There will be an article previewing the UEFA Champions League final in Cardiff. I’m afraid this isn’t it.
The Godfather. Sigh.
Of course, I love the movies. They are remarkable. Mention the Godfather and I pray that you think of the books by Mario Puzo or better yet, the grandiose 1972, 1974 and 1990 films, where Al Pacino plays the Godfather- a sobriquet for a man who essentially bears the power of life and death in his hands. It is deeply thematic, a tale that spans the breadth of continents and the length of generations, that delves into family, honour, the community, life- from birth to death and everything else in between. One can’t help but grow fond of the Godfather. I love the Godfather; heightened by the feeling of awe and admiration. I respect the Godfather and I’m captivated by one of his most endearing qualities- influence.
At the mention of the Godfather, I expect you to picture Michael Corleone- the Godfather- husband, father, brother and most importantly son of Vito Corleone, the don. I do not like the new age prince, of whom we are subjugated to, today. The Prince, who has all the trappings of power, for which he on occasion drapes the finest of military fatigues and plays harbinger of motivation to troops fighting a war they shouldn’t, yet powerlessly and with odour of defeatism, asks his subjects, what they expect him to do when the mafia under him have become uncontrollable. I prefer some of the old despot, give or take, lounging somewhere in Kabarak, stroking his cat- like Don Vito- consiglieri to the new prince; but who the mafia knew better than to mess with. That old Godfather is whose influence, my interest piqued by. Vito Corleone to Michael Corleone, the able successor, unlike the Old Teacher and his weak Prince.
I have always imagined a remake of the Francis Coppola/Mario Puzo classic starting with the flashback of the don’s mid-morning years, just before their peak at noon. In Italy, naturally. A cigar in his mouth. In Turin in turmoil. Juventus is the most successful club in Italy. However, between 1986 and 1995- their dominance over calcio was largely eclipsed by Arrigo Sacchi‘s Milan, then there was the god Diego Maradona at Napoli and finally Fabio Capello‘s Milan. In Europe, with this year’s appearance in the UEFA Champions League finals, in Cardiff, The Old Lady, will have made the most appearances in the Champions League finals- without winning it.
The revitalization of La Vecchia Signora began in 1990 with the second coming of legendary Giovanni Trapattoni. Trapattoni was accorded the services of stalwarts Roberto Baggio, David Platt and Gianluca Vialli and fresh blood in the then unpolished diamonds of Antonio Conte and Fabrizio Ravenelli. Yet, Trapattoni’s highly-functional and high-performance catenaccio turned up nought against the pristine efficiency of AC Milan under Fabio Capello, failing to get the rejuvenation of Juventus a scudetto and after three years Giovanni moved on. Farther south, Napoli was in recession, the splendour of the Maradona days now in had lost their lustre, with the dour of the club’s management to blame. Regardless, their manager led them to qualify for the UEFA Cup, his remarkable performance against the Black and White stripes making him their top transfer target. In 1994, he joined Juventus, winning the Serie A and Coppa Italia in his first season. For style, he did away with the rigid functionality espoused by his predecessor. He ensured the team understood the system, and the system was modelled for the team, not the other way round. Effective communication and astute man management, being the most outstanding elements for which he was celebrated.
The 4-3-3 of his first two seasons featured at the apex, Gianluca Vialli; Ravanelli on right and either Baggio or Del Piero completing the front three. The Godfather would later have a massive, eternal fall-out with the “Pasadena Penalty misser” making room for Del Piero to ascend to the throne as king of Juventus. On the left of the midfield trio was Antonio Conte, in the middle Paulo Sousa and Didier Deschamps on the right, all for whom, defence and attack were as much as the other’s responsibility. Of utmost interest is the 1996 UEFA Champions League final at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, which featured Luis van Gaal‘s Ajax against Juventus.
He studied Luis van Gaal’s Ajax, based on the revolutionary model of Rinus Michel‘s Total Football. Although, as the late Johann Cryuff would unequivocally agree and unsurprising to Manchester United fans, was fatally flawed. The Dutch almost had the patent for 4-3-3, however, LvG’s was too tactically rigid. Don’t get me wrong, Ajax’s system worked. It got them to the finals but it was as stiff as Gabriel Agbalanhor. He studied LvG’s 4-3-3 for the finals, giving up possession (Jose Mourinho and Roberto di Matteo like this) in his own 4-3-3 but combining vigour and verocity in Conte and Sousa, with intelligence and flair in Deschamps and del Piero all within the cohesion of the larger team. Juventus would win the 1996 UEFA Champions League title- their last.
