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

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Football - Jim White

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

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