Think of Serie A throughout its modern history and many a great side will come to one’s attention. SSC Napoli and their MaGiCa attack (an acronym comprised of Diego Maradona, Bruno Giordano and Careca) of the late 1980s which won two Scudetti, Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello’s brilliant AC Milan side of the early to mid-1990s, Jose Mourinho’s Internazionale treble winning outfit of 2009/10. Finally, the brilliant Juventus FC side of 2011/12 to 2019/20, winners of nine straight Scudetti, the longest title winning streak in Italian football history.
However, Calcio’s original dynasty football team is the country’s oldest, Genoa CFC. Founded in 1893 originally as an athletics and cricket club, the club started its football activities four years later in 1897 under the watch of naval medic James Richardson Spensley, based in the city at the time. Il Grifone won the first three editions of the Italian Football Championship between 1898 and 1900, the precursor to Serie A, which had its first-round robin championship in 1929.
Genoa with nine championship victories rank 4th for titles won in Italy, only Serie A’s so-called “Big Three” of Juventus FC, Internazionale and AC Milan are ranked ahead. However, their last championship was won in 1923/24. Their first and so-far only Coppa Italia victory was in 1936/37. Their last trophy of any description came when the club was in Serie B, a victory in the final edition of the now-defunct Anglo-Italian Cup in 1995/96.
In 1990/91, Genoa finished 4th in Serie A, their highest classification since a 4th place finish in 1941/42. The following year saw a drop to 14th in Serie A, however, a run to the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup. Twelve seasons were spent in the second and third tiers of Italian football between 1995 and 2007 before Il Grifone returned to Serie A for the 2007/08 season, where they have remained ever since.
Matchday Twelve of the 2021/22 Serie A campaign yielded a 2-2 draw against newly promoted Empoli FC which left Genoa 17th in the standings. Immediately afterwards, owners 777 Partners, who acquired Il Grifone just this September from former owner Enrico Preziosi dispensed with the services of manager Davide Ballardini, at the time in his fourth spell coaching the first team. His replacement being former Ukrainian national team, Dynamo Kyiv and AC Milan legend Andriy Shevchenko.
Sheva Arrives in Liguria on the Back of an Impressive Spell Managing His Country
45 year-old Shevchenko, or Sheva as he is commonly known arrives in Genoa on the back of a five year spell managing the Ukrainian national team between 2016 and 2021. Considering this was Shevchenko’s first and so-far only managerial assignment early in his coaching career, it could overall be considered a success.
I spoke exclusively to Dynamo Abroad Podcast (@dynamoabroad), a weekly podcast featuring @lyszyk7, @lebovich and @1927dima which covers all events at Ukraine’s most successful football club for a description of Shevchenko’s five year spell with Zbirna. Below in the next three paragraphs is their report on his tenure managing his country.
“Shevchenko managed Ukraine through 52 matches (25 wins, 13 draws and 14 losses). In the 2018/19 UEFA Nations League B, Ukraine earned promotion to League A the following season by finishing first in a group with Slovakia and Czech Republic.”
“Ukraine under Shevchenko topped Group B of Euro 2020 qualification in a group with Portugal, Serbia, Luxembourg and Lithuania, thus qualifying for Euro 2020). Finally, at Euro 2020, Ukraine reached the Quarter Finals of Euro 2020, their best-ever finish as an independent nation having never previously made it past the group stage.”
“Tactically, Ukraine under Shevchenko seemed better put together than under past regimes and became more of a modern side. Especially in defence due to Italian connections in the coaching staff (excluding three heavy losses against France, Spain and England) and more composure in possession which was helped by more players playing at a higher level such as Oleksandr Zinchenko at Manchester City and Ruslan Malinovskyi at both Genk and Atalanta. Ukraine often played a 4-3-3 but Sheva switched to a 3-4-3 formation for the knockout stages of Euro 2020.”
“In attack, there was no need for pointless long balls to the flanks or centre forward as the current Zbirna were able to keep possession better than most sides in Ukraine’s past. There was not an over-reliance on certain players.”
