• Artist Name: Marcello Lippi
  • Job: football coach
  • Career duration: 37 years (coaching career)
  • Country: Italy
  • Net Worth: $30.2 million

“There should be no prima donnas on a team; everyone should feel important, from the oldest player to the youngest.” – Marcello Lippi

 

Introduction

Marcello Lippi, one of the world’s greatest and highest-paid coaches, is a great mastermind behind numerous monumental records in the football history, who knows how to get into the players’ heads.

As an excellent tactician with astonishingly astute man-management, he has won five Series A titles, the Champions League, the Asian Champions League and the 2006 World Cup. He was named the world’s best football manager by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) both in 1996 and 1998, and world’s best national coach in 2006. He also coached the Chinese national soccer team from October 2016 to January this year, with his annual salary of as much as 20 million euros (22 million dollars).

Wearing a leather coat and smoking a small cigar in his iconic calm face, Lippi is unquestionably one of the few football coaches who could successfully lead his players to operate as a cohesive and harmonized unit. And this is something that can be done only by a person who has a good man-management tactics and more importantly, a solid personal brand.

Unique values that differentiate Lippi from other coaches  

Lippi clearly stands out among numerous elite football coaches throughout the world.

We don’t have to go far to confirm this. His CV speaks for itself. Having made it to 4 Champions League finals, 5 Serie A titles, a UEFA cup final with Juventus before leading Italy to World Cup glory, and the Asian Champions League in 2013 with Guangzhou Evergrande, he is the first coach to have won the most prestigious international competitions both for clubs in different continents, and for national teams. He is the living legend of world football, which dare not be questioned by anyone.

On top of his glittering achievements, there’s one feature that clearly differentiates him from other coaches: man-management. I wouldn’t go as far to say he’s the best tactician who can make the best performance out of team players. But it seems fair to say he’s one of the most legendary tacticians who always places emphasis on cohesion, togetherness, unity and harmony of the team, which has actually worked successfully as proven by actual outcomes as well as many testimonies of his players.

Lippis coaching philosophy

In Lippi’s book <Il Gioco delle Idee: Pensieri e Passioni da Bordo Campo (A Game of Ideas: Thoughts and Passions from the Sidelines)>, Lippi outlined his coaching philosophy. Lippi likened a psychologically well integrated football team to the functioning of a psychologically healthy ‘family’, which means all team members need to function smoothly to operate as a cohesive unit. Thus, Lippi’s focus has always been placed on team spirit, team unity and togetherness, rather than individual capabilities.

The individuals may have been excellent, but Lippi believed “a group of the best players do not necessarily make for the best team”.  While there are some football coaches who prefer to stick to one specific formation, Lippi valued the team more than anything else. In terms of formation, Lippi was adaptable, as long as the team can maintain the harmony, mentally and tactically.

This is clearly different from another notoriously tactical (and controversial) football coach,  Jose Mourinho. Mourinho had his players follow the formation he decided tactically based on his calculation and experience during his coaching career. However, Lippi’s choice of formation was constrained by the qualities of the players available, as selecting the best possible team not only requires finding the right combination of players for the chosen formation, but also finding the right formation for the chosen players. It must also be relevant to the reason why Mourinho is often criticized to be too strong and uncompromising that the harmony of the club is jeopardized due to him unlike Lippi.

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Lippis coaching psychology

Once a firm coaching philosophy is settled, there is a job of putting such faith into the team players, so that the team can be built around his core beliefs and ideals, which Lippi has been proved to be so great at.

For Lippi, football is psychology where “the winning coach is the one who manages to get into the players’ heads, especially if they’re champions”. While having talented champions in the team is important, they cannot go with the team, if they don’t understand, follow and relay the coach’s instruction. His job is to grow the sense of ‘team’ in every player’s mind, and then bind the group of individual players altogether under his harmonious philosophy.

Lippi said, “you can teach them to deal with the diagonals better, double-up in marking, possession of the ball, but if you can’t find harmony in the group and you’re not credible then you won’t win”. He must have worked hard to effectively ‘get into the players’ heads’ to make the team united, and many brilliant performances achieved by fantastic teamwork of his team have proven that his psychological methods actually worked.

Cannavaro’s statement about the experience of winning the 2006 World Cup implies how Lippi’s philosophy was understood and executed by players. “To truly understand you need to be part of it,” Cannavaro told FourFourTwo. “The 2006 group took two years to build – enough time to understand that when one of you is in trouble you can always get support from team-mates, and when you need someone you’ll always have them at your side. And you might not believe it, but in those 40 days [at the 2006 World Cup] we had a lot of fun too.”

