Showing posts with label Diego Maradona. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Diego Maradona. Show all posts

7 March 2024

Luciano Spalletti - football manager

National coach has long record of success

Luciano Spalletti reached the pinnacle of his club career by winning Serie A title
Luciano Spalletti reached the pinnacle of
his club career by winning Serie A title
The football manager Luciano Spalletti, who led Napoli to their first Serie A title since the Diego Maradona era before being appointed head coach to Italy’s national team, was born on this day in 1959 in the Tuscan town of Certaldo, just under 50km (31 miles) southwest of Florence.

A late starter as a professional player, at 64 Spalletti became the oldest winning coach in the history of the Italian championship when Napoli won the 2022-23 scudetto.

The achievement turned him into a hero in Naples, where fans celebrated in scenes not witnessed in the southern Italian city since Napoli won two titles in four years with the late Maradona as captain and talisman, the second of which was 33 years earlier in the 1989-90 campaign.

Having hinted before the season finished that he was thinking about taking time out of football, Spalletti confirmed ahead of the final fixture that he would be leaving the club to take a year’s sabbatical.

In the event, his break from the game lasted only three months. Following Roberto Mancini’s resignation, Spalletti was appointed head coach of the Italian national team, officially taking charge on September 1, 2023.

His first major assignment will be to defend Mancini’s European championship title when Italy contest Euro 2024 in Germany, having secured qualification by winning three and drawing two of his first six matches in charge, before switching his attention to qualifying for the 2026 World Cup finals following the failure by the azzurri to qualify for the last two tournaments.

Italy fans will have high hopes that Spalletti can emulate his success in club football, in which he has an outstanding record as a coach following a relatively modest record as a player.

A young Spalletti with his first professional club, Entella
A young Spalletti with his first
professional club, Entella
Brought up in Empoli, about 30km (19 miles) north of Certaldo, Spalletti played at a semi-professional level until his mid-20s, after which he played for a number of clubs in Serie C, the third tier in the Italian pyramid.

He finished his playing career at Empoli in 1993, remaining at the club as a coach and being appointed head coach there a year later.  It was not long before his potential to become a top coach came to the fore as Empoli won back-to-back promotions to return to Serie A for only the second time in their history.

Four years later, after spells with Sampdoria, Venezia and Ancona, Spalletti served notice again that he was capable of making an impact at the highest level by steering unheralded Udinese to fourth place in the 2004-05 season, when their exciting, attacking football enabled them to qualify for the Champions League for the first time.

He was immediately snapped up by Roma, being named Serie A coach of the year in his first season in the capital. While there were no trophies to show for his debut campaign, Spalletti was recognised for bringing order to the club after a chaotic previous year in which they had changed head coach three times, and for changing their style from defensive to attacking as they finished runners-up in the Coppa Italia and qualified for the Champions League.

He retained the Serie A coach’s crown the following year as Roma won the Coppa Italia for the first of two times under Spalletti, reached the last eight of the Champions League and finished runners-up in Serie A, a feat he repeated in the 2007-08 season while also retaining the Coppa Italia and winning the Supercoppa Italia.

More success followed as Spalletti ventured abroad for the first time, his period as head coach at Zenit St Petersburg bringing two Russian Premier League titles, a Russian Cup and a Russian Super Cup.

Back in Italy, Spalletti took charge at Inter-Milan, qualifying for the Champions League in each of his two seasons.

Spalletti won two Russian Premier League championships with Zenit St Petersburg
Spalletti won two Russian Premier League
championships with Zenit St Petersburg
His triumph with Napoli followed two seasons without a job, his achievement at the Stadio San Paolo - by then renamed in honour of Maradona - all the more remarkable for having been achieved with a rebuilt team following the departure of several experienced players in the summer of 2022.

The 2022-23 season saw Spalletti's free-scoring side equal the Maradona team’s record of 11 consecutive wins and reach January before suffering their first league defeat, quickly bouncing back with a 5-1 win against arch rivals Juventus in Naples, the heaviest defeat anyone had inflicted on the Turin side since in 30 years.  

Spalletti’s team were 12 points clear of the field by the end of January and clinched the title with five matches to spare. He was honoured with the Serie A coach of the year award for the third time.

Despite his high profile as a coach, Spalletti has managed to keep his personal life private. Married since 1989 to Tamara, with whom he has three children, he spends his time away from football at La Rimessa, a country estate in the Tuscan hills just a few kilometres away from Certaldo, which he acquired first as a place of solitude but which now provides another source of income.

As well as growing olives for oil and grapes for Sangiovese wine, Spalletti offers upmarket accommodation on the beautifully landscaped 50-acre estate near the village of Montaione in the shape of five luxury rustic villas and apartments created from converted farm buildings.

