Cioffi feels love as lowest-ranked side enjoy cup run’s emotion
Crawley’s manager was animated after beating Stoke and is not down about facing Colchester
When Crawley Town beat Stoke City in the last round of the Carabao Cup, the reaction of their manager was not exactly restrained. Gabriele Cioffi, the former Torino centre-back who has been in charge of the club for just over a year, charged on to the pitch in an unhinged whirligig of celebration. But despite what might be thought about seeing him belting across the pitch punching the air and hugging anyone he met, he would like to point out that it was not a reaction that was typical of his management style.
“Normally I’m calm and rational,” he says, after training one day last week. “It is only when I lose my balance I become emotional.” It certainly was emotional. So much so, you have to wonder how he would respond were his League Two side to pull off a miracle and win the entire competition next spring.
“People say: why is he showing off, has his team won the Carabao
Cup? But you have to understand where that run came from. That was the perfect game, when my players did everything I ask. It was a run of love, because I love my players. When you see the players every day spitting blood on the training pitch, the moment when they succeed you feel it deep inside. Let’s enjoy. Tomorrow you never know.”
Though what happened the next day was that reality intruded on his dream. After beating first Norwich and then Stoke, Crawley found themselves pitched against fellow League Two side Colchester United in the last 16. As let-downs go, some might regard it as substantial. But Cioffi is not one to complain.
“If we draw Manchester United away, yes it is good for the club. But if we draw them at home, there is no gaining for us because we have to share with them money wise. With Colchester at home, the ground is still full and we have the 50-50 chance of getting to the next round.” And that, he believes, is more than enough motivation.
“We don’t want this momentum to finish. We know how hard it is to build momentum.” Indeed, he has been building it, he says, since he arrived in Sussex last September. It was a managerial opportunity he was keen to seize because he had long harboured an ambition to coach in England.
“I always have been attracted to English football, English culture, the elegance,” he says. “I never had the chance as a player. After my second year as a coach in Italy I was sacked. I thought what is the closest thing to England? Australia, so I got a job there.”
From there, via a stint in Abu Dhabi, he became Gianfranco Zola’s assistant at Birmingham City. When Zola was fired, he decided to stay, watch a lot of games, and put himself out on the job market. And when a call came out of the blue from Crawley, he was delighted.
“This club has a massive potential,” he says. “They were depressed for a lot of years. Now everyone is on fire.”
When he arrived at the club, he came alone. He did not insist on bringing a coaching staff full of Italians. In part that was due to finance. But he also was keen to develop his language skills. And he knew working with English staff would be the best way to learn.
“Seventy per cent of communication is not verbal.
When I first come to England, I am Italian, I use my hands,” he says. “But I know I have to learn the language better to communicate.”
Not much more than a year on, his English, though heavily accented, now bristles with a magnificent hotchpotch of colloquialisms, not to mention the odd interesting invention (“the human being is habitudinary”). And his embrace of the language is typical of his whole-hearted, determined, intense approach to his work. With his wife and two children living in Florence, his focus is permanently on Crawley. And his coaching style, he says, is not typically Italian, obsessed with diet, defensive shape and the value of experience. Rather, he is developing his own systems.
“Sometimes I shout at half-time, when they need. But I prefer to grow them with love. Sometimes when they are doing something wrong I ignore, sometimes I need to say that is not the way.
Fortunately I have an assistant who balances me a lot, who says this is not the moment for the dog to be let out.”
Not that his way always works: while tonight’s opponents were beating Newport on Saturday, his Crawley side lost 4-0 at home to Swindon. He admits failure pains him, but insists his job requires him to return to being upbeat.
“You have to believe the unbelievable. If you don’t have aspiration, you will never be. I demand of my players three things every day: work, humility and dream. Work is pain, humility is something you need to learn, dream is free. What we brought on the pitch against Norwich and Stoke was about dream. Run like there is no tomorrow and dream: that is what I tell my players. Oh, and be lucky.”
A bit more luck against Colchester and the good news is, Cioffi’s run might get another airing.
Italian job: Gabriele Cioffi is enjoying the highs and lows with Crawley Town