazzarri is probably gone at the end of the year, especially if Napoli keeps sliding. And rumors today that Allegri of Milan is on the way out, though not because he’s doing a bad job. And if Inter don’t improve, Stramaccioni is gone, along with the technical director.

        Just a regular Tuesday in March.

  2. cobra says:

    More of this, please.

    Having just read the other day about Palermo’s revolving door policy, I had hoped that somebody could put something together like this. Good to see I’m not the only one who does absolutely nothing at work.

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