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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Book Review: "Testa, Cuore e Gambe" by Antonio Conte with Antonio Di Rosa

Image credit: Rizzoli.

The former manager of Juventus FC, and the current boss with the Blues of Chelsea FC, Antonio Conte, wrote his autobiography assisted by the Italian journalist, Antonio Di Rosa. During his tenure at Juventus FC, Conte won the Serie A Scudetto three times along with an unbeaten season during 2011-2012. Conte has now added a Barclays Premier League title to his impressive trophy case as a club manager.

Discussion Items:

1. Organized Format
2. Detailed Writing Style
3. Pictures
4. Notable Quotes about Coaches
5. Conclusion
6. Bonus Coverage: Expert Commentary from Adrian Madaschi on Conte's 4-2-4.
7. Related Articles, His UEFA Pro Thesis, and thoughts on formations.

"I watched the first six games of the group phase of the 2012/2013 Champions League high up in a protected area, in what was called a 'Sky Box.' And which, I can assure you, was a place closer to hell than heaven. What an unjust ban!

'Walk on through the wind. Walk on through the rain... And you'll never walk alone. You'll never walk alone.'

Celtic Park is also talking to me even though I'm coming onto the pitch as the opposing manager. It's a welcome and a great outpouring. 'Finally, Antonio, we are waiting for you.' I could never walk alone. Surely, I haven't walked alone to arrive at this point."

---- Antonio Conte, from the prologue of "Testa, Cuore e Gambe", ('Head, Heart and Legs') published by Rizzoli in May 2013.

1. Organized Format

There is a prologue, 17 chapters, a section of pictures, an epilogue along with an index of "Personalities". His writing style is direct, detailed, conversational, humble and passionate. From his words, you will learn that this man lives for football and it seems to have been the perfect game for his intense personality.

The book starts at Celtic Park on 12 February 2013 at 2040. And ends at Celtic Park at 20:43 on the same night. Precise. Concise. Detailed. Just like Conte.

2. Detailed Writing Style

From Juventina Lecce of his hometown in Southern Italy, "The name of that team seemed to foretell my destiny," (Chapter 1) to the real Juventus of Turin, the author spared no details about his life. "The street was our football pitch but also a tennis court. I was Bjorn Borg. Another was John McEnroe. Even if we didn't know how to hold the rackets properly." (Chapter 1)

Details such as when the legendary President of Juventus, Giampiero Boniperti, asked Conte to put his mother on the phone before he signed his first contract with the Old Lady.

Or his first "audience" with the fabled Gianni Agnelli:

"And you (formal tense) are Conte. Welcome. And you are from Lecce, like the Baron, Franco Causio, and our own Sergio Brio... I hope you can stay with us for a long time. Excuse me, Conte, how many goals have you scored this year?" (Chapter 3)

Candid and Brutally Honest Style even with Juventus

Picture credit: Old School Panini.
Conte came from modest means and was the son of Cosimo, who organized matters at a small club. He made his Serie A debut for Lecce at the tender age of 16. He was sold five years later to Juventus where he won everything at his disposal and became the team captain.

It was only fitting that Conte would return (after coaching apprenticeships at Arezzo, Atalanta, Bari and Siena, respectively) to guide Juventus in the post-Calciopoli period where he has won the Scudetto three times on the trot.

But before he returned, Conte said no once to directors of the Old Lady in his usual, candid, no-holds-barred manner when Diego refused to play in his proposed 4-2-4 system: "You have to make your own choices. But if a player, whoever he may be, is able to call the shots, you are on the wrong road... I can't be your manager." (Chapter 10)

Conte also pulled no punches with Andrea Agnelli, the President of Juventus, at a meeting in the patron's home before taking the bench: "I don't know how you will take this, but Juve plays like a provincial side. In the last few years, not only in this one, you always give away the midfield to your opponents." (Chapter 14)

3. Pictures

Highlights from his playing career.

The author included a wide variety of images from his personal and professional lives. Something stood out to me while gazing over these pictures: Conte was coached by five of the best in circulation: Carlo Ancelotti, Marcello Lippi, Carlo Mazzone, Arrigo Sacchi and Giovanni Trapattoni, respectively.

My favorite image, along with its caption, was one of Conte with "Trap":

"Giovanni Trapattoni taught me what it meant to wear the Juventus shirt."

