Showing posts with label Napoli. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Napoli. 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.

Find accommodation in Montaione with

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)

10 January 2019

Maurizio Sarri - football manager

Chelsea’s former Napoli coach is 60 today

Maurizio Sarri spent more than 20 years working in global finance before devoting himself to football
Maurizio Sarri spent more than 20 years working in
global finance before devoting himself to football
The football coach Maurizio Sarri - currently manager of Chelsea in the English Premier League - was born on this day in 1959 in Naples.

Sarri, who has an unusual background for a professional football coach in that he spent more than 20 years in banking before devoting himself to the game full-time, took over as Chelsea manager last summer, succeeding another Italian, Antonio Conte.

Previously, he had spent three seasons as head coach at SSC Napoli, twice finishing second and once third in Serie A.  He never played professionally, yet he has now held coaching positions at 19 different clubs.

Sarri was born in the Bagnoli district of Naples, where his father, Amerigo, a former professional cyclist, worked in the sprawling but now derelict Italsider steel plant.  It was not long, however, before the family moved away, however, first to Castro, a village on the shore of Lago d’Iseo, near Bergamo, and then to Figline Valdarno, in Tuscany, his father’s birthplace.

It was there that Sarri grew up and played football for the local amateur team. A centre half, he had trials with Torino and Fiorentina but was deemed not quite good enough for the professional game.

Sarri's Napoli team twice finished runners-up in  Serie A but were unable to overhaul Juventus
Sarri's Napoli team twice finished runners-up in
Serie A but were unable to overhaul Juventus
Instead, he focussed on a career in banking, finding employment with the prestigious Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which has a history going back more than 500 years. He was held in such high regard as a currency trader he was posted to London, Zurich, Frankfurt and Luxembourg at times.

His love of football remained with him, however, and in 1990 he began coaching alongside his high-flying day job, first with the local amateur team at Stia, a pretty town in the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, close to the sources of the Arno river.  They were in the eighth tier of the Italian football pyramid.

Sarri left Stia after one season and continued to work with small Tuscan clubs, winning promotion promotion with Faellese, Cavriglia and Antella. When in 2000 he took over at Sansovino, the team representing the historic town of Monte San Savino, near Arezzo, he was so certain he could win promotion to Serie D in his first season he vowed to quit coaching and concentrate on his banking career if they failed.

As it was, they were promoted and he decided instead to quit banking, relinquishing a good salary and job security to focus full time on football.

Sarri achieved promotion with several small clubs in Italy
Sarri achieved promotion with
several small clubs in Italy
The decision looked a good one when he achieved more promotion success with another Tuscan club, Sangiovannese, whom he took to Serie C1, but less so over the following few years when spells in Serie B with Pescara, Arezzo (where he succeeded - and was replaced by - Antonio Conte, ironically), Verona and Perugia, and even a return to the lower tiers with Grosseto, Alessandria and Sorrento, yielded largely frustration and several sackings.

Sarri’s big break came in the summer of 2012 when, six months after being dismissed by Sorrento, he was hired as coach by Fabrizio Corsi, the chairman of ambitious Tuscan Serie B club Empoli, who judged that Sarri was a technically gifted coach who, given a squad of better quality than some of those he had worked with, would be able to achieve success.

His assessment was correct. Corsi backed him with some strong signings and, after just missing promotion in his first season in charge, when Empoli were beaten in the play-off final, Sarri led the team directly to Serie A at the second attempt.

After keeping Empoli safely in the top flight in the 2014-15, Sarri was taken on by Napoli, the club of the city of his birth, of which he had been a lifelong fan.  It seemed a bold choice to replace the proven Rafa Benitez but, it transpired, a shrewd one.

Having honed to perfection his fluid, attacking 4-3-3 system over the years, Napoli enjoyed three exceptional seasons. Playing the most exciting football in Serie A, Napoli set a club record by scoring 80 goals in the 2015-16 campaign, yet despite selling top scorer Gonzalo Higuain to arch rivals Juventus, surpassed it by a staggering 14 goals - the most scored by any team in one season in Serie A history - the following year.