“For example, teams in the past would depend only on Shevchenko himself or the strength was through wingers such as Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka. Players such as Yaremchuk, Besedin, Dovbyk, Yarmolenko, Zinchenko, Konoplyanka and Malinovskyi were all able to be contributors at some point for Shevchenko’s Ukraine side.”
What Shevchenko Inherits at Genoa
I Rossoblu currently sit 18th in the Serie A standings, narrowly in the Serie A relegation zone following Shevchenko’s first match in charge, a 2-0 home loss to AS Roma under the tutelage of Shevchenko’s former boss at Chelsea FC, Jose Mourinho. Despite not offering a lot in attack throughout, Genoa held out well defensively against Giallorossi until the 82nd minute when 18 year-old Ghanaian striker Felix Afena-Gyan scored two late goals, the second of which a fantastic strike, to give Roma victory.
In their 2020/21 Serie A campaign, Genoa after a slow start managed to climb up the standings to an eventual 11th place finish after they replaced Rolando Maran with the aforementioned Davide Ballardini. Key to this eventual classification was a good stretch of form between Ballardini’s first game in charge, a 2-1 away win over Spezia on Matchday 14 until their 3-0 away loss against Inter on Matchday 24. During this run of eleven matches, Genoa only lost twice and recorded an impressive five victories.
One look at Genoa’s squad for 2021/22 compared to 2020/21 might instantly highlight the problem, the absence of key personnel from last season. After a decent debut season in Italian football’s top flight with Il Grifone, notching 8 goals in 31 Serie A matches, Uzbek striker Eldor Shomurodov was sold to AS Roma this summer for a fee of EUR 17.5 million. Another source of goals in Genoa’s attack last season Gianluca Scamacca, who notched 8 league goals was recalled from his loan at Genoa by parent club US Sassuolo for 2021/22.
Genoa were very reliant on the loan market last season for players. In addition to Scamacca, other loanees who were first-team regulars at the club included goalkeeper Mattia Perin who played 32 Serie A matches on loan from Juventus, midfielder Miha Zajc who played 31 Serie A matches on loan from Juventus and fullback Davide Zappacosta who played 25 Serie A matches on loan from Chelsea.
All these players and other important loanees from last season who featured heavily for Genoa such as Kevin Strootman and Marko Pjaca have either returned to their parent clubs to play or have been loaned out elsewhere by their parent clubs this season.
In addition to this loss of talent, Shevchenko inherits an ageing Genoa squad. According to information on Transfermarkt, Genoa currently has the 4th oldest squad in Serie A with an average age of 27.6 years. Many players who are important first-team regulars are entering the twilight of their careers. Examples include goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu (34), defender Domenico Criscito (34), forward Goran Pandev (38) and defensive midfielder Milan Badelj (32).
New owners 777 Partners only took over the club after the summer transfer market closed. Considering all the departures last summer, only having a positive net spend of EUR 200,000 from the summer transfer window and having rolled the managerial dice by changing manager to bring Shevchenko to the club, one would expect him to receive backing in the winter transfer window.
Managers Impressing with Their National Team and at Clubs outside the “Big Five” Leagues Appear to Be Unfairly Overlooked for Managerial Positions in “Big Five” Leagues
Shevchenko’s appointment at Genoa will have raised eyebrows. Detractors will point to a lack of managerial experience in club football in addition to Shevchenko having never managed in a high-ranked European league like Italy before.
Understandable and valid points, Shevchenko is a gamble just like any managerial appointment. However, as a counter-argument, is it really any more of a gamble than many others made by Serie A and by other top European clubs in recent times?
Take the example of Genoa’s fellow Serie A club Fiorentina and Giuseppe Iachini. The 57 year-old was hired as Fiorentina manager in December 2019 to succeed Vicenzo Montella as manager of I Viola. After poor results, Iachini was sacked in November 2020 and replaced by Cesare Prandelli. After Prandelli resigned due to reported personal reasons and distress in March 2021, Iachini was rehired by Fiorentina only to leave the job again at the end of the 2020/21 campaign.
