The Coach with a Cigar

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picture source: www.goal.com

 

Marcello Romeo Lippi looks calm, smoking a cigar while keeping his eyes on a match. He remains inhaling the cigar amidst dozens of cameras shed some light on him as the match is over. He’s not the kind of coach, like Antonio Conte, who shouts on the edge of the field to give instructions or motivate his players throughout the game.

He won’t push his coach rival, as the one happens to Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho, should he get angry with referees’ decisions deemed unfair for his side. And he’s not the type of trainer, like Mourinho, who sometimes loves to ignite war of words prior to important matches probably for the sake of media sensation or for downgrading opponents’ mentality. Surely, sometimes he may get involved in arguments with referees but he rarely makes impolite or harsh comments let alone leaves his players in response to the unjust decisions.

His relaxed countenance, observant traits are attached for the coach whose playing career is way below his glittering coaching one. A well-respected man, a cold-headed coach, a bit controversial guy, a creative and very smart person, there is so much to say and learn from Lippi.

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I have a kind of mixed feeling the first time I know about Juventus and him back in 1997. I am amazed with his 4-3-1-2 formula that is able to bring the Old Lady as the queen in Italy. In the 1990s, he, too, brings the club to be best in Europe.

Back then, Juventus has very solid and strong team. You can recall the names of best defenders at that time; Ciro Ferrara, Paolo Montero, Alessandro Birindelli, and Gianluca Pessoto, to name a few. In the middle part, current Italy’s coach Antonio Conte becomes the team’s captain along with Alessio Tacchinardi, Angelo Di Livio, Didier Deschamps, Edgar Davids and the playmaker Zinedine Zidane. In the front line, you should never forget the sharp duet Alessandro Del Piero-Filippo Inzaghi.

You may call my love to Juve and Lippi is always meant to be probably before Alloh Swt sends me to this beautiful world. When I first watch this club, this is the squad that completely steals my heart away, it blows my mind away, and nothing can beat them. They remain in my heart until now. I can always recall they way the play. With the four walls in the back; creative and persistent midfielders and super quick, compact duo in the forefront.

That is the best of Juventus. That remains Juve’s most memorable that leaves such deep impressions in my heart. And that comes to life thanks to the magical touch of a wonderful, smart and creative coach namely Marcello Lippi.

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Watching, learning and absorbing his playing method enrich me already despite the fact I am such a newbie football fan at that time. The first and foremost lesson I put in my brain ever since my first experiences watching the team is that how Lippi really shows me that football is all about team unity. Set aside price tags, star status that commonly attach to certain players. When footballers play for the black-and-white jersey under the helm of Marcello Lippi, they have to fuse into the one Old Lady.

As such, Juventus dominates Italy despite the fact that the players are average, in terms of the price. Under the hands of Lippi, however, they emerge from no body to somebody. Zidane, who later turns out to be one of the world’s most expensive players, and Ale, the popular name of Alessandro, are the two names football fans mostly fond of. The latter remains a huge magnet for football fans regardless their favorite teams. For this, I quickly associate Lippi with the word ‘brilliant.’

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picture source: defendingwiththeball.wordpress.com

I used to misunderstand him. Initially, I hate him for opting Ale instead of Filippo or Pippo as his first choice in the front line. I have clear argument on why I choose Pippo as he scores more goals than Ale. But as the 1997/1998 Serie A progresses, I gradually learn Lippi’s reason: Ale is much more creative and tenacious player. He can go down to aid his fellow defenders, he is helpful in the middle field and definitely, he is hungry to score goals. That’s from my point of view. From Lippi’s perspective, he depends on Ale may be because Ale is ‘always ready on call’.

I hardly say Juve’s Lippi as a boring team strongly links with Italy’s defensive system. It has balanced squad from the back to the front row. Juve is just the team as attractive as those from other European countries. When I say he is cold-headed I mean it though I, again, get information somewhere in the media. But enough to say, to establish a united team with a very strong vision, Lippi has to be very bold. I can’t explicitly look at his ‘cruelty’ in the camera but I firmly believe he is open to his players, if not in the field then may be in the changing room or during training sessions. And that is inevitable for shaping a winning team. In another word, that is a must.

Giving his coaching skill at Juve, I surprisingly don’t hate him at all when he takes a controversial decision to leave Juve for Inter Milan, the Old Lady’s eternal rival both on and off the pitch. I put high respect on him despite the decision because Lippi is the first coach who shows me how to choose an idol based on his achievements. He teaches me on how to put my feet on other people shoes. So, when he briefly leads Inter in 1999-2000, I regard that he yearns for new challenges. And I think that is so normal. Looking at this event, I don’t hate Conte for leaving Juve to coach the Azzuri national team as I try to put my point of views from Conte’s; that he looks for adventures. Later on, I learn that Lippi actually leads me to be a completely objective Juventini and try not to be such a narrow-minded one.

