How Great a Coach is Marcello Lippi?

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Former Juventus and Italy coach Marcello Lippi, can look back on a highly successful coaching career. Jack Unwin at “These Football Times” looks back at the Italians illustrious career.

“MARCELLO LIPPI IS ONE IMPRESSIVE MAN. Looking into his eyes is enough to tell you that you are dealing with somebody who is in command of himself and his professional domain. Those eyes are sometimes burning with seriousness, sometimes twinkling, sometimes warily assessing you – and always they are alive with intelligence. Nobody could make the mistake of taking Lippi lightly.” If someone like Sir Alex Ferguson is so complimentary of a former rival, can there be any doubts as to Marcello Lippi’s quality?


Marcello Lippi’s place in any list of managing greats is assured after five scudetto’s with Juventus along with a Coppa Italia and Champions League in 1996. Between 1995 and 1998, Lippi forged Italy’s Old Lady into the best club side in the world. He also bonded an Italian national team shocked by Calciopoli into World Cup winners, becoming the first manager to win both the Champions League and World Cup.


Lippi’s coaching philosophy was an admirable one. The focus on the team as a collective unit led him to make a number of brave but vindicated decisions. In 1995, he sold Roberto Baggio to AC Milan, putting his faith in a young Alessandro Del Piero. On returning to Juventus in 2001, the sale of Zinedine Zidane allowed for the purchase of Pavel Nedvěd, Gigi Buffon and Lilian Thuram, strengthening the wider team at the expense of the best player in the world.


Despite these obvious qualities, there is something troubling about Lippi’s status as a managerial legend. There is no denying his strengths, or his trophies, but how great is he? There are some factors that belie his iconic status.


Fellow managerial great Giovanni Trapattoni reached six European finals as manager of Juventus and Inter Milan. He won five of them, but he lost a big one: the 1983 European Cup final to Hamburg. Carlo Ancelotti has so far won three of his four Champions League finals as manager of AC Milan and Real Madrid. Lippi reached five European finals as Juventus manager in eight seasons – impressive work. What is less impressive is that he won just one of them.


Lippi’s first European failure was the 1995 UEFA Cup final. It came at the end of a long season in which Juventus fought on three fronts. They captured their first scudetto in nine years, and won the Coppa Italia final against Parma. They would face Parma again over two legs, but they lost 2-1 on aggregate thanks to goals from ex-Juve midfielder Dino Baggio. The stage was set for future near misses.


After famously defeating Ajax in the 1996 Champions League final, Juventus maintained their European form in the 1996-97 season. This was the season that Juventus should have cemented a European dynasty similar to what AC Milan had done seven years earlier. They won five and drew one in the group stages, beating Manchester United both home and away. They demolished Paris Saint-Germain 9-2 over two legs in the UEFA Super Cup and crushed old foes Ajax 6-2 on aggregate in the semi-finals. With ruthless ease they reached the final against Borussia Dortmund in Munich.


Looking back, Juventus probably displayed all the characteristics of complacency, with recent matches against Dortmund fresh in their memory. In 1993, the Baggios, Dino and Roberto, inspired Juventus to a 6-1 demolition over two games to win the UEFA Cup. Two years later, La Vecchia Signori beat them again 4-3 on aggregate to reach the UEFA Cup final. Dortmund also had the look of a Juventus ‘B’ side, with former players Jürgen Kohler, Paulo Sousa and Andreas Möller in their starting XI. But Dortmund were no mugs; they were the reigning German champions, and were led by the canny Ottmar Hitzfeld who had learnt well from previous defeats.



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