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  • Writer's pictureSimon Basten

Manager Series: Alberto Zaccheroni

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

Alberto Zaccheroni was Lazio manager for most of the 2001-02 season and the Biancocelesti came 6th reaching a UEFA Cup qualification

Zaccheroni was born in Medola near Cesena on April 1, 1953. He started playing football in the youth sectors of Cesenatico and Bologna but was forced to stop due to a lung disease. He hence started his managerial career very early, in the youth teams of Cesenatico in Serie C2 from 1975 to 1984. In February 1984 Cesenatico were bottom in their Serie C2 group and he was called to replace Giancarlo Magrini. He miraculously managed to avoid relegation. He did the same the year after.

From 1985 to 1990 he managed in the Interregional Championship (fifth tier) at Riccione (winning the championship), San Lazzaro and Baracca Lugo (winning another championship and getting promotion to C1 in his second year). In 1990-91 he was head coach at Venezia and the club was promoted to Serie B. The year after in Serie B he was briefly substituted by Rino Marchesi but quickly recalled and Venezia managed to avoid relegation. His last year at Venezia started well and at one point they were only a couple of points off promotion but a double defeat gave the excuse to President Maurizio Zamparini (who probably holds the world record of sacked managers) to fire him. Six games later though he was recalled and Venezia came 11th.

Zaccheroni’s next job was with Bologna in Serie C1 but he was sacked due to differences of opinion with the board of directors. He was substituted by Edy Reja. In 1994-95 he managed Cosenza who, despite a nine point docking for administrative irregularities, were successful in avoiding relegation to Serie C1.

In 1995 he was called to manage Udinese. The Bianconeri played well and thanks also to Olivier Bierhoff’s goals (17) avoided relegation and arrived 11th. Zaccheroni did even better the year after finishing 5th and reaching a UEFA Cup qualification. Bierhoff was teamed up with Paolo Poggi and Mario Amoroso and together they scored 39 goals in a 3-4-3 formation. They even beat Juventus and Roma away from home both 3-0. Could it get any better? It did, they arrived third in the next season, the best Serie A position in their history (if one excludes the 1954-55 second place, when they were later relegated due to a case of corruption). The German centre-forward scored 27 goals, the best scorer in Serie A.

In the meantime, AC Milan were keeping an eye on this young manager. Under Fabio Capello in the 1990s they had won 4 scudetti in 5 years but in the last couple of seasons had done poorly, an 11th and a 10th place. President Silvio Berlusconi wanted a winning change so he called Zaccheroni to manage Milan in 1998-99. Zac brought Bierhoff and right back Thomas Helveg from Udine with him, got rid of some old timers, and applied his philosophy, completely different from what the Rossoneri had been used to. Bierhoff was paired up front with George Weah and Leonardo and he thrived. At the end of the first half of the season Milan were way behind, but the situation improved considerably in the second half. After the 27th game, Lazio were first with a seven-point lead over Milan. But in the next two games Lazio lost, Milan won and the gap was reduced to one. Milan continued winning, though at times with a considerable dose of luck like the game against Sampdoria when they won in the 5th minute of injury time thanks to an own goal. In the penultimate game, Lazio, heavily penalised by the referee, drew in Florence and Milan went top. In the last game of the season the Rossoneri comfortably beat Perugia and won the scudetto.

They were unable to repeat themselves in 1999-00 even if they added Andrij Shevchenko to the forwards, but they managed 3rd place and hence a Champions League qualification. Zaccheroni was confirmed for the 2000-01 season too but after Milan’s elimination from the Champions League second round, thus missing out on the quarterfinals, he was fired.

That season Lazio had started with Sven Goran Eriksson but he resigned half way through the season after Lazio’s poor results. The Biancocelesti were distracted by the fact that Eriksson had been named England manager starting from the summer of 2001. Dino Zoff was called to save the season and Lazio did rather well, obtaining third place.

But Lazio’s start to 2001-02 was terrible and President Sergio Cragnotti sacked Zoff and called Zaccheroni to take his place, much to the majority's bewilderment.

For his first game in charge Lazio went to Milan away but four injuries in the game made things rather complicated. Furthermore, Lazio had spent a considerable amount of money to sign Gaizka Mendieta, who at the time was considered one of the best midfielders in Europe. At Valencia the Spaniard had reached two consecutive Champions League finals, but at Lazio it was just not working. As a consequence Zaccheroni had to rely on the players’ ability to create something on the pitch, just like Zoff had done and at times it worked but when it didn’t Lazio were just plain awful. The physical preparation had been dismal and this explained why there were so many injuries during the course of the season. But the situation improved after losing the derby. Five consecutive wins took Lazio back up to fourth place, just three points behind Roma and Chievo, joint second. At the end of the first half of the season Lazio were seventh but with one game in hand. They were however out of the Champions League despite opponents who were not all that irresistible.

