Giovanni Trapattoni, now 71, is one of the grand old men of European football and a manager who has won numerous titles across the continent; in Italy, Germany, Portugal and Austria. In fact, he is one of only two coaches to have won a league title in four different countries, the other being the great Austrian manager Ernst Happel. He may have opted to take on several lower-profile jobs in recent years, but Trapattoni more than deserves to be recognised as one of the most astute and relentlessly successful coaches of his generation.
A highly-regarded centre-half at Milan for the majority of his playing career, it was with the Rossoneri that Trapattoni was handed his first managerial role, intermittently taking charge of first team affairs between 1974 and 1976 before moving to Turin to take the reins at Juventus. It was to be with the Bianconeri that ‘Trap’ would make his name as a coach, managing the team for a decade and winning every domestic and continental competition the club participated in.
Trapattoni’s first campaign with the club, the 1976/77 season, saw the 38 year-old coach lead Juve to their second consecutive league title and, inspired by the two Robertos, Bettega and Boninsegna, won the UEFA Cup beating the likes of Manchester United and Athletic Bilbao on their path to victory. It was the start of what was to be an unprecedented run of success for La Vecchia Signora.
During the next nine seasons Juve claimed the Scudetto a further five times, Trapattoni instilling in his team his own interpretation of Helenio Herrera’s catenaccio system, his back four all being assigned to man-mark the opposition attackers with a libero – the elegant Gaetano Scirea in this case – providing vital extra cover from behind the primary defensive line. However, despite their obvious excellence at the back, Trapattoni’s Juventus were not a side that can be defined in terms of the negativity catenaccio has become a byword for.
During that golden era the Bianconeri became the masters of the swift counter-attack, gifted midfielders such as Marco Tardelli, Michel Platini and Franco Causio providing the team with the physicality, speed and precise movement of the ball that was needed to carry out Trapattoni’s instructions to the letter. The Juventus of the late seventies and early eighties were as finely-honed outfit as it was possible to find.
That iconic generation of Juve players reached the pinnacle of its achievements in 1985 when it won the European Cup for the first time in the club’s history. Tardelli, Platini, Paulo Rossi and Zibi Boniek, the players that represented the team’s creative heart, all played crucial roles as Trapattoni guided his side past, amongst others, Sparta Prague, Bordeaux and Liverpool en route to securing the continent’s ultimate prize.
The enigmatic manager joined Internazionale a year later, staying with the Nerazzurri for five years and winning both the 1989 Scudetto and the 1991 UEFA Cup. During his time with Inter, Trapattoni constructed a team comprised of a number home-grown talents including Walter Zenga and Riccardo Ferri as well as some of the mainstays of the West German 1990 World Cup-winning team, Andreas Brehme, Lothar Matthäus and Jürgen Klinsmann all key components in what was a well-rounded and famously defensively sound system.
Following the conclusion of the 1991 campaign, Trapattoni moved back to Turin for his second spell with Juventus, enduring a less successful spell during an era dominated by Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan – though still lifting the 1993 UEFA Cup – before departing for Bayern Munich in 1994. The Italian’s first season in Germany was a difficult one, Bayern only managing a sixth place finish in the Bundesliga and suffering humiliation in the DFB Pokal after a first round exit at the hands of fourth-tier TSV Vestenbergsgreuth in his first game in charge.
Trapattoni left Munich after just one season to take on the vacant Cagliari job ahead of the 1995-96 campaign, but returned to coach the German giants just a year later for what would be a far more positive two years in charge. In 1996-97 he guided Bayern to a Bundesliga and Ligapokal (League Cup) double, the goals of Klinsmann and the excellent form of emerging players such as Dietmar Hamann and Mehmet Scholl making Trap’s team the dominant domestic force. However, his relationship with the club was to take a turn for the worse the following season, tensions rising to the surface despite triumphing in the Pokal as Otto Rehhagel’s Kaiserslautern pipped Bayern to the title.
Frustrated with his team’s apparent lack of progress, Trapattoni departed Munich for the second and final time, heading to Fiorentina for two years and guiding La Viola to a place in the Champions League before taking charge of the Italian national team in 2000 following their defeat to France in the final of the European Championships of that summer.
During his four years with Italy, not unlike his compatriot Fabio Capello, Trapattoni struggled to transfer his supreme skills as a club manager over into the international arena, the great man being criticised throughout his tenure for the lack of results achieved by his perceived negative approach. A disappointing showing at the 2002 World Cup – where Italy were eliminated at the hands of South Korea 2-1 in the Last 16 – was followed by a disastrous group phase exit at Euro 2004. However, the veteran coach was quickly back to winning ways after taking over at Benfica the following season.
With the legendary Portuguese club having endured a fallow period during the majority of the 1990s and first years of the 2000s, Trapattoni wrote himself into the history books of the Águias by claiming the title as he got the very best out of the likes of Simão, Luisão and Nuno Gomes to finish three points clear of Porto. Yet Trap resigned after that one triumphant season, apparently not entirely satisfied with life in Portugal and wanting to be based closer to his family.
A brief spell with Stuttgart followed before the Italian moved to Austria to coach Red Bull Salzburg. The two years he spent at the Red Bull Arena between 2006 and 2008 brought one title – in 2006/07 – and re-established Die Bullen as Austria’s preeminent force after a decade having ceded dominance to Sturm Graz and Austria Wien. In 2008 Trapattoni moved to take up his second international job with the Republic of Ireland and, had it not been for that pesky main of Thierry Henry, could well have taken them to the World Cup in South Africa.
He may not have achieved the flawless record of others that have and are still to appear in this series, but Trapattoni is the only manager in history to have won all official UEFA competitions and, for developing the philosophy of catenaccio beyond Herrera’s initial strategies and combining it with an attractive brand of counter-attacking football at Juventus, he deserves to be noted as one of the finest tactical minds there has ever been.