De Biasi looking to take Albania to victory at the place he once called home
Despite facing each other as recently as 2014 and a number of players plying their trade on the peninsula, there will be few among the Albanian ranks familiar with the Stadio Renzo Barbera when they meet Italy on Friday night – aside from coach Gianni De Biasi that is.
Although known as the Stadio La Favorita back in 1983, the 60-year-old spent three seasons covering the Sicilian turf as a midfielder for Palermo, and will no doubt be relishing facing the country of his birth in a competitive capacity in the city that could have become home for so much longer.
With nine goals in 105 appearances for the Rosanero, when the club closed due to financial difficulties in 1986, De Biasi was suddenly forced to continue a journeyman career that eventually took him to the likes of Inter, Brescia and Treviso.
However, where he failed to find significant success on the pitch, the Italian tactician has certainly had a more prosperous time looking on from the sidelines and was awarded a special Panchina d’Oro (Golden Bench) in 2016 by the Italian Federation for spreading the values of Italian coaching worldwide.
Despite a brief stint in La Liga with Levante a decade ago, though, that honour is clearly for the work he has undertaken with the Albania national team, who now sit 38th in the UEFA rankings and 54th in the world.
With only fleeting flirtations with Serie A during a 27-year coaching career, the international arena is by some way the highest level De Biasi has experienced, but the Italian clearly has a talent for a position avoiding the day-to-day worries of club football.
Having celebrated five years in charge of The Eagles just under a month ago, the veteran tactician has implemented a long-term approach in improving the side’s fortunes and they will pose a significant threat to the Azzurri as they look to top Group G ahead of Spain, despite a disappointing 3-0 loss to Israel in their last qualifier.
Seeing off Denmark and Serbia on their way to Euro 2016 last summer and becoming the first Albanian coach to take the country to a major tournament, they did so with an historic victory away to eventual European champions Portugal.
Although an overused stereotype for Italian coaches, De Biasi has instilled a defensive resilience in the team over the last half decade, highlighted by almost holding tournament hosts France to a 0-0 draw and conceding just two goals as they exited at the group stage.
Bestowed Albanian citizenship two years ago, the former Palermo favourite has witnessed just 18 defeats in 48 with his adopted country, and could find himself more welcome there than in his homeland should he mastermind another international shock.