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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Book Review: "Non Dire Gatto" by Giovanni Trapattoni with Bruno Longhi

Image credit: Rizzoli and Amazon.com.

A legendary manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, writes his much anticipated autobiography with the sports journalist, Bruno Longhi.

Discussion Items:

1. Organized Format
2. Writing Style
3. A Few Notable Quotes
4. Pictures
5. Conclusion

Image credit: Rizzoli and Amazon.com from the Prologue. 

"At school, I saw the difference between me, my friends and neighbors and those who came from Milanino (where he went to elementary school.) The others had elegant clothing. Their shoes were sturdy and even their way of doing things was more akin to grown-ups. To be from Cusano or Milanino made a difference. As a child, these are experiences that mark and stay with you for the rest of your life."

--- Giovanni Trapattoni, "Non Dire Gatto" (Don't Say Cat), quoted in the Prologue in the Kindle edition of his autobiography published by Rizzoli in September 2015 with a list price of US $14.99.

Giovanni Trapattoni, a true legend of the game, hailed from humble origins in Cusano, a small town outside of Milan. This book is a literal walk down memory lane from a bygone era. Almost sixty years after making his debut for AC Milan, the man affectionately known simply as "Trap", is still relevant. Mister Trapattoni scaled the heights of world football in his own inimitable way. He spent the bulk of his playing career at AC Milan and then made many managerial stops that took him around the world with a collective trophy case few could exceed.

Image credit: Rizzoli and Amazon.com from the pictures section.
Trapattoni and Eusebio during the 1963 European Cup final at Wembley won by Milan.

Trap's father, Francesco, had no interest in football and warned his son, "If you sweat, you'll get tuberculosis." At the age of 18, Milan gave Trapattoni his top-flight debut in the Coppa Italia. Tragically, three days later, his father Francesco passed away from a heart attack. One senses that young Giovanni grew up very quickly after that event. Despite not being the oldest of five siblings, Giovanni took the family's welfare into his own hands. As one of his early coaches told him, "You were born old."

Trapattoni had a heart arrhythmia which almost derailed his career before it even started. Milan's doctor, Professor Terragni, told him, "Trapattoni, you have a heart that is a little crazy. Every once in awhile, it likes to stop. It is a simple arrhythmia." (Chapter 4) But nothing ever stopped Trapattoni who managed to the age of 77.

Let's take a look at the contents of this fascinating book.

1. Organized Format

There is a prologue, 18 chapters and an epilogue. The length of the hardback version is 297 pages. There was no detailed index in the Kindle edition that I reviewed.

2. Writing Style

His epic "Strunz" press conference while at Bayern Munich.
He also included this image in his pictures section.

The author writes in a friendly yet detailed tone recounting his long life in the game (he will turn 80 next March.) He also uses clear language that is easy to understand despite his well-known penchant for "Trapisms". Interestingly, this book was released just after Trapatttoni became a TV commentator for RAI during Azzurri games. He is also a pundit on the famous weekly Sunday sports show, Domenica Sportiva.

I liked how Trapattoni introduced historical elements which may not have been seen elsewhere. He discussed how difficult the European Cup was in the days when teams did not have the means to study their rivals compared to today's vast technological enhancements. Trapattoni noted that even something as basic as video cassettes were a great innovation for scouting and preparation.

Encyclopedic Knowledge

This book is a detailed, almost at an Arrigo Sacchi level of precision, about games, players and personalities, from an insider's perspective. Trapattoni also included many verbatim conversations which demonstrated his tremendous capacity of memory. 

This is also a work that examines how the world game evolved. For example, the author detailed playing against George Best, Johan Cruyff, Eusebio and Pelè, respectively. His discussion about the Dutch "Clockwork Orange," along with his first look up close with Johan Cruyff, were illuminating.  A later quote from 1974 when he was a Milan coach taking on Ajax in the European Cup: "We had (Gianni) Rivera. They had 10 of them."

Trapattoni also injected doses of humor in this book. Two of my favorites were when he described trying to convince Edmundo, "The Animal," not to return to Rio de Janeiro for Carnaval during his time at Fiorentina. Trap followed him to the Pisa airport directly after a game. The other example was when he thought Michael Laudrup's mother was his girlfriend while at Juventus. "I was embarrassed and had to apologize to him... She had Michael at 18 as is the custom in Denmark."

A Vagabond with Over 40 Years in Management

The bulk of this book covers Trapattoni's five decades in management. He began with Milan although then spent 10 years at Juventus and turned the Old Lady into an international power. Before Trap, Juventus had not won any silverware outside of Italy. Then five successful years at Internazionale, back to Juve for three years before his first sojourn outside of the peninsula. 

Trapattoni spent one season at Bayern Munich, returned to manage Cagliari (Serie A) in what he described as a "Sardinian dream," for a solitary campaign before his return to Munich. Then a spell at Fiorentina before landing on the Azzurri bench in 2000. After four years with two tough exits in tournaments and Trap was on the move again. This time to Lisbon where he managed Benfica. Then he returned to Germany where he suffered the first managerial sack of his long career at Stuttgart.

