‘I’m a curious person’: Udinese’s Gabriele Cioffi on his journey from training Crawley to fighting Milan | A-series


HHow does a person go from managing Crawley Town in Ligue 2 to Udinese in Serie A with no other club in between? Gabriele Cioffi has a ready-made answer: “Luckily! he exclaims, a smile exploding on his lips. “That’s my answer,” he insists, imposing his sincerity in response to an instinctive laugh. “But I am convinced that luck is essentially the result of an addition: opportunity plus preparation.”

Cioffi has been on an unlikely journey since retiring from football in 2012, following a two-decade career which has been mostly in Italy’s lower leagues but has included a top-flight season in Turin.

His first coaching job was as an assistant coach at Carpi, but after moving from there to manage Gavorrano in the fourth tier, his next steps took him to Australia, Italy, the United Arab Emirates and then England.

“I feel chosen,” he says. “When I stopped playing football, I was chosen by Cristiano Giuntoli [then the sporting director at Carpi, now at Napoli], which gave me the chance to pick up a whistle after hanging up my boots, starting a new career. Then [after Gavorrano] a friend of mine, Diego Pellegrini, who played with me in Mantua, chose me. He called me and said, “I think you’re the right person to help improve my academy in Australia.”

Let’s go. On the other side of the planet, Cioffi meets another Italian, Gianluca Nani – “the one who brought Roberto Baggio and Pep Guardiola to Brescia” – who convinces him to come and work as Hendrik ten Cate’s assistant in Abu Dhabi.

Nani then introduced him to Gianfranco Zola, who brought Cioffi to work with him for half a season at Birmingham City. At some point, did he simply resolve to say yes to every opportunity that presented itself to him? “Exactly!” he says. “Because I am a curious person.”

The offer to become a manager at Crawley, admits Cioffi, gave him pause. He was on holiday with his family in 2018, having recently completed a second stint in Abu Dhabi, this time as deputy manager at Al Dhafra. “I received a phone call from Erdem Konyar, who was the CEO of Crawley. He offered me to manage the club.

“At the time, I was like, ‘No, come on, League Two? And then I met him, he has a strong personality, he has clear ideas, he has a clear identity of what he wants from the club. And I said, ‘OK, let’s take a chance.’ »

These reservations dissolved when Cioffi fell in love with the West Sussex team. He became the first Crawley manager in over a decade to win on his debut and the first to beat a Premier League side, knocking Norwich out of the Carabao Cup in 2019. By reaching the fourth round of that competition, he tied another club. disk.

Gabriele Cioffi hugs David Sesay after Crawley knocked out Norwich from the Carabao Cup in 2019. Photograph: John Sibley/Action Images/Reuters

They parted ways later that year, after a string of disappointing results. Even now, he talks about it with open regret. “Here at Udinese I work with 200 people,” he said. “There, we worked at seven, eight. But the passion and enthusiasm of these people is incredible. It was an honor for me to work with them. To know them not only in terms of secretary or CEO. But as people. As human beings.

“When I received the phone call from the CEO telling me that we had to break up, I was really sad. I had a feeling of shock. I did not return immediately from the UK to Italy. I I waited two weeks saying, ‘Maybe there’s a misunderstanding, something’s wrong. It’s not impossible.'”

It’s clear how much people mean to Cioffi. It is part of Common Goal, a collective movement whose members – players, managers and others working in football – donate at least 1% of their earnings to a fund that supports community organizations that use sport for good.

Cioffi notably supported the work of Balon Mundial, a Turin-based association that works with migrants and, through football, helps them integrate into society. “It’s even more important now with Ukraine,” Cioffi said. “Common Goal has an emergency response program in place so members can directly assist those affected.”

Cioffi was without a club for nine months after Crawley, before a phone call came in September 2020 asking if he wanted to join Luca Gotti’s coaching staff at Udinese. A little over a year later, the manager was fired. Cioffi replaced him as goalkeeper. After a 1-1 draw with Milan in their first match in charge, the club announced they would retain the role until the end of this season.

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The results have been mixed. Udinese won their next two matches 4-0 – against Crotone in the Coppa Italia and Cagliari in the league – but four months later they are in the same place in the table as when he took over, 14th.

Cioffi doesn’t think too far ahead. “My next ambition is to be a real Serie A manager,” he said. “Because so far I’ve just had, 15, 13, I don’t know how many games! My goal is to win games until I decide to pursue this career. So probably until the end of my life. I consider myself a coach. I want, forgive me the expression, but I always said that I wanted to die on the pitch. As long as I have energy, I want to be a coach , winning matches, etc., etc., until the end.

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