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The peak of my admiration for Lippi comes to its climax when he leads the Azzuri team to win the 2006 World Cup. It’s so remarkable. I am speechless to utter how his and the team achievement feels like, as Ale puts in his book ‘Playing On’, “reaching the top of the mountain.” Specifically, at times of calciopoli hits the Serie A teams, Lippi’s capability is tested to the most. With so many serious problems plaguing the national team, Lippi is able to turn it out into something so great. This victory shows Lippi’s just another superb skill; psychology. What he has done to the team despite the hard times it faces along with the not-so-many expensive players is way too marvelous. The way he makes use the negativity to a strong motivation that eventually creates a world champion is outstanding. That, again, shows Lippi’s psychological skills which I have not initially thought of given his quiet appearance. Even after his downside following his total failure in the 2010 World Cup campaign I don’t despite him at all. He simply remains a human being who lives with achievements and failures. And his defaults in the 2010 World Cup campaign do not taint his accomplishments four years back then. He stays the best and will always be.

The last point is how he garners respect from fellow coaches, the most famous one is Sir Alex Ferguson. I dislike Fergie, to be totally honest. But Fergie admits he takes so many lessons from Lippi on how he builds Manchester United’s best team in 1990s. How flattering yet so startling! But still, I dislike Fergie and Manchester United.

For me, Lippi is like a book without any closing chapters. He has so much inside his brain. He’s got the nerve, the winning mentality, the smartness, the creativity and the guts to be a phenomenal coach. So when he decides retiring from the football world I feel so devastated. The fact that I don’t watch him being in the edge of the field during his last three years with the Guangzhou Evergrande adds another sadness into my already bitterness.

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picture source: www.unisport.dk

Apart from these below greatness, I will surely miss his coaching philosophy and serene behaviors. I’m so fortunate to have witnessed his skills that will serve as priceless heritage not only for the Italy but to the football industry in a large extant. For myself, I hope one day I will meet him in China or in Italy, just like I have met Ale in Sydney, Australia.

Grazie millie Mister Lippi! For everything! I’m glad you are still within the football industry as Guangzhou Evergrande as a technical director. Not only that will leave me with abundant stories to be written later on but also that shows you are always on with new challenges despite your old age. And you know what? That makes you are completely, thouroughly and wholly AWESOME!

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picture source: gool.net

Honors

Club

Juventus

Guangzhou Evergrande

International

Italy national football team

Individual

Records

Source for Lippi’s achievements: Wikipedia

 

 

