Tuesday 12 December 2017

Deep thinker lending his vast experience to survival battle

New Swansea manager Francesco Guidolin is hugely respected in Italy after a colourful career

Francesco Guidolin: recharged batteries. Photo: Reuters
Francesco Guidolin: recharged batteries. Photo: Reuters

Marcus Christenson

There was a moment at the Liberty Stadium on Monday night, in the 90th minute, when the television cameras zoomed in on Francesco Guidolin. The 60-year-old Italian looked in pain, his hands covering his face, as Swansea battled to cling on to a 1-0 victory against Watford. In the minutes that followed, Bafetimbi Gomis hit the post and Troy Deeney flashed a ferocious volley just wide. It felt like life and death in three minutes. Welcome to your new job, Signor Guidolin. It's going to be a tense five months.

The new Swansea head coach will be in the dugout for the first time against Everton today, with the Welsh club looking to his vast experience as they attempt to avoid relegation. They have certainly opted for experience. Swansea will be the much-travelled Italian's 14th club, and only six other managers have managed more Serie A games than him (555 games over 21 years).

Guidolin may be unknown in Britain and Ireland, but he is a hugely respected manager in Italy. His CV is colourful and one thing is for sure, the Swansea players will be kept on their toes. During his time at Udinese, Guidolin made one player, the Brazilian Allan, cry in training after he was reprimanded and once banned all his players from visiting a certain restaurant after a defeat. "He is just a little superstitious," his wife, Michela, said once. "Everyone was disappointed that season. That restaurant had the most delicious pizzas. But at least Francesco went back to the owner after the season to explain why we hadn't been back."

Guidolin is unlikely to be fazed by the new challenge. He has been hired and fired by the eccentric Palermo president, Maurizio Zamparini, four times ("I've got a lot of time for him," says Guidolin), he took Udinese to the Champions League and Vicenza to Serie A. He has also managed Giorgione, Treviso, Fano, Empoli, Ravenna, Atalanta, Bologna, Genoa, Monaco and Parma.

At Palermo, he led the Sicilian club into Serie A for the first time in more than 30 years and then took them into Europe. But it is undeniably his work at Udinese which landed him the Swansea job. Working under the Pozzo family, who own Watford and Granada, he made the most of their scouting network to turn the provincial club into one of the best in Italy, taking them into the Europa League and Champions League twice.

During his time at the Stadio Friuli, he made stars of Alexis Sanchez, Juan Cuadrado and Gokhan Inler (who all arrived on modest fees) and made the team extraordinarily difficult to beat. It appears that Swansea are no longer interested in "doing a Swansea". They are trying to "do a Watford".

There are risks involved, though, and the four years at Udinese took its toll on Guidolin. He is not a person who can switch off and has admitted that he desperately needed a break towards the end of the 2013-14 campaign.

"I felt I had to stop, I was at my limit," he told La Repubblica. "I didn't need to go into recovery, I wasn't walking around with eyes bulging and didn't need to escape from any ghosts. It was just that I wasn't me anymore. I didn't confront all the matters head on and could not wait until the season finished.

"I wanted to stay for life at Udinese and at times we talked about me doing something different, becoming a sort of ambassador for the Pozzo family, but it did not happen. I have now recharged the batteries, have watched games on my own and I have studied the game. At Udinese, perhaps I gave more than I received."

So what else did he do with his time off? "I went to bed really early, to quote a film that I love. I travelled and rediscovered my passions. I lived in Provence, then London and then by the hills in Asolo, not far from my house. And then I read. I've reread Storia d'Italia by Indro Montanelli. I would like to be like him, someone who can explain our country and why it is like it is with a simplicity like no one else."

Guidolin also spent time with Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola when the German side were in Monaco. "I was his guest there for four days and he was really kind," he said. "I really enjoyed watching Bayern take on Milan with Arturo Vidal behind Mario Gotze in a 3-6-1. It made me think of Udinese with Antonio Di Natale up front and Alexis Sanchez tucked in behind. The great teams are going in this direction: three defenders, of which only one is a 'proper' defender, because teams only play with one up front and then a lot of players in the middle of the park."

Swansea do not have the players of Gotze's or Sanchez's talent but it is not impossible that Guidolin will try the 3-6-1 formation - or something similar - against Everton. He is a flexible manager, unafraid to change formation during the game. He never stops thinking about football and says that every match day is a test. "Match day is very tense. I think, and then rethink, about whether I've made the right decisions regarding the team and whether I have worked well in the week. It is like an exam. Then, at the end of the game, I immediately start to think about the next game, and which changes to make."

Guidolin was once described by one Italian magazine as being "too intelligent to be liked by the general public" and has admitted that he finds dealing with the media difficult. He can let himself go, though, and produced a brilliant dance with his players when Udinese qualified for the Champions League in 2011.

He is also able to relax by going cycling, something that he is certain to continue in Wales. It is his second passion and he has commentated on the sport on Italian television. "Cycling is something that teaches us to have respect for your opponent," he says. "It is something that teaches you to win, but also has a value for someone who arrives second, third or fourth. It is not a humiliation not to win, it is a gratification to arrive somewhere."

For Swansea, that "somewhere" will be 17th in the Premier League. Guidolin certainly has the experience and the knowledge to get the club out of trouble, but it will all depend on whether he can pass all of that on to his players, starting with the game at Goodison today.

Everton v Swansea, Sky Sports 1, 1.30


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