Boccaccio's birthplace (with the tower) in Certaldo Alto
Boccaccio's birthplace (with the
tower) in Certaldo Alto
Travel tip:

Certaldo, where Luciano Spalletti was born, is a charming town of around 16,000 residents in the Valdesa region of Tuscany, easily reached from Florence by road or rail, it being a stop on the line linking the Tuscan capital with Siena. With a history going back to the Etruscan era, Certaldo began to thrive during the Middle Ages and is well known as the birthplace of Giovanni Boccaccio, the Renaissance writer and poet whose collection of short stories under the title of The Decameron had a profound influence on the development of Italian literature. Boccaccio’s house near the town’s walls in the mediaeval Certaldo Alto - the upper town - is open to the public as a museum and also offers breathtaking views over the surrounding countryside from its tower. The Palazzo Pretorio, or Vicariale, is the restored former residence of the Florentine governors. It has a picturesque facade adorned with ceramic coats of arms and is decorated with frescoes originating between the 13th and 16th centuries. It is also home to a collection of Roman and Etruscan artefacts discovered in the area. 

Stay in Certaldo with

One of the converted farmbuildings on Spalletti's country estate outside the village of Montaione
One of the converted farmbuildings on Spalletti's
country estate outside the village of Montaione
Travel tip:

Montaione is a quaint village located about 17km (11 miles) west of Certaldo, a short distance from the Sacro Monte di San Vivaldo, a sanctuary made up of 18 chapels, each representing a site in the Holy Land, which is sometimes known as Tuscany’s Jerusalem. The monastery has works attributed to Giovanni della Robbia, Benedetto Buglioni, Raffaellino del Garbo and Andrea Sansovino. Set on a green hill surrounded by beautiful vineyards, olive trees and woods in a typical Tuscan landscape, Montaione itself boasts much mediaeval charm and has become a popular tourist destination, particularly for well-heeled visitors following a substantial investment by a leisure company in the area, who have opened two upmarket hotels and a 27-hole golf course. Historically, Montaione is also famous for its glass-making, particularly in the production of bottles, flasks and cruets, going back to the 13th century.  The town has a civic museum located within the Palazzo Pretorio and there are the remains of several castles in the vicinity.

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More reading:

Ottavio Bianchi, the northerner who coached Maradona’s Napoli

The film producer and entrepreneur behind Napoli’s revival

The day Maradona signed for Napoli 

Also on this day:

1274: The death of Saint Thomas Aquinas 

1481: The birth of architect and painter Baldassare Peruzzi

1678: The birth of architect Filippo Juvara

1785: The birth of novelist Alessandro Manzoni

(Picture credits: Spalletti at Zenit St Petersburg by Vladimir Mayorov; Boccaccio's house by Davide Papalini; via Wikimedia Commons)

5 July 2022

Diego Maradona joins Napoli

Argentina star hailed as a ‘messiah’ by Neapolitans

Diego Maradona helped SSC Napoli to reach the top of the Italian football world
Diego Maradona helped SSC Napoli to
reach the top of the Italian football world
SSC Napoli, a club who had never won Italy’s Serie A since their formation in 1926 and lived in the shadow of the powerful clubs in the north of the country, stunned the football world on this day in 1984 by completing the world record signing of Argentina star Diego Maradona.

Maradona, who would captain his country as they won the World Cup in Mexico two years later, agreed to move to Napoli from Spanish giants Barcelona, who he had joined from Argentina club Boca Juniors in 1982.

Although the Catalan team had been keen to offload him after two years in which Maradona had never been far from controversy, his arrival in arguably the poorest major city in Italy, whose team had finished 10th and 12th in the previous two Serie A seasons, was still a sensation.

Maradona’s unveiling at the Stadio San Paolo on 5 July, 1984 attracted a crowd of 75,000 to the stadium. Napoli supporters were fanatical about their team despite their lack of success and were thrilled to have a distraction at a time when problems with housing, schools, buses, employment and sanitation were making daily life in Naples very difficult.

The world record fee of £6.9 million was funded in part by a loan arranged by a local politician. 

Napoli fans immediately identified with Maradona, who hailed from a working class background in Buenos Aires and made his name playing with a club, Boca Juniors, which represented a part of the city that was home to many ex-patriate Italians and their descendants. 

Maradona was unveiled before
75,000 fans at the Stadio San Paolo
The move to Napoli suited Maradona, who had some debts at the time but was able to pay them off with his signing-on fee and the money made by selling off his home in Catalonia.

Within three seasons, with Maradona captain, Napoli had won the Serie A championship. At a time when Italy’s north-south divide was being sharply felt in the south with a wide economic disparity between the two halves of the country, the reaction in the city was tumultuous. 

Neapolitans spilled out onto the streets to hold impromptu parties and motor cavalcades turning Naples into a carnival city for a week. Napoli fans painted coffins in the colours of northern giants Juventus and Milan and burned them in mock funerals. 

