Adam Digby examines the circumstances behind Vincenzo Montella's appointment as Catania coach, and outlines why the Elefanti will be ones to watch under his stewardship.
"We were looking for a coach who will grow up and mature with us. Montella shares our own ambitions entirely." - Pietro Lo Monaco
An almost unique set of circumstances led to Vincenzo Montella's appointment as coach of AS Roma last season, thrusting the clubs fourth highest ever goalscorer into the top job despite him having almost no coaching experience. Due to the impending take-over by Thomas Di Benedetto, the Giallorossi were seemingly limited to appointing a short-term, internal candidate, and eventually decided to turn to l'Aeroplanino.
The 37 year old had only retired from playing a year earlier and began coaching the club's Giovanissimi Nazionali (Under-15) team, hardly the most convincing resume. Given the role on February 21st, he won just seven of his sixteen games in charge (43.75%) and was judged in a similar way to Leonardo, who himself took over at Inter just two months earlier.
Indeed there are a number of other parallels between the brief stints of the two men (although it is hard to imagine Montella joining his former team' greatest rivals, as Leonardo did) foremost among which is that both were all but deemed incapable of independent thought or coaching ideals, viewed more as a motivators than tacticians who merely aped what had gone before.
That they each chose to revert to a predecessors system was largely seen as a weakness, but it can easily be argued it was the wisest choice given the time frame available in both situations. In copying Luciano Spalletti's striker-less formation, Montella drew on the experience of players such as his former team-mates Francesco Totti and Simone Perrotta to arrest the decline that the Giallorossi were suffering under Claudio Ranieri. This echoed the way Leonardo swiftly reverted to the tactics employed by Jose Mourinho, a decision which reaped rewards instantly.
The final similarity is that both men left their roles at the end of last season but, whilst Leonardo left Inter largely due to the pressure and abuse he was suffering in Milan, Montella's departure was hastened by the same circumstances that originally led to his appointment. His moving on was ultimately necessary in order to allow the new regime to appoint their own man in Luis Enrique and begin the new era, as the club becomes Serie A's first foreign-owned side.
Approached by Catania in the wake of Diego Simeone's departure, he seized upon it, glad of the chance to showcase his talent and to learn the role away from the spotlight that inevitably comes with any big team. Those pressures are vastly increased at Roma, a truly unique club, facts recognised by Montella during his first press conference in Sicily:
"Catania offered me a great opportunity. I'll give my all to make the most of it and show myself to be the right man for this team. In Rome I had just a short but very significant time. Those three months contained such difficulties that they have served as if three years passed."
Montella has also begun to show that - far from only being able to mimic others - he has many of his own ideas that, now time and circumstances allow, will be put into practice. He has the whole pre-season with his new squad and this is an important time for any coach, not least one just starting out in his career on the bench.
Interestingly his thesis at Coverciano - a prerequisite for anyone wanting to lead a Serie A team - discussed the athletic training of players to optimize their time and energy, precisely what will now be tested to the fullest as Catania ready themselves for the season ahead.
Given the high proportion of South American's in the squad (11 of 20 first team players) he took the decision to make the first three days of the clubs ritiro more a gathering than a training camp. Even the weighing and testing of players was delayed in order to allow any jet-lag or fatigue to dissipate before the serious work began. This week he discussed his plans during a press conference, telling the reporters:
"This squad has been built to play 4-3-3 and this is how I intend to deploy them once again. It is a group with which I have inherited a culture of important work, I like to compare ourselves with a large club and to have many players at the same level, without favourites, as we do."
Despite only being with the Elefanti a short few weeks, Montella has clearly spent some time assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the group he has been given. His real work will be done over the next two months as he prepares the squad for the season ahead, vital preparation and time spent growing together as a group which is key for any club.
But as yet there is no concrete evidence that he is capable of transmitting his ideas to his players, other than his unbeaten run with the Roma youth side and those sixteen games in the second half of last season.
Yet he will be judged only on the results gained once Serie A gets underway in late August, as the Sicilian club look to improve on last seasons thirteenth place finish. Catania will hope his thesis works now it is being put into a practical test, and their new coach is under no illusion as to what lies ahead. It seems only far that Vincenzo Montella takes the final word;
"My job is to maximize resources the organization provides. I know I have everything I need and no alibi. I believe in the project of Catania and I'm sure there is a chance to do well together. It is an important moment of my career, I will do my best to live up to the task."