Youth movement hits Serie A sidelines
The hiring of 36-year-old Andrea Stramaccioni by Inter Milan this week has highlighted a surprising trend of younger managers in the tradition-laden Italian league.
While the likes of Fabio Capello and Marcello Lippi are out of work, nearly all of Italy's major clubs are now guided by managers who are 50 or under.
AC Milan and Juventus continue their duel for this season's title with 44-year-old Massimiliano Allegri at the helm of Milan and 42-year-old Antonio Conte in his first year as Juventus coach.
Guided by 50-year-old Walter Mazzarri, Napoli is pushing hard for third place, while 41-year-old Luis Enrique is leading a complete youth revolution at Roma.
At Catania, 37-year-old Vincenzo Montella has the unheralded Sicilian club one spot away from the Europa League places.
Stramaccioni was hired on Monday after Inter fired Claudio Ranieri following a miserable streak of one win in its last 10 league matches. He becomes Inter's fifth manager since Jose Mourinho departed after leading Inter to a treble in 2010, with Rafa Benitez, Leonardo, Gian Piero Gasperini and Ranieri each failing to fully satisfy club president Massimo Moratti.
''We needed someone who could really shake the club up,'' Moratti said. ''He's not here just to fill in.''
While Ranieri's fate was sealed with a 2-0 loss to archrival Juventus on Sunday, Moratti was in London watching Stramaccioni lead Inter's youth side to a win over Ajax in the inaugural NextGen Series final - a sort of Champions League for under-19 players.
Stramaccioni has never managed a senior-level club, and he's two years younger than Inter captain Javier Zanetti.
''Youth is not only determined by age - you've got to be young inside,'' said Stramaccioni, who undertook a law degree after an injury cut short his football career. ''Zanetti is a perfect example. He's older than me but he's got the desire of a youth club player.''
The youth movement in Italy also includes the national team, where Cesare Prandelli is building his squad around younger players - led by 21-year-old Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli.
Balotelli was left off Lippi's veteran-filled Italy squad that was eliminated from the 2010 World Cup in the first round, and he was a surprise guest at Stramaccioni's presentation at Tuesday, showing up unannounced to say hello to his former teammates at Inter.
Stramaccioni takes over with Inter eighth in Serie A with nine games remaining, seven points adrift of Champions League qualification. His first match in charge comes against Genoa at the San Siro on Sunday.
''We're not going to make up any timetables,'' Stramaccioni said. ''Moratti has asked me to win matches, starting with Inter-Genoa, and that's where we've got to start from.
''There's nothing I have to teach these players. Using the verb 'teach' for players that have created football history would be a mistake. Better to say transmit. I want to transmit my ideas, control matches and get results. I've got to put these players in a position where they can truly express themselves.''
Meanwhile, league leader Milan needs to shift its focus from European champion Barcelona to a visit to Catania on Sunday, where Montella guides a talented squad featuring 14 Argentines. Maxi Lopez was Catania's top player before transferring to Milan in January, but Francesco Lodi, Gonzalo Bergessio and Pablo Barrientos have picked up the scoring slack.
Milan drew 0-0 with Barcelona in the opening leg of the Champions League quarterfinals Wednesday and travels to the Camp Nou next week.
Juventus, which trails Milan by four points, hosts Napoli on Sunday in a preview of the Italian Cup final.
Also this weekend, it's: Parma vs. Lazio; Roma vs. Novara; Bologna vs. Palermo; Cagliari vs. Atalanta; Fiorentina vs. Chievo Verona; Lecce vs. Cesena; and Siena vs. Udinese.