Marcello Lippi : Man or myth?
Coach to European Cup champions Juventus, winners of the
1995/96 Italian League and Cup double, Marcello Lippi is at
the top of the tree. But, as Dave Taylor reports, he's had his
share of defeat.
The last time Marcello Lippi was given his cards was back in
'91/92, just after he had taken Atalanta to within one point
of a European place.
In his short Coaching career, he has had 10 clubs in 11 years
and been sacked by three of them.
Unfazed and unbowed by his departure from Atalanta, he moved
to Napoli where, against all odds, he proceeded to catapult
the cash-strapped club in Europe.
Since then, the silver-haired, cigar-smoking genius hasn't looked
back. In 1994 he was headhunted by Juventus, and in his first
season not only lead them to their first title since the glory
days of Michel Platini, but also to the Italian Cup.
|Lippi replaced world star Baggio with
the unknown Del Piero. Not a bad idea afterall...
Amid the excitement, he sold Roberto Baggio - the world's
best footballer - to the club's biggest rivals, replacing
him with 19-year-old Alessandro Del Piero. The fairytale continued
as Juve ended last season by beating Ajax to lift the European
So what's left to do? Quite a lot, according to the man himself.
"I want to stay with Juve as long as possible",
he says. "I also want to regain the title and keep the
European Cup this year."
Not much to ask, then.
Fundamental to any understanding of the cult that has built
up around Lippi, is some knowledge of his past. Born in the
Tuscan seaside resort of Viareggio, he played for his home-town
club as a junior before joining Sampdoria at the age of 19
He spent 12 years with the Genoa club - apart from a brief
interlude with Savona - starting with the junior side and
rising through the ranks to become the first team captain.
Making his Serie A debut on September 27, 1970, it was only
six months later that he won the first of his two international
caps for Italy's B side. It was as far as he was to get with
According to his critics, Lippi lacked aggression, even though
his elegance outshone many of his contemporaries.
"It wasn't a problem, not being picked again", he
insists. "My only aim was to become the club's number
one flag carrier."
However, if Lippi didn't appear to have problems, the club
In 1977, after ignoring several warning signs, Sampdoria were
"I worked hard for the squad on and off the field during
my five years as captain. Periodically, we wouldn't get paid,
and I had to confront the management and keep the lads on
an even keel. It wasn't easy", he admits.
The club remained in Serie B for a further five seasons, but
in 1979/80, Lippi returned to Tuscany with Serie B's Pistoia.
At the end of his first season, he led them into the promised
land of Serie A as captain.
|Lippi knows how to keep his head cool
even in tense situations.
He remained there until the summer of 1981, when he moved to
Lucca who were floundering in Serie C2. It was his last move
as a player, and towards the end of the 1981/82 campaign he
decided to call in a few debts. When he left Sampdoria for Pistoia,
President Mantovani had said: "When you're finished playing,
return here because I'd like you to work for us."
In 1982, Lippi took over Sampdoria's youth team, and in his
first game they were beaten 5-0. Grinning, he recalls the ironic
remark of Samp's first team manager, Fulvio Bernardini: "If
you could only do just a little bit better next time..."
Working with juniors like Ganz, Lanna and Gambaro, the youth
team Coach turned the uncut stones into first team gems while
waiting patiently for his chance. The first team job came and
went several times, passing into the hands of Ulivieri, Bersellini
and, finally, Vujadin Boskov.
Lippi continued with a shrug, but his faith had been broken:
"I had not made any mistakes, and my rapport with the President
was perfect. I needed to become my own man, and I realised that
a Coach rarely rises through the ranks with the same club. I
needed a new experience to push me into first team management
even at the bottom", he recalls.
Lippi returned to Tuscany in 1985, where he did, indeed, start
at the bottom with Fourth Division Pontedera. He then moved
on to Siena, Pistoiese, Carrarese, Cesena, Lucchese, Atalanta,
Napoli... the progression continued.
But at Siena and Cesena he was sacked; in his first job at Pontedera
there was a player's revolution; and Siena had a team equally
as desperate. At Pistoiese, he had to persuade his side to play
with determination, even though they knew they weren't going
to get paid. It wasn't until he joined Carrarese, his fourth
club in as many yearsm that he tasted some success.
"I did well at Carrara. We finished seventh in C1, well
enough for Parma to start looking at me, but they chose Nevio
Scala. Cremonese looked too, but they went for Tarcisio Burgnich.
