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International Journalism Fest
Marcello Lippi, the new hero of the two worlds: is all this praise deserved?
His Guangzhou Evergrande lost the Club World Cup semifinal against Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich. But the Italian coach won this trophy once with Juventus
by Pasquale Notargiacomo

The last time I saw Marcello Lippi in person was in 2010 at the Ellis Park stadium (Johannesburgh), where I was working as a volunteer for the World Cup. That day he was speaking in the press conference before the match between Italia and Slovakia. Fabio Cannavaro, Italy's captain, was sitting next to him. I remember they were defending the Italian National team, criticized by journalists after the disappointing draws against Paraguay and New Zealand. And the worst was yet to come. On the 24th of June Italia was defeated 3-2 by the Slovakian team. And Lippi's men were eliminated from the World Cup during the group stage. My boss – a Slovakian Fifa functionary – was more surprised than me. For Italy it meant a disaster: the worst World Cup ever.

 

 

Those days I was sharing an apartment with a friend of mine, Vittorio, a Juventus fan. I remember that  we frequently had discussions and vigorous arguments about Lippi. His position was deeply influenced by the victory in the 2006 World Cup. “He won the Cup, you can't criticize him”, insisted Vittorio. I didn't agree obviously: Italy had been eliminated. And Lippi – to my mind – was guilty (and victim at the same time) of his main shortcomings again: arrogance and inabilty to change. A recurring feature in his training career, which has nevertheless been undoubtedly successful. Besides the 2006 World Cup, with Juventus he won 5 Scudetti, 1 National Cup, 4 Italian Supercup; 1 Champions League, 1 Intercontinental Cup, 1 Uefa Supercup. In 2007 the newspaper Times included him among the top 50 managers of all times (at the 17th place). And in the last two years he achieved successes in China too, leading Guangzhou's team, Evergrande. He won two Chinese leagues and  one China Cup, and a few days ago, the Asian Champions against Fc Seoul. Thanks to this last victory he deserved - on many newspapers – the title of “Hero of the two worlds” because he was the first trainer to win a confederation title in two different continents (Europe and Asia).

 

Can it be fair to criticize such a winning coach? Your writer can't certainly avoid to be honest just for the gratitude towards the Italian trainer who won the fourth World Cup. I touched on the disaster of the 2010 World Cup as I also said something about Lippi's difficult character. In the same way we must remember that only one month before the beginning of the German World Cup (2006) – when Italy was rocked by the Calciopoli scandal - someone asked him to resign. He was criticized due to his 'dangerous' relations with Juventus managers, Luciano Moggi above all. And because his son, Davide, player's agent, was involved in the scandal (he would be eventually acquitted). Anyway Marcello Lippi will resign only after the victory of the World Cup. And a great decision it was (Stop at the top), had it not been overrulled- by his same old self- two years later, after Roberto Donadoni's interregnum.

 

The worst failure of Lippi's career can surely be considered his experience at Inter. Massimo Moratti, former Nerazzurri president, hired him in 1999, after he left Juventus. We can't forget the background. Only one year before, Lippi won a very controversial Scudetto prevailing over the Nerazzurri led by Gigi Simoni. So Inter fans obviously weren't favorably disposed towards him. And some players too. The Tuscan trainer tried to recreate a cushy climate. He forced Giuseppe Bergomi, the Inter legend, to retire. He replaced goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca with Angelo Peruzzi, who came from Juventus and was always faithful to him. Many players left Milan due to that revolution. At the same time he obtained from Moratti a lot of expensive signings. The Inter president paid – among others - 45 millions for Christian Bobo Vieri. However in his first year Lippi couldn't avoid to keep his “bitter enemy” Roberto Baggio. Lippi's ostracism towards the Divin Codino was patent. He could never suffer the most talented Italian player of the Nineties. Despite this troubled relationship Baggio saved Inter's season scoring a double in the playoff against Parma for the qualification to the next Champions League (3-1).

 

 

Paradoxically after that game Baggio left Milan, while Lippi was confirmed. However he wouldn't stay long: Moratti sacked him after the first match of the 2000/2001 Serie A against Reggina who defeated the Nerazzuri 2-1. Previously Inter had been knocked out by the mediocre Helsinborg in the playoffs of the Champions League.

 

Lippi will have to go back to Juventus (2001-2004) to win again. We can clearly notice his main shortcomings. Contrary to other Italian trainers who were frequently compared to him - Giovanni Trapattoni (Juve, Inter and Bayer Monaco), Carlo Ancelotti (Milan, Chelsea, Psg) and Fabio Capello (Milan, Roma, Real Madrid)- Lippi wasn't able to repeat his successes with other important clubs, with all due respect for Evergrande Guangzhou. Neither can he be considered a football originator as Arrigo Sacchi. His main quality could be considered the capability to mould a group of players in tune with his ideas, demanding them unconditioned loyalty. As he did on the occasion of the 2006 World Cup and as he didn't succeed in doing four years later, because things had changed (starting from the players' age). But his way often requires the sacrifice of talent (as in Baggio's case). And there's no trainer who can afford to run this risk for a long time.

Monday, December 16 th, 2013
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