At 33, Alanyaspor boss Francesco Farioli is currently the youngest top-flight manager in Turkey. He speaks to Sky Sports News about the influence of Roberto De Zerbi, why he’d love to experience an Old Firm derby, his future ambitions – and why Mikel Arteta’s style of play is so impressive.
It was August 2015 and in southern Italy, current Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi was cutting his football management teeth with Serie C side Foggia.
An early-season cup draw against a team from Tuscany called Lucchese was just another game but, for one coach in the opposition dugout, it was his sliding doors moment.
Francesco Farioli – known in his homeland as ‘the young De Zerbi’ due to the similarities between their intense possession-based attacking styles – is now 33 and managing Alanyaspor in the Turkish Super Lig.
As Farioli explains to Sky Sports News, his description of De Zerbi’s team on that summer evening led to a job offer.
“After that game, I was due to write an article for a coaching blog. I did not choose Manchester City or Bayern Munich but De Zerbi’s Foggia,” he tells us from his office in the Antalya Province.
“The article found its way into his hands and I think he liked what I had written about him. His fitness coach Marco Marcattilii got in touch to pass on his thoughts.”
Two years later, Farioli was working at the Aspire Academy in Qatar. De Zerbi had accepted a job offer at Benevento and, for the first time in his career, was able to choose his own backroom team.
“It was one Friday morning he called and asked me to join him,” explained Farioli. “I was already packing my things and on the plane! He made one young coach very happy. We spent three fantastic seasons together at Benevento and then at Sassuolo.”
It was at Sassuolo where De Zerbi’s reputation hit new heights as the underdogs produced impressive results and performances against the bigger clubs on a frequent basis.
“I think the impact he will have at Brighton will be massive,” says Farioli. “I could see the players committed to him from that first game against Liverpool.
“He is a brave guy and very passionate with strong values. I was not surprised that he waited in Ukraine (as Shakhtar Donetsk head coach when the war started) for all the players to leave.”
“Knowing him, I know how much he cares about the players and the club. His character is like this and he shows respect to everyone.”
Like De Zerbi at the same age, Farioli’s reputation is growing as clubs set about trying to find the next bright prospect in football management.
As a 19-year-old goalkeeper in Italy, one of Farioli’s coaches advised him to go down the management pathway rather than continue playing. Although difficult to hear at the time, he has since acknowledged it was his best decision.
He began planning for life away from playing and obtained a qualification in philosophy before putting in hours of work to secure his coaching qualifications.
Farioli is currently in Italy attending a UEFA Pro coaching course. Despite his young age, he is a renowned speaker on coaching matters and is regularly invited to conferences by the likes of Barcelona, La Liga and the Belgian FA.
In the Super Lig this season, Alanyaspor have taken points off Galatasaray and Besiktas and their expected-goals total is the fourth-highest in the division.
A quick glance at video clips of his team in action and it is easy to see why the De Zerbi comparisons are made, with organised and high-energy pressing a key component.
Both prefer to play 4-2-3-1 and in possession they make use of technically-gifted players, encouraging them to be brave. So what would any young coach write about his Alanyaspor side?
“I think it’s important to build a team of players with passion for what they do,” said Farioli. “They must enjoy the ball, approach the game in a brave and proactive way.
“They need to show ambition because our demands are very high. Team effort and having the capacity to connect with others is crucial.
“I loved watching the Marcelo Lippi Juventus side, and especially enjoyed their winning mentality, but I was really taken by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team. I loved that style of play.”
Farioli is presently admiring Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal team as they attempt to break the Manchester City stranglehold at the top of the Premier League table.
“I see many of the same characteristics at Arsenal compared with that of my own team,” said Farioli. “I will also mention Marcelo Bielsa in this category because of his values. There is no compromise at all.”
According to those who know him best, Farioli is a good communicator who loves to create a bond that extends to every department of a club. He’s viewed as thoughtful, with a dedicated and hard-working attitude.
It is perhaps epitomised by the fact his wife and three-month-old daughter live in Italy and he must keep in touch via video call. It is a tough work-life balance but he is well aware of the sacrifices required to be successful in football.
His experience in Qatar helped him embrace other cultures – he often moved training to fit with prayer time – and he is not afraid to embrace challenges abroad, as he is showing in Turkey. So what about a challenge in the UK at some stage?
“I’ve been a head coach for only three years and 12 years as a coach,” said Farioli. “One thing I’ve learned is not to look too far ahead. Of course I have dreams in the future but I am so committed to my players and the club.”
Pressed further on his perception of football in the UK and, unsurprisingly, there is one clear characteristic that stands out.
“The passion you have is outstanding,” he said. “My head of performance is from Liverpool so we are used to speaking with him about British football. It’s like a religion to him.
“The atmosphere that is generated in not only the Premier League but the Scottish league too is fascinating. We have many passionate games in Turkey.
“I will mention the Milan and Rome derby matches in Italy and let me say the Glasgow derby too. I think these games are the best for those stronger feelings.”
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