Serie A's Five Greatest Managers of All Time

Sam LoprestiFeatured ColumnistAugust 9, 2013

Serie A's Five Greatest Managers of All Time

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    Being a manager in Italy is a rough job.  In many cases the prevailing attitude of team owners and presidents is sack first, ask questions later.

    That kind of instability can lead to disastrous results.  Recently-relegated Palermo had four in-season managerial changes over the course of the season.  Men like the rosaneri's Maurizio Zamperini and Inter's Massimo Moratti often give in to knee-jerk reactions and fire their managers at the first sign of trouble.

    But when a manager is able to grab a foothold and endure at an Italian club, the results tend to be good.

    The era in which a manager would spend a decade or more at one club seems to be behind us.  Both trigger-happy owners and the transient nature of the modern soccer coach has seen to that.  But these five men took the reigns of their clubs in Italy and led their teams to extended runs of success, becoming legendary in the process.

Helenio Herrera

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    The Argentinian Herrera had been coaching at Barcelona for two seasons before arriving at the San Siro after a row with the Spanish club and several top players.  He imported midfielder Luis Suarez Miaramontes from his old club and proceeded to revolutionize the Italian game.

    In his first eight years with the nerazzurri, Herrera modified a tactic known as verrou.  The system had been invented in the 1930s by Austrian coach Karl Rappan.  A slightly modified version was pioneered in Italy by Nereo Rocco in the late '40s and '50s.

    Herrera's changes to the system allowed for greater flexibility on the counterattack.  In two years he had Inter on top of Serie A, ushering in the period known to the team's fans as La Grande Inter.

    Catenaccio had truly been born.

    Herrera ended up winning three scudetti at Inter, as well as two European Cups and two Intercontinental Cups.  After Inter he moved on to Roma, where he added the Coppa Italia to his resume before erratic league form led to his dismissal.

    He returned to Inter for a year before a heart attack kept him away from full-time managing for four years.  He returned to the sidelines for a year with Rimini and then returned to Barca for two more years before retiring.

    His trophy case is impressive, but even more important was his impact on Italy's tactics.

    Catennacio influenced Italy's tactics for years—it was widespread on both the club and national level.

    Its influence on the Italian game was so strong that, even years after it was abandoned as obsolete, fans still associate it with the Italian tactics of today.  Its emphasis on defense has led to the Italian reputation for hard-nosed defense and led to the rise of some of Italy's greatest defenders.  Men like Claudio Gentile, Franco Barese, Paolo Maldini, Fabio Cannavaro, and Giorgio Chiellini owe their careers to Herrera's system.

Marcello Lippi

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    It's a real shame that the last act of Marcello Lippi's career in Italian soccer was the catastrophe that was the 2010 World Cup.  The debacle in South Africa hides a truly great career.

    Lippi became a Serie A manager in 1989 at Cesena, seven years after he retired as a player to focus on coaching.  After bouncing through Lucchese and Atalanta, Lippi's career took off in the 1993-94 season while at the helm of Napoli.

    The partenopei were in a state of financial turmoil in the aftermath of the Diego Maradona years, but Lippi was able to carry the team to a sixth-place finish and a berth in the UEFA Cup.

    The feat set off a race for his services which was won by Juventus.  In five years he won a pair of titles and the UEFA Champions League in 1995-96.  It was the first of three consecutive Champions League finals for Juve under Lippi, although they lost the next two to Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid.

    After Juve he made the move to Inter, but it ended after less than two seasons, and he returned to Juve.  He won two more scudetti and made one more trip to the Champions League final, losing to AC Milan on penalties.

    After his second three-year stint in Turin FIGC came calling looking for a replacement for Giovanni Trapattoni.  Lippi took the reins of the Italian national team and guided them to the 2006 World Cup title before leaving the team to the stewardship of Roberto Donadoni.  The former Milan man was dismissed following Euro 2008 however, and Lippi was rehired for Italy's defense of the their title—presiding over the disaster of the group stage exit in South Africa.

    Lippi never relied on a firm set of tactics.  Instead he used the formation that catered best to his players.  In his first stint with Juve he tended to favor a 4-3-3, in his second the 4-4-2 was more prevalent.  At the World Cup in '06 he preferred either a 4-4-1-1 or 4-3-1-2—albeit a flatter version of the one Cesare Prandelli currently uses.

    His ability to match his tactics to his team was the key to leading Italy's most storied club to one of its most successful periods.

Fabio Capello

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    Fabio Capello was a controversial choice when he replaced Arrigo Sacchi as AC Milan manager in 1991.  It was assumed he would be a yes-man for owner Silvio Berlusconi, and some wanted to keep the more confrontational Sacchi, who had delivered the team consecutive Champions League titles.

    Capello silenced critics by winning three straight Serie A titles and making three consecutive Champions League finals, winning one.  Overall he won four scudetti along with the European crown, a European Super Cup and three Supercoppas.

    His success caught the eye of Real Madrid, and he spent a successful season at the Bernabeu before falling out with management and returning to Milan.

