Wednesday, December 3 rd, 2014
Mission  |   Team  |   Contact Us    
Arrigo Sacchi, the 'alien' who cracked the Italian catenaccio
The legendary Milan coach resigned from his role in the Italian football federation. "I'm too stressed", he said. This is the story of how he changed italian football forever
by Federico Formica
For whom is twenty years old now, Arrigo Sacchi could be only a mild tv sportscaster. Actually, this skinny and baldy coach with a strong Romagna accent  turned around Italian football, leaving an imprint that endures still today, even in the impoverished Italianfootball of 2013.


Style and trends in Italy – as Hollywood films - always come later. For example, the famous “Total Football” performed by the Netherlands of coach Rinus Michels and the great Yohan Cruyff arrived 15 years later. And it happened thanks to Arrigo Sacchi, who adopted this model with some changes. Hard-work culture, exercises repeated hundreds of times (often in the same training session) were concepts somewhatdistant from the libertine Orange team. Under Sacchi's sessions, maybe a player like Cruyff – not so disposed to patience – could have gone crazy.


People who attended a match of Ac Milan in Sacchi's era described the match with military metaphors. It was like an army in advance: solid, symmetric, strong, devastating.


With Arrigo Sacchi, the counter-attack ceased to have a bad nuance. It was the same Italian coach to repudiate that word replacing it with ripartenza. It was not a coincidence  that the Grande Milan had three dutch pillars: Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Marco Van Basten. Someone said that it  was Arrigo Sacchi to bring zone defense in Italy. But that was untrue: it was the swedish Nils Liedholm to adopt with success the zone – a few years earlier - with As Roma and Ac Milan.


In Italy Arrigo Sacchi was highly respected, but fiercely criticized as well. He came from nothing, he never played as a professional footballer, in a conservative world as calcio was (and still is) he was like an alien. For his colleagues, he was a parvenu, an unknown convinced to be the best. Sacchi landed on calcio like a storm, stealing certainties from coaches that – until then – were considered born-winners. But he soon became a winner: one Scudetto, two European Cups, two Intercontinental Cups and two Uefa Super Cups.


He always refused most of the Italian  strategic dogmas and maybe that was the reason why Sacchi was the most respected Italian coach by non-Italians. In 2007 the New York  Times nominated him as the best Italian coach ever.


Arrigo Sacchi's career was incredibly short. After four glorious years with Rossoneri, he trained for five years la Nazionale, the Italian national team; then he had a short experience with the Spanish Atletico Madrid (22 Liga matches) and a blink of an eye with Parma: only three matches before capitulating to  stress. For Sacchi, football has always been something awfully serious.


The story of Sacchi as commissario tecnico (ct) of Italy (everybody in Italy calls the coach of the national team this way) was the other great chapter of his story. In Italy there is a saying: “Italy is a country peopled by 60 millions of commissari tecnici”. The meaning is: any Italian is convinced to be a great manager, to rule all the secrets of football, to have the best solution. Italians always argued about every commissario tecnico, but with Sacchi, polemics had the tones of a religious war.


In 1991, when he was chosen to take Azeglio Vicini's place after the semifinals lost against Argentina in the World Cup of Italy '90, Arrigo Sacchi was a coach a la mode.  But, maybe, he was unfit for a role like that. His method was based on everyday work and repetitions. Working with his players 5-6 times per year made it impossible to recreate the winning Milan model.

As a Ct, Arrigo Sacchi lost the World Cup final in 1994 against Brazil. It was the first final ever determined by penalties. One of his most trusty players, Franco Baresi, missed the first one. Daniele Massaro missed the second. The star of that competition, Roberto Baggio, missed the last. But the lead actor of that World Cup was Roberto Baggio's genius, there was no tactic innovation or revolutionary playing style Arrigo Sacchi was distinguished for.


The most recent compliment Arrigo Sacchi received was a prestigious one. After winning the semifinals against Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp said in a post-match interview that he “learned everything from him. My team is 10% of what Arrigo Sacchi's team was ”. 

Thanks to our reviewer Lorenzo Franceschi Bicchierai

Friday, August 1 st, 2014
For discussion of this topic and many more about Serie A, join R/ItalianFootball