On April 25th of 2015 Lega Pro club Cremonese made the hour and a half long drive up north to Busto Arsizio, a town roughly 30km from Milan. With only three matches including this one remaining in the season the Grigirossi were languishing around upper mid table.
It had not been the season the club had envisioned, the expected promotion attempt had never materialised and the club was set to be facing into another year of third division football. For some another year in Lega Pro is seen in a positive light but the Tigri are not one of them.
Cremonese are by no means a big name in calcio but it is a club that has spent a vast chunk of its history in Serie B. They have also gate crashed Serie A on a number of occasions most notably in the late 80’s early 90’s.
Those days sadly are long gone and on this particular Saturday the Cremona team bus was pulling itself up outside the Stadio Carlo Speroni rather than the San Siro. Their opponents, Pro Patria, season had been going even worse as the club struggled to wriggle itself from the relegation mire, something that in the end would only be achieved by the bankruptcy of Monza and Venezia.
For once though on this overcast afternoon in front of 923 paying spectators the Bustocchi showed what they were capable of doing. As they outplayed Cremonese over the 90 minutes earning a well-deserved 3-1 win.
With the vast majority of the small crowd shuffling off home with smiles on their faces, one man made his way from the dugout to the dressing room rather less pleased. Little did this man know that less than a year later he would go from managing in front of less than 1000 people to being lauded for the work he is doing in Serie A.
Marco Giampaolo was born on August 2nd 1967 in Bellinzona, Switzerland. It would be in the coastal Abruzzan town of Giulianova however where he would grow up and indeed start his football career. It would prove to be a rather unremarkable career spent in far lower reaches of the Italian professional game, mostly with his hometown club of Giulianova but also with the likes Licata and Gualdo.
Indeed, the highest he would ever rise was to Serie B with Fidelis Andria and that only lasted for one season in 1995/1996. In fact, it was his younger brother Federico where most of the footballing talent seemed to have trickled down to. As he experienced a rather more enviable career with the likes of Genoa, Pescara and Juventus, although he never actually played for the Old Lady.
Marco though was soon to find that his true calling in the sport was not on the pitch but rather off it. He was offered the position of Assistant manager with Pescara for the 2000/2001 and from there a burgeoning career blossomed.
The following season he would return home to Giulianova taking up the same role with the club as he had with the Delfini. Another year on and he was with Treviso where he continued his apprenticeship for two more seasons.
His big break would come in the 2004/2005 season when he was appointed manager of Serie B side Ascoli. This wouldn’t be Italy though if the appointment was not met with a bit of a caveat. Giampaolo did not have his full coaching licence and as such was not eligible for the position.
To get around this the club brought in Massimo Silva as the manager and gave Marco the official title of assistant although it would be him that was actually running the show. The Picchio would end the season in fifth spot but were beaten by Torino in the play-offs. Marco though would earn plenty of plaudits for how his side played.
Then in a remarkable twist of faith it emerged that Ascoli’s conquers Torino had been denied a place in Serie A due to the club’s shoddy finances. Ascoli in turn benefited by being plucked from Serie B and given their spot in Serie A.
Now the next season is one that is rather quickly forgotten about by Calcio fans as it was the year of Calciopoli. For Ascoli though it proved a rather successful campaign as the young and talented tactician guided his club to a very credible tenth spot.
This caught the eye of Cagliari who swooped in and appointed him to their hot seat for the following year. The Rossoblu at this time was under the ownership of Massimo Cellino one of the most famous manager eaters on the peninsula. Marco was about to find out that he was not the one to satisfy the owners appetite.
By December 2006 only five months into the job he was given the boot. He was recalled to the post in February of 2007 but sacked again in November of the same year.This did little to dent his reputation as one of Italy’s brightest up and coming tactician and soon enough he was handed a new job with Siena.
In his first season with the club he managed to keep Siena in the division, no mean feat in itself, but more impressively he did it be garnering a record points haul for the club. That summer (2009) rumours began to spread that Giampaolo was in contention for the Juventus job.
The Bianconeri were still struggling to get back to their very best after the whole Calciopoli affair and had recently sacked manager Claudio Ranieri. With the club looking to rebuild with a young Italian manager at the helm, Marco’s name was propelled to the forefront of the list.
In the end Marco would miss out on the job, with it being handed to former Juve player Ciro Ferrara. It would prove a disappointment to miss out on the chance of a life time yet it also showed how high a standing he was held in.
Sadly, for Marco that standing was about to hit the rocks. The start of the second season with the Robur was nothing short of a disaster and he was relieved of his duties before October was even out. The following May he took over at Sicilian club Catania. He still had enough goodwill in the bank and a reputation of playing good football that many expected him to bounce back.
That bounce never materialised and before a season was out Marco had been handed his P45 once again. With two dud seasons now on his CV Marco needed a good year if his reputation was not to plummet.
He was next appointed at Cesena and cutting the story short, it went very poorly. Lasting only ten matches, achieving the lowest points per game total of his career.
The succession of failures had actually hit so bad that it would not be for nearly two years before he was handed another chance in the game, with Brescia in Serie B. Things however could not have possibly gone worse at the club.
His appointment was met with distain by the fans who clamoured for his predecessor. Not to long after that he handed in his resignation which was rejected by the club.
Giampaolo though had made up his mind and promptly went AWOL, failing to turn up for training. Even his brother Federico stated that he could not get hold of him as his phone was turned off. Three days later he finally resurfaced back in Giulinova. His contract was then promptly rescinded.
He maintains that it was all a misunderstanding and that he was not suffering from depression at the time as had been suggested.
For all intents and purposes Marco’s career was over at the highest level he now looked just unemployable. Indeed, he came dangerously to stepping away from the game altogether and admits he would have done so if he had not been offered the job at Cremonese.
The half a year in Lega Pro rejuvenated him as he clawed the Grigirossi up to a more respectable position. Even so it was a big surprise when he was plucked to replace the Napoli bound Maurizio Sarri.
It has however proven an inspired move so far by Empoli. As the club sit in the dizzying heights of eighth. Further to that they have done it all whilst playing some attractive football. He may never get that Juventus job he came so close to but Marco Giampaolo’s career which was dead has been reborn.