'We're often victims of the labels placed upon us' - Ex-Chelsea coach Gotti on Jorginho, Sarri & Mourinho
Luca Gotti smiles at the mere mention of Jorginho's name.
At Chelsea, the fans used to derogatorily refer to the midfielder as "Sarri's son", convinced that he received preferential treatment from manager Maurizio Sarri, as the pair had previously enjoyed great success together at Napoli.
Now, those same supporters believe the Brazil-born playmaker deserves to win this year's Ballon d'Or.
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"These are the beautiful turnarounds we see not only in football, but life in general," Gotti, who served as Sarri's assistant during his solitary season at Stamford Bridge, gushes in an exclusive interview with Goal. "The passing of time has been key, as it has given virtue to the work of those in question.
"Often in life, we're victims of the labels placed upon us, and they're often applied in a very superficial manner. In this case, with people saying that Jorginho was only playing because of Sarri, the boy managed to slowly but surely remove that label and now he's showing his quality to the whole world."
Of course, it was not just Jorginho who was targeted by the Stamford Bridge boo boys. The supporters were never fully convinced by what Sarri and Gotti tried to do in west London either.
"We started the season well," Gotti, who is now head coach of Udinese, explains, "winning the first five games in the league. And we finished well.
"So, my memories of Chelsea are fantastic, as our excellent run at the end of the season allowed us to return the club to the Champions League, and win a trophy, the Europa League, which was a beautiful experience for me.
"But we had a difficult period in the middle where we were dealing with a new league, a new country, a new culture, new habits, and types of players that we had never previously coached.
"So, because of the elaborate ideas of Maurizio's philosophy, it's not always a smooth path. He needs time.
"Maurizio is a conceptual extremist. His concepts are extreme but they're his, and his alone.
"Over 30 years of experience working in the game, he created, step by step, his own structure of football. He perfected every detail, and for this reason, Sarri's football is truly beautiful.
"And such a structure, founded on these precise principles, has to be supported by a huge amount of work.
"Maurizio spends 24 hours thinking about football, deconstructing his own ideas and then building new ones. He's a workaholic and he deserves everything that he's won on the field."
Hardly surprising, then, that Gotti is delighted that this visionary is back in the game, with Sarri having taken over at Lazio this summer.
The Tuscan had been out of the game since being sacked by Juventus last year, despite having won the Serie A title in his first season in Turin.
"It's a very interesting project for Maurizio," Gotti says, "and at a club that has shown in the past it is willing to let the coach work with continuity and without interruption."
Of course, Sarri is not the only big name to have returned to Serie for the 2021-22 campaign. Former Inter coach Jose Mourinho has taken over at Roma, meaning the sparks are set to fly at Stadio Olimpico this season.
So, is Gotti looking forward to pitting his wits against the Portuguese? Will he get involved in any of Mourinho's mind games?
"I can't even allow myself to judge a coach that has won in every country that he's been in, and also the Champions League," Gotti laughs. "He's done what he's done. The results speak for themselves, and they speak clearly of his quality.
"But whether you appreciate his methods or not, his way of communicating is very original. He divides opinion. But what I like is that behind this method of communication, there's always a thought, an idea, a reason. This is the thing I really appreciate about him."
It's not just Mourinho and Sarri who have returned either. Massimiliano Allegri and Luciano Spalletti are also back, at Juventus and Napoli, respectively.
Such a stellar coaching line-up hardly makes Gotti's job in Udine any easier. It is hard enough trying to over-achieve with a provincial club without having to go up against one of game's great tacticians every single Sunday.
Gotti, though, is looking forward to the challenge.
"It's beautiful for Serie A," he enthuses. "But for me, personally, it's stimulating because they are all important names and coaches who have winning records. They're just adding an extra element to the challenge.
"And remember, there are many great coaches at home – not just Antonio Conte but also Marco Giampaolo, Roberto Donadoni and Walter Mazzarri – who are waiting to return.
"So, we can say that the Italian school is producing great coaches, coaches raised within a particular framework but all with very different ideas. Now, they're being complemented by the likes of Mourinho, who is a fascinating character.
"I think it's best summed up for me by Paolo Fonseca, the former Roma coach who arrived from abroad rightly satisfied with what he'd achieved elsewhere.
"He took over a great club and had great ideas of football. He was convinced of his methods but was forced to re-evaluate them and modify them.
"Paolo told me, 'My God, I had all of these ideas about the game but, here in Italy, they're put under discussion Sunday after Sunday!'
"So, I think that tells you all about the level of tactical thinking here in Italy."
The target, then, for both Gotti and Udinese is to improve upon last season's 14th-placed finish.
Their task has not been made any easier by the sales of Argentina internationals Rodrigo De Paul and Juan Musso to Atletico Madrid and Atalanta, respectively, but Gotti is feeling upbeat, having signed a one-year extension with the club in June.
"I have to tell you that I'm proud, honoured to have another season leading this prestigious club," he says.
"Last season, we had a terrible start and a terrible finish, which left a real bitter taste in our mouths. In the middle, though, for a long part of the season, we were good.
"The desire now for everyone is to try to improve. And doing better isn't just about the number of points you get in the league. It's about improving your game, your style of play and many other things.
"We want to achieve several objectives. We want to climb the table but we also want to help the players grow.
"Obviously, we have to complete the squad before the transfer window closes. Together with the club, we have some rather precise objectives, players with certain characteristics that we're waiting to arrive.
"The ideal, of course, is to complete these operations early, but it's not been possible in what is a really stagnant market.
"We're always very good in terms of negotiating departures, but in terms of bringing in players right now, we're lacking in a couple of areas."
Udinese, then, would have probably preferred to face anyone but Juventus in their season-opener at the Dacia Arena.
Due to Inter's financial crisis, the Bianconeri are the favourites for this season's Scudetto, and Gotti is backing his troops to rise to the challenge.
"I know that we're facing a very strong team," he says, "but what I expect is a war."
Udinese are very obviously the underdogs in this particular battle, but then again, Gotti has never been one to attach too much importance to labels.
As his former charge Jorginho has proven, they can always be removed with a bit of effort.