    His second stint at the San Siro was forgettable.  Milan had a terrible season and finished 10th.  Capello left the club and took a year off from managing.

    He was appointed manager of Roma in 1999, and, after finishing sixth his first year, Capello led the team to the third league title in the team's history.  The giallorossi lost out to Juventus in their title defense by a single point, then the next year fell to a disappointing eighth-place finish.

    Capello's final year in Rome saw the team start well and win seven straight games going into the winter break.  Their form fell off, however, and they finished 11 points off the pace.  The club was riddled with debt and Capello had lost the support of the team's fans.  He left Roma and moved on to Juventus.

    At Juve he made the Champions League quarterfinals twice and won a pair of league titles.  Those titles were stripped as a result of the calciopoli match-fixing scandal.  The fallout from the scandal also saw Capello's Italian management career end.  He moved back to Real Madrid for a year before forays into international management with England and Russia.

    Capello was one of the first managers who used a modern squad-rotation system.  Under his management Milan had one of its most successful periods and Roma won its last title to date.

Carlo Ancelotti

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    Carlo Ancelotti began his career as a Serie A manager at Parma in 1996, where he took charge of future superstars like Gianluigi Buffon and Fabio Cannavaro.  He guided the team to a surprise second-place finish in the '96-'97 season and a top-five position the next year before attracting the attention of Juventus, moving to Turin in 1999.

    He started brightly by winning the Intertoto Cup, but he was runner-up in Serie A twice and was sacked by Juve in a most brutal way.  His dismissal was announced at halftime of the final league game of the 2000-01 season, despite the fact that he still had a chance to win the title at the end of the day.

    Ancelotti was then appointed as manager of Milan in November of 2001 after the sacking of Fatih Terim.  He got Milan back into European competition, and in his first full season led the team to the semifinal of the UEFA Cup.

    He began to turn Milan back into the powerhouse it was under Sacchi and Capello.  After playing a defensive style in his first year, he transitioned to a more dynamic way of playing.  Amongst the notable adjustments he made to this end was to take a young attacking midfielder and convert him into a deep-lying playmaker.  Andrea Pirlo turned into the engine behind the attack of both club and country for the next decade.

    In 2003 Ancelotti won his first of two Champions League titles with the rossoneri, beating his old club Juventus on penalty kicks after a goalless draw at Old Trafford.  The next year, he won his first league title.  Ancelotti stayed with the team after it avoided getting pilloried by calciopoli and won his second Champions League in 2007 by avenging their 2005 finals loss to Liverpool.

    In 2009, he left Milan to take over at Chelsea.  Most recently he guided Paris Saint-Germain to the Ligue 1 title.  He left PSG this summer to take over at Real Madrid.

    At the end of the day Ancelotti's biggest contribution to Italian soccer might be his impact on Pirlo's career.  His transition from defensive tactics to an attacking mode early in his Milan tenure was seamless.  Getting Parma to compete favorably with the league's big boys—especially so early in his career—is an impressive feat and helped the team to its famous Coppa Italia/UEFA Cup double the year after he left the team.

Giovanni Trapattoni

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    Giovanni Trapattoni is one of the most celebrated managers in history.

    After spending a year as Milan's manager, Trapattoni moved to Juventus in 1976, where he spent the next 10 seasons.

    In those 10 seasons, Juventus was incredibly successful domestically, winning six league titles and two Coppa Italia titles.  In Europe Trapattoni won every competition there was to win.  Juve claimed the UEFA Cup in 1977, the Cup Winners' Cup in 1984 and the European Supercup that summer.

    In 1985 he crowned his tenure with the team's first European Cup, although the final match against Liverpool was overshadowed by the tragic Heysel Disaster.

    Two years later Trapattoni moved to Inter, where he won one league title and a UEFA Cup in five years.  A three-year return to Juve followed, where he again won the UEFA Cup in 1993 by beating Borussia Dortmund.

    Trap then left Italy for the first time, spending a season at Bayern Munich before coming back to Italy to coach Cagliari for a year.  He left the Isolani to return to Bayern, where he won a league title and a German Cup in two more years in Bavaria.

    He returned to the Serie A for two years at Fiorentina—getting la viola to the Champions League—before spending four years as the manager of the Italian national team.  His Azzurri were knocked out of the 2002 World Cup in controversial fashion in the round of 16, and a poor showing at Euro 2004 saw him replaced by Marcello Lippi.

    Trapattoni dove right back into the club game in Portugal, Germany and Austria before going back into the international game as coach of the Irish national team.

    Trap's tactics have always leaned towards the defensive.  During his unsuccessful stint at Stuttgart, several of his players accused him of being afraid to attack.

    Something obviously worked, though.  Trapattoni has won 10 league titles in four different countries (Italy, Germany, Portugal, Austria) and is the only manager in history to have won the European Cup, UEFA Cup, Cup Winners' Cup, European Super Cup, and Intercontinental Cup.  All of his European and intercontinental titles came with Italian clubs, and his seven scudetti are a most impressive achievement.

    Between his success in Europe and domestically, Trapattoni is the best manager in the league's history.