Coach­ing prodigy Motta faces his big­gest test as Genoa meet Sarri’s Ju­ven­tus

The National - News - - SPORT FOOTBALL -

If you wanted to de­sign the per­fect course for an elite man­ager, you could scarcely as­sem­ble a bet­ter, more rounded en­sem­ble of teach­ers than these: Louis van Gaal for les­sons on team struc­ture, Jose Mour­inho on de­fend­ing a lead, and Frank Ri­jkaard on gain­ing one, stylishly. Some Carlo Ancelotti on man-man­age­ment, some Rafa Ben­itez on the im­por­tance of de­tailed plan­ning.

Add a Antonio Conte master­class on fir­ing up a dress­ing-room, Pep Guardi­ola on the me­chan­ics of pass-and­move and the stu­dent should emerge with a doc­tor­ate in man­age­ment.

A priv­i­leged base, then, for Thi­ago Motta, whose play­ing ca­reer be­gan with Guardi­ola as his cap­tain, and, through the next 17 years, took in­struc­tions from all those greats.

Motta is 37 and tonight, at Ju­ven­tus, he over­sees his sec­ond match as man­ager of Genoa – his first se­nior coach­ing stint. What he achieved on his de­but would be en­vied by any of his fine teach­ers.

Genoa, in the Serie A rel­e­ga­tion zone, were 1-0 down at half time on Satur­day to Bres­cia. Motta, who had had three days to get to know his play­ers, looked as his sub­sti­tutes and picked three to turn the tide.

Boldly, he told Kevin Agudelo, the young Colom­bian mid­fielder, to go on at half time, which meant a tac­ti­cal re­jig, a back three to a four. It was Agudelo’s Genoa de­but.

Thir­teen min­utes later, he sum­moned Go­ran Pan­dev, 36, to sup­port the at­tack. Still a goal down, Motta then made his last throw of the dice: Chris­tian Kouame, the 21-year-old cen­tre-for­ward, came on, with 25 min­utes to go. Bingo! Kouame im­me­di­ately thumped a header against the Bres­cia cross­bar.

A minute later Agudelo equalised with a hand­some left-foot strike. Next, it was Kouame’s turn, the Ivo­rian putting Genoa ahead with a spec­tac­u­lar vol­ley.

On 79 min­utes, Kouame picked out Pan­dev’s run and the vet­eran arched an an­gled ef­fort across the goal­keeper for 3-1. Three subs, all on the score­sheet: un­prece­dented in Italy’s top di­vi­sion.

“It’s a nice record,” Motta said with a smile. And as all good man­agers should, he de­flected the praise.

“Ev­ery­one was good. We showed a lot of heart in the sec­ond half. Most of what I have done is to work off the pitch, get­ting to know the play­ers.” He had learned, he said, how “brave” they are.

Genoa’s un­pre­dictable di­rec­tors were seen as brave – or fool­hardy – to have taken on such an in­ex­pe­ri­enced man­ager to res­cue a sea­son that, un­der Aurelio An­dreaz­zoli, had yielded five points from eight games.

Motta only re­tired as a player last year, af­ter six sea­sons at Paris Saint-Ger­main, and spent 2018/19 coach­ing PSG’s Un­der 19s.

There he left clues about an in­no­va­tive out­look, mak­ing head­lines by telling Gazzetta dello Sport about his con­cept of a ‘2-7-2’ for­ma­tion.

What he meant is that it is equally valid to look at tac­ti­cal line-ups read­ing from left to right, rather than back to front (where 4-3-3 al­ways means four de­fend­ers, three in mid­field, three in at­tack). And he hadn’t got his maths wrong: In the seven-man spine of his ‘2-7-2’, he in­cluded the ball-play­ing goal­keeper.

Motta cer­tainly knows the game from all an­gles. Born in Brazil, of Ital­ian her­itage, he was nur­tured at Barcelona’s La Ma­sia academy, and came into the first-team squad when their strate­gist was Guardi­ola.

He served un­der Van Gaal at Camp Nou and was part of Barca’s Cham­pi­ons League win­ning run un­der Ri­jkaard. He won the tre­ble un­der Mour­inho at In­ter­nazionale, a Club World Cup with In­ter un­der Ben­itez, and Ligue 1 with PSG un­der Ancelotti.

He knows set­back as well: there was a phase of off-field dis­ci­plinary prob­lems as a young player and bat­tles with in­jury. He re­de­fined him­self as a foot­baller.

The dash­ing mid­fielder evolved into a tough en­forcer at PSG and with Conte’s Italy.

In be­tween Barcelona and a resur­gence at In­ter, he had a suc­cess­ful sea­son at Genoa, so knows their man­agers tend not to stay long. His ap­point­ment is Genoa’s eighth change in the last six-and-a-half years.

Tonight, Motta is thrust straight into the tough­est as­sign­ment of any Serie A man­ager, a trip to Ju­ven­tus.

The cham­pi­ons and league lead­ers, though, are still fi­ness­ing their re­la­tion­ship with their in­no­va­tive man­ager Mau­r­izio Sarri.

Sarri, the epit­ome of the self-taught man­ager, never played un­der fa­mous coaches and when he was Motta’s age was still work­ing in a bank and man­ag­ing lower-di­vi­sion clubs part time.

But he rose through the ranks thanks to a com­pelling vi­sion, and now has that rare coach­ing en­dorse­ment, a style named af­ter him.

It is known as “Sar­rib­all”. Motta will need more than su­per­sub in­stincts to halt it.


Genoa man­ager Thi­ago Motta’s next as­sign­ment is a trip to Ju­ven­tus

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