Comment and Analysis @ghostgoal
Pippo Inzaghi’s Benevento success set to take him back to Serie A
Pippo Inzaghi’s stuttering coaching career is taking off again after a stunning season with Benevento in which he has taken the club to a whopping 20-point lead at the top of Serie B in Italy
Last Updated: 24/05/20 2:10pm
From the World Cup to the Champions League, Pippo Inzaghi has won it all. He is an AC Milan hero, a goalscorer extraordinaire, the man for the big occasion. Just ask Liverpool.
But the striker who scored twice against the Reds in the 2007 Champions League final, never made it look easy. He did not have the sublime technical skills of his team-mates. He worked for his success and it always seemed to mean more to him for precisely that reason.
And yet, someone so noted for his selfishness as a player might not have been an obvious candidate for a career in coaching, where the function of the team is everything. Inzaghi's early forays into management suggested that those concerns were being realised.
His inability to arrest the decline at Milan was understandable - he had been thrown in at the deep end there - but a woeful experience in charge of Bologna, where he won four of his 24 games, was more worrying.
Bologna defender Ibrahima Mbaye labelled Inzaghi "a joke" while the earlier words of France international Adil Rami from their time together at Milan seemed set to define him.
"I have to thank him," said Rami, "because it made me realise that I too can be a manager when I get older. If he has managed to get there, anyone can do it. It was just a disaster."
While younger brother Simone had made a success of management with Lazio, maybe the touchline just was not the place for the man known to many as SuperPippo.
But just as his playing career turned around after being discarded by Parma only to become Serie A top scorer with Atalanta, so Inzaghi's hard yards as a coach are now paying off too.
Benevento, the club whose hapless season in Serie A saw them relegated with just 21 points in 2018, have been the success story of Serie B this time around. When lockdown struck, they were not only top of the table but they were an outrageous 20 points clear at the top.
Inzaghi's reputation has been restored. It has been a triumph of coaching. Points have been picked up even after going a man down. Benevento have not always dominated possession but they have been well organised and there is a chemistry off the field. Perhaps most significantly of all, his hunger and enthusiasm has been transmitted to the team.
It helps that some of the key figures in the team remember Inzaghi as a player.
As a Milan fan, the team's goalkeeper Lorenzo Montipo has "beautiful memories" of watching him score in that 2007 final. Others laugh at how Inzaghi remains a fierce competitor - approaching foot-tennis tournaments in training with the same attitude that characterised his playing career. It has all rubbed off on the group.
"The coach has instilled in us his mentality to never give up," says Montipo. The team's experienced midfielder Nicolas Viola agrees. "He has transmitted all his desire and hunger to us," he says. "When you think about what he has won in his career, seeing him work with this ferocity is surprising. It is an example for the whole group."
Right-back Gaetano Letizia puts the success down to Inzaghi giving the team "the right motivation", while centre-back Alessandro Tuia stressed that the attitude "does not change" even when the personnel does. "It would have been easy for us to ease up a little bit given the extraordinary results," says his defensive partner Lucas Caldirola.
"But he has always kept on at us."
Benevento's mental resilience might not be too surprising when you consider that both Viola and Caldirola are currently studying psychology. There is experience to the group too. Eight of the nine most used players are already 29. Senior man Christian Maggio, an Italy international best known for his time at Napoli, is now 38 years old.
But Benevento's success has been one of craft as well as mentality.
The individual quality of Roberto Insigne, younger brother of Napoli star Lorenzo, has been a feature of their season with his cultured left foot creating and finishing many an opening.
Insigne's game can appear off the cuff but much of Benevento's work is down to their system. Many of the goals have come from cut-backs and crosses - particularly from the left wing - that have been expertly converted by forwards such as Marco Sau. There is evidence of real order to their play, moves that have been honed on the training ground.
"The coach is obsessed with set plays," says Tuia.
All of which is a reminder that both Inzaghi brothers, the pair who would scour the pink pages of La Gazzetta dello Sport for information as children, have an aptitude for this management lark. The elder brother seems touched that his efforts are now being appreciated.
A simple thank you for his work from president Oreste Vigorito was highlighted by Inzaghi as "a turning point" because he saw it as a reward for his commitment. A contract extension, confirmed in February, was agreed in October, long before promotion appeared inevitable.
Of course, the coronavirus crisis has since put everything in doubt. It would be a pity if Inzaghi is denied the redemption that Benevento's sensational season has deserved.
"It's an incredible situation," he told Sky Sports recently. "But we are ready to play in July or August, we wouldn't mind. My players, all of them, deserve to play in Serie A."
So does their coach. As a player, he had to graft to get to the top. Even then he was criticised but he was usually the one wheeling away in celebration when the time came.
At the age of 46, Pippo Inzaghi has confounded expectations to find success once more. Perhaps his critics will not be quite so quick to write off this serial winner so soon again.