Lippi is the man who proved that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the collective always trumps the individual. And it would have not been possible, unless he didn’t have a personal brand which was strong and credible enough to manage individual players to head towards the same goal and same direction.  

Personal branding traits of Lippi that made him influential 

It’s always intriguing to analyze personal branding traits of a great football coach. From formation selection, training regiments, tactical approach, squad building to man-management skills, there are many factors, intertwined each other, that influence performance of a football coach. And it is the coach’s personal brand that decides how all these factors are manifested, and eventually how competent the coach is.

Let’s take a deep dive into the personal branding traits of Lippi, which made Lippi the legendary coach that we know. 

  • Lippi is always in command of himself.

Lippi is an astonishingly respected figure, and for good reason: Lippi is a coach who always seemed to exude utter command and control. Probably the most accurate description of Lippi’s such aspect came from Sir Alex Ferguson, who has always rated him as one of the best managers of his generation. Ferguson wrote  in his book <Managing My Life> as below.

“Marcello Lippi is one impressive man. Looking into his eyes is enough to tell you that you are dealing with somebody who is in command of himself and his professional domain. Those eyes are sometimes burning with seriousness, sometimes twinkling, sometimes warily assessing you – and always they are alive with intelligence. Nobody could make the mistake of taking Lippi lightly”

To add a note, as mentioned by Ferguson, Lippi possesses an ability to convey sentences with a look. It is his eyes that tell a strong message and disarm the players.

  • Lippi has never loses calmness.

Have you ever seen Lippi pumping his chest and demanding noise from the crowd? Lippi never loses his calmness nor never vexed, which makes him charismatic and reliable.

Not only frustration but victory is also not something which can make him loosen his extraordinary calmness. Generally speaking, it’s easy to become slack after achieving certain level of success. People tend to get lazy and stay where they are, without putting additional efforts to make further progress. However, Lippi goes against this human nature. He doesn’t let any success soften his resolve, no matter how great that is. He told that “I’m not a big fan of celebrations anyway. I prefer the day before the game to the evening after.”

In the aftermath of Juventus’ victory over River Plate at the 1996 Intercontinental Cup, rather than celebrating the triumph with everyone, he turned to the bench and told the assistant coach Narciso Pezzotti and other staff members that a new cycle starts now.

Even after the dramatic triumph of Italian national soccer team in the 2006 World Cup final, unlike any other players partying hard, Lippi grabbed something to eat, went to his room, and watched the entire game including the penalty shoot-out over and over again with his cigar in his mouth, which he later told is his way of celebration.

  • Lippi is not afraid of making big decisions.

Lippi was never afraid of taking any risk, any challenge, any possible conflict. He goes directly in the core of every issue and he forces any situation to the maximum. Otherwise, he would have not been able to bring about the legendary resurgence of Juventus.

When Lippi arrived at Juventus, he had to shake up the order of things that were there so still during the mighty Giovanni Trapattoni’s stint for 10 years. But Lippi was not afraid to stroll into the Juventus boardroom and demand that things be done his way. He first convinced Ciro Ferrara to depart his hometown and come to Juventus. Lippi added further defensive reinforcements in the shape of combative midfielder Paulo Sousa. His such decisive measures started to produce results very soon, which reversed Juventus’ disappointing fortunes almost instantaneously. That season, the team could regain the Champions League for the first time in 11 years.

But one of the most remarkable big decisions that Lippi has ever made must be dropping Sousa from the team. Despite Sousa having established himself in the first him, Lippi felt the need to inject youth like Zidane or Christian Vieri to the team in order to freshen things up. He’s the man who sold Robert Baggio, The Divine Ponytail, to rivals AC Milan. He wasn’t afraid of restructuring the team, if it’s necessary, even though it involved change of the important personnel.

  • Lippi is open for conversation with players

Lippi is known for maintaining close relationships with his players.  He wanted all players to be involved at all times, while maintaining balance as a whole team. And, in order to achieve the true team cohesion, he had to put faith in his players, which requires constant communication and interaction with every player of the team. Fortunately, Lippi understands it really well.  “With football being the way it is today, having an open dialogue with your players is crucial,” he said. 

Of course there were some players who didn’t take well to Lippi’s proximity. One example is Christian Vieri, who, susceptible to criticism,  almost came to blows with Lippi in the dressing room only to be separated by other players, due to angers by negative feedback. However, they later became friends after seeing eye to eye each other after their clash.

