José Mourinho began his football management career as an interpreter and translator for Sir Bobby Robson in Portugal (Sporting Clube and Porto) and Spain (FC Barcelona).

22 April 2015

Analysis of Foreign Youth and Foreign Players from "Calcio totale" by Arrigo Sacchi

Image credit:
Libri Mondadori and

"I knew my limits as a footballer."

"I didn't want to, and couldn't
always, sell shoes."

"A race car driver doesn't practice
at 100 km per hour and then race at
200 km per hour on Sunday."

"I went from being 'Mr. Nobody' to
the 'Prophet from Fusignano'."

Former AC Milan, Atletico Madrid, Parma and Italian national team manager, Arrigo Sacchi, pens his much-anticipated autobiography as told to journalist, Guido Conti. This article complements my book review and translated excerpts. It will examine his controversial statements from February 2015 along with actual responses by him in the book.

Discussion Items:

1. On His Recent Controversial Statements.
2. On a Disturbing Statement to Ruud Gullit.
3. On Foreign Youth and Foreign Players.
4. Related Articles

"I never have forgotten my origins in the factory. That experience molded me not only in character but also in professionalism thanks to the sense of obligation that I inherited from my father. Without, however, losing sight of the beauty to follow your own dreams.

Today, I look to transmit all of this to managers, making them the recipients of my lengthy instructional experience. Recounting how I psychologically managed the changing room with so many different personalities along with relationships with the public, media, ownership and other directors of a club."

--- Arrigo Sacchi, "Calcio totale: La mia vita raccontata a Guido Conti," (Total Football: My Life as Told to Guido Conti), Chapter 17, pages 272 to 273, published by Libri Mondadori in March 2015 with a list price of EUR 15,30.

During his time with the Azzurri.

1. On His Controversial Recent Statements

Arrigo Sacchi made controversial statements in February 2015 that placed him under a much different type of scrutiny than during his managerial days. During a brief interview, he said there were too many foreigners and players of color in Italian football, especially in the youth ranks, which received international attention and condemnation by some parties.

Vast Experience in the Youth Sector

Image credit: F.I.G.C.

As of last year, Sacchi was the coordinator of youth national team programs (U-15 to U-21) at the Italian Federation. He held this important role from 2010 to 2014. He was also a reserve team manager for three seasons at Cesena (winning the Italian championship one year) along with one year at Fiorentina, respectively, at the start of his professional coaching career. Before those jobs, Sacchi coached young players in the "dilettanti" (fifth division) for three years at Fusignano, a year at Alfonsine, and one season at Bellaria in the semiprofessional Serie D, respectively.

I was curious to see if he would discuss this sensitive topic or avoid it. Intriguingly, Sacchi did reference this situation and blamed other parties for the controversy. I have watched the video above several times (as have many other journalists) and in my opinion, his words from above were not taken out of context.

Here is what he had to say:

"A journalist without scruples extrapolated a phrase from a discussion which created a resonance box where false protagonists, superficial journalists, late-comers and even politicians rode the wave of controversy to put themselves on display. Only Mattia Losi of "Sole 24 Ore" authorized the original interview and he dismissed the accusations." Page 279

Sacchi also noted that he had signed players of color in the past which he apparently believed was the final word on this matter:

"In the end, I rose above it (the controversy) because my history as a manager tells something truly different. I bought Rijkaard for Milan and Adriano at Parma where I managed Junior, Mboma and Appiah, respectively." Page 279

I'm not convinced by Sacchi's perspective on this topic and more detail, as he did in most other areas of this book, would have been beneficial.

2. On a Disturbing Statement to Ruud Gullit

I found one direct example of his controversial February 2015 theme and it occurred between Sacchi and Ruud Gullit:

"It was during the second part of the season. We found ourselves in the VIP room waiting for the plane to Avellino. Gullit lay down on the chairs and slept. He was pale and tired. When we arrived, I asked him, 'Come see me in the hotel. We've got to talk!' And I added, harshly: 'We're giving everything to win this Scudetto. Instead, you are not using the brains that you have. Seeing that you use something else. I have never seen one of color become white like you.'

Ruud didn't say a thing but understood that my attack was a source of bitterness for him. The next game, he gave everything he had, and after it was over told me: 'Don't say these things to me anymore.' He had so much pride and personality." Page 100

Gullit also mentioned the topic once more which Sacchi also recounted:

"When the Milan derby was over, Gullit took me aside and told me once again: 'You know that I respect you but don't tell me those things anymore that you said to me.' He still had not forgotten my attack (on him)." Page 109

"Sacchi's football was one which focused a great deal on organization. Naturally, we had a dispute because Italian football was always 1-0 and afterwards, everything became nice and calm. Then you counter-attacked. On the other hand, I was accustomed to play, how can I explain it, like a dog. When you bite him, have a hold of him by your mouth, he tries to bite you back in a way that is even harder.

