Former Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti, sacked by the club on Tuesday, was often said to be too nice for his own good but that criticism can certainly not be levelled against his replacement Gennaro Gattuso.
The 41-year-old, who will take charge for the first time when Napoli, seventh in the table, host Parma in Serie A on Saturday, was known for being one of the toughest players of his generation, a characteristic he has carried through to his short but colourful coaching career.
The Italian word “grinta” — meaning grit and determination — is routinely used to describe Gattuso, although the man himself insists there is much more to his coaching than that.
“We need to show determination, grit, but also play good quality football, something Napoli have done for years,” he said on taking over on Wednesday.
Gattuso’s coaching adventure began at Swiss first division side Sion in 2013 where he was sacked after three months. He then joined Italian Serie B side Palermo where he was fired after six games.
In 2014, he tried his luck with Greek Super League side OFI Crete who were beset by financial problems and, according to Gattuso, were “struggling to feed their players”.
His six-month stint included an infamous expletive-ridden news conference in which he banged his fist on the table repeatedly and said, in broken English, that he expected his players to “play with balls” despite not being paid.
He later gave the players 30,000 euros (£25,772.41) out of his own pocket because they had not received their wages.
Back in Italy, he took Pisa out of the third tier before being appointed by his former club AC Milan in 2017. He took them to fifth place last season, just outside the Champions League places, and many observers felt that he did the best job possible with an unbalanced squad which had been cobbled together.
As a coach, he is often brutally honest, loyal — but tough — to his players, refuses to blame referees and has a self-deprecating sense of humour — a refreshing change amid the banal cliches of the modern game.
At Milan, he was not afraid to describe performances as “embarrassing”, he would describe defeats as “burning” and said once that he wanted 11 “angry dogs” on the pitch.
He once slapped a youth team player on the head for holding up a Barcelona shirt and also allowed his players to slap him. “I just want to make my squad happy, especially the players who are angry with me because they are on the bench,” he explained.
Asked about his deal with Napoli on Wednesday, he said: “We talked very little about money. And we didn’t talk about image rights because I’m ugly, bearded and half-grey now.”
“You make me laugh when asking these questions,” he added. “Whether I have six months or an option, it doesn’t matter, because our jobs are tied to results.”
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