Giovanni Trapattoni is number 5 in 90min’s Top 50 Great Managers of All Time series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next week.
“Five aggravating years.”
That’s how the final years of Giovanni Trappatoni’s managerial career are remembered.
Five years of a self-defeating style of football that slowly, but surely, turned a large group of supporters away from their national team.
Crowds dissipated. Hope dissipated. A nation’s love of a sport dissipated.
So much so, that when the FAI released the statement:
“The Football Association of Ireland, Giovanni Trapattoni and Marco Tardelli today (September 11) announced that following an amicable meeting this morning, they have parted company by mutual consent.”
The Irish populace rejoiced.
People in Derry shouted: “Glad to see the back of him, hi!”
People in Dublin shouted: “Ak sure he was feckin’ useless anyway!”
People in Cork shouted: *Inaudible high pitched noise* (no one understands the Cork accent).
The lean years of not beating a single team ranked higher in the FIFA rankings, being thumped 6-1 by Germany, and having to deal with the fact that the national team manager thought every footballer in the country was sh*t, had ended.
Hope was restored.
The crowds in the Aviva Stadium restored.
Ireland’s love of the beautiful game restored.
In the absence of Trapattoni, an orgastic future awaited Irish football.
…All of the above isn’t exactly top 50 greatest managers of all time material, eh?
Giovanni Trappatoni’s final five years as a manager aren’t exactly fondly remembered. In fact, neither are the 15-odd years before that.
The Italian manager didn’t exactly set the world on fire during spells at Bayern Munich, the Italian national team, the Vatican City (yeah, they have a team, and no, Father Romeo Sensini from Father Ted doesn’t play for them), Benfica, VfB Stuttgart, Fiorentina, Cagliari & Red Bull Salzburg.
The only really memorable moment of this period was Trap’s rant to the German media following backlash over his decision to drop two of Bayern’s best players for a game against Schalke 04 (which they inevitably lost). Here it is in all its broken German glory:
“These players were weak like an empty bottle.”
What. A. Line.
So, yeah, the last 20 years of Trap’s managerial career were pretty, well, meh.
But the Italian’s career is one of two starkly contrasting halves.
What came before, in the first half of his career, was truly special.
For the first half of his career was an 18-year period during which Giovanni Trapattoni assembled one of the greatest teams of all time, won the most trophies in Italian football history, and dominated BY FAR the best league the world has ever seen.
…Top 50 greatest managers of all time material, eh?
Top five greatest managers of all time, actually.
Following a hugely successful career at the heart of a two-time European Cup winning AC Milan side (led by Nereo Rocco, who you can read more about ?here), and a less successful managerial baptism at the same club, Trapattoni took over at a surprisingly struggling Juventus in 1976.
Juventus weren’t ‘struggling’ because the squad was devoid of talent, or needed a total upheaval from top to bottom. Dino Zoff, Claudio Gentile, Gaetano Scirea, Giuseppe Furino, Marco Tardelli and Roberto Bettega were all at the club; seeing as you’ve heard of them all, you can hazard a guess that they were all pretty good at football.
Rather, La Vecchia Signora simply needed a manager/leader capable of nurturing the aforementioned talents. A manager/leader that would utilise a system to allow them to flourish. A manager/leader that would make them winners.
They turned to Trap.
And within a year, it was clear that this was an inspired appointment.
As within a year, Juventus had ousted inner-city rivals Torino by a single point, and claimed their 17th Scudetto.
One year later, Juventus won their first ever European trophy, beating Athletic Club in the UEFA Cup final.
Trapattoni’s Bianconeri would then round off the 70s with another Scudetto and a Coppa Italia.
The real Juventus were back. Back atop Serie A. Back with the big boys of European football. Back in the big time. And they were back because of Trap’s astonishing ability to galvanise a group of hugely talented players, who had already won basically every trophy in the history of the world, and inspire them to win even more.
But Trapattoni’s influence, while clear in a man-management Brendan Rodgers x2000000 sense, wasn’t wholly evident tactically, as he hadn’t really deviated too far from the catenaccio utilised by Carlo Parola previously. Sure, Trapattoni had focused more on space and the exploitation of said space, but the remnants of catenaccio were still prevalent in each and every game Juventus played in the late 70s.
It wasn’t until the signing of Republic of Ireland hero Liam Brady – later a part of his Irish coaching set-up – from Arsenal in 1980, that Il Trap began to assert himself more in a tactical sense.