Now Iachini’s re-hire by Fiorentina may have had something to do with the fact that Fiorentina were still paying his contract in-between his sacking and re-hiring at the club during the 2020/21 season. However, if Fiorentina didn’t deem Iachini to be a good enough manager first time, hence the initial decision to sack him, it seems incredulous to think Iachini will make a difference second time around after just four months out of the game.
Furthermore, Iachini is a manager who has done precious little in the game since winning promotion to the 2014/15 Serie A with Palermo. In between this aforementioned season and his two spells at Fiorentina in 2020/21, Iachini has had unsuccessful managerial spells at Udinese in 2016/17 where he was sacked less than 2 months into the season, a half-season at Sassuolo in 2017/18 and just four months at Empoli in the 2018/19 season where once again he was sacked.
So, compare and contrast both Iachini and Shevchenko as managers since 2016. One has been a total disaster, one has improved his country’s fortunes considerably, achieving good results against powerhouses of the international game such as Portugal and current world champions France (where Shevchenko led Ukraine to an away draw against Les Bleus in World Cup qualification).
Disappointingly, consensus seems to be to question Shevchenko’s appointment at Genoa more than ask whether Iachini is worthy of continuing to get Serie A jobs after recent poor managerial performances. Rather than appointing Prandelli in November 2020 or re-hiring Iachini in March 2021 would it not have been better for Fiorentina to acknowledge Shevchenko’s work with the Ukraine national team and look at hiring him ahead of either Iachini or Prandelli?
Now of course, The Ukrainian Association of Football (UAF) could have rebuffed this hypothetical approach citing a Euro 2020 championships to prepare for and Shevchenko himself might have even declined said hypothetical approach, preferring to wait until after the Euros.
However, Shevchenko’s work with the Ukraine national team made him a much more qualified candidate for the Fiorentina role last season than Iachini. He even has something several foreign managers who have come to work in Italy over the years didn’t have, fluent Italian language skills.
So, one does question the idea of is there a strong prejudice against coaches managing national sides outside of the elite countries and coaches doing good jobs in leagues outside Europe’s “Big Five”? Do these guys face a near-impossible task trying to break into the top European leagues?
Another manager who has done a similar impressive revival job with his country similar to that Shevchenko has done with Ukraine is Aliou Cisse, the current coach of the Senegal national football team. Aged 45 like Shevchenko, Cisse took his country’s national team job back in 2015.
Prior to Cisse’s arrival Les Lions de Teranga had undergone tough times, Senegal failed to qualify for three straight World Cups and missed qualification for two Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in 2010 & 2013. Under Cisse, Senegal qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup where they were unfortunate not to make the knockout rounds.
Equally, they reached the Quarter Finals & Final of the last two AFCON tournaments in 2017 & 2019 respectively. Pending qualification, Cisse may opt to leave Senegal post-Qatar 2022 after a fine seven years in charge. Nobody could blame him should he opt to do this considering his performances and maybe a desire to seek out fresh coaching challenges.
Considering his impressive record with Senegal, this should attract potential future job offers from a lower club in one of Europe’s top five leagues as a gateway into European club management and a chance to further progress his coaching resume. Cisse played the vast majority of his club career in France, therefore could some clubs in the bottom half of Ligue 1 maybe take a look at hiring Cisse as their new manager post-Qatar 2022?
After all, former France national team manager Raymond Domenech was given a chance with FC Nantes during the 2020/21 Ligue 1 season despite having not been involved in coaching for a decade since leaving the France job in 2010. To absolutely no-one’s surprise, Domenech was awful during his brief eight-game spell managing Les Canaris last season.
Perhaps the most striking example of this “non-big five league prejudice” that exists, however, was the case of Jorge Jesus and the job he did at his first spell in charge of Portuguese giants SL Benfica between 2009 and 2015. In this time Jesus won three Portuguese titles, five Portuguese League Cups (Taca da Liga), and one Portuguese Cup (Taca da Portugal).
This put him up alongside Janos Biri, Otto Gloria and Bela Guttmann as one of O Glorioso’s greatest-ever managers. Had Jesus won both of the two Europa League finals that the Lisbon outfit lost (2013 & 2014), there is a strong argument to say he could be considered Benfica’s greatest-ever coach.