Ancient, crumbling buildings around the city were decorated with huge murals of Maradona, whose face was in every shop window. Suddenly, Diego became the most popular name for newborn baby boys.

The 1986-87 title season was only the start.  Napoli were runners-up in Serie A for the next two seasons and won the title again in 1989-90, also winning the Coppa Italia in 1987, the UEFA Cup in 1989 and the Italian Supercup in 1990. 

Although he was primarily an attacking midfielder rather than an out-and-out striker, Maradona was the top scorer in Serie A in 1987–88 with 15 goals, amassing 115 goals in his seven-year stay at the club, which made him Napoli’s all-time leading goalscorer until the record was surpassed by Marek Hamšík in 2017.

Maradona’s relationship with the fans soured a little after his Argentina side defeated Italy in the semi-final of the World Cup in Naples in 1990, after which it broke down completely when his cocaine use led to him repeatedly missing training sessions and some matches, leading ultimately to a 15-month ban and a departure from the club somewhat in disgrace.

Yet to many in Naples he remained a hero and shortly after his death in September 2020, Napoli’s Stadio San Paolo home ground was renamed the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

The Palazzo Reale is a legacy of the wealth of Naples in the 17th and 18th centuries
The Palazzo Reale is a legacy of the wealth of
Naples in the 17th and 18th centuries
Travel tip:

In recent years, Naples has become the poorest of Italy’s major cities, but in the 17th and 18th centuries it was one of Europe's great cities and many of the city’s finest buildings are a legacy of that period. In the area around Piazza del Plebiscito, for example, you can see the impressive Palazzo Reale, which was one of the residences of the Kings of Naples at the time the city was capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The palace is home to a 30-room museum and the largest library in southern Italy, both now open to the public. Close to the royal palace is one of the oldest opera houses in the world, built for a Bourbon King of Naples. Teatro di San Carlo was officially opened on 4 November 1737, some years before La Scala in Milan and La Fenice in Venice. Part of the Bourbon legacy to Naples is the vast Reggia di Caserta, the royal palace commissioned in 1752 by Charles VII of Naples and built by the Italian architect Luigi Vanvitelli along the lines of the French royal palace at Versailles.

The Stadio San Paolo - now the Stadio Diego Armando
Maradona - is the third largest football ground in Italy
Travel tip:

The Stadio San Paolo - now renamed the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona - is Italy’s third largest football ground with a capacity of just over 60,000. Built in the Fuorigrotta neighbourhood on the north side of the city, it was completed in 1959, more than 10 years after work began and has since been renovated twice, including for the 1990 World Cup. The home of SSC Napoli, it was Maradona’s home stadium between 1984 and 1991. The suburb of Fuorigrotta, the most densely populated area of the city, lies beyond the Posillipo hill and has been joined to the main body of Naples by two traffic tunnels that pass through the hill since the early 20th century. The suburb is also the home of the vast Mostra d’Oltremare, one of the largest exhibition complexes in Italy, built in 1937 to host the Triennale d'Oltremare, the aim of which was to celebrate the colonial expansion envisaged by the Fascist dictator Mussolini.

Also on this day:

1466: The birth of military leader Giovanni Sforza

1966: The birth of footballer Gianfranco Zola

1974: The birth of motorcycling champion Roberto Locatelli

1982: The birth of footballer Alberto Gilardino

1982: Paolo Rossi’s hat-trick defeats Brazil at the 1982 World Cup


6 October 2018

Ottavio Bianchi - football coach

The northerner who steered Napoli to first scudetto

Ottavio Bianchi was Napoli's coach for
four seasons from 1985 to 1989
Ottavio Bianchi, the coach who guided Napoli to their first Serie A title in the Italian football championship, was born on this day in 1943 in the northern Italian city of Brescia.

Napoli, who had been runners-up four times in Italy's elite league, broke their duck by winning the scudetto in the 1986-87 season, when Bianchi built his side around the forward line consisting initially of the World Cup-winning Argentina star Diego Maradona, the Italy strikers Bruno Giordano and Andrea Carnevale.  After the arrival of the Brazilian forward Careca to partner Maradona and Giordano, the trio become collectively known as MaGiCa

Bianchi’s team began the 1986-87 season with a 13-match unbeaten run. It came to an end with an away defeat against Fiorentina but Napoli lost only two more matches all season, winning the title by three points from Juventus to spark wild celebrations in Naples.

It is a reflection of how defensively-minded Italian football coaches were at the time that Napoli won the title despite scoring only 41 goals in 30 matches, with Maradona (10) the only individual player to reach double figures.

