Old friends meet on the touchline for first time | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 04, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:24 AM, October 04, 2020

Old friends meet on the touchline for first time

In a highly-anticipated first clash between two former stars of Italy and AC Milan now chasing coaching glory, Gennaro Gattuso's Napoli test their 'Scudetto' ambitions at Andrea Pirlo's Juventus tonight.

It was one of football's most successful midfield partnerships: on the one hand, the snarling, combative Gattuso, and on the other, the thoughtful, elegant, unflappable Pirlo. The pair formed the backbone of a memorable AC Milan team for more than a decade and helped Italy win the 2006 World Cup.

Tonight, the old chums will face each other on the touchline for the first time. Napoli has made an impressive start to the season, winning both of its opening games, while Juve, chasing a 10th successive Serie A title, began with a win and a draw.

While the coaches are good friends, there is no love lost between their teams. More than any other fixture in Italian football, it has come to be seen as a clash between the rich, industrial wealth of the north and the much poorer south.

Napoli has enjoyed the upper hand in the last two meetings, beating Juventus 2-1 in Serie A and winning last season's Coppa Italia final on penalties after a 0-0 draw.

It is a clash which Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte can't wait to see.

"Juve v Napoli? I'll enjoy watching it," said Conte, who coached Pirlo as a player to the first three of Juventus's current run of nine Serie A titles. "Napoli are underestimated a lot," continued Conte.

"They are an excellent team, they are among the favourites for the Scudetto. "They have a staff and a very good coach who will make life difficult for everyone."

In coaching terms, Gattuso, 42, has had a head start on his former team mate. He is already at his sixth club since embarking on his new career at Swiss side FC Sion in 2013, where he was unceremoniously sacked after three months. The 41-year-old Pirlo, meanwhile, will be in charge of only his third game as a coach, having been handed the reins in August following the dismissal of Maurizio Sarri.

"He's lucky to be starting at Juventus, but this profession is one where a great playing career is not enough," warned Gattuso. "You have to study, work hard, and you don't get much sleep."

Despite their very different playing styles, the two players complemented each other perfectly at Milan.

"When I saw him play it made me think I had to change profession," Gattuso once said. "I understood what I had to do, and he took care of the rest. He helped me much more in my career than I did him."

They would also play pranks on each other, with Gattuso's short temper making him a prime target.

Pirlo added: "We'd get out of his way when he got mad but once he'd calmed down and gone to his room, we'd come back out, pile up the sofas in front of the door and block his exit.

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