After all, he would have ended the “Guttmann curse” and look at just how hard it is for a team outside the big five leagues to win either the Champions or Europa League in the modern era post-Bosman ruling. However, despite all this success, Jesus’ next managerial job post-Benfica was at their fierce Lisbon rivals Sporting CP in an ultimately unsuccessful spell from 2015 to 2018.
Never once was Jesus strongly linked to a top club in one of the big five leagues despite his brilliant work with Benfica. Some may say a coach is guaranteed to win trophies at Benfica given their stature. However, the first Portuguese title won under Jesus in 2009/10 was only Benfica’s second title in fifteen seasons between 1994/95 and 2009/10, an era dominated by Sporting CP and especially FC Porto.
In addition, Jesus’ managerial record at more modest clubs prior to joining Benfica was impressive, achievements that meant he “earned” the Benfica job and quashed any talk that he simply “lucked” his way into a top job.
In two seasons at Belenenses between 2006 & 2008, Jesus led the modest Lisbon outfit to a fifth-place finish in the Liga Primeira and a Portuguese Cup final in 2007. In his solitary season at SC Braga in 2008/09 prior to taking the Benfica job, Jesus led Braga to the Round of Sixteen in the UEFA Cup, where they only lost narrowly 1-0 on aggregate to Paris St Germain.
Consider Jesus’ peak as Benfica manager just prior to the start of the 2014/15 season, when he had led Benfica to a Europa League final and a domestic treble in Portugal. That summer, Italian heavyweights AC Milan, seeking a new manager opted to hire Flippo Inzaghi after just two seasons experience with Milan’s youth and Under 20 Primavera teams between 2012 and 2014.
At the time of Rossoneri hiring Inzaghi in the summer of 2014, Jesus had a much more impressive coaching resume than Super Pippo. Inzaghi represented a massive gamble for Milan and it failed spectacularly.
The appointment resembled more an attempt to appease Milan fans whereas approaching Jesus to ask if he wanted the job would have been the more “meritocratic” thing to do. Jesus presumably doesn’t speak Italian, yet neither did a certain Jose Mourinho when arriving into Italian football in 2008 with Internazionale, we all know what happened there.
Is the Current Trend of Appointing Under-Qualified Former “Player Legends” as Managers at “Big Clubs” Excessive?
A trend that has become extremely popular in the modern game recently has been clubs turning to former “player legends” to take the managerial job whenever a vacancy arises. Reasons for this new trend’s emergence are that a former playing legend, even if in a number of circumstances, they lack coaching experience, can be a process of healing at a club. Especially if the previous incumbent left his position with toxicity rife throughout a club, its players and supporters.
However, there has been a very mixed record with this trend when it comes to longer-term results. Josep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane have been the two “poster boys” when it comes to this trend of player legends taking jobs at clubs they had an affinity with. Both Pep and Zizou have been the most successful of all these managers, they’re list of honours won with both FC Barcelona and Real Madrid speak for themselves.
Without wanting to belittle either of the work that both did at Barca and Real, especially Pep, who has proven he is a world-class coach everywhere he has gone and will go down as one of the best ever. One must note that conditions at both clubs were also more favourable than many of those clubs appointing these former player legends as managers.
Barcelona were going through a two-season dry spell without a La Liga title in the summer of 2008 when Pep was appointed new manager after a season with Barcelona B. However, they certainly were not in the full-blown out crisis mode that they find themselves in today. Pep had the tools at his disposal to implement his brilliant tactics and create one of the greatest club sides in history.
Xavi & Iniesta were both entering their peak years as a fine midfield duo, Carles Puyol was a leader at the back in defence (one could argue Gerard Pique has never been quite the same since Puyol retired in 2014). Finally, in Samuel Eto’o, Barca had a world-class striker on their roster to guarantee a huge number of goals.
When Zidane took charge at Real Madrid partway through the 2015/16 La Liga season, he came into a team where many of its star players were in their peak years. Ronaldo had just come off the back of a 61 goal club season.
