Giuseppe Iachini: The Emergency Defensive Coach Who Isn’t A Defensive Coach

Hard work and effectiveness have often defined Giuseppe “Beppe” Iachini throughout his career as a player, and those descriptions seem befitting of the teams that he has coached so far.

Coming from the youth ranks at Ascoli from the Marche region in central Italy, the defensive midfielder made his senior debut in the 1981/82 Serie A season and remained with his hometown club until 1987, continuing his career at Hellas Verona, Fiorentina, Palermo, Ravenna, Venezia, and Alessandria before retiring in 2001.

Since becoming a coach, Iachini has earned promotion from Serie B on four occasions; Chievo in 2007/08, Brescia in 2009/10, Sampdoria in 2011/12, and Palermo in 2013/14. His teams are renowned for their work ethic and organisation, but the 54-year-old dismisses the label of him being “a defensive coach”.

“I have launched the careers of Icardi, Dybala, Belotti, and Eder,” the Empoli tactician said in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport on December 13.

“In the previous season, I transformed Politano into an offensive winger capable of scoring more than 10 goals. With a small squad like Empoli, I play with two true strikers. How many in Serie A play with two strikers?”

Despite training teams that might be described as industrious and laborious, Iachini has been able to launch or transform the careers of several forwards during his career as a coach.  

Commencing his career on the pine in the 2002/03 campaign with Cesena, he earned promotion from Serie C before moving to Vicenza in Serie B for the following season. Later on, Piacenza employed the Ascoli Piceno native in 2004, and he remained at the club for three seasons.

While he was at the Biancorossi, he transformed the careers of winger Simone Pepe and centre-forward Daniele Cacia. The former scored 12 times in 30 matches during the 2004/05 Serie B season, while the latter found the back of the net 32 times in the following two seasons.

Pepe then went on to have a solid Serie A career with the likes of Cagliari, Udinese, and Juventus, and he also featured for Italy at the 2010 World Cup. Cacia failed to make an impact in Italy’s top flight, but he is currently the second-highest scorer in Serie B history with 134 goals.

Iachini then moved from Piacenza to Chievo in the 2007/08 season and earned the first of his four Serie A promotions, but his debut in Italy’s highest division was cut short after registering just one victory in 10 matches.

He returned to Serie B with Brescia in 2009/10, replacing Alberto Cavasin after eight rounds, and the Rondinelle obtained promotion through the play-offs. Talismanic striker Andrea Caracciolo scored 25 times throughout the season, but Iachini had his eyes on a Brazilian-born striker called Eder, who finished the league campaign as leading goalscorer with 27 goals in 40 games for Empoli.

Eder joined the Leonessa for the 2010/11 season and scored six goals in 35 Serie A games, but they were relegated along with Bari and Sampdoria. The Blucerchiati started the 2011/12 season with Gianluca Atzori as coach, but he was replaced by Iachini after 15 rounds.

Iachini was so impressed with Eder from their time together at Empoli that he managed to convince the Brazilian forward to leave Cesena for Il Doria in January 2012. He scored just four times in the league and one goal in the Serie B play-offs, but he was able to provide enough chances for strike partner Nicola Pozzi, who finished the league campaign with 15 goals and netted four times in the play-offs.

Eder was eventually capped by Italy in 2015, earning eligibility through an ancestor from the Veneto region in northern Italy, and it was at Sampdoria where he first worked with his future partner in the Azzurri attack Graziano Pellé. Pellé was used occasionally from the bench, scoring four goals in 12 league games, and four year later, Antonio Conte used the two as his preferred attackers at the 2016 European Championships, where Italy was eliminated in the quarter-finals to Germany on penalties.

Iachini also gave a certain 19-year-old Argentine striker his senior debut. Mauro Icardi arrived from Barcelona in the winter of 2011, and after spending time in the Sampdoria primavera squad, he scored the winning goal in a 2-1 victory away to Juve Stabia.

Surprisingly, Iachini was sacked before the 2012/13 Serie A campaign commenced because Samp president Edoardo Garrone wanted a more high-profile name in charge. The Marchigiano tactician followed his year at Samp with an ill-fated spell at Siena which resulted in relegation.

Palermo had started the 2013/14 Serie B campaign with Gennaro Gattuso but inconsistent results caused ruthless club president Maurizio Zamparini to sack him, and Iachini took over as coach after Round 6.

The Rosanero finished on top of the table at the end of season with 86 points in 42 games, 14 more than second-place Empoli with 72. Northern Ireland international Kyle Lafferty scored 11 goals in 34 matches and Uruguayan forward Abel Hernández netted 14 times in 28 games. Behind them in the pecking order, there were two strikers who featured in that season that went on to better things.

Argentine starlet Paulo Dybala starred in the previous Serie B campaign with five goals in 28 games, and then blossomed in the 2014/15 Serie A campaign with 13 goals in 34 matches, leading Juventus to buy him in the summer of 2015 for €32 million plus another €8 million in bonuses.

If Lafferty, Hernandez, or Dybala were not able to score, Iachini was able to count on a young Italian super-sub called Andrea Belotti, who scored 10 times in 24 games in 2013/14 and then scored on six occasions in 38 games in the following Serie A campaign. Zamparini sold him to Torino for a reported figure of €7.5 million in 2015 and his form improved with the Granata, particularly in the 2016/17 season where he scored 26 times in Serie A.

For the 2017/18 campaign, Sassuolo hired Cristian Bucchi as coach but he did not last long, and he was replaced by Iachini after 14 rounds. Matteo Politano was a winger in the Eusebio Di Francesco era at Sassuolo, but Iachini turned him into the main scoring threat in his 3-5-2 formation, finishing the season with 10 goals in 36 Serie A games. The 25-year-old earned a transfer to Italian giants Inter where he has since blossomed, earning a call-up to Italy’s senior team and becoming a vital part of Inter’s attack.

He failed to hang onto his job as Sassuolo hired Roberto De Zerbi, leaving Iachini unemployed when the 2018/19 Serie A season commenced. With only one victory under Aurelio Andreazzoli, Empoli hastily sacked him, and once again, another club turned to Iachini to turn things around.

Veteran striker Francesco Caputo has played most of his career in Serie B, but he was still a prolific scorer in Serie A under Andreazzoli, and he is maintaining that form under Iachini. The 31-year-old scored five times in 11 games under Andreazzoli, and he has scored another three under Iachini, as well as providing two assists in five matches. His strike partner Antonino La Gumina is benefitting more under the Ascoli Piceno native, scoring twice and providing an assist in the last five rounds.

During his recent interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport, the 54-year-old explained his tactics further, determined to prove that there is more to the narrative of him being a defensive tactician.

“We play with two attackers and with three midfielders that have a past as trequartisti. Does that seem like the philosophy of a defensive coach to you?” he asked.

“I look for balance. But thanks to the daily work on the attacking movements, La Gumina, who was at zero goals, has already scored twice, and Caputo is one of the new men in the goalscorers’ chart.”

Labels and definitions can stick on a person or a group of people for some time. Although Beppe Iachini cannot change anything about the playing career he had and his attributes as a footballer, he hopes that the footballing world notices his ability as a manager to develop quality attackers.

“Perhaps someone that has remained firm is Iachini the warrior midfielder. Now there is a Iachini coach who teaches a football that is looking for goals.”

By: Vito Doria