With Brady as the club’s new trequartista (number ten for the uninitiated dweebs), the Juventus manager underwent somewhat of a tactical bildungsroman (coming of age for the uninitiated dweebs).
Having one of the most gifted creative talents in world football opened up the opportunity to utilise new systems; and the system that Trap would settle on, would be Gioco All’italiana.
Here’s a Oxford/Cambridge/wherever else you can get dictionaries, description:
Gioco All-italiana (noun) – A tactical system in which each player outfield player – except the trequartista – would have their zone to occupy on the pitch, rarely – if ever – meandering out of position, while the trequartista would have the freedom, as the player capable of creating something from nothing, to roam around the park, finding pockets of space to exploit and break down the opposition’s defence.
|?AC Milan (1974-75)
|?Bayern Munich (1994-95)
|?Bayern Munich (1996-98)
|?VfB Stuttgart (2005-06)
|?Red Bull Salzburg (2006-08)
|Republic of Ireland (2008-2013)?
|?Vatican City (2010)
The use of Gioco All-italiana would come to define the rest of Trapattoni’s career.
In using this formation, Trap had invariably (maybe accidentally), pinned all of his hopes for success on world class number tens. And, luckily for him, because Brady was one, it worked.
In the two years utilising Gioco All’italiana with Brady as the trequartista, Juventus won. A lot. Two Serie A titles in two years to be exact; the second of which was won by a Liam Brady penalty on the last day of the season to pip Fiorentina to the post.
Unbelievably, however, there was still room for improvement.
For Juventus, despite all the success and trophies, and medals, and certificate of achievements, hadn’t quite won everything. They’d won a lot; but not everything.
So in order to win everything, rather than another tactical upheaval, Trap expressed the need for more talent. An even better number ten.
And he got it.
Liam Brady, explicitly the best player at the club at the time, was ousted in favour of Michel Platini; a French trequartista with a number nine’s eye for goal and the passing ability of…Jesus Christ himself.
Brady was brilliant.
Platini was, somehow, better.
As the number ten improved, so did Juventus.
“Trapattoni told me that I was free to do what I wanted.”
They won another two Serie A titles, another Coppa Italia, the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and even made it to their first European Cup final in ten years (which they lost…because Juventus usually lose European Cup finals) as Platini provided more goals than anyone else in Italy for three consecutive years; winning three consecutive Ballons d’Or in the process.
Their maiden European Cup triumph would allude Trapattoni and Platini until 1985 when it would be won on the saddest day in La Vecchia Signora’s history, as 39 Juventini were tragically killed prior to kick-off at Heysel Stadium. In the aftermath of the tragedy, what should have been Trapattoni’s crowning achievement paled into irrelevancy, becoming a day remembered of unspeakable pain as opposed to unbridled joy.
A few months later, Il Trap would guide Juventus to their first Intercontinental Cup triumph – beating Argentino Juniors on penalties.
1986 would be the legendary manager’s final year at Juventus – for the time being – capping off a remarkable decade with his sixth Serie A title.
After leaving Juve, Trapattoni would enjoy a relatively successful spell at Inter, winning the 1989 Serie A title, but without a genuinely world class number ten, the Gioco All’italiana couldn’t vanquish Arrigo Sacchi’s impeccable AC Milan side, or even Diego Maradona’s SSC Napoli.
So without a trequartista in sight on the Nerazurri side of Milan, he returned to Juventus in 1991, where he would be given one last opportunity to work with a generation defining talent – this time a guy called Roberto Baggio.
With the most naturally gifted Italian footballer of all time at his disposal, Trapattoni made Juventus, after years of clinging onto a semblance relevancy behind AC Milan, Inter and Napoli, actually full-on relevant again. Baggio, in the free role Platini and Brady were given by the manager previously, flourished, helping Juventus to a UEFA Cup triumph in 1993, scoring two goals in the final.
If Giovanni Trapattoni’s managerial career had ended the moment Il Divin Codino lifted the UEFA Cup trophy above his head, Trap might be even higher in our list of greatest managers of all time. But, as you know, it didn’t.
Il Trap would go on to manage for the guts of another 20 years, winning infrequently and never having the opportunity to manage world class number tens at club level ever again.
Still, that shouldn’t detract from the fact that the first half of his career in management was remarkable. Truly remarkable.
He dominated in a way no other manager has ever done in the most undeniably competitive league the world has ever seen.
That ain’t half bad, eh?
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