Midfield sentinel. Andrea Pirlo’s partner-in-crime. Serie A, Champions League and World Cup winner. Hothead. Gennaro Gattuso is a man of many monikers, one whose passion and talent cannot be questioned.
Management has not diminished the former Italy international’s drive for success. While somewhat of a coaching journeyman, he knows what it takes to win. As Napoli coach, his team emerged victorious against a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Juventus in the 2020 Coppa Italia – his maiden managerial title and the Naples side’s first trophy since 2014.
Having led top flight clubs in Switzerland, Greece and Italy (including reigning Italian champions AC Milan), the 44-year-old arrives in Spain to take over as Valencia’s new head coach. He has signed a 2-year contract and brings his firebrand personality to rouse the embers at Mestalla. At a time when major changes are afoot, a fresh start in both the boardroom and on the pitch could be the antidote for brighter days ahead.
“For me, football means passion, it means respect for the game and love for playing with the ball,” Gattuso said in an official video announcing his arrival.
A grizzled veteran with a glare that strikes fear into the masses, the former Milan enforcer will not be afraid to impose an aggressive style reminiscent of his playing days. But as a former teammate of attacking luminaries like Andriy Shevchenko, Filippo Inzaghi and Kaka, he is also not shy to be cavalier.
The 4-3-3 formation he adopted at Napoli could be on show, should he drop the 4-4-2 most Valencia fans are used to. Hugo Guillamon, with a season of defensive midfield duties under his belt, could be the deepest in a midfield 3 – while learning from one of the best at his position. Carlos Soler and Uros Racic are more than able support in what could be a solid trio.
Further forward, Gattuso’s previous attacking triumvirate of Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens and Jose Callejon injected pace and, more importantly, goals. In Yunus Musah, Goncalo Guedes and Hugo Duro, there are 3 potential names that could run riot with the right coaching.
But it is in defence where the Italian must work his magic. Los Che have conceded 53 goals in each of the past 3 seasons – a stat that makes for grim reading. Gattuso had leaders like Leonardo Bonucci in Milan and Kalidou Koulibaly in Napoli marshal the backline, and Gabriel Paulista has to be his man this time around. Shore up the defence, and let the attack do the rest.
While Gattuso has not qualified for the Champions League as a coach, he has enough talent at his disposal – not counting potential incoming transfers – to reach the Europa League, which should be the minimum target for Valencia next season.
Competition in LaLiga has been heating up as Spanish sides also continue to dominate Europe. Perhaps a splash of Italian spice will hand Valencia the impetus to fight fire with fire. Let’s hope he can orchestrate a flaming revival when August rolls around.