Sarri is a heavy smoker - even during matches, although at  most grounds regulations do not permit him to do so
Sarri is a heavy smoker - even during matches, although at
most grounds regulations do not permit him to do so
They did so thanks to a Sarri masterstroke, converted wide player Dries Mertens into a free-scoring centre forward so that he could invest the €90 million from the Higuain sale in other areas of the team.

Napoli were Serie A’s campioni d’inverno - the accolade given to the team top at the halfway stage - twice in Sarri’s three seasons, even though he was never able to hold off Juventus in the late stages of the campaign. His reputation received a further boost, ahead of his move to England, when no less a coach than Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola described Sarri’s Napoli as the “best team I have faced in my career” following their meeting in the Champions League.

Famously a heavy smoker - he would chain-smoke even during matches in Italy - he is married to Marina with one son. He keeps his private life quiet, spending his downtime at his villa on the Italian riviera.

Sarri's assistant manager at Chelsea is the club's former star player, the Sardinian Gianfanco Zola.

The Piazza Marsilio Ficino is the main square in Figline Valdarno
The Piazza Marsilio Ficino is the main
square in Figline Valdarno
Travel tip:

Figline Valdarno, situated in the upper reaches of the Arno valley some 35km (22 miles) southeast of Florence, is an historic town that was a major cultural centre during the Renaissance. The centre is the Piazza Marsilio Ficino, an attractive market square, at the end of which is the church of Santa Maria Assunta, which adjoins the Museum of Sacred Art, in which can be found a panel painting from the late 1400s of the Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, attributed to Cigoli.  An Annunciation painted by the young Cigoli can also be found in the Chapel of the Villa San Cerbone, where the refectory contains a Last Supper by Giorgio Vasari.  L'Antico Caffe Greco, in the centre, is run by a Napoli supporter, Agostino Iaiunese.

The Loggia dei Mercanti in Monte San Savino, where Sarri enjoyed success with the local team, Sansovino
The Loggia dei Mercanti in Monte San Savino, where
Sarri enjoyed success with the local team, Sansovino
Travel tip:

Perched on a mountain that overlooks the Esse Valley, about 22km (14 miles) southwest of Arezzo and inhabited since the Etruscan period, Monte San Savino, where Maurizio Sarri coached the local team to promotion, was the home of the notable 15th century sculptor and architect Andrea Sansovino, who lived in the town’s most prosperous era. Relics of that golden period include the Porta Fiorentina, the striking Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Vertighe, several picturesque small churches, the Palazzo Di Monte, the Logge dei Mercanti and an impressive Synagogue. The town has an annual porchetta festival to celebrate the traditional Tuscan speciality of slow-roasted pig.

More reading:

The southern Italian roots of top coach Antonio Conte

Why Chelsea fans rate Gianfranco Zola their greatest player of all time

Ottavio Bianchi - the northerner who steered Maradona's Napoli to the club's first Serie A title

Also on this day:

987: The death of powerful Venetian Doge Pietro Orseolo

1890: The birth of silent movie star Pina Menichelli

1903: The birth of car designer Flaminio Bertoni


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


1 October 2018

Walter Mazzarri - football coach

Former Watford manager with outstanding record in Italy

Walter Mazzarri has coached nine teams in Italy and England
Walter Mazzarri has coached nine
teams in Italy and England
The football coach Walter Mazzarri, whose disappointing spell in English football as Watford manager contrasts with a fine record as a coach in his native Italy, was born on this day in 1961 in San Vincenzo, a resort on the coast of Tuscany.

Mazzarri won promotion to Serie A with his local club Livorno and kept tiny Calabrian team Reggina in Serie A against the odds for three consecutive seasons, on the last occasion despite an 11-point deduction for involvement in an alleged match-fixing scandal.

He subsequently had two seasons as coach of Sampdoria, qualifying for the UEFA Cup by finishing sixth in the first of those campaigns and then reaching the final of the Coppa Italia with a team that included the potent attacking duo Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini.

After that he returned to Napoli, where he had previously been assistant to Renzo Ulivieri, to be appointed head coach in 2009, guiding the azzurri to sixth place - their best Serie A finish for 25 years - to qualify for the Europa League in his first season in charge, and doing even better in his second season, when Napoli were third, their highest placing since the golden days of the late 1980s, when Diego Maradona inspired them to win the scudetto twice in four seasons.