Bianchi, a midfielder, spent five years  with Napoli as a player
Bianchi, a midfielder, spent five years
 with Napoli as a player
Bianchi’s team also won the Coppa Italia in 1987 and, after finishing second in Serie A in 1987-88, the UEFA Cup in 1989, which is the club’s only European trophy so far.

Napoli won the Serie A title for a second time in 1989-90 but by then Bianchi had left to become coach of AS Roma.

Bianchi was born in the Borgo Trento area of Brescia, a city in Lombardy about 90km (56 miles) east of Milan, about halfway between the lakes of Iseo and Garda.

He joined the Brescia youth system and worked his way through the ranks to make his debut in the senior side in the Serie A in 1965.

A midfielder, he went on to enjoy an 18-year career in which me made 330 league appearances for six clubs, a third of which were in the colours of Napoli during a five-season spell at the Stadio San Paolo, as well as winning two caps for the Italy national team.

In addition, Bianchi had stints with Atalanta, AC Milan and Cagliari and finished his playing career with Ferrara-based SPAL.

Bianchi began his coaching career at lower division clubs such as Siena, Mantova, Triestina and Atalanta, where he won the Serie C1 championship.

Ottavio Bianchi, front row, centre, with his 1986-87 Serie A title-winning Napoli squad
Ottavio Bianchi, front row, centre, with his 1986-87
Serie A title-winning Napoli squad
He moved south for the first time in 1983-84 when he accepted an offer from Avellino, with whom he finished in 11th place in the Serie A. From there he returned to the north and newly-promoted Como where again he managed to reach a mid-table position.

The chance to join Napoli came a year after the arrival of Maradona, who was then in his early 20s and reaching his physical peak. The young South American, who had cost £6.9 million (15.87 billion lire) - at the time a world record fee - from Barcelona, had made an immediate impact, scoring 14 goals in his debut season as Napoli finished eighth in the Serie A table.

Bianchi’s success made him a coach in demand.  After four seasons, he moved to Roma, where he again won the Coppa Italia, and reached the final of the UEFA Cup, where they were beaten by domestic rivals Inter-Milan.

The fabled MaGiCa forward line - Diego Maradona (right), Bruno Giordano (left) and Careca (centre)
The fabled MaGiCa forward line - Diego Maradona (right),
Bruno Giordano (left) and Careca (centre)
Then came a return to Napoli in 1992 to replace Claudio Ranieri. Again he was successful, managing to transform a relegation-threatened team into one challenging for a UEFA Cup place. He remained as technical director, with Marcello Lippi as coach, but the lost important players such as Gianfranco Zola, Careca and Giovanni Galli due to financial difficulties as the club’s fortunes began to wane.

The following season Bianchi returned to the bench as coach of Inter-Milan. But he was not able to generate the success the Milan club had hoped for and he lost his job there in 1995, ironically sacked after a defeat against Napoli.

Since then, apart from a brief spell as Fiorentina’s coach in 2002, Bianchi’s involvement with football has been limited. He lives in Bergamo, which he made his home during his time with Atalanta, the city’s team, and confines his football watching largely to matches on TV.

The Piazza della Loggia, with the Torre dell'Orologio, is at the centre of the historic city of Brescia
The Piazza della Loggia, with the Torre dell'Orologio, is
at the centre of the historic city of Brescia
Travel tip:

The city of Brescia tends not to attract many tourists compared with nearby Bergamo or Verona, partly because of the counter-attraction of the lakes.  Yet it has plenty of history, going back to Roman times, and many points of interest, including two cathedrals – the unusually-shaped Duomo Vecchio and its neighbour, the Duomo Nuovo – and the attractive Piazza della Loggia, with a Renaissance palace, the Palazzo della Loggia, which is the town’s municipal centre.  The Torre dell’Orologio clock tower bears similarities to the one in St Mark’s Square in Venice, a reflection of the town becoming a protectorate of Venice in the 15th century.

Napoli's Stadio San Paolo has a capacity of more than 60,000, making it Italy's third largest football ground
Napoli's Stadio San Paolo has a capacity of more than
60,000, making it Italy's third largest football ground
Travel tip:

The home of SSC Napoli is the Stadio San Paolo, built in the Fuorigrotta neighbourhood on the north side of the city and completed in 1959, more than 10 years after work began.  It is the third largest football ground in Italy with a capacity of 60,240, and hosted the 1990 World Cup semi-final between Italy and Argentina. The local council wanted to rename the ground Stadio Diego Maradona but Italian law prohibits the naming of a public building after any person who has not been dead at least 10 years.

More reading:

Gianfranco Zola, the Napoli favourite who became a great in England

Walter Mazzarri and the return of fallen giants Napoli

How Marcello Lippi won the World Cup in Germany

Also on this day:

1888: The birth of wartime nurse Saint Maria Bertilla Boscardin

1935: The birth of champion wrestler Bruno Sammartino