4. Notable Quotes about Coaches

On Carletto Mazzone:

"The thing I always appreciated about Carlo Mazzone was his ability to keep himself up-to-date. It's not true that you can't invent anything new in football. Football is in constant evolution just like any other discipline. You have to constantly stay up-to-date." (Chapter 2)

On Giovanni Trapattoni:

"It is extraordinary to see Giovanni Trapattoni managing even today after having traveled through half of Europe mixing Italian, Milanese, German and English together. He always makes you believe in yourself and loves everyone. He is always able to transmit his enthusiasm." (Chapter 3)

On Arrigo Sacchi:

"Playing in Arrigo Sacchi's national team side was not easy...  For me and the non-Milan players, it was a shock... He used a 4-4-2 that made his fortunes with Milan (zonal defense, offside's trap, compact team, defenders who overlapped and made diagonal runs). Sacchi thought with an objective that everyone knew what to do, who to pass to in various situations, how to attack and defend. All moving together as a team." (Chapter 3)

On Marcello Lippi:

"If I had to take away one quality of Marcello Lippi to put in my coaching toolbox, I would have no doubts: It would be his extraordinary capacity to motivate and charge you up mentally every day... He speaks at the right time choosing proper words to give positive motivations to players in all situations. He is a maestro of communication with a team. And I'm talking about the small details that make a difference." (Chapter 4)

On Carlo Ancelotti:

"In the changing room, I was the only who had worked with Carlo Ancelotti before when he was Sacchi's assistant during the 1994 World Cup. I know that he is a very proper person, very calm and it's almost impossible to argue with him. His is an approach of a big brother. He becomes in harmony right away with the group and makes everyone like him." (Chapter 5)

On Louis Van Gaal:

"There was a security guy that could have been Ronald Koeman's bad brother. 'Excuse me, Sir. Are you spying Mister Van Gaal? You can't stay here.' I decided in that very moment in my area of improvements to take a course in English. 'I'm not spy. Player. Old player. Juventus! I want to see training of Van Gaal.' 'I know who you are but you can't stay here.' I left and gave him an autograph but had to say farewell to Van Gaal." (Chapter 9)

5. Conclusion
Someone Who Learns from Winning and Losing

When he is often told that he won a lot, Conte concisely replies, "I've also lost a lot. It's a way to always make you think how you can improve yourself." (Chapter 5) Mister Conte has been on the losing end of a World Cup final, a Euro 2000 final, a few Champions League-near misses along with a historic rainy day Scudetto-losing experience in Perugia.

In what could be called his highest compliment, Zdenek Zeman, the biggest thorn in the side of Juventus, once contacted him in the mid-1990s for a potential transfer to Lazio. When your greatest enemies respect you, it speaks volumes.

Win or lose, Conte remains what he was destined to always be: The heart and soul of Juventus Football Club. Someone who would probably cut the training pitch grass or shovel away snow as easily as draw tactics on a whiteboard. For him, every small detail is important to create a solid group and club at all levels.This book will make a great addition to your coaching education library.

Please Note

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

6. Expert Commentary from Adrian Madaschi on Conte's 4-2-4:

Highlights of Adrian during his time with Portogruaro.
  • Impressions from a former Australian international, Adrian Madaschi, who faced Antonio Conte's teams during his many years in Italy: 

I followed up with Adrian who was kind enough to provide more detail:

"I played against Conte in the 2009/2010 Italian Serie B season. Siena went on to win the title and direct promotion back to Serie A. 
Conte, as you know, moved to Juventus and won the Serie A for the 3 years! The game was Siena-Portogruaro and we had planned the whole week to defend his 4-2-4 formation by playing a 5-4-1 and trying to counter attack.

We spent 90 minutes defending in our own half and they threw the kitchen sink at us! We actually won the game 3-2 in the last minute after they had pushed all their defenders forward to try and win. We scored with last play of the game and Conte was ready to pull his famed toupe and all the hair attached to it off his head!

Jokes aside, he was ruthless, meticulously demanding on his players and didn't shy away from letting them know when something was not done correctly!"

7. Related Articles, his UEFA Pro Thesis, and thoughts on formations:

  • This review was originally published in August 2014. It was updated recently for more insights into Mr. Conte.
  • A special thanks to Adrian Madaschi for his kind insights and expertise.

Steve Amoia is a freelance writer and translator from 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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