Prior to Bayern Munich’s eventual elimination to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday, Italian football legends Giovanni Trapattoni and Gennaro Gattuso criticised the possession-based football of Pep Guardiola.
Die Roten were eliminated on the away goals rule in the semi-finals by Los Colchoneros, who play in a pragmatic manner under their coach Diego Simeone. Atletico are a team that relies on strong defending and scoring goals on the counter-attack.
Simeone played and coached in Serie A and his methods were influenced by his time on the Italian peninsula so Atletico’s victory over Bayern can be labelled as a triumph for Italian-style organisation valued by Trapattoni and Gattuso over the Catalan/Spanish tiki-taka of Guardiola.
Not all of Simeone’s football education came from Italy. When his playing career started in Argentina, he was coached in the Velez Sarsfield youth team by Victorio Spinetto, who was known to be one of the first pragmatists in Argentinian football and he gave Simeone the nickname ‘El Cholo’.
Despite the influence of Spinetto, ‘El Cholo’ played for Pisa, Inter and Lazio in the 1990s and 2000s and coached Catania in 2011. His Elefanti side survived relegation in that year and he admitted that the experience was crucial in his development as a coach.
“Catania was a real learning curve,” Simeone said in 2014. “I grew amidst difficulties. In terms of courage and ideas, a lot about my Atleti comes from Italy.”
Without naming Guardiola explicitly, Trapattoni revealed his disapproval of Bayern’s style of football under the Spaniard but he praised the philosophy used by Simeone at Atletico.
“I’m not going to name any names, but there are teams that hold onto the ball for half an hour without ever shooting so I always fall asleep,” Trapattoni told AS. “My Bayern side had the DNA and the strength to succeed with enterprising football.”
“Simeone and I are alike. I do not think you can be offended if I say his style is similar to mine, we share a philosophy.
“His tactics are straight to the point and display more intensity. To say that is playing badly is a big lie.”
Although Trapattoni has had a reputation for creating defensive teams, there were times where his teams were able to score an abundance of goals. When he won the Bundesliga in 1996-97 with Die Roten, they averaged two goals a match.
The Italian coaching legend also prefers his teams to be more decisive and more direct instead of seeing teams keep possession for the sake of it and not for his players to pass sideways and backwards.
Gattuso was also keen to point out the coaching values of Simeone but also criticise the abundance of Spain and Barcelona imitators. He also holds the belief that Italian-style tacticians still serve a purpose in modern football because of what Italian coaches have done recently in foreign leagues.
“Barcelona and Pep Guardiola have created monsters in society and in football coaches”, Gattuso said to La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“We have gone to copy the others, losing part of our defensive culture, man-marking and the art of goalkeeping.
“Today many coaches leave Coverciano and go on to do great things, therefore what we have done for 50 years cannot be thrown away. After all, what type of football do [Jose] Mourinho and Simeone implement?”
Although the Pisa tactician was talking specifically about Italy, he could have easily been speaking about world football in general.
Many football fans and pundits want to see good football and lots of coaches and players aspire to play possession football like Barcelona but it does not suit everybody. Sporting directors have to find players with the budget they have and coaches need to work with the players at their disposal to get positive results.
Perhaps defensive football does not serve a purpose in Italian football anymore but tactical awareness is important regardless if you coach in Italy or not. Simeone has brought what he learnt in Italy to Atletico Madrid and it has worked for him in Spain and in Europe.
‘El Cholo’ and Los Colchoneros have shown that the values cherished by Trapattoni and Gattuso still serve a purpose in the modern game and well-organised teams can defeat squads who are obsessed with ‘passing carousels’.