They qualified for the Champions League for the first time as a result and won the Coppa Italia, beating Juventus in the final - Napoli’s first major silverware since 1989-90 at the end of the Maradona era.

The striker Edinson Cavani became a star under Mazzarri at Napoli
The striker Edinson Cavani became
a star under Mazzarri at Napoli
He moved to Internazionale for the 2013-14 season but could not replicate his success with Napoli. After finishing fifth in his first season at the helm he won a contract extension but was sacked in November 2014 after a disappointing run of results.

Mazzarri’s move to England came in July 2016 as Watford, the English team acquired by Serie A club Udinese’s owner Giampaolo Pozzo, appointed him as their sixth head coach in four years, his predecessors having included fellow Italians Gianfranco Zola and Giuseppe Sannino.

He replaced the Spaniard Quique Sanchez Flores, who was dismissed despite reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup and finishing 13th in the Premier League.  He argued that he had a successful season in that his brief had been to keep Watford in the division despite being a small club, which he seemed to have achieved comfortably by reaching his target of 40 points - a total that in most years is proof against relegation - with six fixtures still to play.

But the Hornets, the club once owned by the pop music superstar Elton John, lost all of those matches and Mazzarri was dismissed even before the season concluded with a 5-0 home defeat to Manchester City.

Mazzarri's spell in charge at Napoli saw the club achieve its most successful period since the days of Diego Maradona
Mazzarri's spell in charge at Napoli saw the club achieve
its most successful period since the days of Diego Maradona
Mazzarri’s biggest triumph so far has undoubtedly been with Napoli. Under Mazzarri, Napoli become renowned for lightning counter-attacks and a 3–4–3 formation in which the Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani was supported by Argentine winger Ezequiel Lavezzi and creative Slovakian star Marek Hamšík.

They finished second in their group in their debut Champions League campaign, behind Germany's Bayern Munich and ahead of Manchester City and Villareal of Spain. But in the last 16 they suffered a difficult exit against another English side, Chelsea, who overturned a 3-1 defeat at Napoli’s Stadio San Paolo in the first leg with a stunning 4–1 win after extra time in the return leg in England.

Napoli recovered from the disappointment to end the season with a trophy as they won the Coppa Italia final, inflicting Serie A champions Juventus's only defeat of the season, and finished second in Serie A the following season, their highest position in over 20 years.

Since January of this year, Mazzarri, a former midfielder who played more than 250 matches in a fairly low-key career on the pitch, has been coach of Torino in Serie A, his ninth team since he took his first head coach position at the minor Sicilian club Acireale in 2001.

Sand dunes in the beautiful Rimigliano nature park, which is next to the resort of San Vincenzo
Sand dunes in the beautiful Rimigliano nature park,
which is next to the resort of San Vincenzo
Travel tip:

Mazzarri’s home town of San Vincenzo is a coastal resort at the southern end of the Ligurian Sea, roughly 50km (31 miles) south of Livorno, almost level with the northern tip of the island of Corsica.  The resort is notable for the long stretches of soft, sandy beaches that are characteristic of the area. It is also adjacent to the Rimigliano nature park, which covers the shoreline between San Vincenzo and the Gulf of Baratti, where visitors can admire sea lilies and juniper-covered sand dunes or explore forests of cork and pine trees.

The elegant Piazza Duomo in the centre of the Sicilian town of Acireale, north of Catania
The elegant Piazza Duomo in the centre of the Sicilian
town of Acireale, north of Catania
Travel tip:

Acireale, where Mazzarri played for a while and began his coaching career, is an elegant town rich in Baroque architecture, built on a series of lava terraces that drop to the sea about 17km (11 miles) north of Catania on the southeast coast of Sicily.  It has a beautiful cathedral dedicated to Maria Santissima Annunziata, located in Piazza Duomo in the historic centre. Built in the fifth century, it was reconstructed after the 1693 earthquake. The nearby fishing village of Santa Maria la Scala has some charming restaurants at the harbour’s edge.

