The manager takes his resurgent squad to Arsenal in the Europa League two months after arriving as an unknown and unpopular choice
When the phone rang, Filippo Giovagnoli was spending a long vacation in his native village There had been a delay in renewing his US visa, but otherwise there was little pressure to spend August with his family and friends around Apecchio, a small colony in the Marches Then the name of his boss, Jeffrey Saunders, at New York’s Metropolitan Oval academy appeared on screen and life began to move at a million miles an hour.
« He said to me: ‘Look, you’re going to get a call, so be prepared,’ said Giovagnoli It would be from Dundalk, who had just split from Vinny Perth and needed a head coach Giovagnoli n ‘was, by most measures, not an obvious choice At 49, he had never led a senior team, although his time in the United States, as director of coaching at the famous academy, has been widely regarded as a success Six years earlier he had overseen Milan’s transatlantic youth summer camps, but was on the verge of being integrated into the big boys of the Europa League.
« It was a big surprise, it was a very short notice thing, » he says Saunders was linked to the owners of Dundalk, the US investment firm Peak6, run by club chairman Bill Hulsizer According to Giovagnoli, Saunders had assured Hulsizer that he « would come in like a tank and work hard, listening to nothing except what is happening on the ground » Robbie Keane was among those linked to work, but Giovagnoli believes his lack of connection to internal politics, in Ireland or in the club itself, had some influence
Many were not convinced « We arrived and there was a lot of skepticism because nobody knew us, » he said of the welcome he received and his long-time assistant. date, Giuseppe Rossi – not to be confused with the former Manchester United and Villarreal player “It was not a good reception, no doubt We were being killed by journalists, fans, people on social networks Some of them were not respectful; they didn’t know us at all but still made jokes So we thought, « OK, it’s okay, we’ll work hard and we’ll show you »
Hulsizer’s brief was simple: to get Dundalk, knocked out of the Champions League, through the Europa League qualifying rounds and in the group stage Giovagnoli arrived on August 25; since then he has overseen 12 games, four against a very different continental opposition, and has kept his side of the market
Inter Club d’Escaldes were beaten 1-0 in Andorra, then Dundalk won on penalties at Sheriff Tiraspol, Moldovan Monegasque club Giovagnoli describing the success as « a Picasso »; it certainly boosted confidence for their play-off against KI, a Faroe Islands side who had beaten Dinamo Tbilisi in the previous round Dundalk won 3-1 and emulated their 2016-17 feat by reaching the competition proper
« This is a historic achievement in Ireland, » he said « But people are already forgetting » We did what we had to do, the draw was easy This is bullshit, this is just not true We are where we want to be and we are proud to represent Ireland «
They are visiting the Emirates on Thursday and could be excused for imagining their chances given Arsenal’s recent efforts to break through well-trained opponents « We’re going to go out there and show that we can compete, like against Molde, » he said, referring to last week’s 2-1 home loss to the Norwegian club in their first Group B « C ‘game. is good to give people hope, but we also have to be smart and know that even if we prepare and do everything perfectly, we can lose We will do our best, but we will also enjoy the game C ‘ is a time for the city and the club to be known around the world «
Giovagnoli may be the perfect man to set up a shutout as his playing career was spent in Italy’s lower divisions in the 1990s He was a tough center-back who became « obsessed with defensive organization » and tried to teach Gabriel Batistuta a few lessons by scoring him in pre-season friendlies for Rondinella, a small club from Florence, against La Fiorentina A young Andrea Barzagli, later eight-time Serie A winner with Juventus, was his sidekick at the time Moving to New York broadened his horizons; the tactics remain a fixation but « I also like the creativity, the intensity, the aggressiveness … building players capable of making decisions on the field by themselves »
He explains that he « remade my training » in the United States, learning more about leadership, organizing and building a culture « If you are not tough and competitive you will not survive not in New York, « he says America felt more like a meritocracy » If you deserve your chance you will get it, whereas in Italy and some other countries in Europe it depends more on who you only know what you know «
Now he’s got his chance and the story added charm as he and Rossi, ten years his junior, are from Apecchio and lived in the same apartment building when they were younger Now they live in the same Dundalk B&B, while hoping to find longer term housing soon The same ambition extends to their employment, which should be completed by the end of the year
« It’s basically a done deal, » he says of a longer stay, though he’ll have to make sure Dundalk – far from the pace of the title when he arrives and now third – doesn’t leave. no European places for next season
That’s why he observes, with a straight face, that Sunday’s game with St Patrick’s Athletic is higher on his priority list than a glamorous Emirates date Giovagnoli was not allowed to coach his players directly in the Molde game as due to his time in the USA he does not yet have a UEFA Pro license He may be confined to the stands in London again but he won’t let that blur the progress he has made in two dizzying months
« It’s an amazing story, » he said « It was a dream for us, me and Giuseppe, to be there Now it feels like normal but it shows that there is always a way to get to the top There are so many coaches in the world who don’t have the opportunity We are the example that shows you can get there just by working hard «
Arsenal FC, Dundalk FC, UEFA Europa League, Mikel Arteta
World news – UA – Filippo Giovagnoli from Dundalk: ‘People were not respectful They made jokes ‘
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