• Relatively unknown when he joined AC Milan in 1987, Sacchi led the Rossoneri to back-to-back European Cups in 1988/89 and 1989/90.
• Guided Italy to the 1994 FIFA World Cup final, losing on penalties to Brazil.
• Transformed the Italian mentality with his attacking style; his protégés include three-time UEFA Champions League-winning coach Carlo Ancelotti.
The expert testimony
“Arrigo completely changed Italian football – the philosophy, training methods, intensity, tactics. Italian teams used to focus on defending but our team defended by attacking and pressing.”
Ancelotti, former Milan midfielder
“He is the greatest revolutionary in Italian football history. Maybe he repeated the same ideas over and over again, but those are ideas every team should have.”
Zvonimir Boban, former Milan midfielder
“Sacchi started a revolution in Italian football, both mentally and tactically. We developed our style of play and we tried to impose it on all opponents, from amateurs in a midweek training game to Real Madrid at the Bernabéu.”
Roberto Donadoni, former Milan midfielder and Italy coach
“I understand him better now I’m a coach. As a player it was tough because he was a perfectionist – asking for the maximum in every single training session – but that was probably the key to our success.”
Marco van Basten, former Milan striker
“We are incredibly proud they compared us to Sacchi’s Milan. That was a side that made football history.”
Xavi Hernández, former Barcelona midfielder
Sacchi with the European Cup in 1990
The back story
A defender at amateur level while working in his father’s shoe factory, Sacchi coached in the lower leagues in the Romagna region, steered Cesena to a national youth title in 1982, then took charge of Rimini in Italy’s third division. After a subsequent stint with Fiorentina’s youth team, he coached Parma to promotion from Serie C1 and eliminated Nils Liedholm’s Milan from the 1986/87 Coppa Italia – a feat that convinced Rossoneri president Silvio Berlusconi to hand him the reins in July 1987.
Committed to concepts like “collective intelligence”, Sacchi wanted “11 active players in every moment of the game”; one notable training device was playing full matches without a ball, telling players where the imaginary ball was so they could position themselves accordingly. Sacchi’s sides operated a 4-4-2 with zonal marking, a high defensive line and an efficient offside trap, also pressing opponents hard. When critics said he could not coach a big club because he had never played at a high level, his response was: “I never realised that to be a jockey you had to be a horse first.”
Arrigo Sacchi and Carlo Ancelotti
The take-home quotes
“The only way you can build a side is by getting players who speak the same language on the pitch and can play a team game. You can’t achieve anything on your own, and if you do, it doesn’t last long.”
“When I came to Milan, I found a group of great professionals who were eager to win, but only by playing the most spectacular football.”
“My Milan team was brilliant because it was full of great professionals who wanted to be together and have fun.”
“A victory may stay in the record books, but the way you achieve it will remain in people’s minds.”
“My Milan team didn’t run more than the others. We just ran better.”
Arrigo Sacchi is the most influential thinker in modern Italian football