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  • Writer's pictureSimon Basten

Manager Series: Gigi Simoni

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

Gigi Simoni was Lazio manager for the 1985-86 season. In his career he won a UEFA Cup with Inter and conquered eight promotions. He had a long career as a midfielder.


Source Wikipedia

Luigi Simoni, better known as Gigi, was born in Crevalcore, near Bologna, on January 22, 1939. He started his football career with Mantova and was part of the team that reached promotion to Serie A in 1961. The following year he was sent on loan to Napoli in Serie B where he won the Coppa Italia (only the second time a team from the second tier had won the national cup) but did not play much so for the next season he was back in Mantua were he debuted in Serie A on October 7, 1962, against Vicenza. In the final two years there, the team managed to avoid relegation.


In 1964 he signed for Torino where he stayed for three years and formed a great duo with Luigi Meroni. He was sold to Juventus in 1967 but found little space so for the 1968-69 season he signed for Brescia in Serie B. In Lombardy, in his first year he helped the team win promotion to Serie A but they were relegated the year after. He left them in 1971 and joined Genoa in Serie B gaining another promotion to Serie A in 1972-73. He quit football at 35 after 368 professional games and 62 goals.


Manager


His very long managerial career started where he left off, at Genoa coming in for Guido Vincenzi in the 1974-75 season. In his four years at Genoa, he earned another promotion to Serie A in 1975-76 but Genoa were relegated two years later.


In 1978 he became manager of Brescia in Serie B and the year after Le Rondinelle were promoted to Serie A. Simoni however moved on and went back to Genoa. The Rossoblu were immediately promoted to Serie A and stayed up for two years. In the third they were relegated. They had the same points as Lazio but the Biancocelesti had won 3 points out of 4 against Genoa so it was Lazio who stayed up.


In 1984-85 Simoni went to manage Pisa and the Nerazzurri triumphantly won the Serie B championship. He did not stay but instead went to manage Lazio.


Lazio


The 1984-85 season had seen Lazio relegated to Serie B. This meant that there had to be a revolution in the team to sign players who could adapt to the new circumstances. President Giorgio Chinaglia, keen to amend the previous disastrous season, where he had made many mistakes, chose Simoni as manager. Simoni had been capable of getting Genoa (twice) and Brescia promoted to Serie A, plus Pisa the year before, so he was considered the best possible manager for Lazio.


Source Lazio Wiki

For the first and only time in his career Simoni agreed to a two-year contract. He was famous for his one season only agreements, but he made an exception for Lazio. Chinaglia talked to him about the long term, a return to Serie A, a return to Europe. Simoni fell for it. No money, nobody was being paid. Simoni even had to help organise logistic details.


There were huge financial problems and Chinaglia had to step down as President. The new president, Franco Chimenti, could not sustain the financial commitment alone so he started looking for partners. Giorgio and Gian Marco Calleri arrived and helped out so at least a part of wage debt could be paid off.


Meanwhile, the team was not doing well. Financial insecurity and injuries were not helping. Out of the Coppa Italia early, in Serie B, despite being one the favourites on paper, the situation was not looking good. At home, Lazio did not do too badly but away from home the results were terrible. At the end of the first half of the season Lazio were 10th, three points away from the promotion zone. The last boat for Serie A was against Vicenza at home on March 2. They went two goals up, then 3-2 but lost due to a mistake by goalkeeper Astutilio Malgioglio.


Back at the club things were not going any better. Chimenti made the mistake of confirming Simoni for another year without telling his new partners. The Calleri brothers backed out of Lazio and asked for their money back. Chimenti tried to look for new investors but found none. Lazio were bust.


At this point, the Calleri’s came back but they did not want to do it alone. Renato Bocchi, a Parma born entrepreneur who had always lived in Rome, came in and bought 51% of the club with the other 49% left to the Calleri brothers. Lazio had been saved.


In the ten games after the match against Vicenza, Lazio only won one and did not manage to score a single goal in the last four matches. They were 14th along with Pescara, Perugia and Palermo, one point ahead of Sambenedettese and two above Catanzaro.


The situation was desperate. The next game was against Catanzaro who needed to win to keep their own hopes alive. Lazio desperately needed to wake up and they did, winning away 3-2 and hence eliminating any possible danger.


But Simoni could not stay with the new owners so he went back to Pisa.


Continuation


Pisa had not managed to stay in Serie A and had been relegated, but with the return of Simoni they promptly returned to the first tier.


What happened next was a long period of difficulty. Simoni managed Genoa in 1987-88 but was sacked in January, Empoli the year after, but they were relegated in Serie C1 with Simoni sacked with five games to the end of the season, Cosenza in 1989, sacked after 19 games.


In 1991 he started from scratch with Carrarese in Serie C2 taking them to promotion. In 1992 he became manager of Cremonese and stayed for four years. In his first he reached promotion to Serie A and was able to keep them there for three years. At the end of the third they were relegated.


In 1996-97 he signed for Napoli. They did so well that at Christmas they were second behind Juventus, but then they started to falter and ended up 12th. Simoni had been sacked a month earlier because he had signed a contract with Inter.


The 1997-98 season was memorable. At one point three teams were fighting for the scudetto: Juventus, Inter and Lazio. The Nerazzurri had signed Ronaldo during the summer, the Biancocelesti had Roberto Mancini plus manager Sven Goran Eriksson. With seven games to the end of the season Juventus had 57 points, Inter were one behind and Lazio two. In the 28th game Lazio lost to Juve and started to crumble, but Inter stayed one point behind until the 31st game.


Ronaldo and Gigi Simoni. Source Wikipedia

April 26, 1998, Juventus-Inter, winner takes all. Alessandro Del Piero scored for the Bianconeri in the first half but in the second a blatant penalty on Ronaldo was ignored by the referee who immediately after gave one to Juventus. All hell let loose on the pitch, out of the stadium and even ended up in parliament. Inter finished second but won the UEFA Cup, beating Lazio in the final.


Simoni was manager for the 1998-99 season too but he did not last long. President Massimo Moratti sacked him in December.


In 1999 he became head coach at Piacenza in Serie A but was sacked in January. A year later he was manager of Torino in Serie B but that lasted barely 8 games. In December 2001 he was named head coach of CSKA Sofia in Bulgaria. They came third in the league and lost the final of the national cup. At the end of the season Simoni resigned.


In 2002-03 he became manager of Ancona in Serie B and was once again promoted. The club however sacked him in the summer. He returned to Naples in November and led them to safety in Serie B. The club was then relegated anyway because it went bust.


His last years as manager were with Siena in 2004-05 (sacked in January), Lucchese the year after, from October to June plus a period as technical director.


In February 2009 he became technical director for Gubbio in the fourth tier. He gave a hand on the bench in the play off games but then returned to his previous role. With manager Vincenzo Torrente, he took the Umbrian side to Serie B in two years. He was recalled as manager in October 2012 but in March he was replaced by his assistant Marco Alessandrini and he went back to being technical director. Gubbio were relegated and Simoni called it a day.


He died in Pisa on May 22, 2020.


Gigi Simoni will always be remembered as a gentleman. He only lost his patience once, after the denied penalty on Ronaldo. Gabriel Podavini said of him “he helped me grow, first as a person then as a player. The coach taught me manners, loyalty, discipline and punctuality”.


At Lazio he was always remembered with affection. He would have been the right man because he had qualities similar to those of Tommaso Maestrelli but the situation at the club did not allow him to continue. In Lazio-Brescia, his last game on the bench, Curva Nord displayed a banner: “You did not give us Serie A, but you gave us your heart”.


Sources


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