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  • Lippi is a motivational leader

Lippi  is also famous for his motivational techniques of trusting his players. It especially shone through when the situation was unfavorable to the team. Even with extra-time beckoning and, ultimately, penalties looming, Lippi opted not to overload his players’ tired minds with more information. That’s why Lippi’s Juventus team seems to always possess a mental edge over their opponents, acting with great aplomb when receiving penalties, and hoisting the Champions League trophy in the end.

This forms a striking contrast to Mourinho’s ruthless coaching style. While both Lippi and Mourinho have their own solid coaching philosophy, it is almost impossible for Mourinho to peacefully get along with others who have a different point of view from his by dialogue or motivational ways. As a side note, Mourinho has accused some of his players of lacking desire, and had numerous controversial clashes not only with his players but also with directives of the team.

  • Hes hard working and goal-oriented.

Lippi looks like a gifted man who has possessed great coaching ability from the beginning. However, he’s the one who really goes well with the much cliched line “Hard work pays”. During his playing career at the beginning, he never had a brilliant performance, and even after he took a turn to become a football coach, he was fired three times in his first decade of management. However, he didn’t give up an kept work hard, knowing that if he could learn how to command the respect of those around him and work that into his knowledge of the game, the trophies would come. And they did.

One of his great achievements as a coach was the resurgence of Juventus. Juventus wanted to win the Champions League, and things had worked well under Lippi’s management up to the final, but there was one thing that stood in their way: Louis van Gaal’s Ajax. Ajax’s glittering success records seemed enough to imply that they were the immovable object taking hold of the European crown.

After going through all video footages of Ajax and studying Van Gaal’s style for months, Lippi found out that Van Gaal was wary of his players overlapping and potentially exposing their defenders. Lippi, in response, devised a game plan featuring his own iteration of a 4-3-3, not one designed on dominating possession. And in the match, after Ajax’s threatening play, loss of great opportunities for making goals and looming penalties, Lippi’s Juventus finally succeeded in hoisting the Champions League trophy aloft. It was the moment when Lippi’s hard work focusing on the defeat of Ajax paid off.

  • Lippi admits his failures.

It’s not correct that if you believed Lippi was always on the road to success. He had many ups and downs. After he returned to the head coach of the Italian national team for the 2010 World Cup campaign, the team ended up ranking at the bottom of their group that featured New Zealand, Paraguay and Slovakia. The team looked disjoint and their failure was probably one of those rare moments that Lippi’s man-management tactics failed. Lippi resigned after the tournament taking full blame for the team’s poor showing.

“I take full responsibility,” Lippi said. “If I was part of the success in 2006, I have to take the blame for this failure too. If a team shows up at an important game with terror in its heart and head and legs, it must mean the coach did not train them as he should have done. I thought the men I chose would have been able to deliver something different but obviously I was wrong”

Admitting one’s mistakes or failures is always very hard, but it is what makes one professional and reliable. Lippi doesn’t shy away from admitting his failures in his strategy, which gives people an impression that he’s the man who takes responsibility for what he has done.

***

All of the above traits have influenced him gaining the strong personal brand as a coach who’s respected, reliable, professional and open to communication. His personal brand has been built through his entire career, where there were both ups and downs. While his personal brand could cement its credibility from his great achievements, it could become even stronger while overcoming hardships. And when it comes to the most disastrous hardship which however made him the achieve most dramatic progress, it would be the famous Calciopoli match-fixing scandal which smashed the Italian football industry in 2006.

 

His personal brand grew even stronger after the disastrous scandal

The Calciopoli is the scandal uncovered in May 2006 by Italian police, where league champions Juventus and other major teams like Milan, Reginna, etc., when a number of illegal telephone interceptions showed a thick network of relations between team managers and referee organizations, being accused of selecting favourable referees.

Every morning, newspapers were reporting on different stories of deals between managers and referees. The outcome was one that shook the grounds of Serie A. Juventus were stripped of their Serie A title and relegated in disgrace. Other top clubs such as AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio also incurred hefty fines for their involvements in certain deals.

When the scandal smashed the Italian football industry, Lippi was preparing for the World Cup as the Italian national football team coach. His old club Juventus had been outed as cheats, something that must have affected him deeply, but his focus remained on carving a strong performance out of a national side that was due a good tournament performance.  As a highly goal-oriented and focused man, he stuck to his game plan in preparation of the World Cup regardless of the extenuating circumstances. 