The manager would go on to dismantle the 4-3-3 system for a 4-3-1-2, with the incorporation of new signing Zinedine Zidane. Bring on and later, Christian Vieri and then fall out with Paulo Sousa, but the philosophy of the club would remain the same- teamwork and fluidity. They’d cede the scudetto to Milan but make the Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund who’d man-mark their French playmaker, Zidane to complete ineffectiveness. BVB won the UEFA Champions League finals 3-1. For being a man with foresight and unafraid to make bold changes he would change the shape again, 3-4-1-2, because Filippo Inzaghi and Edgar Davids joined the fray with Angelo Di Livio and Pessotto as capable wingbacks. They would win the scudetto again and make the UEFA Champions League final, for the third time in a row, this time against Real Madrid and lose 0-1.
Influence in the world of football can never claim accuracy nor precision or conciseness. Not only are there many influential figures in the sport, but also the motivations from which tactics and philosophies adopted vary tremendously. One is free to borrow and borrow freely and at times claim originality for these actions, systems or thoughts. However, there’s a sense of clarity when managers and players, publicly salute their heroes and mentors; a sense of revelation when they subtly give a tiny nod or tip their hats ever so slightly to those influences and motivators in an unsung ode; or that sense of wonder and mystery when one tries to connect the dots of implicit relationships in the sport. That said, no one can purport to have been exclusively influenced by one style, one man or one idea in the game, nor can the same man purport autonomy of influence from a style, man and idea. Once that dearth of exclusivity is acknowledged, the pursuit the strongest links between mentor and mentee persists.
When asked about the persons who have influenced them most, there are absurdities, like Pep Guardiola, coached by Jose Antonio Camacho, Javier Clemente, Fabio Capello and Johann Cruyff, and an admirer of Marcelo Bielsa but mentored by Juanma Lillo– who given, they did spend 6 months together in Mexico’s Dorados de Sinaloa- have almost mutually exclusive styles of play. Lillo, all about elevating the individual, for which he has been sacked umpteen times and Pep, elevating the system, which if a player doesn’t submit to… Then there’s Arsene Wenger, whose style and ethos and reminiscent of Rinus Michel although a direct link between the two cannot be drawn. Speaking of Rinus, there’s the feud between his two heirs-apparent in the late Cruyff and van Gaal as to whose interpretation of Total Football follows the idylls of the maestro. Or Sir Alex Ferguson‘s appreciation of Jock Stein, with whom he was never managed.
At the same time, there are managers a penny alike in the image of their influences. Brendan Rogers and Roberto Martinez to Pep Guardiola; Julian Nagelsmann and Marco Silva to Jose Mourinho, Laurent Blanc, McLeish, Solskjaer, Strachan a chip off Fergie’s block; Claude Puel, Glenn Hoddle and Jurgen Klinsmann of Wenger’s Monaco and Patrick Viera and Remi Garde of his Arsenal. Jock Stein on Kenny Dalglish. Cryuff on Frank Rijkaard, Ronald Koeman and Michael Laudrup; Paisley on Bill Shankly… Mauricio Pochettino and Gerardo Martino students of Marcelo Bielsa, even down to how briefly they seem to stay at clubs, oh and also Diego Simeone… these examples entire books on their own with even more outstanding examples out there. To an extent, every successful manager is metaphorically standing on the shoulders of giants but only they can know how much of their success is owed to which particular giant.
With 5 Serie A titles, 4 Champions Leagues final appearances, 1 UEFA Champions League title in 10 ten years, among other honours, like the FIFA World Cup and the masterplan, under which, Juventus operate to this day, we have the Godfather upon whose shoulders stand. Massimo Carrera at Spartak Moscow, league winners of the Russian Premier League (was also Conte’s assistant at Juventus and coach during Conte’s 4 month ban for allegedly abetting match fixing. Conte was acquitted); Antonio Conte at Chelsea league winners of the English Premier League, Didier Deschamps at the French national team, unbeaten group leaders in qualifying for the FIFA 2018 World Cup, Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid, winners of the Spanish La Liga, for the first time in five years and defending Champions League finalists against the team, where it all began, JUVENTUS. All of them having been under the godfather, iterate that winning is the only thing. Just as the consiglieri counselled, these are teams that beat you, when they are playing well as well as when they’re playing badly. Teams for which, the formation is functional and fluid, the style fitting the players and the players understanding that they play for the system, for each other. The managers are hailed as effective, simple communicators, motivators and man-managers, seen as to how they have successfully managed the egos in their dressing rooms, from Diego Costa to Cesc Fabregas, Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez, all of whom a transfer outside the club is no threat.
In Cardiff, Zinadine Zidane will take the defence of the Champions League title to his old club Juventus, but not before he and Massimiliano Allegri kiss the ring of the Godfather. MARCELLO LIPPI must be the proudest man in football today. All hail the Godfather! A man whose influence exceeds beyond his own triumphs and dominance of the game in Italy to defining and challenging the coaching establishment in the world.