Lazio continued to play terribly and remained in seventh place. In the meantime rumours of Roberto Mancini joining Lazio as new manager had begun to circulate.

The second derby of the season was one of the lowest points in Lazio's history. Zaccheroni decided on a completely illogical formation and the Biancocelesti lost 5-1.

From then on, Lazio started playing better and with two games to go Lazio were fifth, just one point behind Chievo in fourth place. A Champions League qualification was still possible. But at Bologna the old Lazio reappeared, they played horribly and lost.

The last game of the season was against Inter. The table read: Inter 69, Juventus 68, Roma 67, Milan 52, Bologna 52, Chievo 51, Lazio 50. The games to be played were Lazio-Inter, Udinese-Juventus, Torino-Roma, Brescia-Bologna, Chievo-Atalanta.

Inter needed to win to conquer the Scudetto but if Lazio had beaten Inter and Juventus drawn at Udine then Roma would have a strong possibility of becoming champions.. For the Lazio fans this would have been a fate worse than death, hence the entire stadium was supporting Inter when the game began.

Juventus scored two goals in the first ten minutes so the game in Udine was virtually over. When Inter scored with Christian Vieri in the 12th minute, the game in Rome was also considered over. But then Lazio took advantage of an Inter defensive blunder and equalised. The draw only lasted four minutes as Gigi Di Biagio scored Inter’s second. But towards the end of the first half, a huge defensive mess up allowed Lazio to equalise again.

At the end of the first halves Bologna, Roma, Inter and Lazio were drawing, Milan and Juventus winning. The table now read Juventus 71, Inter 70, Roma 68, Milan 55, Bologna 53, Chievo 52, Lazio 51.

In the beginning of the second half Lazio smelt blood and decided to give it all, Inter collapsed psychologically. Lazio went ahead and the Neroazzuri did not have the strength to fight back and even conceded a fourth goal. Roma beat Torino and overtook Inter, Bologna collapsed and Chievo won, coming from behind. Final table: Juventus 71, Roma 70, Inter 69, Milan 55, Chievo 54, Lazio 53. The Biancocelesti managed to get a UEFA Cup qualification so the season was partially saved. But Zaccheroni’s reign had been a bad one and he was sacked and replaced by Roberto Mancini.

Fate is interesting sometimes. In 2003, Inter manager Hector Cuper was sacked and Zaccheroni, the manager who had killed Inter’s scudetto hopes, was chosen as the replacement. Inter did not do too badly and arrived fourth but Zaccheroni, sensing that he did not have the backing of the club, resigned.

After a year off, in September 2006 he was called by Torino President Urbano Cairo. After initial difficulties, by the end of the year the Granata were not too far off a European qualification but in 2007 they lost seven consecutive games and Zaccheroni was sacked.

He had almost been forgotten and had not worked for three years until he was called by Juventus to substitute Ciro Ferrara. His stint with the Bianconeri was in line with what the earlier part of the season had shown, that is, awful. In the last 16 of Europa League, Juve beat Fulham 3-1 in Turin but collapsed 4-1 at Craven Cottage. In the end, due to a series of lucky circumstances, despite a final seventh place, Juventus managed to reach a Europa League qualification. Zaccheroni’s contract was not renewed.

In August 2010 Zaccheroni was chosen as head coach of Japan. He did really well in his four years. Japan won the Asian Cup of 2011 and qualified for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 (eliminated in the first round).

After the World Cup experience Zaccheroni quit. He had never learnt the language and spoke with the players via an interpreter. In January 2016 he became manager of Beijing Guoan but was sacked in May. In October 2017 he was named head coach of the United Arab Emirates. UAE reached the final of the Gulf States Cup 2018 (beaten by Oman on penalties) and the semi-finals of the Asian Cup in 2019. At the expiry of his contract it was not renewed.

In 2022 he became head coach of the Italian non-profit national team and was one of the six experts of the Fifa’s Technical Study Group for the World Cup in Qatar.

Zaccheroni’s stint with Lazio was not good. But the truth is that the entire preparation for the season had been dismal so there was not a lot he could do. He is remembered for the 1-5 against Roma but also for the final 4-2 against Inter. To tell the truth, since he left Udine his teams never really played well even if he did win a scudetto with Milan. He is remembered fondly in Japan and rightly so.



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