After the heartbreak of Euro 2000, a tournament that Italy lost in the final to a David Trezeguet golden goal, Italy had to endure two disappointing international tournaments - the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004. It resulted in veteran manager Giovanni Trapattoni leaving the national coach role and the Italian Federation appointing Marcello Lippi as his successor.
The circumstances would only get more difficult. Calciopoli (Italian football's infamous betting scandal) would hit the country, filling columns in newspapers and causing considerable tension in footballing circles.
When the Italian football team left for Germany for their 2006 World Cup campaign, not many people gave them a chance of reaching the semi-finals, let alone win the trophy. They had the talent, certainly, but the crisis in Italian football and the underachievement of the past years were obstacles for the team to do well.
That Marcello Lippi, Italy’s manager, was able to lead the Azzurri to the ultimate pinnacle of world football, is as much a testament to his personality and his genius.
Lippi’s foray into management
Marcello Lippi spent the majority of his playing career with Sampdoria, amassing 274 league appearances for the Blucerchiati in the 1970’s. His career as a central defender wasn’t enough to get him a call-up for the national team, though he made a few appearances for the Under 23 side.
Lippi would first take charge of the Sampdoria youth team for 3 years, honing his managerial skills and slowly gaining the confidence to be a first team manager. He worked in the lower divisions of Italian football for another 8 years before finally landing his first high-profile job at Napoli.
The Italian didn’t disappoint, with a credible 6th placed finish in a stunningly competitive Serie A, with a Napoli team that has just seen the departure of some key players (including Diego Maradona) and this caught the attention of the big clubs in the peninsula.
Success with Juve
Lippi would then take charge of Juventus, and win 5 Serie A titles with the Bianconeri in his two spells in Turin spread over 10 years. He would help in honing the talent of some of the legends of the game like Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero, Zinedine Zidane, Edgar Davids, Didier Deschamps and several others.
The Italian went on to capture his first Serie A title in his very first year, and the pinnacle of his career, until then, was the 1995-96 season, in which Juventus won the Champions League, beating Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid, and Ajax on their way to capturing the coveted trophy.
Juventus went on to play two Champions league finals in successive years, (even though they would go on to lose both the finals) which puts Lippi’s then Juve team as one of the best in their history.
The former defender would return to Juve after a one-year spell with rivals Inter Milan, to take charge of another successful period for the Bianconeri.
His team would reach yet another Champions League final in 2003, but would disconcertingly find themselves on the wrong end again. Nevertheless, the fact that Marcello Lippi reached 4 Champions League finals in his career has to be lauded.
A striking resume
The World Cup success in 2006 will always be remembered as the very apex of his career, but Lippi’s time in football has always been about a lot more than that. The bespectacled genius always seemed to have a careful measure of his opponents, instill a defensive solidity as well as finding a way to allow his creative players to thrive.
This was illustrated in the way he got the best out of Alessandro Del Piero and Zinedine Zidane for Juventus, and Francesco Totti and Andrea Pirlo for the Italian national team.
His calm on the touchline was incredible, he was always measured and thoughtful, trying to outmanoeuvre his opponents and was rarely found wanting for a lack of innovation. A disastrous second spell in 2010 with Italy aside, Lippi was consistently brilliant throughout his career.
There is no doubt that Marcello Lippi deserves to be remembered for his invaluable contribution to Italian football and has more than earned his place in our top 10 with his stellar career.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous quote on Lippi’s Juve, is evidence of the the mentality Lippi’s teams went out with for each and every match, "Juventus were an example for my Manchester United, I had my players watch videos of Lippi's team and would say: 'Don't look at the tactics or technique, we had that too; you need to learn to have that desire to win’."