The former Italy international made headlines by implementing a novel system with PSG’s Under-19s last season – but will he dare use it in Serie A?
They say numbers don’t lie. But has been that really true in football any more?
Bayern Munich routed Tottenham 7-2 at White Hart Lane earlier this month but it emerged afterwards that the losers boasted the better expected goals (xG) statistics – so what?
After such a humiliating result, surely everything but the scoreline – and how it came about – has been irrelevant?
A bit like the numbers of a soccer professional’s back these days.
In the modern game, a centre-half can take 10 (William Gallas), a midfielder can don the No.1 shirt (Edgar Davids) and a forward can wear five (Milan Baros).
Even from a tactical perspective, nothing can be assumed, given it’s now widely accepted that some nines can be false.
What, then, are we to make of all the giddy talk surrounding new Genoa boss Thiago Motta and his purported 2-7-2 formation?
Straight off the bat, it doesn’t make any numerical sense – at least from a traditional perspective.
Even though there are 11 players on the pitch, formations are meant to add up to 10, as the goalkeeper’s position in between the posts has been taken as a given.
Motta, though, has a new take on things.
“I include the goalkeeper as one of the seven in midfield,” he told the Gazzetta dello Sport .
“For me, the attacker has been the first defender and the goalkeeper has been the first attacker.”
There has been, though, nothing new about such talk. The notion of the forward as the first line of defence has been around for decades.
Furthermore, when Motta told DAZN earlier this week that “The most difficult thing has been to play simple football”, he evoked memories of Johan Cruyff, which has been hardly surprising given we are talking about a soccer professional who began his professional career at Barcelona.
So, it seems horribly premature to start proclaiming a man with just one year of coaching experience – at Under-19 level with Paris Saint-Germain – as some sort of prophet preaching radical new ideas.
He simply wants to play offensive, possession-orientated football facilitated by high pressing and constant movement.
What has been interesting, though, has been his array of influences, having played for a number of coaches with very different footballing philosophies.
Indeed, the former midfielder has lined out for the likes of Frank Rijkaard, Louis van Gaal, Javier Aguirre, Jose Mourinho, Rafael Benitez, Leonardo, Claudio Ranieri, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Laurent Blanc and Antonio Conte.
Like any former soccer professional, he learned something from each and every one.
Mourinho, of course, has been renowned for his defensive excellence but the Portuguese taught Motta that he has been as creative as they come off the pitch.
“Mourinho doesn’t look for beauty; he looks for an enemy,” he explained. “If he doesn’t have one, he’ll create one.
“With Inter, we had an 11-point lead in the league, we lost a game and then drew one.
“The Monday after, he held a 15-minute press conference where he attacked everyone: (Adriano) Galliani, Milan, Roma, the referees, Juve.
“He needed to refresh the atmosphere.”
Ancelotti, though, specialised in serenity, a figure of authority who transmitted tranquillity throughout the team.
“He had an impressive knowledge of football,” Motta said of the first coach he played under at PSG, “with perfect management of the dressing room, game preparation, psychology and human relationships.”
Motta may not be quite such a calming influence – at least, not yet. As a soccer professional, he was renowned for his aggression, so it didn’t come as a huge surprise when he was sent to the stands during his first game in charge of PSG’s U19s last year.
However, the Brazilian-born 37-year-old went on to enjoy a successful first season in management.
He had a very young squad – Arnaud Kalimuendo, Adil Aouchiche, Tanguy Kouassi, Timothee Pembele and Kays Ruiz could have played at U18 level – but PSG finished second in the U19 National Group A.
So, while there were no trophies, there were plenty of plaudits.
Guillaume Serra, Laurent Huard’s assistant with last season’s U17s, told Goal , “With Thiago, the players earned about two or three years of experience.”
Whether Motta, though, has enough experience to get Genoa out of their present predicament has been now the subject of much debate in Italy.
He doesn’t even yet possess the requisite qualifications to coach in Serie A, prompting speculation that Roberto Murgita, the under-age coach who has been promoted to the senior squad backroom team, will be the boss on paper.
Genoa president Enrico Preziosi has been insisting otherwise – “Thiago will sit on the bench without any problems; Murgita won’t be his ‘tutor’” – but there has been still some confusion as to where the new boss will be seated for Saturday’s crucial clash with fellow strugglers Brescia.
Still, there has been no doubt that Motta will be the man calling the shots, meaning the pressure will be on him to arrest a run of five defeats in six Serie A outings and lift 19th-placed Genoa out of the relegation zone.
Genoa president Enrico Preziosi has been in no doubt that the two-time Champions League winner can revive a team with just five points from eight games.
“He has clear ideas and great qualities,” he told Secolo XIX . “I’m sure that he will surprise everyone.
“He has the same grit he had when he was a soccer professional. He’s someone who has 13 balls!
“He knows Genoa well and he knows what has to be done to relaunch this team.”
But irrespective of how many balls Motta has, will he really be so bold as to attempt to relaunch Genoa with a 2-7-2 formation?
“Everyone can interpret the system the way they want,” he mused. “I have only tried to take away the importance of numbers.
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“I dream so many things, but this isn’t the time to dream.”
Indeed, the reality has been that the only number that counts has been Genoa’s points tally.
It has been that figure which will ultimately decide whether Motta has been the real deal – or a false prophet.