The COVID-19 pandemic had put Italian football on halt for almost three months and his sister Francesca passed away in early June at the age of 37 after she had been in intensive care since January but there might be, finally, some glimmer of light at the end of a dark tunnel as his Napoli side face Juventus in the Coppa Italia Final in Rome on Wednesday evening.
She had been suffering from a rare illness for many years and the loss understandably hurt Gattuso a lot but he is a resilient character and he was able to turn his focus on his Napoli squad for the decisive Coppa Italia semi-final second leg against Inter on Saturday evening.
Napoli were set up to defend their 1-0 aggregate lead but that advantage was wiped out after just two minutes Christian Eriksen scored straight from a corner albeit with some help from Partenopei goalkeeper David Ospina. That spurred the Colombian shot-stopper into action, and he played a starring role for the remainder of the game, dealing with an attacking onslaught from the Nerazzurri.
The Neapolitan side launched the occasional counterattack and they made it count four minutes before half-time when Ospina and Lorenzo Insigne combined to set up Dries Mertens. His equaliser in the second leg was his 122nd goal for Napoli in competitive fixtures, making him the club’s greatest goalscorer of all-time, and it gave the southern Italian club the 2-1 on aggregate victory.
It was an emotional victory for the coach and he showed his gratitude to his players after the match.
“I’m dedicating this win to my sister and family,” Gattuso said afterwards, as reported by the official club website.
“The players were incredible out there tonight in terms of their dedication on the pitch. I’m grateful to them because they performed for me and have supported me.
“I have a top quality squad here, but it was a matter of digging in tonight because not everything was coming off for us. It wasn’t easy to bounce back after conceding an unfortunate early goal.
“We showed our character and I must say that in terms of intensity, we picked up where we left off before the break. We’ve been through a very tough period and training hasn’t been easy because of the pandemic.”
Reaching the Coppa Italia Final seemed unlikely when Gattuso succeeded his mentor Carlo Ancelotti as Napoli coach in December 2019.
After Ancelotti’s failed tactical experiments, Gattuso brought back the 4-3-3 formation that was used under Maurizio Sarri, but he has created a team that is harder to break down and is arguably more effective.
He also had some failed coaching spells early in his career, being a player-coach at Swiss club Sion, and then becoming head coach at Palermo and Greek club OFI Crete. Earning promotion to Serie B with Pisa was a fine achievement but he still has had to shrug off the stigma of being just a motivator that yells constantly and offers little more than grinta.
It also seemed that his coaching career had reached its zenith when he had coached AC Milan and had his contract terminated at the end of the 2018/19 season despite missing out Champions League qualification by just one point.
After winning many trophies as a Rossoneri player, Gattuso can add to his list of honours with a Coppa Italia victory and he would clearly deserve it due to his latest experiences.