Gian Piero Gasperini

Gian Piero Gasperini
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Gian Piero Gasperini

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Current Club/Country: Atalanta.
Previous Clubs/Countries: Genoa, Palermo, Palermo, Inter Milan, Genoa, Crotone.

Honours: N/A.

Gasperini once said: "Defending makes you invincible, but if you want to win, you must attack. This sums up the spirit and mentality I want my team to have. The identity you create in a team must always be reinforced. You must grow and improve, day by day, because if you do not improve, you are done. Those who stop have lost." That quote Gasperini has adapted from Sun Tzu's great manual on the waging of war, the Art of War, and very much describes the way his teams play. They play to win and that means attacking.

He is the complete antithesis of the stereotypical Italian manager. We tend to think of the Italian manager as a defence-minded coach whose ideal is to snatch a 1-0 win with just about their only attack of the match. Gasperini is probably closest in philosophy to the great Johan Cruyff, even employing a formation very similar to the one Cruyff's Barcelona 'Dream Team' used.

Usually it is described as a 3-4-3 or 3-4-1-2 formation, which becomes a 5-3-2 when forced back, but that is not something Gasperini likes to see his team do. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Gasperini wants his team to dominate the ball and get men forward, moving the ball with pace. It is all about movement and fluid interchanging players, very reminiscent of Marcelo Bielsa in many respects. Certainly in the punishing training regime Gasperini subjects his players to. So much so that Christian Vieri once said that Gasperini "destroys you in training".

Like Bielsa, Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, Gasperini is relentless in his demand for intensity from his players: "During training, my players need to struggle; those who aren't used to working hard scare me. But from the struggle, victories are born. If you don't run in training then you don't run during the game. Then, of course it is important to have fun in training too because from that comes the style of play and the quality." Those demands do not suit all players and do not bring instant success, which is why his path from coach of Juventus' youth to leading Atalanta to European contention has been winding. It very nearly led to his sacking right at the beginning of his time with Atalanta after a poor run in the first five matches.

The high press, possibly the highest in world football, can be breached, but his team scores ridiculous amounts of goals. It was not a tactical approach that was appreciated at Inter Milan, which led to him only spending a short period there. He was sacked twice by Palermo, in the same season! Oddly he was criticised at Juventus for being too defensive as he used three centre-backs. However, his centre-backs make Chris Wilder's overlapping centre-backs look like they are playing the most defensive form of catenaccio. Everything Gasperini does is on the front foot, even defending is about forcing the opponent into a mistake, rather than sitting back and waiting for one to happen.

The entertainment around Gasperini is not just limited to the way his teams play on the pitch as he is a prickly person who often speaks without thought, which has led to a number of comments over the years that he has had to apologise for. It has also meant that not every player responds to him, and there is always the chance that those that do will fall out with him at some point. That is a problem as Gasperini does hold grudges and thinks nothing of offloading even a player as vital to his recent system as Papu Gomez, when the pair fell out recently.

Despite those problems, it is clear Gasperini is a top coach, who also produced success with Genoa as well as the minor miracle he is achieving at Atalanta. He makes players better and drills them into a team that excites and gets results. With him in charge, Atalanta are becoming genuine title challengers in Serie A and regulars in European competition. More than that, they are probably the most entertaining and watchable team in Europe. In his hands the back three is anything but too defensive.

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