In La Liga, Gareth Bale had his most productive domestic season in a Real Madrid shirt, notching 19 goals in 23 La Liga matches. Finally, Pepe was aged 32, Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric 29, Karim Benzema 27. All these key players plus the aforementioned Ronaldo and Bale were either at or approaching their peak.
Both Pep and Zidane were playing legendary managerial gambles which paid off handsomely. However, based on all the aforementioned points above, they were gambles that both Barca and Real could afford to take given the conditions at both clubs.
Not all clubs and scenarios are like this. As aforementioned, Flippo Inzaghi was thrown in at the deep end at AC Milan when massively under-qualified in the summer of 2014/15. Milan had just finished 8th in Serie A in 2013/14, conditions were not right to be taking such a gamble.
Milan have also not been the only Italian club to have fallen foul of the “former playing legend” managerial appointment trend. Their rivals Juventus FC have twice opted for former playing legends as their manager when there were better alternatives more easily available who were better qualified and could had they been given the job instead have performed much better.
The first of these situations occurred back in the summer of 2009 when Ciro Ferrara was appointed as Juve’s new manager, the permanent replacement for Claudio Ranieri who was fired with two games remaining in the 2008/09 season.
Ferrara won both the final two games of the 2008/09 season, a 3-0 victory over Lazio and a 2-0 victory over Siena when in caretaker charge of La Vecchia Signora and was rewarded with the job full-time.
However, Ferrara was a disaster as Juventus manager, he lasted only 21 Serie A matches in the job, being fired after a loss against Roma on Matchday 21 which dropped Juve down to 6th in Serie A. Ferrara at the time of his appointment as Juventus manager had only spent two years as assistant to Marcello Lippi with the Italian national team and had never previously managed in the club game.
The obvious option for Juventus at this time was to appoint Luciano Spalletti as manager. Spalletti had won plaudits for his brilliant work at Roma over four seasons between 2005 and 2009, where he won back-to-back Coppa Italia titles in 2006/07 and 2007/08. Prior to Roma, Spaletti had also achieved good results at Udinese during a three-year spell between 2002 and 2005, achieving 6th, 7th and 4th placed Serie A finishes.
The second time Juve went down the former playing legend route when a better candidate was available was in the summer of 2020 when Andrea Pirlo was appointed new manager of La Vecchia Signora following the firing of Maurizio Sarri.
Pirlo had been scheduled to take a new job as manager of Juventus Under 23’s side who play in the third tier Serie C for the 2020/21 season. However, without taking charge of a single game, Pirlo was catapulted into the Juve first-team job.
Juve was clearly a top job too soon for Pirlo and their 2020/21 Serie A season was a disaster. The club were never top of the Serie A standings all season, only finished 4th and only secured Champions League football for 2021/22 on the final day of the season. In addition, Pirlo and Juve went out of the Champions League at the Round of Sixteen stage, losing on away goals to FC Porto after a 4-4 aggregate score-line over two legs.
The more logical appointment at the time for Juventus was to approach fellow Serie A club Sassuolo for their manager Roberto de Zerbi. In three seasons at Neroverdi between 2018 and 2021, a modest Serie A side when it comes to history, budget and reputation, de Zerbi finished 11th and 8th twice in Serie A, only narrowly missing UEFA Europa Conference League qualification for the 2021/22 season.
At 42 years of age, de Zerbi is the same age as Pirlo, yet has much more managerial experience, having had spells at the likes of Palermo and Benevento prior to taking the Sassuolo job. Despite being contracted to Sassuolo at the time, I have no doubt that had Juve approached de Zerbi to succeed Sarri as opposed to Pirlo, he would have accepted it.
Dynamo Kyiv Is a Perfect Fallback Option for Shevchenko Should Things Not Work Out at Genoa
Now some against Shevchenko taking the Genoa job due to a perceived lack of club management experience may state that the Dynamo Kyiv job would have been a better choice for Shevchenko at this moment in time.
There is the argument here with Dynamo Kyiv that Shevchenko has an affinity with the record Ukrainian champions unlike Genoa and that impressive performances here would see Shevchenko get a job opportunity in a big five league in future seasons.
