Francesco Farioli
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Francesco Farioli: Roberto De Zerbi’s Coaching Prodigy

Erik ten Hag’s future as Manchester United manager hangs in the balance and the partial takeover of the club by Sir Jim Ratcliffe has created even more uncertainty about his position. With a loss to Manchester City, and difficult games to come (Everton and Liverpool), is the writing already on the wall for the Dutchman?

If INEOS is looking to replace the former Ajax manager, they should look no further than their own employee, Francesco Farioli. The Italian manager currently takes charge of INEOS-owned Nice and, at just 34, he has an exciting future ahead of him, possibly as the next Manchester United manager.

Francesco Farioli: A Philosopher of Football

Despite his young age, Francesco Farioli is one of the most intelligent people in professional football and his journey into management is the most unique story of modern-day football management. The Nice manager attended Florence University, studying philosophy and achieving a grade of 105 out of 110. At the university, Farioli began writing and publishing papers, analysing and evaluating different aspects of football, the first being the goalkeeper. He wrote “Filosofia del Gioco. L’estetica del calcio e il ruolo del portiere” (Philosophy of the Game). (The aesthetics of football and the role of the goalkeeper.) Like Roberto De Zerbi, Farioli believes the goalkeeper is as crucial in possession as they are out of it.

After his education, Farioli began to work as a goalkeeper coach at the Aspire Academy in Qatar. The Italian continued his writing on his personal website and in 2017, he received a call from current Brighton manager, Roberto De Zerbi. He became the goalkeeper coach of Benevento and Sassuolo, while De Zerbi managed the teams, leaving his coaching staff in 2021 to become assistant manager of Alanyaspor.

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It is clear that Farioli enjoyed his time with the Brighton manager, they share many of the same tactical principles. The Nice coach shared this further in an interview with the Coaches’ Voice.

“We focused on football 24 hours a day. Sometimes we would continue working on the computer until 2am. Those were good times.”

– Francesco Farioli referring to his time with De Zerbi, during an interview with the Coaches’ Voice.

Manchester United fans have expressed their desire for Roberto De Zerbi as the next manager because of his exciting football and easy-on-the-eye playstyle. However, this playstyle was formed and perfected with Farioli by his side; he is the perfect candidate to replace Erik ten Hag.

The Tactics of Francesco Farioli

As a disciple of De Zerbi, Farioli follows many of the same principles as the Brighton manager, this includes baiting the press. This tactic is now used frequently in elite-level football, but the two Italian managers are at the heart of its popularity and why many managers employ this idea. Baiting the opposition press can be very successful if performed correctly because you create more space in the middle of the pitch that the creative players can exploit.

Nice build-up shape against PSG

Like Robert De Zerbi, the NIce manager asks his team to do this as quickly as possible, with an emphasis on direct passes into the frontline (centre forward and two wingers). The above screenshot (taken from the PSG vs. Nice match in September, from beIN SPORTS coverage) shows that Farioli commits seven outfielders to his defensive shape, as well as his goalkeeper. As seen above, Farioli uses a 5-3-3 build-up shape to outnumber the opposition and create more space for the attackers higher up the pitch. The Italian manager asks his team to play short, quick passes around the press but to always make the vertical (forward) pass when it is available.

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The success of building from the back often determines the outcome of Nice’s games. They are very strong defensively but their attacking statistics let them down. Nice have had 58 build-up attacks this season (fourth highest in the league) and they have had 28 direct attacks (the second lowest) so it is a high-risk, high-reward approach. Farioli’s side has scored just 15 goals from open play this season but has created 24.45 expected goals (seventh in the league). If they can become more clinical, then they will return to competing for Champions League spaces.

Nice defensive shape vs PSG

Out of possession, Francesco Farioli normally uses a 5-4-1 formation when they are forced into a mid or low block. Certain players (the central defenders) are tasked with marking specific players and they are given the freedom to step up into midfield. This can create space in the defensive line but the remaining players form a back four or back three to fill the space.

As a result, Nice have an excellent defensive record: they have conceded just 19 goals, only allowed 185 shots from open play (Manchester United have allowed 309), and they have made 37 high turnovers (third highest in the league). Farioli’s defensive principles deny the opposition clear-cut chances while creating chances for themselves. Better forwards and being more clinical will see Nice dramatically improve.

This is Farioli’s first season as manager of Nice and just his fourth season of management, and he has created a team that has beaten the best in the division. At only 34, he has a long time to improve as a head coach and Nice is the perfect place to do that. However, with the unknown future of Erik ten Hag, Robert De Zerbi, Jurgen Klopp, and more, Farioli could be considered for several jobs in the Premier League and Champions League. He is the perfect replacement for De Zerbi if he leaves Brighton, and he should be considered for the Manchester United job if ten Hag leaves. Remember the name Francesco Farioli?


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