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  • Writer's pictureDag Jenkins

Manager Series: Tommaso Maestrelli

Source Wikipedia

Tommaso Arturo Maestrelli was born in Pisa, on October 7, 1922. He was the son of a station master for the state railways so, in his childhood, he lived in several towns in Italy before settling in Bari in 1935.

 

Tommaso then joined the Bari youth set up. He was a midfielder and in 1938 he moved up to the first team squad under manager József Ging. He made his debut at 16, in February 1939, in an away defeat to Milan. It was his only game and the Biancorossi finished 11th in Serie A. In these early days he was nicknamed "Carta velina" (Tissue paper) due to his thin physique.


Source Lazio Wiki

He stayed with the "Galletti" for nine more seasons, including the war pause, playing 146 league games with 20 goals. Bari finished 11th again, 16th (relegated), 1st (promoted), 15th (relegated but then stayed up due to the war), two years of war interruption, 1st (in A-B Centre-South and 8th in Divisione Nazionale), 7th in A and 11th. His managers included Ging, Andras Kuttik, Luigi Costantino, Luigi Ferrero, Stanislao Klein, János Vanicsek, János Nehadoma and Ferenc Plemich. Magyar managers were obviously in at the time.

 

The war years were not kind on Maestrelli. He answered the call up and was sent to the Balkans. He suffered a leg injury when a grenade exploded near him and he got hit by a splinter. He was then captured by the Nazis and went through some tough times before being liberated by Tito's partisans, who gave him the nickname "Maestrellovic" and whom he stayed with for a while. When he returned home fortunately his leg gradually healed and he was ready to play again.

 

In 1948-49 he joined Roma. The Giallorossi finished 14th under manager Pietro Baldassare. Maestrelli played 29 league games with 4 goals (Triestina, Livorno x2, Novara) and both derbies were draws.


The season ending was however tragic for Italian football. The great Torino, who had won 5 consecutive scudettos between 1942-43 and 1948-49, died in an air crash on May 4, 1949. Returning from a friendly against Benfica in Lisbon, the plane carrying the whole team crashed into the wall at the back of the Basilica of Superga which is on a hill near Turin. All 31 people on the flight died. These included the players, coaching staff, a few journalists and the flight crew.


Tommaso Maestrelli was supposed to be on that plane. Despite the fact that he was playing for Roma at the time, he had been invited by Valentino Mazzola to join the team for the friendly match. Maestrelli did not make it because he was unable to renew his passport in time.


In 1949-50 the manager was Fulvio Bernardini and then Luigi Brunella for the last three games. The Giallorossi finished 17th and narrowly avoided relegation, blatantly helped by infamous referee Pera in the penultimate game. Maestrelli played 35 league games and the derbies finished 3-1 to Lazio and 0-0.

 

The 1950-51 season was his last with Roma. The manager was first Adolfo Baloncieri (1-19), then Pietro Serantoni (16-33) and finally Giudo Masetti (34-38). This time Roma were relegated, finishing 19th, the first Roman club to do so. Maestrelli played 31 league games and Roma lost both derbies again (0-1, 1-2).

 

With Roma in Serie B, Maestrelli joined Lucchese in Serie A. The manager was first Luigi Ferrero, from his Bari days (1-9) and then Piero Andreoli (10-38). The "Pantere" finished 18th and were relegated after a playoff (Triestina 0-1, in Bergamo). Maestrelli played 35 league games and scored one goal. His teammates included, former Lazio, Leandro Remondini (1947-50) and former and future Lazio, Aldo De Fazio (1949-50, 1952-56).

 

He stayed on in Serie B but the Rossoneri were relegated again. They got through six managers including Tommaso as player-manager for three games. He played 22 league games.

 

In 1953, at 31, he returned to Bari in Serie D. The Biancorossi won the Serie D Scudetto and were promoted under manager Francesco Capocasale. Maestrelli played 23 league games.

 

The following year the "Galletti" won promotion again with the same manager. Maestrelli played 30 league games. One of his teammates was, future Lazio, Gino Seghedoni (1961-63 and famous for the absurdly disallowed goal against Napoli which ultimately denied Lazio promotion).

 

In 1955-56 "La Vecchia Stella del Sud" finished 10th in B and Maestrelli played 13 league games.

 

In 1956-57 he played his last season. Bari had a new manager Federico Allasio (Lazio manager in 1954) and finished 11th. Maestrelli played 8 league games with 1 goal (winner against Como).

 

At 34 he then retired and went into coaching, something he had already done at Lucchese in 1953.

 

At international level he won one cap for Italy in 1948 against Denmark.

 

He started as assistant coach for six years at Bari. He assisted Allasio, Paolo Tabanelli, Capocasale, Luis Carniglia, Allasio again and Pietro Magni. In 1963 he even took over briefly for 5 games (D2, L3). Bari finished 2nd (promoted), 11th in A, 13th in A, 16th in A (relegated), 12th in B, 2nd in B (promoted) and 18th in A (relegated).