Finally, Cesena came calling, and I signed up for them within
four hours of meeting their President," he recalls.
Around this time Lippi sat his coaching exams at Coverciano
along with Scala, Moro, Ferruccio, Scoglio, Savoldi, Bignon,
Mazzola and Maseli. Lippi, Rampanti and Bignon came top of the
class. Armed with his licence, he took over at Cesena in Serie
A, where he kept the club one position above relegation.
Halfway through the following season, however, he was sacked
for the second time.
"The sack is like a gigantic smack in the mouth for a young
manager, and it is normal to have to restart at a lower level,"
He returned home to Viareggio for the '91/92 seaon to manage
Lucca for their first term back in Serie B. He stabilised the
Tuscan non-achievers, leaving them in ninth place, and went
to Atalanta and his third sacking. Napoli followed, and then
the Old Lad. The rest is history...
"My coaching career has been colourful, and two experiences
have been useful: with one club I was sacked after 17 games;
another at the end of the year. Both of them ended up worse
off then when I left them, and my conscience is clear. I am
sure that the problems of the two teams were not down to the
manager," he grins.
The experience, the hiccups and the adventures have all contributed
to this remarkable Coach and his personality. From the beginning
of his reign at Juventus, Lippi stressed that each of his first
them squad had to be fit and capable of playing the full 90
minutes. He will not carry dead wood or allow sentiment to cloud
His serious study of the capabilities of his individual players
and their reactions under specific conditions is typical of
his astuteness. He exploits his assets to the full and works
out plans to fit the players at his command. If that fails,
he goes out and buys them to fit his specific systems.
|Lippi relies on the reliable Peruzzi
to keep the balls outside the goal
"Today's squad is much stronger than those of the past.
We make sure that the new players are imbued with our mentality.
If we do it well, which I think we do, then naturally the team
is stronger than before.
"I believe we have the right players for the right jobs.
In the past couple of seasons, I saw many players playing roles
they weren't used to, but someone like Attilio Lombardo for
example has the right technique and intelligence for today's
Juve. He is a player who can do many things at many levels."
"I also brought in Vladimir Jugovic, an intense man who
knows the way to goal. Apart from his classical work in the
middle of the field, he was bought to find goals from that position
and so far it has worked."
To Lippi, every player is different, and his method of motivating
his team is straightforward: he doesn't set them targets. Having
been set unrealistic targets himself in the past, he simply
tells them to go out and try their hardest.
And what of Lippi the tactician? At Juventus he is said to have
changed his tactics more often than any of his predecessors,
but that doesn't hold water. He simply plays to the strengts
of his team and the weaknesses of others. Certainly, the style
of his teams has changd over the years, but its roots are still
in the passing game.
He prefers to use the width of the pitch - Lippi's is not a
long ball game; he doesn't like football played in the air.
His method is constructive, and he likes his players to play
the ball forward before they play it square or behind. His teams
have always been determined, and there are similarities between
the great Liverpool side of the '70s and '80s and the Juventus
The coach making
sure orders are followed...
His team encompasses neat passing and forceful play when needed;
each player contributes to attack when they go forward and defence
when they are on the retreat. Lippi also shows great loyalty
to his side and that also brings more out of them.
So what about Vialli's departure?
"I am sorry to see Gianluca leave. He is an intelligent
boy, a true exception. He worked hard even in the most difficult
circumstances, but it is the way things are in football,"
he shrugs philisophically.
"He almost left before I started work with Juve. Immediately
after signing for them, I had dinner with him. He'd had an unhappy
two seasons and wanted to leave. He asked me if I could help
him return to Sampdoria. I told him to lift his head up and
insisted he could be the strongest player in Europe if he tried."
"He did, and we were both rewarded for his dedication by
the Scudetto and the European Cup. Juventus owe him a lot."
Does Lippi rate the current team line up as the best?
"It's possible, but let's not forget the side that beat
Milan 2-0 at the San Siro last year. In both cases it was the
true Juve. We have seen the very best of this club this year
especially in the Champions' Cup. We played a magnificent game
in the Final and I was extremely proud for us."
Last year Gianni Agnelli complimented Lippi on his success in
the Championship and the Italian Cup, and Lippi explained that
it would be hard to repeat.
"Not without reason, but as fate would have it we won the
Champions's League. However, during the course of the season
we lost something by the roadway [the scudetto]. We won't next
time," he insists.
And you'd better believe it...