Walter Mazzarri meets with the CSI

MILAN – "My story begins in San Vincenzo. When I was 14 Fiorentina took me, then sent me to Follonica to gain experience because I was physically small. I didn’t enjoy playing. I had a natural gift for it but not the right character. To be a player means you have to bring out something more than just your playing. My career also coincided with my schooling, which isn’t very common. I needed to pass 8 exams to finish a business degree," stated Walter Mazzarri from the stage during his visit with the CSI coaches and directors. 
"At 28-29 years old I considered quitting, then things came to a halt with a serious injury. I was already thinking about coaching, which I found fascinating. I used to steal little things from the coaches I had. Then in the final years of my career there was a coach that wanted me because he needed a ‘coach on the pitch’. Now I’m happy and fulfilled. I do what I believe what I truly have a knack for, and I feel I can do good things.
"Behind the job there’s always a person. Just look at Ulivieri. He’s a cultured man, clever, intelligent. Someone with depth that goes beyond what he’s accomplished in his career. What interests us is the man, the human aspect. What’s the secret to never having been sacked? One moment, while I knock on wood [smiling]. On certain levels it’s a difficult job. I’ve been in certain environments in which the president was famous for going through coaches. But a coach also looks to make his employer happy. It means he’s balanced the accounts, so to speak, which means real satisfaction for a coach.  

"At my book presentation I discussed how it was painful to me to miss out on my son growing up. When he was 6 and I was in Sicily with Acireale it wasn’t right that he should have to travel all over Italy with his father. And then consider that their president at that time, Pulvirenti, had gone through something like fifteen coaches in three years. It was something I suffered through. I wrote the book for him, so he would realise why his father wasn’t there with him. I’m not looking for excuses. I only want for him to understand that his father was also working away for him."

Also present were coaches of the teams participating in the Junior TIM Cup, and photos of the event were displayed: "Those are great to see. We have to create the right kind of motivation for these lads, beyond what we professionals can transmit to them. Trying to set a positive example isn’t always easy. There’s always pressure on us. We need to try and send different messages. But competition is a fundamental part of life, which they’ll come to understand. Sometimes we can go a bit too far, but certain things don’t always work well. I hope these youngsters understand that.

"When I think of a parish youth club I think what it means for young people to play together. Obviously you play to win, but togetherness and solidarity are also crucial in sports. Also respect, which is what team relationships are always built on. It’s something that begins on youth pitches, along with respect for the rules. This is why youth coaches have to know how to teach these things, and not just technical matters. Winning starts early with the little things that end up making a difference.   

"It’s true we don’t invest enough in youth. It’s a difficult moment in Italy right now economically speaking, which is also reflected in football. That’s why we also have to invest in youth systems to help produce the youngsters we have here in Italy. Unfortunately we’re a bit obsessed with all things foreign, while we have so much talent here at home. You only need to consider how much young kids love football. We have to get the most out of our youth system by investing in quality coaches who are crucial in certain age groups. They help the youngsters grow, both in terms of skill and as people. 

"As for coaching youngsters with difficult personalities, at my level a coach believes he can even do something to help professionals improve. Football is a team sport, and what counts is what a kid can bring to the dressing room. Everything affects the team’s results and the team in general. It’s something satisfying for a coach when he can manage to help a ‘difficult youngster’ to improve. You can use a schoolteacher as an example: I’m pleased when I can teach something to my students.

"Integration is important, starting with the language. We often use an interpreter, but I’m used to individual interaction when evaluating and getting to know the players. The immediate contact creates an understanding. I try to understand the player’s thoughts as soon as possible to figure out what he requires to feel at ease. His different habits, etc. Personal dialogue helps a lot, compared to general rules that everyone has to respect. Professionals are used to these things, but coaches have a tougher job when dealing with kids. 

"When I coached the Bologna Primavera team there were a few problems between the coaches and players. For certain ages the coach has a lot of responsibilities and he often becomes an important figure for the lads since he’s with them more than his family members are. A coach has to behave like a father to teach important values, such as respect towards team-mates. 

"A player is never happy to be substituted, and that goes for any age. But when he makes a rude gesture towards his coach he’s actually making it towards the player coming on in his place. Sometimes the lads don’t even think of it that way. At any rate, the concept of a group is based on respect. You all have to be aware of showing it every day through your words and actions.

"My rapport with my assistants is very important, especially since I’ve been at this level. They’re essential, and now I can’t do without them. It’s different at the lower levels, but then everything changes completely. That’s why I need people I can trust. I make the decisions, but when it comes to them I need work that covers every angle so I can work out problems as soon as possible. They’re very good. They work late and are back in the office early.

"Of course I’ve made mistakes. But you have to distinguish between what you tell the press and what you tell yourself. For example, once I discussed something with Frustalupi – my 2nd in command now – during a game. We were playing well but not scoring, so we discussed it and decided to take off a forward for a midfielder. The team started to play worse, but he defended the choice and I told him, ‘If you do that you’ll never become a coach’. I should have told him, ‘We made a mistake with that decision,’ because it was something we did together. I can seem different than I appear on camera, but if I talk that way it’s because I’m critical with myself first and foremost. 

"When I was coaching in Serie C2 there was an important player I was keeping on the bench. He pointed out to me that when the president would pay a visit to the team I wasn’t watching certain lads who didn’t play much. So I immediately apologised to him and thanked him for letting me know. Then I called a meeting and said, ‘I’m going to pay more attention to those who aren’t playing. And when the training games are going on not even the president will distract me from the session.’ Then I had to ask the president not to come during training because I wouldn’t be able to talk with him. So when you make a mistake you have to be able to calmly admit it. It’s crucial for the entire group. If you defend something that everyone knows you were wrong about you lose credibility in front of your players.

"Would I coach for a day in a parish youth club? I’d like that, even though I always get the formations wrong [smiling]. If the opportunity should arise then certainly.

"What can be done to make today’s football better? Sometimes we go too far looking for wins and results, and in Italy we have this excessive side. Sometimes fans in the stands get disappointed and you hear some ugly things. Going to the stadium now means venting your anger, so we have to improve this situation. It needs to start outside the stadium as well, since we get people in the stadium who have a difficult life outside of it. In parish youth clubs you can learn important values, so that can be a starting point. It’s already too late once you get to the stadium. You have to start earlier, and we need more of such places. 

Finally, Mazzarri thanked CSI for the invitation: "I live for the simple things, and I always enjoy this kind of personal contact. I thank you all for inviting me, and speaking in this kind of relaxing atmosphere is always a positive for me."