More reading:

How Gianfranco Zola 'learned everything' from Diego Maradona

The three-times Champions League winner now in charge of Napoli

The founding of Milan giants Internazionale

Also on this day:

1450: The death of Leonello d'Este, patron of Ferrara's artistic heritage

1910: The birth of Olympic cycling champion Attilio Pavese


10 June 2018

Carlo Ancelotti - football manager

Four-times winner of the Champions League

Carlo Ancelotti in the Milan colours in which he twice won European football's top prize as both a player and a manager
Carlo Ancelotti in the Milan colours in which he twice won
European football's top prize as both a player and a manager
Carlo Ancelotti, a former top-level player who has become one of football’s most accomplished managers, was born on this day in 1959 in Reggiolo, a small town in Emilia-Romagna.

With Real Madrid's defeat of Liverpool in the 2022 final, he became the only manager to have won the UEFA Champions League four times - twice with AC Milan and twice with Real Madrid. He is also the only coach to have managed teams in five finals.

Ancelotti, who has managed title-winning teams in four countries, is also one of only seven to have won the European Cup or Champions League as a player and gone on to do so as a manager too.

As a boy, Ancelotti often helped his father, Giuseppe, who made and sold cheese for a living, in the fields on the family farm, which is where he claims he acquired his appreciation of hard work.

But despite the cheeses of Emilia-Romagna having international renown, especially the famous Parmigiana-Reggiano, he saw how his father struggled to make enough money to feed his family and vowed to make more of his own life.

Ancelotti is one of the most accomplished coaches in world football
Ancelotti is one of the most accomplished
coaches in world football
His talent for football, allied to that work ethic, enabled him to fulfil that promise.

After playing for his local youth team in Reggiolo, Ancelotti was snapped up as a teenager by Parma, making his debut in Serie C - the third tier in Italian football - in the 1976–77 season, at the age of 18. His two goals in the decisive play-off earned the gialloblu promotion to Serie B the following year.

He joined Roma in 1979, staying in the capital for eight trophy-laden seasons, winning the Coppa Italia four times and his first Serie A title in 1983, under the great Swedish coach Nils Liedholm.

Then came six seasons with Arrigo Sacchi’s magnificent AC Milan team, which won the Scudetto - the Serie A title - in 1988, and the European Cup in both 1989 and 1990. He won his third Scudetto when Fabio Capello replaced Sacchi as manager.

An efficient and assiduous midfield player, he could create goals and score them, which earned him a place in the Italian national team, although injuries restricted him to 26 senior caps and caused him to miss the 1982 and 1986 World Cups as well as the Olympics in Seoul in 1988.  He did win a bronze medal as part of the Azzurri squad at the 1990 World Cup on home soil.

As a mentor to several future top-class players, including Giuseppe Giannini, Demetrio Albertini and Andrea Pirlo, Ancelotti displayed burgeoning man-management skills even while still a player.

Ancelotti with the Champions League trophy after winning it for the third time with Real Madrid in 2014
Ancelotti with the Champions League trophy after winning
it for the third time with Real Madrid in 2014
Persistent knee injuries forced him to quit at the age of 33. He moved immediately into coaching with the Italian Football Federation at the national training headquarters at Coverciano, near Florence, where he rose to be assistant to his former Milan manager Arrigo Sacchi on the Azzurri coaching staff as Italy reached the final of the 1994 World Cup.

Ancelotti stepped on to the club management ladder in familiar territory with Reggiana in Serie B in 1995. He had to wait seven years for his first major trophy, but claimed the biggest prize first as AC Milan, his fourth club after Reggiana, Parma and Juventus, won the 2002-03 Champions League final, defeating Juventus in the final on penalties.

Now major trophies came thick and fast: a Serie A title with Milan in 2004 and a second Champions League in 2007, when victory over Liverpool in the final in Athens made up for the catastrophe of losing the 2005 final to the same opponents in Istanbul after being 3-0 up at half-time.

The Stadio San Paolo in Naples, where Ancelotti takes up his next management position in July
The Stadio San Paolo in Naples, where Ancelotti takes
up his next management position in July
Moving to England, he led Chelsea to a Premier League-FA Cup double in 2009-10, won the French Ligue 1 title with Paris St Germain in 2013, followed by a third Champions League with Spanish giants Real Madrid in 2014.

