MILAN (Reuters) – Two of Italian football’s coaching stalwarts will return to the touchline at the weekend as Claudio Ranieri takes charge of his first game with bottom-of-the-table Sampdoria and Stefano Pioli makes his debut with fallen giants AC Milan.
Ranieri, 67, who has replaced Eusebio Di Francesco for the second time in six months, will be starting out with the 17th professional team of his career, and the 10th in Italy, as Sampdoria host AS Roma — the club where he finished last season.
Pioli will be taking charge of his 13th different club, all of them in Italy, as AC Milan entertain lowly Lecce. The 53-year-old’s previous clubs include Lazio, Fiorentina and Milan’s neighbours Inter and he has still to win a major trophy despite being highly regarded for his methods.
One of Pioli’s first moves at Milan, according to Gazzetta dello Sport, was to rearrange the seating arrangements in the club’s dining room, replacing small tables, which he said favoured the formation of cliques within the squad, with a single communal one.
Elsewhere in Serie A, leaders Juventus, with 19 points out of a possible 21, host Bologna on Saturday evening and second-placed Inter, one point behind, visit Sassuolo in Sunday’s early kickoff.
Ranieri has always been closely associated with Roma and was brought in on an interim basis to see out last season after Di Francesco was fired in March.
Di Francesco was hired by Sampdoria for this season, stepping into the void left by Marco Giampaolo’s departure for AC Milan, but was sacked after they lost six of their opening seven games — and again replaced by Ranieri.
Giampaolo, meanwhile, fared little better as he was fired by Milan after three wins and four defeats with the seven-times European champions, who have not won any major silverware since 2011 and are enduring their sixth season without Champions League football.
Ranieri, known for his pragmatic approach, said that the players’ attitude was more important than which formation he would use.
“I know that last year they played with a diamond midfield, and I have played with every system there is… the most important thing is that you have players who believe in what they are doing,” he told reporters on his official presentation.
“You know that I’m a Roma fan but I’ve always been fond of Sampdoria,” added Ranieri, who famously won the English Premier League with rank outsiders Leicester City in 2016.
“I’ve been brought to a club that is bottom of the table but I’m convinced that is not the true level of the squad here.”
Ranieri said that 36-year-old captain Fabio Quagliarella, who was Serie A’s topscorer last season with 26 goals, was the key to a revival.
“He had a magical last season but he has started this one quietly,” said Ranieri. “He’s the leader of the team and that’s what I expect from him. I have high expectations because he is the symbol of this team.”
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis)