At the age of 33, Alanyaspor manager Francesco Farioli is currently the youngest top manager in Turkey. He talks to Sky Sports News about the influence of Roberto De Zerbi, why he would like 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 Foggia in Serie C.
An early cup draw against a team from Tuscany called Lucchese was just another game, but for an opposing coach it was his sliding door 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 manages Alanyaspor in the Turkish Super Lig.
As Farioli explains to Sky Sports NewsHis description of De Zerbi’s team that summer evening led to a job offer.
“After that game I was going to write an article for a coaching blog. I didn’t choose Manchester City or Bayern Munich, but De Zerbis Foggia,” he says from his office in Antalya province.
“The article found its way into his hands and I think he liked what I had written about him. His trainer Marco Marcattilii got in touch to pass on his thoughts.”
Two years later, Farioli worked at the Aspire Academy in Qatar. De Zerbi had accepted a job offer at Benevento and for the first time in his career could choose his own backroom team.
“It was a Friday morning that he called and asked me to come with him,” Farioli explained. “I had already packed my things and got on the plane! He made a young coach very happy. We spent three wonderful seasons together at Benevento and then at Sassuolo.”
It was at Sassuolo where De Zerbi’s reputation reached new heights as the underdogs produced impressive results and performances against the bigger clubs on a regular basis.
“I think the impact he will have at Brighton will be huge,” says Farioli. “I could see the players committed to him from the first game against Liverpool.
“He is a brave guy and very passionate with strong values. I was not surprised that he was waiting 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 that and he shows respect to everyone.”
Like De Zerbi at the same age, Farioli’s reputation is growing as clubs try 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 the managerial route instead of continuing to play. Although it was hard to hear at the time, he has since acknowledged that it was his best decision.
He began planning for life away from playing and gained 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 well-known 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 from Galatasaray and Besiktas, and their expected goals are the fourth highest in the division.
A quick look at video clips of his team in action and it’s easy to see why the De Zerbi comparisons are made, with organized and high-energy pressing a key component.
Both prefer to play 4-2-3-1 and in possession they use technically gifted players, encouraging them to be brave. So what would any young coach write about the Alanyaspor team?
“I think it’s important to build a team of players with passion for what they do,” Farioli said. “They have to enjoy the ball, approach the game in a brave and proactive way.
“They need to show ambition because our requirements are very high. Teamwork and having the capacity to connect with others is essential.
“I loved watching Marcelo Lippi Juventus, and especially liked their winning mentality, but I was really taken by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team. I loved that style of play.”
Farioli is currently admiring Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side as they try to break Manchester City’s stranglehold at the top of the Premier League table.
“I see a lot of the same qualities at Arsenal compared to my own team,” said Farioli. “I would 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 all departments of a club. He is seen as thoughtful, with a dedicated and hard-working attitude.
It is perhaps symbolized by the fact that his wife and three-month-old daughter live in Italy, and that he has to stay in touch via video call. It’s a tough work-life balance, but he’s well aware of the sacrifices required to succeed in football.
His experience in Qatar helped him embrace other cultures – he often moved training to fit with prayer times – and he is not afraid to embrace challenges abroad, as he is showing in Turkey. So how about a UK challenge at some point?
“I’ve only been a head coach for three years and 12 years as a coach,” Farioli said. “One thing I’ve learned is not to look too far ahead. Of course I have dreams in the future, but I’m so committed to my players and the club.”
Pressed further on his take on football in the UK and, unsurprisingly, one distinct characteristic stands out.
“The passion you have is unparalleled,” he said. – My performance manager is from Liverpool, so we are used to talking to him about British football. It’s like a religion to him.
“The atmosphere generated in not only the Premier League but also the Scottish league is fascinating. We have a lot of passionate games in Turkey.
“I would mention the Milan and Rome derbies in Italy and let me say the Glasgow derby as well. I think it is one of the best for the stronger emotions.”
Clubs without a manager, including one of these Glasgow clubs, might want to do their homework on the promising “young De Zerbi”.