After taking some time off for a back operation, Ancelotti resurfaced at Bayern Munich, where he succeeded Pep Guardiola and led the German giants to their fifth consecutive Bundesliga title. But lack of success in the Champions League led to his dismissal in September 2017.

He later had spells with Napoli back in Italy and Everton in England, before returning to Real Madrid in 2021.

Having been with his first wife, Luisa, for 25 years before they divorced in 2008, Ancelotti is now married to the Canadian businesswoman Barrena McClay, whom he met while they were both working in London. He has two children, Katia and Davide, from his first marriage. Davide was on his father’s coaching staff at Bayern Munich.

(Updated on 09-06-22)

The Rocca di Reggiolo in Ancelotti's home town
The Rocca di Reggiolo in Ancelotti's home town
Travel tip:

Ancelotti’s home town of Reggiolo is close to the border of Emilia-Romagna and Veneto, about 32km (20 miles) north of Reggio Emilia in the Padana plain. It is the same distance from Mantua in the Veneto and was the frequent target of attacks between the 12th and 14th centuries, when Mantua and Reggio disputed possession. This led to the construction of the impressive walled castle that remains the town’s main feature.

Piazza San Prospero in Reggio Emilia often hosts a market
Piazza San Prospero in Reggio Emilia often hosts a market
Travel tip:

Although the city of Reggio Emilia is often described as the home of Italy's world famous hard cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano - known in English as Parmesan - is thought to have originated in the commune of Bibbiano, in the Reggio Emilia province, about 15km (9 miles) to the southeast.  The province is also believed to have given Italy its tricolore national flag, with evidence that a short-lived 18th century republic, the Repubblica Cispadana, had a flag of red, white and green.  The city lacks the cultural wealth of neighbouring Parma and is consequently less visited but it has an attractive historic centre with a number of notable buildings, including the Basilica della Ghiara and the 10th century Basilica di San Prospero, which overlooks the elegant Piazza of the same name.

More reading:

How Arrigo Sacchi started a tactical and technical revolution in Italian football

The genius of Andrea Pirlo

Coaching veteran Fabio Capello has won Serie A five times

Also on this day:

1918: The death of writer and composer Arrigo Boito

1940: Italy enters the Second World War


5 July 2017

Gianfranco Zola – footballer

Brilliant forward voted Chelsea’s all-time greatest player

Gianfranco Zola scored 58 goals for Chelsea in the Premier League
Gianfranco Zola scored 58 goals for Chelsea
in the Premier League
Gianfranco Zola, a sublimely talented footballer whose peak years were spent with Napoli, Parma and Chelsea, was born on this day in 1966 in the Sardinian town of Oliena.

Capped 35 times by the Italian national team, Zola scored more than 200 goals in his club career, the majority of them playing at the highest level, including 90 in Italy’s top flight – Serie A – and 58 in the English Premier League.

He specialised in the spectacular, most of his goals resulting from his brilliant execution of free kicks or his dazzling ball control.

Zola went on to be a manager after his playing career ended, although he has so far been unable to come anywhere near matching his achievements as a player.

He was probably at his absolute peak during the seven years he spent playing in England with Chelsea, whose fans named him as the club’s greatest player of all time in a poll conducted in 2003, shortly before he left to return to Sardinia.

However, it was probably the four years he spent with Napoli, his first Serie A club, that were his making as a player, after being spotted playing club football in Sardinia for Nuorese and Torres.

Zola was signed in 1989 and although his appearances at first were limited, he developed a close bond with the club’s Argentinian icon, Diego Maradona, often spending hours alongside him after normal training had finished, trying to emulate his skills, especially in taking free kicks.

He would later comment that he “learned everything from Diego.”

Zola was hugely popular with Chelsea's fans
Zola was hugely popular with Chelsea's fans
Although he was essentially still a fringe player at that stage, Zola scored two goals as Napoli won Serie A in 1989-90, giving him his only league winner’s medal.

When Maradona left under a cloud, having been banned from playing for drug offences, Zola took his mantle, largely on the maestro’s recommendation, to which manager Claudio Ranieri responded by giving Zola the No 10 shirt worn by Maradona.

