Friday, January 29, 2010

How Berlusconi changed Italian soccer

Try as he might, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has a long way to go before he can even come close to carrying the bags of Silvio Berlusconi.

AC Milan's owner and president has been at the forefront of European and Italian club soccer for more than two decades, winning 5 European Cups during that period. Keir Radnedge of World Soccer outlines Berlusconi's plan. A key component in that plan was finding the right manager, and then giving him the room to implement his own blueprint.

Turning stars into winners takes a top-class coach. Berlusconi found one in Arrigo Sacchi. The shoe-maker from Fusignano had never played at professional level, but as he said: "You don't have to have been a horse to be a successful jockey."

Sacchi's horse sense produced a winning thoroughbred by mixing Dutch fluidity with Italian backbone, such players as stopper Alessandro Costacurta, playmaker Carlo Ancelotti (now Milan's coach), sweeper and skipper Franco Baresi and magnificent young left back Paolo Maldini.

Sacchi, Fabio Capello, Alberto Zaccheroni and Ancelotti have all enjoyed long tenures as coach. Here, perhaps, is a key factor in Berlusconi's success. First he appoints top-class coaches, then he leaves them alone to get on with the job, though, as he says: "It's only right and proper that the man who steers the ship should make his views known at the right time and place."

In fact, Berlusconi has displayed the most rabid fan's insistence on shouting his opinions from the San Siro rooftop. Each coach has needed the strength of personality and self confidence to pick his own team and not the president's, while Berlusconi has been championing the causes, variously, of Argentinean striker Claudio Borghi, the Slav pairing of Dejan Savicevic and Zvonimir Boban, then the tactical value of two strikers rather than one so that "his" Andriy Shevchenko should always be a starter.

Any coach could disagree but only as long as he won. As Berlusconi -- who openly admits he fancies his own potential as a soccer coach -- has said: "Milan would always like to be the best, of course. But at the highest level winning or losing is often a matter of luck. What is important is that we are always among the main actors in this theater. As long as we are always competing to win then we will win more often than not -- and a winning coach gives me no excuse to replace him."

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