After a managerial career spanning more than three decades, Marcello Lippi is finally calling it a day. The Italian coach, who has recently been managing in China with Guangzhou Evergrande, has decided at aged 66 that he wants to step out of the cauldron and instead admire the game from afar. Lippi will be remembered by Italian fans for guiding them to World Cup success in 2006 as national team manger. Heading into that tournament, Italy were never considered favourites but with Lippi’s guidance and tactical nuance Italy swept into the final eventually upsetting former champions France in a memorable clash. The World Cup trophy was added to the growing collection of trophies that Lippi had secured during his managerial career, which at the end of this current season included five Serie A titles. Four Supercoppa Italiana’s, three Chinese Super league titles and champions league trophies in both UEFA and AFC becoming the first coach in history to do so.
A philosopher of football, Lippi’s mantra for success was built on two guiding principles – team spirit and unity. He viewed his team as his family and treated them as such acting very much as the father figure to his players both on and off the pitch. Whilst compassionate and quiet on the touchline, Lippi’s players knew he was the boss which he had earned through respect and loyalty to those who worked for him. Unlike other football maestro’s like Ferguson or Mourinho, Lippi never fell out with his players instead trusting them to act as a professional should which some believe helped him in his quest to be successful. Guiding his country to World Cup success was his finest hour and whilst many will argue that Italy possessed the squad to do so, it would not have been possible if Lippi was not in charge. He instilled a siege mentality of them versus us into his Italian squad that boosted morale and helped the team unite to pull in a single direction. That direction ended with Fabio Cannavaro lifting the World Cup for Italy for the fourth time.
Lippi’s no nonsense approach to management spawned from his years as a player in Serie A where he served several clubs as a stylish yet effective centre half. Whilst his career was never considered to be glittering, it did form the basis from which Lippi would build his managerial career. He seemed destined to walk the sidelines sooner rather than later, noted by his teammates to have a keen interest in all things tactical and a thirst for knowledge on how to train effectively yet smartly. At 25, Lippi took his first coaching course which would lay the foundations for what was to come. After retiring in 1982, Lippi took charge of Sampdoria’s youth team for three years before making the long and winding step up to full time management in Serie A. After spending ten years crafting himself into a manager, Lippi took his first real step on this journey by taking over at Atalanta before eventually being poached by Napoli. It was in Naples that Lippi started to catch the attention of Italy’s larger teams with some fine displays, guiding Napoli to a UEFA cup spot in his one and only season. A move to Juventus was well earned and kick started Lippi’s winning run. With talents like Gianluca Vialli and a young Alessandro Del Piero at his disposal, Juventus dominated Italian football with three titles in five years plus that now famous Champions League win in 1996 over Ajax. He would have a short spell at Inter before returning to Juventus to win a further two titles before Italy came calling. He reluctantly accepted the job which proved to be a masterstroke with Lippi helping Gli Azzurri to its first World Cup in 24 years. He would quit after the success in Germany only to return two years later in what is now considered a black mark on his managerial career. After failure in the 2010 World Cup where Italy finished bottom of their group, Lippi quit and disappeared into the wilderness only to reappear two years later as the head coach of Chinese superclub Guangzhou Evergrande. With financial backing, Lippi transformed them into a dominant force in Asia and has now departed leaving them in a much stronger position than before, with three back to back titles to their name.
Alongside other legendary Italian bosses like Vittorio Pozzo, Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello, Lippi will go down in history as one of the most successful coaches of all time. Already viewed as one of the top 50 managers in the game, Lippi’s legacy will live on in the game and his style of management will be used as a template for future managers. Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson once called Lippi “the most impressive manager he has ever seen” which is high praise considering what Ferguson achieved in his career. But the sentiment is correct; Lippi was impressive both as a man and as a manager. He may have ended his love affair with the game but his impact will be felt for years to come as many look back at the successes that Lippi brought to his clubs and to Italy.