 

In 1964 he had his first real experience as head manager at Reggina in Serie C. In his first year he got the Reggini promoted in 1st place. He then stayed three more seasons in Serie B, finishing 4th, 9th and 9th again.

 

In 1968-69 he moved to Foggia in Serie B. The "Satanelli" finished 8th. The following year he led the Rossoneri to promotion to Serie A in 2nd place. The squad included a young Alberto Bigon (Lazio 1980-82) and future Lazio Luciano Re Cecconi (1972-77 and Scudetto winner before his tragic death).

 

In Serie A in 1970-71 he was unable to keep the Rossoneri up and they were relegated in 14th place. They did however beat Lazio 5-2 and Roma 1-0 at home and drew with Juventus and Inter. Foggia also played good football despite their fate.

 

In 1971-72 he joined Lazio in Serie B. He was not initially welcomed too well. The players and fans had got used to Juan Carlos Lorenzo’s histrionic and theatrical ways and here came a calm character from the provinces who had just been relegated himself and had also played for rivals Roma. Maestrelli had the intelligence to first win over charismatic leader Giorgio Chinaglia. Then with patience, gentle ways, dialogue, balance and not least results he convinced everyone.


Official SS Lazio photo

Things started well with Lazio beating Roma 1-0 in the Coppa Italia and then qualifying for the second group phase to be played in the spring /summer of 1972. The Biancocelesti won promotion back to Serie A in 2nd place.

 

In 1972-73 he was joined in Rome by Re Cecconi and Lazio sold Giuseppe Massa but also signed Mario Frustalupi, Renzo Garlaschelli, Sergio Petrelli and Felice Pulici. The Biancocelesti went extremely close to winning the Scudetto, battling with Juventus and Milan until the last game and winning both derbies. Lazio played an innovative style of play based on the Dutch way but also the Austrian vertex system of the 1930's (the constant interchange of positions between players).

 

In 1973-74 came his masterpiece. Lazio won the Scudetto. In the summer he managed to convince the Lazio president Umberto Lenzini to keep all the key players, starting from Chinaglia. A wonderful team with strong internal rivalries who however came together on the Sunday to play great football. On the 12th of May 1974 a Chinaglia penalty against Foggia at the Olimpico gave Lazio their first historic title.

 

In 1974-75 Lazio were unable to represent Italy in the European Cup due to the incidents on and off the pitch in the UEFA Cup game against Ipswich Town. Crowd trouble and brawls between the players, during and after the game, led to a one-year ban. In partial justification Lazio had suffered one of the worst refereeing performances ever by an unsteady Dutchman called Van der Kroft. In the league Lazio finished 4th but in March Maestrelli's life changed. He fell ill and was diagnosed with liver cancer. The team was under shock and collapsed 1-5 against Torino, playing with tears in their eyes. Lazio would never be the same. Faithful Bob Lovati took over for the last five games.

 

In 1975-76 Giulio Corsini became manager but clashed with the players especially Chinaglia who wanted to spend more time in the USA where his family now lived. Corsini was replaced and then surprisingly Maestrelli returned, seemingly in better health after various therapies.

 

It was a difficult season. In April, Chinaglia finally left with Maestrelli's permission who considered Giorgio like a son. Lazio only avoided relegation in the last game of the season with a dramatic 2-2 draw in Como. It was a miraculous feat considering how the season had panned out. It would be his last gift to Lazio.


Source Lazio Wiki

The disease had not gone away and the following season he was unable to continue as manager. He took on the job of sporting director, with Luís Vinicio as head coach, but his energies were fading. On November 26 1976, after Lazio had defeated Roma, he went into a coma. Tommaso Maestrelli died on January 2 at 2.45 p.m. Rome was in mourning and the Lazio world shattered.

 

Maestrelli is considered Lazio’s best manager ever. He is the most respected and the most loved. He has almost cult status. "Tom", as he was known, will be revered forever, without him Lazio's Scudetto would have been impossible.

 

His greatest virtue was his ability to unite a bunch of crazy characters, divided into clans during the week, into a formidable, compact and spectacular team on match day. He did so with his intelligence, his mellow character, his flexibility, his deep understanding of human psychology all combined with a superb footballing brain.

 

To Lazio players he was a coach, a father, a friend, a priest and more. He created a family at Lazio. His two young twins were often present at the training sessions, he often invited Chinaglia to have dinner with his wife and four kids, he flew to Germany during the 1974 World Cup to speak to Giorgio after his controversial substitution against Haiti, he had the human touch.

 

To Lazio fans he is simply "Il Maestro". His name is sung to the heavens every home game, as it is in the official Lazio song. The line more or less goes, "Come on Lazio we cannot falter, the Maestro is up above watching us" (it rhymes in Roman…). There have been several books written about him and even a play.

 

Sadly, three of his children have also passed away from Tommaso's same illness. His grandchildren also play football, Alessio is a defender for Turris in Serie C while Andrea plays for Arzachena (Sardinia) in the 6th tier.

 

Maestrelli is buried in the Prima Porta cemetery in north Rome alongside his beloved Giorgio "Long John" Chinaglia and the captain Pino Wilson.


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