Instead of staying back when it was 1-0, we would go for 2-0 or 3-0. This was always debated. So we made a compromise. We couldn't always attack. You had to find the proper time to do it. And my mentality was the same regardless of who we played against. Playing against Cagliari, Campobasso, Juve or Inter, was the same thing for me. I wasn't nervous anymore. I only wanted to win."

--- Ruud Gullit interviewed at Sky Sport (Italia) in 2013.

Gullit was exalted many times by Sacchi in this book. For example:

"He was a force of nature, very fast, with an extraordinary leaping ability and power. A great personality and charisma... A true leader, he helped me to create a winning mentality." Pages 144 and 145

Sacchi described Gullit as one of the real points of reference, a symbol, behind his Milan side which made the initial comment to him quite disturbing in my opinion. The publisher, Libri Mondadori, made a tough call on this situation. I believe it was the proper one to provide more context to Sacchi's initial comments in February 2015 and to allow readers to come to their own conclusions.

3. On Foreign Youth and Foreign Players

Sacchi was the coordinator of all the Italian national youth teams from 2010 to 2014 and arguably held influence with other domestic youth academies. I would like to provide a few quotes where Sacchi discussed the themes of foreign youth, and foreigners generally, in Italian football.

On Protecting Foreign Youth

"I asked the Italian Federation for a more attentive control apparatus towards foreign youth so that they would be protected as the rules required." Page 277

"Today, many football clubs think more about business than to the style of play. When some clubs buy groups of young foreign players without even having seen them play, they bring them to Italy in groups because it costs much less this way and then they re-sell them to other teams. By abandoning them on their own, they provoke an enormous moral, ethical and technical damage. The psychological consequences for these boys are burdensome because they dream of an inexistent reality." Pages 278 to 279

After reading these two positive quotes, I asked myself why didn't Sacchi and/or his media relations adviser discuss this in February? Not everyone will read this book and few will see these two quotes outside of Italy until this book is translated into other languages.

His Grading System

Image credit: Hobnobia.
Sacchi also detailed a grading system of four criteria:

"1) intelligence, 2) personality, 3) desire and 4) technical abilities" (Page 275) that he implemented to access every Italian national youth team candidate. There was no mention of any bias or preference depending upon the race or national origin of the young players in question.

On Too Many Foreigners

Sacchi made a comparison of too many foreigners in Italian clubs with the example of Real Madrid where he spent a year as their sporting director:

"A few years ago, I raised the red flag about the presence of too many foreigners in our clubs. If I allow myself to read over the formations of teams in one of the Serie A or Italian Cup games, at times, it doesn't seem like an Italian championship to me. And when there are too many foreigners, history teaches that our football and our various national teams suffer.

Let's look for example at Real Madrid. It's true that there are many foreigners; however, there are also many Spaniards who are frequently produced by youth academies because the public also demands it. In Italy, one is only interested in winning. And if you do it with 25 foreigners on the pitch, all the better. Can you still speak of an Italian league?" Page 278

On Players Coming through Italian Youth Ranks

He also noted that the Italians were dead last in the category of players coming through their youth ranks among the other fabled European programs:

"Italy is in 30th place in the European ranking with the lowest percentage which is only at 8.40 percent of players who come through the youth sectors of their clubs. While on the other hand, France is at 23.60 percent, Spain, 21.10 percent, Germany at 16.60 percent and England is at 13.60 percent, respectively. The average in Europe is at 21.40 percent." Page 278

On the Number of Foreigners at Italian Clubs

Sacchi then listed the number of foreigners at Italian clubs by percentage:

"Italy is the worst country in the entirety of Europe with an increase of 12.5 percent in the number of foreigners over the period from 2009 to 2014. Germany, on the other hand, is the country who has improved the most in the same period with 11 percent of foreigners. Italy has five teams at the top of Europe for the number of foreigners: Inter is one of the worst teams with 88.90 percent. Udinese with 80 percent. Fiorentina with 79 percent and Napoli with 73 percent, respectively." Page 279

I hope that this analysis provided an objective look at Sacchi's various perspectives on these controversial and emotive topics. We are entitled to our opinions; however, we are not entitled to our facts. Sacchi provided both opinions and facts for the reader to analyze.

Please Note

I have received a complimentary review copy of this book from a representative of Libri Mondadori. I was not financially compensated by the co-authors, publisher or any party who would benefit from a positive analysis.

4. Related Articles
Soccer Translator

Steve Amoia is a freelance writer and translator from Washington, D.C. He is the publisher of World Football Commentaries since 2006 and The Soccer Translator since 2008. You can follow Steve @worldfootballcm on Twitter.

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