Trapattoni finished his managerial career with stops at Red Bull Salzburg, in Austria, followed by a five-year tenure with the Republic of Ireland, respectively. Collectively, Trapattoni won 10 domestic titles in four different countries. He also won the European Cup, UEFA Cup twice, and the Club World Cup, among his many honors. One honor that will not appear anywhere is the following: The German FA (DFB) wanted him to manage their national team before the Italians approached Giovanni to coach the Azzurri.

Truthful Accounts

The author also held back few punches from a few controversial episodes. He clearly stated his opinion that FIFA/Sepp Blatter favored South Korea to go through at World Cup 2002 at the Azzurri's expense. Trapattoni also made a similar argument regarding the famous 2-2 group round match between Denmark and Sweden at Euro 2004 which sent the Italians packing. Lastly, as the Republic of Ireland's manager, he felt that FIFA wanted France, due to their sponsorship with adidas, to be at the 2010 World Cup at Ireland's expense. "We wore Umbro. Perhaps that wasn't chic enough for Mr. Blatter."

His observations about the Heysel Tragedy in May 1985 were also illuminating and provided a rare behind-the-scenes perspective.

3. A Few Notable Quotes
With his famous "whistle" from the touchline.

On convincing his father about a career in football:

Image credit: Rizzoli and Amazon.com from Chapter 2.
"Your father will be pleased. You'll see. Here you will learn so many things beyond football. We look to keep you engaged also in your learning and education. Coming to Milan is like going to university: A college of football but also of life."

On the first time he encountered Pelé in 1963 at the San Siro during a friendly versus Brazil:

Image credit: Rizzoli and Amazon.com from Chapter 4.

"Even today, for those advanced in age or for journalists short on circumlocution, I'm 'the one who shut down Pelé', but I'll never tire to repeat that Pelé wasn't well that day. He only played out of respect to the fans in Milan. He was on the pitch for only 26 minutes in which he didn't too much. And also due to the fact that I didn't allow a ball to be played by him..."

On Gianni Agnelli of Juventus:

Image credit: Rizzoli and Amazon.com from Chapter 7.

"I always spoke to him with pleasure because he was a very brilliant person and in his own way, very nice. He used to come in the changing room and treated everyone the same way. Whether it was (Dino) Zoff or the kit man. He loved Juventus and managed it in a focused way. The economic situation of the country being what it was (in the mid to late 1970s), he didn't spend large sums lightheartedly. When I suggested a signing that was a little over the top, he would say, 'He costs too much and at FIAT, we have thousands receiving unemployment payments. Could you suggest another name?' If he bought a star at a good price, the other signings had to balance out the investment in order to have a good transfer market."

On learning German during his first spell at Bayern Munich:

Image credit: Rizzoli and Amazon.com from Chapter 12.

"It was necessary that I learned how to express myself enough to be understood by the players... The teacher was half Portuguese and came to my residence. We sat down at the desk and went at it for two or three hours with exercises and translations...

Every once in awhile, it made me think, 'Who is making me do this at 55 years of age?' Me, who only went to school to please my father. The answer came on its own and was simple: To become a true international manager, you also had to make sacrifices..."

On the infamous World Cup match versus South Korea in 2002:

Image credit: Rizzoli and Amazon.com from Chapter 16.

"Totti went in on goal and was taken down. 'Penalty!' I screamed out. I was going to hug someone on the bench when I saw with my own eyes something after I thought they had already seen everything. (Bryon) Moreno took out his yellow card and then the red. Simulation and a yellow (the second) for Francesco. I was so pissed off that I punched the Plexiglass barrier behind the bench that protected the FIFA officials. I remember that I shouted out two curses to the reflection of the face of one poor soul who with a frightened air made a gesture to me that said, 'I saw it. You're right, Trap, but what can I do about it?' "

4. Pictures
With Pelè after a friendly between Santos FC and AC Milan.

Trapattoni included an excellent variety of personal and professional images spanning childhood to his time with the Republic of Ireland. The one above was my favorite.

5. Conclusion

Mister Trapattoni has provided us with a footballing jewel that is his life story. His account is candid, entertaining and above all, educational. This autobiography will make a valuable addition to your world football library from one of the legendary personalities of the game, the Mister of Misters, Giovanni Trapattoni.

Please Note

I did not receive a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, Rizzoli. I was not financially compensated by the publisher, co-authors or by any party who would benefit from a positive review.

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I took this picture at RFK Stadium in
August 1983. 
In the center were Stefano
Tacconi, Gaetano Scirea 
and Antonio
Cabrini. Walking on the left were
Sergio Brio, Michel Platini and
Paolo Rossi

Steve Amoia is a freelance writer and translator based in Washington, D.C. He is the publisher of World Football Commentaries since 2006 and published The Soccer Translator from 2008 to 2015.

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