Just before Italy’s quarter-final against Ukraine, Juventus’s general manager, Gianluca Pessotto, hurled himself out of a window in an attempted suicide. Juventus were embroiled in the worst scandal football has ever seen. There were five Juventus players in the Italy squad, and Lippi was the man charged with the task of controlling the mood. However, there wasn’t much he could do in such circumstances. The captain, Fabio Cannavaro who considered his former teammate a close friend, was devastated by the news. He and his teammates, including Del Piero, flew home from their World Cup training camp to visit Pessotto.

After spending some time at the bedside of their stricken colleague, the Italian players returned. Then Lippi immediately re-calibrated their focus onto football. The quarter-final against Ukraine was successful, dispatching the Eastern Europeans 3-0. In a matter of days, Lippi had turned the doom and gloom of a frankly near-tragic incident into a semi-final for the people of Italy to celebrate. Italy team players were outstanding throughout that tournament, but it was Lippi who made this collection of talented individuals come together under his binding, harmonious philosophy. In the end, Italy won, beating France in that memorable final to give Lippi a World Cup to add to his Champions League.

While the Calciopoli scandal was deathly enough to mark the end of one’s football career, and happened during the most important time in preparation of the 2006 World Cup, Lippi successfully masterminded the World Cup winning of the Italy team, without getting distracted or weakened by all suspicions and pressures surrounding him. He wisely and calmly turned the crisis into opportunity, which made his personal brand even stronger and shine through brighter.

His reputation remains intact despite poor performance in China

Lippi is reportedly one of the world’s highest-paid coaches, whose annual salary as a national football team coach in China was 20 million euros ($22 million). However, the team’s performance under Lippi was not as good as the Chinese fans hoped. Under Lippi’s guidance since October 2016, China’s national team won only 10 of 30 games, including the team’s  crushing 0:3 defeat to Iran at the 2019 Asia Cup’s quarter-final a week ago. 

Given the team’s poor showing compared to the tremendous amount of payment Lippi had received, it is not weird to expect that strong criticism towards Lippi would arise among disappointed Chinese football fans. However, after Lippi announced his departure of Chinese national team boss, Chinese fans offered rare support and  sympathy to him.

On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform, Hashtag #LippileftChina has gathered nearly 55 million views and about 10,000 comments (as of April 2019), with most fans saying “Lippi is not to blame for the weak Chinese soccer,” and “Lippi proves even the world’s top-notch coach cannot handle the Chinese men’s soccer team.”

Some even called Lippi’s high pay “compensation for mental suffer,” which was just enough to comfort the humiliating and torturous feelings he experienced while coaching China’s team.
It implies Lippi’s personal brand as a world class coach is so credible and solid that despite his teams’ poor performance, Chinese fans tend to lay the blame on the Chinese football team rather than Lippi. That is, although his psychological and philosophical coaching tactics that had previously worked well in Europe and even in Guangzhou Evergrande, didn’t work well with Chinese national team for some reasons, his high reputation is undamaged in and outside of China, and is still supported by many Chinese fans, thanks to his well-established personal brand.

We don’t know which type of coach Chinese football currently needs. Lippi has been considered to be a coach who has a better understanding of Chinese soccer than other high-profile coaches like Jose Mourinho or Zinedine Zidane, but his way didn’t work. Perhaps it’s first to increase capabilities of individuals or lead them under strong and somewhat uncompromising leadership before trying to get into their heads to put certain faith in them. Perhaps it’s not a time to pursue harmonious cohesion for Chinese football.

How Lippi will be remembered

Lippi may not be the most intriguing character in management, but hidden behind his calm demeanor and stoic face with a cigar protruded from his mouth is definitely no ordinary man who is, as Ferguson described, “in command of himself and his professional domain”.

Lippi is a legendary mastermind of numerous monumental achievements in the world football history, who has firm belief in his ‘harmonious’ coaching psychology, and moreover, has an understanding of how to put such faith into the players’ mind. He has won the Champion League and the World Cup, and most of all, won his players. Because of his great man-management and extraordinary level of calmness and concentration, he is and will still be remembered as one of the most respected and finest football coaches in the world who could successfully lead his team to operate as a cohesive unit. 

Lippi personal brand key points

  • In order to manage people effectively, you need to have a firm belief inside you. Also, you need to know how to get into people’s mind, so that they respect and follow your belief.
  • A person who’s always in command of himself and doesn’t lose one’s calmness earns respect from other people. But it should be consistent no matter what happens.
  • Admitting one’s mistakes or failures is always very hard, but it is what makes one professional and reliable.
  • Crisis can be a great opportunity. You can use it as a chance to strengthen the power of your personal brand,
  • If you have a well-established solid personal brand, some poor performances will not consist any obstacles for maintaining good reputation.

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