However, just what would Shevchenko have to do at Dynamo Kyiv to really catch the eye of good-sized European clubs in the top five leagues? One only has to look at the aforementioned example I cited earlier in the piece of Jorge Jesus. For years Jesus impressed at Benfica, his exploits were worthy of getting a top job in a big five league, yet no elite-level European club from one of the big five leagues ever came in for Jesus.
Let’s look at a current example in the shape of Erik Ten Hag. It is only on the back of his excellent displays as coach of Ajax in the Champions League for a second season in four this campaign (the other being the Amsterdam club’s brilliant run to the semi-finals of the competition in 2018/19) that the elite clubs are now beginning to consider him as a future manager. Ten Hag has had to be almost as perfect with Ajax as perfect can be to be in contention for a big job in a top five league.
So, going back to the original question, just what would Shevchenko have to achieve at Dynamo Kyiv to catch the eye of good-sized European clubs in the top five leagues? Repeat the feats of the legendary Valeryi Lobanovskyi and win two European trophies with the Ukrainian giants? An exceptionally hard task nowadays given no non-big five league side has won a European trophy since FC Porto won the Europa League in 2010/11.
Now things may not work out for Shevchenko at Genoa, as mentioned earlier in the piece, every managerial appointment is a gamble. Should things go poorly at Genoa and he not last long as manager there beyond this season, the Dynamo Kyiv job may actually be available to Shevchenko sooner than most expect.
The current incumbent manager at Dynamo Kyiv is veteran Romanian manager Mircea Lucescu. Whilst Lucescu won Dynamo Kyiv the 2020/21 Ukrainian Premier League title, he remains unpopular at the club due to his past connection with the club’s fierce rivals Shakhtar Donetsk, who he managed between 2004 and 2016. In addition, Lucescu is now 76 years of age, even he must be contemplating retirement soon, despite his long-lasting and legendary managerial career.
If in a hypothetical situation Lucescu was to leave Dynamo Kyiv at the end of this season and if Shevchenko was not to last at Genoa beyond the end of the 2021/22 season, Shevchenko to Dynamo Kyiv as Lucescu’s successor from 2022/23 onwards is a strong possibility. In short, Dynamo Kyiv is a realistic and perfect fallback option for Shevchenko to continue his managerial career should things not work out at Genoa.
35 years ago, the aforementioned great Lobanovskyi’s place amongst the managerial greats was confirmed as Dynamo Kyiv defeated Atletico de Madrid 3-0 in the final of the 1985/86 UEFA Cup Winners Cup. It was Lobanovskyi’s second Cup Winners Cup title and formed part of a treble triumph (Dynamo Kyiv had won the 1985 USSR Highest League and USSR Cup competitions).
During Lobanovskyi’s third spell in charge of Dynamo Kyiv between 1997 and his tragic passing in 2002, Shevchenko emerged from his tutelage as one of Europe’s most in-demand strikers. His performances for Dynamo won him a transfer to AC Milan in 1999.
After Rossoneri won the 2002/03 UEFA Champions League final against Juventus on penalties, Shevchenko flew back to Kyiv and placed his winners medal by Lobanovskyi’s grave, such is the esteem held for his former manager.
After five years where he served his national team well with impressive results, Shevchenko embarks on his club coaching career in Italy at a famous institution such as Genoa CFC which has been underachieving for so long. As Shevchenko’s opening match proved, Genoa is no easy task for any manager at the moment.
However, it’s refreshing to see a club in one of Europe’s top five leagues, especially one in Italy, where clubs tend to solely trust domestic coaching graduates of its Coverciano technical centre give a chance to an upcoming coach from a non-big five league background.
If Shevchenko impresses at Genoa, a possible future coaching opening at AC Milan could emerge. If it doesn’t work out, there is always the future fallback option of Dynamo Kyiv, the club where he made his name as a player.
Turning down opportunities such as this is always risky for coaches outside of Europe’s top five leagues for all the above reasons as clubs in the big five leagues do have a tendency to unfairly ignore their credentials. Based on all of the above, Andriy Shevchenko has made the correct decision in accepting the Genoa CFC job.
By: Richard David Pike / @RichDPike89
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Getty Images