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  • Writer's pictureSimon Basten

Manager Series: Stefano Pioli

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

Stefano Pioli was Lazio manager in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. In his first year Lazio came third but in his second he was fired towards the end.


Pioli is a manager who usually uses a 4-3-1-2 formation but he has also used the 3-5-2 and at Lazio he preferred the 4-3-3.

Official SS Lazio photo

Pioli was born in Parma on October 20, 1965. He started his football career in the Parma youth teams and debuted in Serie C1 in 1982. In his second year he won the Serie C1 Championship. After two seasons he signed for Juventus. One may think that this was strange but Pioli was considered a very promising defender and the Bianconeri were always on the lookout for young talent.


Source Wikipedia

In Turin he played for three years winning the scudetto in 1985-86, the European Cup in 1985 as well as the Intercontinental Cup that same year, plus the UEFA Super Cup in 1984 (in which he did not play). In three years he played a total of 62 games (one goal) but was always considered a reserve. He did not really fulfil expectations.


In 1987-88 he joined Verona. He played very little in his first year (just 14 games) but decisively more in his second (42). In 1989 he signed for Fiorentina and stayed for six seasons playing a UEFA Cup final in 1990 and winning the Serie B championship in 1993-94. He appeared in 189 games (with one goal).


In 1995 he signed for Padova but appeared in just four games in 18 months. His last years of football were with Pistoiese and Fiorenzuola in Serie C1 and Colorno (sixth tier)


Pioli played five times for Italy Under-21's.


Manager


He began his managerial career with the youth teams of Bologna and Chievo. His first job with the big boys came at Salerno in 2003 in Serie B. He led Salernitana to a comfortable safety. For the 2004-05 season he was head coach at Modena missing out on the play offs for Serie A by just one point. In the next season he was fired but then, after just three games, regained his place on the bench and Modena reached 5th place. They were then knocked out in the semi-final of the playoffs by Mantova.


In June 2006 he signed for Parma in Serie A but was fired in February 2007. The following year he managed Grosseto in Serie B. After a bad start, the Tuscan team reached 13th place. He became manager of Piacenza in 2008 in Serie B and the team came 10th.


The next season he managed Sassuolo in Serie B. He reached the semi-final of the playoffs but lost to Torino. In 2010-11 he was on the bench for Chievo Verona in Serie A. It was a very good year for the Verona team as they reached 11th place and had the 4th best defence.


His next job was at Palermo, but he only lasted a couple of months. In October 2011 he became manager of Bologna replacing Pierpaolo Bisoli. Bologna came ninth that season and 13th the next. He was sacked in January 2014.


Official SS Lazio photo

Lazio 2014-2016


In 2014 he became manager of Lazio. It was a surprise decision on behalf of Claudio Lotito since Pioli did not have a particularly great CV. Fans were very critical at first, but Lazio did not do too badly and at the end of the first half of the season they were 5th on 31 points, just two points away from third place (which would allow a play off for participation in the Champions League) but way off Roma (41) and Juventus (46).


Eight consecutive wins between mid February and mid April allowed Lazio to overtake Roma who, however, with two games to go had a one-point lead. In the last but one game Lazio faced Roma and lost, thus missing out on direct qualification for the Champions League. Earlier in the week they had lost the final of the Coppa Italia to Juventus 2-1 not without some recrimination due to the fact that in extra time Filip Djordjevic hit the woodwork twice with one shot.


In the last game of the season Lazio faced Napoli in Naples. All the Biancocelesti needed to secure third place was a draw. At the end of the first half Lazio were winning 2-0, but in the second, Napoli equalised and were awarded a controversial penalty. Gonzalo Huguain missed it, and towards the end Lazio scored with Eddy Onazi and Miro Klose to clinch the match and third place.


There were big celebrations. Lazio had played very well all year and possibly deserved even more than third place, but controversial refereeing decisions, especially in Lazio-Inter 1-2, plus exhaustion towards the end did not allow it to happen.


There was however great optimism for 2015-16. The first game of the season was played in August. The Super Coppa against Juventus in Shanghai. No contest and Lazio were beaten 2-0 on an appalling pitch. Lazio’s form was pretty terrible but the focus was on the Champions League playoff against Bayer Leverkusen.


