Gennaro Gattuso’s Pisan romance

Gennaro Gattuso was appointed as head coach of Pisa in late August 2015, at what was considered to be a crossroads for both club and manager. As his first season in charge comes to a close, Gattuso has guided Pisa to a play-off spot. Whether Pisa have the firepower to triumph in the notoriously arduous Lega Pro play offs remains to be seen. They have, however, secured the runners up spot in Girone B and thus benefit from home advantage in the play-off quarter final. They will certainly be difficult to beat and no team will relish a trip to the Arena Garibaldi.

This follows a tumultuous period for both Gattuso and the club. Gattuso was appointed against a backdrop of unrest. Since their last appearance in Serie B, Pisa have suffered administration. Defeat to Brescia on the last day of the 2008-09 season resulted in relegation from Serie B and an economic demise that consigned them to a season in the wilderness of Serie D.

On top of this, after being promoted back to Italy’s professional leagues, the Pisa tifosi were teased by the prospect of a return to Serie B during the summer of 2014. The financial travails of fellow Tuscans, Siena, prompted a protracted scramble for the right to take up the last remaining place in Serie B. All the signs pointed towards Pisa winning “il ballottaggio”. However, Vicenza were admitted to Serie B due to Pisa’s failure to submit the required documentation in time. This left a bitter taste, with then sporting director, Pino Vitale, explaining that the document in question was never requested by the authorities. Many supporters feel this mystery has never been satisfactorily explained by the then custodians of the club.

Likewise, the 2015 close season was very much a summer of discontent. Following play-off heartache against Frosinone in 2014, and Latina the previous year, the 2014-15 season always felt like a last chance saloon for Pisa under presidente Carlo Battini. The return of Piero Braglia as manager had been met with great optimism; after all it was Braglia who had masterminded Pisa’s last promotion to Serie B in 2007.

However, after a bright start to the season, results soon fell away, despite one last gamble by Battini in the January transfer window (bringing in Andrea Arrighini from Avellino and Roberto Floriano from Barletta). By the time the team arrived in Lucca for the derby on the 21st of March, the mood amongst the fans had turned. Braglia had been dismissed and Giuseppe Pillon appointed in his place. A 2-1 defeat all but ended Pisa’s play-off hopes and was met with angry scenes at the full time whistle, a hostile reception when the team bus arrived back in Pisa, and the resignation of Pillon after only seven days in charge.

The unrest continued into the summer. Battini promised to continue to fund the team, albeit one with drastically reduced ambitions for the forthcoming season.

But against this backdrop of unrest, what brought Gattuso to Pisa and the third tier of Italian football? The ambitious Gattuso could be forgiven for casting an envious glance at the opportunities afforded to former AC Milan teammates, Clarence Seedorf and Fillippo Inzaghi at the San Siro. The Calabrian arrived in Pisa following spells at Sion, Palermo and OFI Crete, each lasting only a matter of months. That said, his three months in Sicily could be considered positively lengthy given the reputation of Palermo chairman Maurizio Zamparini, while Gattuso’s short lived stint in Crete hit the headlines for his now infamous and colourful press conference.

President Battini left Pisa in the summer. The new director, Fabrizio Lucchesi was in desperate need of a leader and reached out to Gattuso – himself in need of redemption following an inauspicious start to his managerial career. Gattuso was appointed late in August, inheriting a threadbare and inexperienced squad. He moved quickly to add experience and quality. The team is now led by the mercurial former Napoli and Sampdoria winger, Daniele Mannini, who has been pivotal to the success of the team this season.

In keeping with Pisa’s recent history, it is perhaps unsurprising that this campaign has not passed without significant off-field controversy. The club started the season with a one-point deduction and later, the possibility of a further deduction threatened to derail their promotion push entirely. Following alleged omissions in the controls surrounding the issuance of a financial surety, the club was referred to the federal court in Rome for a hearing on the 14th of April. It was widely reported that Pisa would be deducted a further 12 points, leaving them five points outside of the play-off places. In the end however, no further points were deducted, with the punishment eventually confirmed as a €50,000 fine and a six-month suspension for Fabrizio Lucchesi.

Gattuso himself has not escaped controversy and in the recent victory over champions SPAL, he was centre of attention for slapping his assistant manager across the face. This was followed up with his dismissal during the derby with Pontedera for protesting the non-award of a penalty, resulting in Gattuso being suspended for the final three games of the regular season.

Nonetheless, no matter how the remainder of the season pans out, Gattuso and his team have certainly restored pride in the black and blue shirt. The Nerazzurri have exceeded expectations, especially given the hasty manner in which the squad was cobbled together at the beginning of the season. What is for certain, Gattuso the coach differs little in style from Gattuso the midfield hardman. The grit and passion ‘Rino’ was famous for during his illustrious playing career is very much in evidence on the touchline. As a result, Pisa supporters have embraced their fiery tactician.

Regardless of whether or not Pisa are successful in their play-off campaign, it remains to be seen whether Gattuso will be at the helm next season. Changes to the structure of the board in January 2016, with Fabio Petroni (the founder of Terravision) being appointed President, have changed the dynamic at Pisa. There are question marks as to whether or not Gattuso agrees with the direction of the new board, and when questioned on his future recently, he refused to comment on anything other than the football. However, whether Gattuso remains in Pisa next season or not, his spell in charge will always be remembered fondly in Tuscany.

Words by Allan Gaskin: @allan_gaskin

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