Gian Piero Gasperini and Genoa: Can’t be together, can’t be apart

Tullio M. Puglia

Gian Piero Gasperini's Genoa is one of the most fondly remembered Serie A sides of recent times, as the grifone upset the odds to qualify for Europe. But, after his sacking, both club and coach have struggled. Where did it all go wrong?

The final day of the Serie A season, May 2009. The packed Stadio Luigi Ferraris was rocking in the brilliant sunshine, draped in banners celebrating their first qualification for European competition since 1991. No matter what would unfold against relegated Lecce in the following hour-and-a-half, they would be in the Europa League next season.

The tifosi in the Gradinata Nord proudly waved blue and yellow banners until the entire section of the curva was a mosaic of the European flag. It was a great day for Italy's oldest football club. Coach Gian Piero Gasperini -- who, that same year, enjoyed Jose Mourinho's admission that Gasperini had put him "in difficulty" -- beamed proudly on the touchline, with this celebratory game the culmination of three years worth of work. The Genoese would have the chance to conquer Europe once more.

It wasn't a convincing first half performance, with the players seemingly having mentally started their summer celebrations already. A nervous grifone struggled to hold off the bottom club. It was 1-1 at half time, but, roused by a team talk, Genoa scored three times without reply in the second period. Among the scorers was fan favourite Diego Milito, netting a brace on what was almost certainly going to be his last ever game in a rossoblu jersey.

The summer after that win over Lecce, it wasn't just Milito who would leave. His teammate Thiago Motta followed the Argentine to Inter Milan, with backbone of Genoa's team significantly weakened. Their replacements were solid if unspectacular, with the exception of the signing of Rodrigo Palacio from Boca Juniors.

Unfortunately, the European dream wasn't realised, with Genoa exiting at the group stages. Their league finish meant they wouldn't qualify for it again next season, winding up in ninth place. It wasn't disastrous, though what was to follow, most certainly was. Ten underwhelming league games into the new season, and with them just three points off rock bottom, Gasperini was sacked.

Just under four years later, and Gasperini is unemployed again. Meanwhile, his former club teeter a single point outside the Serie A relegation zone, embroiled in a struggle at the bottom for the second consecutive season. The disintegration of one of Serie A's most storied coach-club relationships has had disastrous consequences for both parties. Sadly, it was inevitable.

A nickname coined by famous Italian journalist Gianni Brera, Genoa are affectionately known as the vecchio balordo, or the ‘old fool'. Club owner Enrico Preziosi could be called the same thing -- though certainly not in such a loving tone. His presidency has been characterised by decisions almost as reckless as those taken by the infamous Palermo chief Maurizio Zamparini.

From the premature sacking of coaches to the incredible rate of squad turnover, Preziosi's meddling has led to perpetual instability, culminating in the outpouring of anger from the club's ultras last season, when they climbed onto the tunnel and demanded the players' shirts, in protest against their awful performances.

Only three players who started in the aforementioned win over Lecce started the opening game of the following season. Over the last couple of seasons they have lost Rodrigo Palacio, Miguel Veloso, Alberto Gilardino, Nenad Tomović, Giandomenico Mesto and Domenico Criscito. The list could go on and on.

Udinese, you may argue, have a similar amount of upheaval at the start of every season. But, the zebrette do it differently, utilising their expansive scouting knowledge -- usually in South America or the Balkans -- to ensure they always have a well-balanced squad, whilst generally maintaining a constant core of players well versed in the ways of Francesco Guidolin's system.

Genoa's approach looks rather more half-baked, and certainly less coherent. It has led to a revolving door of players who are in one transfer window and out the next, with a haemorrhage of experience, and perhaps more frustratingly, talent. Stephan El Shaarawy and Andrea Ranocchia both came and went without ever being given the time to contribute, while the same could happen to the highly rated duo of Mattia Perin -- currently on loan at Pescara -- and Mario Sampirisi, who has been bafflingly sent out to Chievo in January.

Since Gasperini was fired, they have gone through five different coaches in seven different spells, with each one lasting on average under four months. As in the aftermath of a regretful break-up, unfortunately Gasperini -- as well as Genoa -- hasn't been able to settle with anyone else.

Appointed as Inter coach ahead of last season, it seemed he had his reward for the excellent job he did at Genoa -- or at least for surviving a Preziosi firing for as long as he did. Sadly, his tenure was a disaster -- the result of terminal flaw which rendered his appointment as doomed from the start.

Gasperini's tactical approach is all through a fluid 3-4-3, which can be glorious when in full flow. The system relies on tactical intelligence and intra-team familiarity (a concept Preziosi is yet to grasp), as well as energetic, pressing midfielders and technically capable defenders with good passing and vision.

It creating a shape which sees interchanging and overlapping on the flanks and with a fluidity also demonstrated in the defensive phase, when one wing-back will often drop to create a defensive four, while the other will stay higher up the pitch.

Unfortunately at Inter, he didn't have the requisite players at his disposal. It is a harsh truth, that had he been offered the job this season, he almost certainly would. Nevertheless, he was offered a post for this season, so he didn't have to sit at home wondering what could have been. Unfortunately, that post was taking on the unenviable task of working under Palermo's Maurizio Zamparini, who sacked Giuseppe Sannino after three games in charge.

Sadly, despite occasional signs of improvement, Gasperini hasn't been able to revive the fortunes at the ailing Sicilian club, and was removed from his post on Monday, with the rosanero sitting rock bottom of the table. It was the first time in Italian football history that it was actually possible to agree with a Zamparini firing, though his successor Alberto Malesani will almost certainly struggle with such a squad at his disposal.

Much like Gasperini's sacking from Genoa, the accumulated impact of instability on the field and on the bench was a huge contributory factor. In 2010, Palermo finished fifth in Serie A, with one of the most exciting young squads in the division. Now, they're bottom, filled with a team of average players. But, that's a story for another day.

Gasperini's is a sacking which has served to reaffirm the wonder of his Genoa side; emphasising the rarity of a coach and team being so congenial. It also acts as a stark warning to Preziosi and Zamparini, haunting them like the Ghost of Calcio Past. Both were sides with all to play for; with the chance of pushing for the Champions League. Too many overzealous decisions, and they've lost it all. Gasperini will, no doubt, find another job. As for Genoa and Palermo, they might not be so lucky.

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