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Arrigo Sacchi looks to revolutionise Italy's youth structure

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By Richard Hall

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Arrigo Sacchi is one of the true great coaches of the Italian game. He is most revered for his leadership of the back to back European Cup winning Milan team of the early 1990’s but now he is engaged in a different role. The 65 year old has been charged with rejuvenating the Italian youth at the famous coaching school at Coverciano.

Sacchi had started his career in coaching back in 1964, not good enough to play the game at any serious level he took up the reigns at Fusignano CF, his home town club before moving on to Bellaria. In 1979 he moved to Cesena to coach the youth team before having stints as head coach of Rimini and as youth coach at Fiorentina. His big break came in 1985 when he was employed as head coach by Parma and his success attracted admiring glances from Milan who snapped him up in 1987.

His years at Milan were incredibly successful to say the least and a team that included Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, Franco Baresi, Roberto Donadoni and Paolo Maldini conquered all before it. After this he managed the Italian national team leading them to a World Cup final before going back to Milan and then moving to Real Madrid. His last appointment at Parma was cut short due to stress related illnesses and he ‘moved upstairs’. He eventually ended up doing punditry before this new challenge arouse.

In August, after Italy had performed so poorly in the 2010 World Cup, Sacchi along with legendary player Roberto Baggio took up an offer to rejuvenate Italy’s coaching center at Coverciano. Sacchi always believed in total football and that the players should attack and defend as a unit. These are the ideals that he wants to get across to the new generation.

Sacchi was appalled at the level of ability of the youth system, telling the Guardian this week: “You see defenders today who follow an opponent everywhere. The defender's point of reference should never be his opponent but a team-mate. I see kids who are 14 or 15 years old who are already specialists. But football is not a sport of specialists.

"I was watching the under-15s the other day – 14-year-old boys – and the central defenders arrived and all they did was mark their man. They took themselves out of the game. This is suffering, this is not joy, this is not football. If someone does just one thing over and over, they will get better at that thing. But is football just one thing?”

Still as passionate as ever Sacchi has decided that it is a new generation of coaches that need to be reared as well as a new ideology for the players. Sacchi believes that coaches do not have to have been ex-players, and in cases such as his own, Mourinho’s or Zeman’s his famous quote rings true: “I never realised that to become a jockey you needed to be a horse first.”

Sacchi has much work to do but he has a philosophy and the means to implement it, the game has changed since his Milan team conquered all but the 65 year old will base his new vision on an ideology that has been ingrained in all teams who played total football. This is where players of every age are taught the same fundamental ethos and tactics about how the game should be played.

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