A is for Ale

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The Invincible Club, The Undefeated Captain Ale
It isn’t love at the first sight. Or at the first goal. The first Juventus player, or world footballer, who initially steals my heart away is not Alessandro “Ale” Del Piero but his former duet Filippo “Super Pippo” Inzaghi. Two of my best friends confess their admiration for Ale but not me. My heart still sticks with Pippo as he scores more goals than Ale does during Lega Calcio Serie A seasons in the middle of 1990s.
I was at the junior high school at that time. My interest in football came unexpectedly when my father brought me home Bola tabloid featuring Zinedine Zidane on its cover. It called Zidane as a “crazy”player for extending his contract with Juventus for some years. Juventus, the first football club that I firstly heard and drew curious thoughts in my head. Later on, I turned on local television station RCTI and watched a football game. Italian league with Juventus or Juve as the team. Once and for all. The first soccer competition and the team that have led me to be such a faithful fan until now.
Not a few weeks did I miss watching Juventus’s performance. The 1990s was a glorious era for Juve and for me. I started to recognize their faces; goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi; defendants Paolo Monterro, Ciro Ferrara, Antonio Conte, Alessandro Birindelli, Gianluca Pessoto; middle players Didier Deschamps, Angelo Di Livio, Alessio Tacchinardi, Nicola Amoruso, Zinedine Zidane; and of course the deadly duet of Ale and Pippo. Under the cool hands of Marcello Lippi, what could be better than Juventus?
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Pippo (left) and Ale (right)
I began learning on the effectiveness of 4-3-1-2 pattern, such an efficient style made by Mr. Lippi as Zidane of Zizou as the playmaker behind the duet of Ale-Pippo. Watching them almost every week felt like a magic. I was so extremely happy when they won but completely stressful when they or lost. Thankfully, my classmates both in junior or senior high school loved watching football games. Female or male students kept talking about matches ahead of Monday morning’s ceremony. That was one of the most awesome experiences during my heyday.
Week by week, I was nurturing my admiration toward Ale. I found it a bit surprising how he quickly changed his position in each game. Until now, he is well-known for free kicks. When his team is under attack, he goes down to help his mates in defending Juve. I rarely see him receiving yellow or red cards given his calm temperament. And as a captain, he poses a good example for his fellows.
Such kind of qualities later develop him as my truly inspiration. After a season or two, I agree with my friends’ testimonies who say Ale is better than Pippo. Juventus switches lots of players in some seasons but my love towards Ale is always the same. As long as Juve has Ale, I have no serious objections or I can deal with any kinds of changes Juve wants to do. Entering 2000, some of my favorite players waved goodbyes for Juventini. I was  so sad when Zizou left Juve for Real Madrid. Then, Pippo went for AC Milan.
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Juventus squad in 1998/1999 season
I hated to admit the facts that Juve later recruited the players I disliked, like Pavel Nedved and David Trezequet. But hey! Ale was still there. As long as he could get along with those new faces, I later found it easy to welcome them with all my heart.
So, Ale had a new tandem; Trezequet or Trezegol, the Frenchman that was so famous at the beginning of 2000 for his contribution for French team as the champion of the 2002 World Cup. Marcello Lippi also left Juve and I had to welcome Carlo Ancelotti. So many changes, so many new things but Ale remains loyal.
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The Brilliant Marcello Lippi
And after I graduated from senior high school, I seldom watch football games. I had no TV and when I returned home each week, I was too tired and sleepy to watch them. Besides, I had no passions when I knew the news that Ale got very serious injury that forced him to skip the entire season of 1999/2000. Even after he recovered, he rarely appeared and showed bad performance. Critics said he lost his charm in the fields. It took some seasons for him to really recover and perform well but everything did not come that easy for him to win the heart of Fabio Capello, the new coach, whom I disliked as well given his harsh character. Capello did not like veteran players, so Ale mostly sat in the bench during games. Too often I watch Juve and Ale, I barely remember which moment that I love most from them. They win a lot of trophies, too, except the Champions League. When Ale wins the Cup, I had yet to like football.
In between not-so-good seasons, I had very memorable, the best moment of Ale with the Azzuri team. I had no television at the time but I managed not to skip any single match by the Italian team. I even stayed one night at my best friend’s house just to watch the game featuring Italy at the 2006 World Cup.
It remains fresh in my mind how Ale scored one very important goal that brought Italy to have crushed Germany in the semifinal. Ale was actually not the first choice by Lippi. But yeah. His goal marked such a golden opportunity for his team and he made his best during the match.
And eventually, my most favorite moment with him was when he contributed one goal during penalty kick when Italy faced France in the final. I know it was just a penalty that served as a piece of cake for professional footballer. But when it comes to kick a penalty in such tensed and depressed moment, only those with good and calm mental, who will be able to do that. And Ale just did that. Smoothly.
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The 2006 World Champion
After 2006, things got worse for him and Juve as it was downgraded to Serie B following calciopoli scandal. Some of his mates, like Gianluca Zambrotta and Fabio Cannavaro, opted to leave the squad but Ale was with the Old Lady, as always.
When I moved to work in Jakarta, I stopped watching Serie A for some reasons. First, I did not have any televisions and had been too tired to watch them if I had one. Second, as far as I remember, no local television station broadcasted Serie A for one or some seasons. Even until the 2011/2012 season, I failed to watch Juve or Ale live because of those similar excuses. Yeah, poor me. Sometimes I regret that and still do. To cheer me up, I tell myself that those years in absence is equal with years of dedication towards him and Juve during teenage period.
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Serie B Champion
And now, I am still dealing with this sad ending of Ale in Juve. I am still cursing Andrea Agnelli for not renewing his contract given his amazing 19-year of dedication for La Vecchia Signora. It’s hard to imagine Juve without Ale next season, especially when it battles in the Champions League. For years, I feel fine with whomever players coming up in the team as long as Ale is still there. I still have high hopes to watch him even as a substitute player. But now… I will have to watch Juve without his face in next seasons onwards. And I have to try to bury my expectation to see his face leaving his bench to substitute other players.
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Juve in 2011/2012 season
Thank you very much Ale. May be this sound trivial for a lot of people but I don’t care. I, like millions of your loyal fans, have endless words to describe how you mean a lot to us. It has been such a great pleasure to enjoy your performance, read your simple life, humble personality, and down-to-earth character.
I really wish he will join Premier League so that I can watch him again as often as possible since I have my television repaired. Or any league he will be on, my support will never cease. I hope he doesn’t retire now as he is not finished. He still can score goals and play better each day. Best of luck Ale!!! I love you…
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Il Pinturicchio Ale