Napoli were not the force they had been without Maradona, yet Zola scored 12 goals in the 1991-92 season and another 12 in the 1992-93 campaign, in which he also made 12 assists, giving him the accolade alongside Fiorentina’s Francesco Baiano of providing the most assists over the Serie A season.

He scored 32 goals in 105 appearances for Napoli, whom he left in 1993 only because the club, in a difficult financial situation, began to sell off their best players to pay debts.

Transferred to Parma for 13 billion lire, Zola established himself as one of the best creative players in Italy alongside Roberto Baggio and Alessandro del Piero.  He scored 18 goals in his first season and 19 in his second campaign as the gialloblù just missed out on the Serie A title in a hard-fought battle with Juventus.

Favoured by manager Nevio Scala, he was less popular with Scala’s successor, Carlo Ancelotti, who could not accommodate Zola’s talents in his 4-4-2 system, leaving the player too often a frustrated figure on the bench, despite his record of 49 goals in 102 appearances.

News that Zola was unsettled began to circulate and in November 1996, Chelsea’s then-manager, Ruud Gullit, pulled off what would come to be regarded as one of the biggest transfer coups in Premier League history, signing Zola for £4.5 million.

He lit up the Premier League, helping Chelsea win the FA Cup twice, the League Cup, the Charity Shield, the UEFA Cup-Winners’ Cup and the UEFA Super Cup.  He helped them qualify for the UEFA Champions League twice as they finished third in the Premier League in 1999 and fourth in 2003, with Zola their leading goalscorer on each occasion.

Zola, pictured on the touchline as West Ham manager, has not found success as a coach
Zola, pictured on the touchline as West Ham
manager, has not found success as a coach
His goals were often either big-match winners, such as in the 1996-97 FA Cup semi-final against Wimbledon or the 1997-98 Cup-Winners’ Cup final winner, when he scored within seconds of coming off the subs’ bench, or else works of art, none more celebrated than the mid-air backheel he executed to score from a corner in an FA Cup tie against Norwich in 2001-02.

Zola scored 16 times in what would be his final season at Stamford Bridge, having decided he would finish his career back in Sardinia with the island’s top club, Cagliari.  A week after he gave his word to Cagliari that he would be their player in 2003-04, Roman Abramovich completed his takeover of Chelsea.

The Russian billionaire was desperate to keep Zola at Stamford Bridge but the Italian told him he would not renege on his promise.  Rumour has it that Abramovich even considered buying the entire Cagliari club in order to transfer Zola back to Chelsea.

In the event, Zola kept his promise, helping Cagliari gain promotion to Serie A in his first season, before retiring at the end of the 2004-05 season, scoring twice against Juventus in his final match.

Capped 35 times by Italy, scoring 10 goals and playing in the 1994 World Cup finals in the United States, Zola then moved into coaching, at first as assistant to his friend and former Chelsea teammate Pierluigi Casiraghi in the Italy Under-21 set-up, then in club football.

However, his management career has so far been dismal compared with his playing career.  He has managed West Ham, Watford and Birmingham City in England, Cagliari in Italy and Al-Arabi in Qatar, but has been either sacked or obliged to resign from all five posts because of poor results.

Married to Franca, Zola has three children. His son, Andrea, has played for West Ham reserves and for Essex non-League club Grays Athletic.

A church and market in Oliena
A church and market in Oliena
Travel tip:

Oliena, a mountainous town notable for its multi-coloured rooftops, sits in the shadow of Monte Corrasi, towards the north of the island of Sardina, about 100km (62 miles) south of Olbia and 200km (124 miles) north of Cagliari. Probably founded in Roman times, it is famous now for beautiful silk embroidery and its red wine, Nepente di Oliena.

The waterfront at Cagliari
The waterfront at Cagliari
Travel tip:

Cagliari is Sardinia’s capital, an industrial centre and one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean. Yet it is also a city of considerable beauty and history, most poetically described by the novelist DH Lawrence when he visited in the 1920s. He set his eyes on the confusion of domes, palaces and ornamental facades which, he noted, seemed to be piled on top of one another as he approached from the sea. He compared it to Jerusalem, describing it as 'strange and rather wonderful, not a bit like Italy.’