Interview with Arrigo Sacchi – former AC Milan and Italy manager

Soccerlens is excited to welcome former Italy and AC Milan manager Mr. Arrigo Sacchi to our column.

Mr. Sacchi managed several clubs – most notably Milan – and Italy, with notable success (he led Italy to the 1994 World Cup final) as his Milan team won league and European titles. He had no prior footballing background but as manager was renowned for his professionalism, man-management skills and his appreciation of beautiful football.

The rivalry between Mr. Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello – both former Milan managers – is deep and well-known, but it is a mark of their respect for each other that Mr. Sacchi chooses to praise Capello’s footballing knowledge and managerial ability and avoids commenting on personal differences.

In this interview Mr. Sacchi talks about Fabio Capello and his appointment as England manager.

What was Capello’s attitude towards English football? Was he a fan or not of British style?

“Fabio has always been attracted by British football, by the beauty of the stadiums, the perfect pitches and their close proximity to the fans. He loves the English desire to fight for every ball, playing physical and aggressive football. He does not rate, I think, the tactics often used by British teams, especially in the past, at great international tournaments like the Euros or the World Cups or in the European Cups, particularly in away games. Although in recent years, thanks to ‘foreign legion’ of managers and players in England much has changed.

But yes, I believe that Capello has always been a fan of the British style of playing football and especially the 4-4-2 system. He has used it throughout his career, even if he has proved able to adapt various other systems to his players too. For example, I remember when he managed Real Madrid in the first year, they played with an offensive ‘Big Three’ of Mijatovic, Suker and Raúl. Believe me when I say to you: that was easier said than done!”

Capello has spoken of a ‘mental block’ with English players – how do you see him getting the players over that? Does he have a good record of reviving bad teams?

“Yes, he does. Absolutely. I do not take any pleasure from saying this, but when I left AC Milan for the first time, I thought they were a great side near to their sunset boulevard, reaching the end of an unrepeatable cycle of success. Obviously, I was wrong: AC Milan, managed by Capello, won the Champions League and four league championships in five years (three in a row), one of which passed without any defeats.

They were nicknamed ‘gli Invincibili’ (‘The Invincibles’) and established an almost ‘impossible’ Serie A record: 58 consecutive games without losing! But let me clarify one thing: Capello has never trained “bad” teams. And I do not think you can use that term for England, a national team with such great tradition.”

What kind of football do his teams play?

“Sometimes we, as managers, are asked to win, no matter how we do it. I do not agree: for me winning also means winning football matches AND pleasing fans, players, the media by playing a good football. But when you manage a national team – and I learned this – this is almost never possible. You HAVE to win. Full stop. This is why Capello is suited to the England job. I have always tried to build and develop teams to play good football but Fabio was not always like that.”

What’s it like going head to head with Fabio Capello as a manager?

“Given the fierce rivalry that has characterized our relationship in the past – and the imaginative controversy that has often taken place – I would rather not go into too much substance. All that I can say about this is simple; when you are the boss of such big clubs like AC Milan, Real Madrid (twice), Roma and Juventus, you are subjected to great pressure and certain difficult situations become your normality – just another day in office. This type of pressure can make people say things that they do not really think. But even in those situations, Fabio has always known how to behave. He is a fighter, and as such he always gets the best out of himself in the heat of battle.”

Is Capello into psychological mind games?

“I do not know if and how much he loves using psychological mind games, but certainly he is impervious to every kind of criticism and difficult situations. On and off the pitch. He has managed a number of superstars without fear of replacing them frequently, to drop them or to sit them on the bench, if the team, the game or the same player needed it. Capello did it with Roma strikers Vincenzo Montella and Antonio Cassano, with Juventus captain Alessandro Del Piero, and with a football-fashion global icon like David Beckham at Real Madrid.

Fabio knows how to be hard, if needed. His career speaks for itself so you can’t argue with his decisions. All players are treated in the same way. Capello has guts and is not affected by moods of public opinion, fans, executives, the media and so on. It is not easy to leave Real Madrid in your prime because your former club, AC Milan, asks you for help, or to go from Roma to Giallorossi’s top enemy Juventus, after having said publicly that he never would have managed them! He is very brave.”

What kind of a man is Capello?

“Please, do not let me express views on the man. It is no secret that we are so different, and that in the past we have argued. But I believe that between us the respect is mutual, even if our football concepts and ideas are so distant. But I know he is a man of wide interests, including good readings, painting, music, theatre, travelling, fighter aircrafts and politics. ”

Can Capello spring big surprises during or before a big match?

“I recall with pleasure the 1994 Champions League final against Barcelona in Athens. AC Milan had so many injuries and the defence was missing regular centre backs Baresi and Costacurta. In the days before the game Barcelona manager Johan Cruyff kept saying that Barca would easily win, and that Italian teams were too defensive and so on. The usual stereotypes die hard, you know.

Fabio didn’t lose his calm, and chose not to respond to the provocations. He prepared for the game as always with great attention to detail, but perhaps with even more evil. In the sporting sense, of course! AC Milan won the final 4-0 and played in a marvellous manner, but what struck me most was how much Fabio rejoiced, standing in front of the AC Milan bench for every goal and in particular to Marcel Desailly’s one. Capello transformed Desailly from being a great centre back into a fabulous defensive midfielder for that match. Fabio’s personal gamble had won.

I had never seen Capello – always so controlled, almost frowning – rejoice so blatantly, and with all the determination of which he is capable. At that moment I understood: Capello had to swallow many bitter mouthfuls, but in the end he had been right.”

How strict is Capello with big players and with discipline?

“No, please, leave alone. I am sorry. All that I can say is that Fabio knows how approach these problems, and maintaining the right discipline to the players, in and off the pitch.”

Was Capello a better choice than Lippi?

“I do not know if Lippi would have been a better choice than Capello for the Football Association. Marcello perhaps loves a kind of football that is more proactive and fun, but Fabio is the right man to the right place in my view. For competence, experience and abilities he is the number one choice. It is an honour for him and for Italian football that he is in charge of England. I am sure he will do very well.”

Is Capello worth £6million a year? Will he bring the World Cup to England?

“I do not know if any manager and I mean any manager, deserves that kind of figure. And I am not a soothsayer, so I cannot say if England will win the next World Cup or whether they will even reach the finals in South Africa. The England national team has a lot of top players and great potential – the human material is very good. But it is also true that the recent history of the English national team speaks clearly; in the big international events, their results and performances have not been up to the great expectations expected of them.

Fabio has not got an easy task, otherwise he would not have been called by the FA. But if there is one person that could be successful, that man is him.

Good luck, Fabio!”

Interview conducted by Sport Media Solutions.

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