In a packed Olimpico, Lazio played really well in the first leg and won 1-0. They could/should have scored more but some players were still a bit behind physically. The problem was that Miroslav Klose got injured in the first half and at that time Lazio did not have a centre forward who could replace him (Alessandro Matri came later). The return match was a defensive nightmare. Pioli decided to “experiment” a 3-4-3 formation instead of the classic 4-4-2. As a consequence, Lazio lost 3-0 so they were relegated to Europa League.


One could see immediately that they were having problems and not playing as well as the previous year. Narrow wins and heavy defeats (4-0 against Chievo, 5-0 against Napoli), players who were not performing as well as the previous year (Felipe Anderson for example) or other fundamental pieces that Lazio lost through injury (Stefan de Vrij) all led to a disappointing season. After 19 games Lazio were 9th, very far off from possible European Cup qualification.


Things went relatively well in the Europa League where Lazio went through to the second round after winning their group against Dnipro, Saint Etienne and Rosenborg. They beat Galatasaray in the round of 32 and faced Sparta Prague in the round of 16. After drawing away 1-1, the Biancocelesti collapsed 3-0 at home and were eliminated. In Coppa Italia after beating Udinese, they lost to Juventus in the quarter-finals.


In April, after losing the derby 4-1, Pioli was sacked and replaced by Simone Inzaghi.


All the positive things of Pioli’s first season were dissolved in the second year. “I did not manage that second year very well”, he said in an interview with Milan TV in 2019.


After Lazio


Inter have a history of picking Lazio players and managers so it was not a surprise that Stefano Pioli signed for them in November 2016 after Frank de Boer was sacked. Under Pioli the team won 9 consecutive games between campionato and cups, but then lost to Lazio in Coppa Italia and things started to go downhill. He was sacked on May 9.


In June 2017 he signed for Fiorentina. In his first year he reached 8th place but in his second he resigned in April leaving the Viola in 10th place.


Milan


Among the most incredible scepticism and surprise, on October 9 2019 he became manager at AC Milan in place of Marco Giampaolo. A very difficult start for Pioli but in January the club signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Simon Kjaer and things started going well. By the end of the season they managed to reach 6th place and qualify for Europa League.


At the end of the first half of the 2020-21 season Milan were leaders in Serie A. But in the second half Milan could not keep up with the pace set by Inter who won 11 consecutive games and overtook their city rivals. The Rossoneri however reached second place and qualified for the Champions League for the first time in seven years.


It was in this season that one could see how well Milan were playing. After considerable financial difficulties, they had focused on signing young promising players and the gamble had paid off. Rafael Leao and Theo Hernandez had become two of the best players in Europe and Ibra's hunger to win had done the rest.


There was great justified optimism for the 2021-22 season. It was a triumph. Milan won the scudetto with the highest number of points in their history (86), the best defence, together with Napoli, and with an average age of 26 years and 93 days, they were the youngest team ever to win the campionato. Pioli won the “panchina d’oro” as best manager of the year. A triumph for the former Lazio head coach.


2022-23


In the 2022-23 season Milan were one of the favourites for final victory seeing what they had done the previous year. Napoli were unstoppable all year but Milan were doing fairly well closing in second place before the pause for the World Cup. In January however they collapsed. Two draws and two heavy defeats (0-4 against Lazio and 2-5 against Sassuolo) plus losing the derby. They did then pick up and even went on to win 4-0 away in Naples but in Campionato they never really recovered the form of the previous 18 months. They finished fourth and would have been out of the Champions League had Juventus not been docked 10 points for financial irregularities.


Things went decisively better in the Champions League. Milan came second in their group, then eliminated Tottenham and Napoli and reached the semi-final where they had to face Inter. But they missed out on the final losing both derbies.


Pioli is a good manager and at Lazio, at least in his first year, he did quite well. His teams play good attacking football and can be very spectacular.


He gained a lot of experience with his stint at Lazio, and that has been very useful in his subsequent career.


Sources


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