Carlo Mazzone: A life on the bench
A real icon of the Italian game who influenced Pep Guardiola turns 80 today and it’s time to pay tribute to a legend
Carlo Mazzone was born in Rome on March 18 1937. He would go on to become the coach who has taken charge of the most Serie A matches with a remarkable total of 795. He is very much a product of the capital, nicknamed ‘Sor Carletto’ meaning ‘Mr Carletto’ in his native and distinctive Roman dialect. In total, he took charge of 795 Serie A matches after being entrusted with the top role at a remarkable 12 different clubs. A well-known and at times divisive figure for his famously candid comments, his career offers an incredible insight into the game on account of its longevity and the sheer number of personalities who Mazzone worked with.
A bonafide Roman, Mazzone’s playing career appropriately began with the Giallorossi. He had the pleasure of making two appearances for his boyhood side in 1959. He moved across Serie A to join SPAL but failed to find a place in the team and it was largely the same story at Siena who were in Serie C.
It was in 1960 when Mazzone found his second home as a nine-year playing career at Ascoli who were then named after the film company Del Duca. The defender spent most of his time in the Marche as captain and became so enamoured with Ascoli Piceno that he continued to live there regardless of who his employers were through his managerial career. A day before his 80th birthday, the club paid tribute to him at their Serie B match against Cittadella and one of the stands was named in his honour.
Naturally enough, Ascoli was where it all begun for Mazzone as a coach also. In 1968 he took charge of the odd game here or there while the club tried to find a permanent solution. In the end, ‘Sor Carletto’ stayed until 1975. That period included two promotions in three years and Ascoli were in Serie A for the first time and he kept them up with a three-point cushion.
Mazzone’s achievements were rewarded with a move to Fiorentina who he led for three seasons, finishing third once and beating West Ham United in 1975 to take the Anglo-Italian League Cup. His time with the Viola ended with dismissal in 1977. The newly promoted Catanzaro were there to give him a chance and he kept the Calabrians up twice.
The allure of Ascoli was never far away and Mazzone returned to the Marche. In his first season back, he beat Juventus to claim the Torneo di Capodanno which was organised to keep football going at New Year while Italy were off at the 1980 Mundialito. The local favourite then kept Ascoli up for five seasons before dropping down to Serie B for one year with the task of getting Bologna promoted which he failed. After, he succeeded in that same task at Lecce, taking them to Serie A and keeping them there.
There was then a spell at Pescara and after he took Cagliari to Europe, leading to his dream job. Mazzone was back at Roma. In his first year, he took the side up three places to a mediocre seventh. In 1994-95 the Lupi moved up to fifth.
Mazzone may not have given him his debut, but it was this Serie A legend who launched Francesco Totti as a regular first-team player. One son of Rome selected another local boy 21 times in the league, with the young attacking player netting four. Mazzone later claimed that he was laughed at when he told the club not to sign Jari Litmanen as they already had Totti in his role.
After his time with the Giallorossi ended, he offered to take Totti to Cagliari to gain experience before he could head back to the capital but the club changed their mind after a stunning friendly display from ‘Er Pupone’. While he may not have won anything at Roma, it’s fitting that Mazzone paid a part in ensuring Totti’s legacy as a one-club man.
After a very brief spell at Napoli and further campaigns with the Sardinians and Bologna, Mazzone found himself at Brescia and he helped convince Roberto Baggio to join the Rondinelle.
At Brescia, he moved the young attacking midfielder Andrea Pirlo into a deep-lying playmaker role. Mazzone later revealed he made fun of Pep Guardiola for his serious and quiet nature in the boss’s presence, asking why he didn’t offer suggestions. The current Manchester City coach later claimed he learnt much from the experienced Mazzone who also demanded that Guardiola tries his hand in Italy one day.
It was also at Brescia where the world saw one of the most famous incidents involving Mazzone. 3-1 down to rivals Atalanta, he and his family were allegedly the subject of insults from the away section. When Brescia came back to make it 3-2, he promised that the equaliser would be on its way soon. It was. Baggio made it 3-3 and Mazzone was off. He sprinted from the dugout to celebrate in front of the enraged away support. The mayor of Bergamo later demanded an apology but Mazzone refused and insisted that he would do it again.
In a peculiar way, the incident remains the perfect way to appreciate the 80-year-old’s career. He’s not famous for winning trophies but for his passion, personality and humorous comments. To deliberately provoke the Atalanta support shows why he was so liked at various clubs. He still recognised the emotional value of the game.
“I’ve always been a maverick, away on my own. I’m proud to have been a great professional if not a great coach,” said Mazzone after retirement.
He’s right. You can’t hold the record for the number of Serie A games managed without doing something right. His career is a reminder that football is not just about the elite teams. You can still be a great without being at the very top.