Bright lights, sharp suits, big crowds and glittering trophy wins – for a top-level coach, the glamour of life in the spotlight simply comes with the territory. Just ask Massimiliano Allegri, Antonio Conte and Zinedine Zidane, who are sure to feel right at home at The Best FIFA Football Awards™ ceremony on 23 October, when each will be hoping to be named The Best FIFA Men’s Coach 2017.
Chosen by the captains and coaches of national teams as well as journalists and fans, the trio are the final contenders for the prestigious management honour, having earned widespread acclaim for recent feats. It was a different story when their careers began, however, and all three had to win their spurs before earning the reins to powerhouse clubs Juventus, Chelsea and Real Madrid.
We take a step back in time to recall their early days in the dugout.
Conte’s inauspicious start
Conte’s first stint as a coach was also his worst. Appointed by Serie B side Arezzo in 2006, he inherited a team that had lost its best players over the summer and kicked off with a six-point penalty due to the club’s involvement in the Calciopoli affair.
Lacking experience, Conte lasted just eight matches and three months – and his coaching career could easily have ended there. Instead, Conte posed himself some tough questions and travelled to observe Louis van Gaal in Amsterdam, before being reappointed by Arezzo towards the end of the season.
“When he came here for the first time, he thought like an ex-player,” the club’s kit man, Giovanni Sarrini, told The Telegraph. “When he came back, he thought like a coach.” It showed, and Conte’s side put together eight wins and a draw in their final ten games, just missing out on survival by a single point. Arezzo are still the only club to have sacked Conte – but they were the first to reveal his gifts as a coach.
What they say:
“I started my playing career at the same time as he began his coaching career. I’d put him top of the list of all the coaches I’ve worked with. He’s a great coach and a tireless worker. Training sessions are intense and the players who don’t work hard don’t get to play. It’s as simple as that. That’s Conte’s personality.” – Andrea Ranocchia, who played under Antonio Conte at Arezzo, Bari and in the national team
What he said:
“Our only choice was to win. At that moment of the season, a draw would have been like a defeat. That’s when I put my 4-4-2 into place, with wingers playing very high, two central midfielders and a solid defensive quartet.” – Antonio Conte, in his autobiography ‘Head, Heart and Legs’
Allegri and the art of communication
On 14 May 2003, midfielder Massimiliano Allegri hung up his boots one final time – ending a playing career that had spanned 19 years and taken in four divisions and 11 clubs. He retired from the game at Aglianese, but no sooner had he left the pitch than he set up in the coach’s office.
Aglianese were in Serie C2 at the time – Italy’s fourth tier – and Allegri spent just a year at the helm before spells at lower-league outfits SPAL, Grosseto and Sassuolo, finally graduating to Serie A with Cagliari in 2008.
Allegri coached his former Aglianese team-mates for just a year, but his single campaign in charge proved largely promising. His team neither struggled nor soared, and Allegri did enough to earn promotion to the division above the following season as he answered the call of Serie C1 outfit SPAL.
What they say:
“Massimiliano is relaxed and calm, and open to discussion. He’s a very good communicator and understands other people. That’s probably why he’s so flexible and adapts his work depending on the situation. He always spoke with the players and never acted like a dictator. He explained his ideas instead of simply imposing them, and that won him lots of respect.” – Fabrizio Giusti, the Aglianese president who appointed Allegri as coach in 2003, speaking to ESPN
What he said:
“That period in the provinces was priceless. It gives you the fundamental experience you need to be a successful coach. While others dreamed of a big club, I needed to start off by learning the basics of the role.” – Massimiliano Allegri, on his early grounding as a coach
Zidane zeroes in on experience
Some were skeptical and others downright pessimistic when Zinedine Zidane first announced a desire to try his hand at coaching.
One of the greatest players of all time, he had little to gain by sitting on the touchline – so he started off by learning the ropes, taking up positions next to Jose Mourinho and, later, Carlo Ancelotti. Of course, he could not remain in the shadows forever, and in June 2014 he opted to fly solo as the head coach of Real Madrid Castilla, the Spanish giants’ reserve team.
Unable to steer his charges from the third tier to the second, Zidane judged his first mission a failure on the results front but a success in terms of experience. Club president Florentino Perez preferred to focus on the positives and named Zidane as Madrid’s first-team coach in January 2016.
What they say:
“It was an incredible opportunity to learn directly from a football legend. Many people say he has no experience, but, for a player, having a coach who has lived through so many things and understands the game so well is very important.” – Diego Llorente, Real Sociedad defender and former Real Madrid Castilla player, speaking to FIFA.com
What he said: “I didn’t invent football – I just want to bring my knowhow.” – Zinedine Zidane, upon taking charge of Real Madrid Castilla