The rise and rise of Leonardo Sempliciby Chloe Beresford / 23 March 2018, 13:06Tweet
"The lads put in a great performance, we limited Juventus and also tried to take the game to them, pass the ball around and keep hold of it," said SPAL boss Leonardo Semplici to reporters after a stunning 0-0 with reigning champions Juventus last Saturday. "I am satisfied with the game, the approach and the point."
The Coach was correct, his side having successfully attempted to play their own brand of football, a feat that so many have tried and failed at versus the might of the Bianconeri. Semplici must have been incredibly proud of his players, but there was another reason why he would have enjoyed that result more than most.
Born in Florence, the boss is a self-confessed Fiorentina fan, the Tuscan club holding a deep-rooted grudge over Juve due to a series of past controversies. Semplici helped develop the likes of current Juve winger Federico Bernardeschi in the Viola youth setup between 2011 and 2014, his backstory making for interesting reading indeed.
A bright start as a Coach in the Italian minor leagues saw him achieve four promotions in five years with Tuscan sides Sangimignano and Figline. However he would hit a stumbling block as he took charge of Arezzo and then Pisa in Lega Pro, sacked from both clubs after 16 and nine matches respectively.
What was needed was a change of direction for the man who had turned down the opportunity to work alongside his father in managing the family leather company, and he took a job with the Fiorentina youth team. He was brought on board by sporting director Eduardo Macia – now head of player recruitment at Leicester City – a man who taught him a lot during his tenure with the Viola.
In an interview with Italian transfer expert Gianluca Di Marzio, Semplici recalls how Macia called him in to meet Vincenzo Montella, who was the Fiorentina first team boss at the time, before sitting down to sign a new contract. It was a hot day, and the youth team Coach was wearing a T-shirt, only to be pulled up by the sporting director for not having put on a shirt. Since then, the 50-year-old can only be seen wearing immaculate dress and has also taken on learning English on the recommendation of the Spaniard.
“It was a wonderful experience,” he said to Di Marzio regarding that time in the Viola youth sector. “Because coaching the team of your city and the one which you support is certainly a beautiful thing. It helped me a lot, I grew up professionally and it also made my idea of football develop.”
By 2014 it was time for Semplici to move on. It was Ferrara-based club SPAL that would come calling, a side who had suffered turbulent times after two separate bankruptcies, the first in 2005 and the second in 2012. They would merge with local team A.C. Giacomense, taking on their place in Serie D in order that they continue to play professional football.
From there, the team arrived in Lega Pro ready for the 2014/15 season, which is when they opted to hire the Fiorentina youth boss, and it turned out to be the best decision they ever made. He would secure a 4th-place finish in his first term at the club, and went on to secure a promotion to Serie B the very next season after a 23 year absence. Semplici is not a man to rest on his laurels however, and took on the task of guiding the minnows to even greater heights.
“We have done an extraordinary thing, thanks to the club and our fans,” said the Coach after guiding SPAL to Serie A for the first time in 50 years.
“We all worked in unison, we created the conditions to do well. No-one could have thought we would get here, many even tipped us for relegation. It's a great feeling, on a personal level too. I started from the bottom and I'm happy, we played a great season, I trained men first and players second.”
Despite hard-fought 0-0 draws versus the likes of Juventus and Inter, Semplici and SPAL still have a long way to go before they can ensure their stay in the Italian top-flight is not just a fleeting one. They sit just one point above the drop-zone, having played a game more than all of the bottom three. Eight points achieved in the last four games shows the side is capable of retaining their place in the league, and their Coach explained why they have been on a positive vein of form of late.
“It was a learning curve, we needed to go through the setbacks to figure ourselves out,” he continued after the point with Juve. “We became more united among difficulties, so now we’re starting to see the results.”
Whether SPAL stay up or go down, it is clear that Leonardo Semplici is an Italian coach that has great potential for the future in the top-flight.