Eurosport exclusive: Arrigo Sacchi: ‘Is a coach who wins necessarily good? I don't agree'
Exclusive - Managerial legend Arrigo Sacchi has spoken at length to Eurosport. The legendary former coach of AC Milan, Italy and others gives us his view on modern football. A true managerial pioneer, Sacchi believes that the game remains an essential force for good in the world and discusses the current state of affairs in Serie A and beyond.
Arrigo Sacchi attends at Festival dello Sport at Teatro Strehler in Milan, Italy
Arrigo Sacchi: First of all, I would like to say that I am very happy about it. Our way of looking at football is the reflex of looking at the history and society of a country. In Italy, unfortunately, we haven't attacked since the time of the Romans. Or else we have tried, but to no avail. I'm not just talking about football.
We used to play careful, defensive and tactical football. Our strength was tactics but not strategy at all. We used to say that it was enough to win. For example, a club like Juventus would repeat the mantra that "the only thing that counts is winning". We wanted to win in any way we could, regardless of the values that make life good. I'm talking about merit, beauty, emotion, spectacle, harmony. Lacking those characteristics didn't allow our football to evolve. Optimism is not living in the past, but in the future.
What is happening in Italian football today?
A.S: Myself, I don't know. I think that with time, we have acquired culture. More generally speaking, we're now living in a world that will never be the same again. It's a revolution, not an evolution. I remain convinced of the link between football, culture and life.
The founding fathers of football thought of it as a team and offensive sport. But at home, the sport had lost that image. It had become a defensive and individual sport. Even the coaching theory was individualistic, which was a major mistake.
Italy has always had a fashionable style. In football, it has never had a style. The catenaccio, playing with 11 players in defence and winning on a counterattack, could not be one. I hope that Italian football will finally define what this sport is for us. For South American, Spanish and other teams, football is a sporting spectacle. For others, it is a sport with precise rules. For us, it was winning.
Do you think that a lack of fans has had an influence on the explosion of goals?
A.S: Perhaps the Italian public has also evolved in its thinking. Before their thinking was prehistoric, the chants were so violent - a repetition of things you could hear 2000 years ago in the gladiatorial arenas. In other words, their chants symbolised the evolution that still had to be done.
I'll tell you an anecdote: Two years ago, the mayor of an Italian town, hit by an earthquake, invited me to talk about football. "You're going to teach us to be a team," he said to me. The whole city was made of containers. I wasn't in the right frame of mind, it was difficult. But I went there. At the end of the conference, a Milan supporter came to talk to me. He was in Barcelona for the final against Steaua Bucharest in 1989 (which Milan won 4-0). He then showed me the front page of the newspaper at the time. It was written: 'Out of another world'. In the article, the journalist said that he and his colleagues thought we would stop attacking at 1-0, that we would use the catenaccio. But we kept going. For me, values always take over.
So for you, thought is more important than technique?
A.S: I never looked at the feet of my players. I looked at their spirit, their availability, their modesty, their intelligence and their enthusiasm. I didn't want players with values that went against a team sport, such as excessive individualism, jealousy or even greed.
I think the world is moving in that direction. Today the public go to the stadium and can judge the merit of a victory. If the performance was disappointing then the victory will remain in the history books, but never in the hearts and minds of the people.
Image credit: Getty Images
How impressed have you been with Atalanta’s style?
A.S: The game against Ajax was fantastic. It should be shown to all children in football academies. The spectacle is where the entertainment is.
I see other teams emulating that, even small ones, trying to play with the ball. I'm thinking in particular of Crotone, Hellas Verona or La Spezia in Serie A. It's the revolution for small teams.
Do you know why I came to AC Milan at the time?
A.S: I had a president (Silvio Berlusconi) who was a departure from the typical president who wants to win at all costs. Berlusconi had greatness.
He told me: "We have to become the greatest team in the world". I replied: "But it can be frustrating and requires patience". He didn't understand why it needed patience.
But together we had one aim: to become the greatest team of all time.
When years later UEFA, World Soccer, France Football and SoFoot elected Milan as the greatest team of all time, I picked up my phone and called Berlusconi. This is what I said to him: "Do you understand now why I told you 'patience'"?
Arrigo Sacchi et Silvio Berlusconi
Image credit: Getty Images
Are aesthetics more important than results?
A.S: Look at Maurizio Sarri's Napoli. He did not win, and yet the fans had written on a banner: "Thank you for the incredible memories". What a sentiment. They hadn't won, but they understood. We must encourage that way of thinking.
What do you think of Marcelo Bielsa's time at Marseille?
A.S: In my opinion people had an understanding of what he would bring to OM. Unfortunately, many journalists are only interested in selling more newspapers. 'If a coach wins, he must be good.' I don't agree. That's not how it works. If you think like that, you don't refine your culture, your ability to know whether you won with merit or not.
A player once told me that we were working too hard and that he wasn't having fun. I told him that you don't get a lot out of doing little, and that if he gave it all then people would remember it for the rest of their lives. I haven't been coaching for 25 years now and every time I go somewhere I'm asked for a photo or an autograph. It's because I've managed to give them something. Don't forget that football is the most important of the least important things.
PSG are often criticised for their style of play. Do you share that view?
A.S: I don't watch PSG much because I don't like their style. I saw 30 minutes of the match against Istanbul Basaksehir and I turned it off.
It is a team that is not based on harmony and beauty. It's a team that relies on individuality and economic strength. It is a group, not a team. A team is when 11 players manage to internalise a common goal. This goes beyond tactics and technique. It's when responses become automatic from training to matches. We don't see a lot of automatisms at PSG.
Atalanta were close to accomplishing a real historic feat last season in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. One PSG player cost more than the whole Atalanta team together.
What is your view of Didier Deschamps' France team?
A.S: He belongs to the category of good coaches, that is indisputable. He’s in the category of coach that I would call ‘tacticians’ and he is very good at that.
But what are the tacticians missing? Beauty, harmony, amalgamation and emotions. The emotional highs experienced from Deschamps' France team are fleeting and based more on individual moments than on the collective.
Trainer Arrigo Sacchi (links) und Libero Franco Baresi feierten mit dem AC Mailand zahlreiche Erfolge
Image credit: Imago
How do you feel when you look back at your career?
A.S: I trained for 27 years, working in all the divisions before arriving in Serie B. I still remember when Milan decided to take a gamble on me. I was at Parma and we had played a friendly against them. Berlusconi had just bought five players from the Italian national team, whereas I had a team of kids. We played well. A month later we played them again in the Italian Cup. We went to Milan and we won 1-0, deservedly so.
Berlusconi contacted me afterwards telling me that he would follow my career. We played Milan again in the Italian Cup in February. We won 1-0. Within 10 days, Berlusconi approached me about the job, not just because my team had won but because we had deserved to. Berlusconi is a great leader for such details.
Our principles at Milan were: win, entertain and convince. I think we achieved that. I gave my life to football, football gave it back to me with indescribable emotions. I am a happy person and have no regrets.
Second place at the 1994 World Cup? Brazil were playing better and deserved to win. Me, I always wanted to win on merit. With me, that’s what matters.