Antonio Conte paid an emotional tribute to legendary coach Carlo Mazzone following his passing yesterday, writing of their time together at Lecce. Conte began his career with the Salentini , coming through their youth team before working for Mazzone in the senior squad. Writing in La Gazzetta dello Sport, Conte wrote an emotional column about his mentor, speaking of the impact he had on his life and his coaching career:
“On the opening day of the championship, a man who dedicated his life to football has gone. The applause of the fans will be the most fitting way to remember Carlo Mazzone, a great coach and an extraordinary character who marked Italian football in the last 50 years and, in my small way, my career as well.
It was Eugenio Fascetti, my first coach in Lecce, who made my debut in A at only 16 years old, then came Mazzone to wean me off and mold me as a footballer. Three years together full of experiences, teachings, human and professional growth. That is why for me Mazzone was not only a coach but in some ways a father, gruff, stern at times, but also provided with an extraordinary humanity. This big, big man, with his Roman dialect, who never sent them his way, instilled in us very youngsters a certain reverential awe. That Lecce, which won promotion to the A league and then two salvations with him, had some very good, experienced players, but it could also count on what was called the golden brood of Lecce: boys who had grown up together from the youth to the first team. I was part of it, too, with Garzja, Petrachi, Moriero, Morello, Monaco… We were bright, extrovert boys, born in our land, raised on dusty fields, used to always getting by. Mazzone knew this and with us he alternated the stick and the carrot to spur us on and correct mistakes. He knew how to motivate like few, and when we played at home we weren’t afraid of anyone. But if you made a mistake, it was trouble.
Today everyone remembers anecdotes, jokes, phrases of Mazzone that brought a smile. All true. But I assure you that before, during and after the game, with the coach there was no joking. He was very focused, very serious, scrupulous, attentive to every little detail, he wanted from everyone the utmost application. Woe betide him if he got distracted. In the locker room we did not laugh, we prepared for battle. He did not like, for example, to greet opponents at the beginning of the match. I remember once a teammate of mine, before a game embraced in the underpass with an opponent who was his friend. A shout was heard from afar, “Ahooooo, ahooooo, go ahead and give him a little kiss…”. Then when my teamate was alone he approached him and said, “What the f— are you doing? He’s wearing the opponent’s jersey, don’t forget….”. He was tough, Mazzone, and on the field he did not discount anyone. Sympathy, it was postponed until midweek, if we were not in training camp. Oh yes, because in certain complicated away matches he would take us to the ritiro as early as Tuesday. Other times…
His being outspoken, sanguine, often in overalls and boots, perhaps conditioned his image. As if he was fit only for desperate, low-ranking endeavors. He wasn’t like that. I have always said that a cook makes soup with the ingredients he has. Mazzone was always a practical coach. For me, the best coach is the one who hits the goals of the club. And he almost always hit them. If you have technically limited teams, it’s complicated to put on a show, you have to adapt. But Mazzone could organize them very well. Then when he also had important players and star players, well he had fun and entertained his fans by showing very good football . Everyone loved Mazzone, players and fans, because he gave his all for the team he coached. The crowning achievement of his career was coaching Roma, of which he was a fan, but whatever jersey he wore he became its standard bearer and first bulwark devoting himself body and soul to the goal to be achieved.
During my career we faced each other many times and I always saw him again with enormous pleasure even though I knew that before the match it was better to leave him alone… There he was on the Perugia bench in 2000 in the match against “my” Juve of which I was captain, suspended because of a deluge and then resumed, which cost us the Scudetto won by Lazio. Many of us during the stoppage were in the underpass, he was waiting in his locker room so as not to become devolved. He faced that match as always with blood in his eyes, perhaps even more than usual, because someone had doubted his and Perugia’s commitment. These were things that not only hurt him but sent him into a rage. He was a man of unique honesty, loyalty, and professionalism, and he was keen to remind him that he had always gone forward alone and with his head held high. He was right. Dear Coach, thank you for what you taught me and for the man and technician you were. You have given so much to soccer and you have been loved and appreciated by players and fans, your own but also the opposing ones: that is in the end the most important Scudetto. And you won it.”