Massimiliano Schettino is the coach of Gozzano, one of the most influential teams in Italy's Serie D. He has been working for the same club for over five years and has overseen the development of many players now competing in professional football.
He has coached some of them, watched others grow up and is currently working with many of them today. For several years now, Italian football has been trying to understand the secret of clubs like Gozzano, how a team playing in the amateur leagues can produce so much talent capable of establishing themselves in professional football at the highest levels.
We at Tribalfootball.com spoke to Schettino himself, a high-level coach and a serious, empathetic, professional person who loves his work and the players he works with. To appreciate his seriousness and how much he cares for his players, it is enough to know that he enrolled in university and is graduating in psychology because he wants to be sure he can help young players to succeed or even just cope in a world that is often difficult, and uses young talent only until they are no longer needed.
For some time now, he has been a client of Nicola Giuliani and his company, GiulianiSports, as they focus on the quality of people and professionals rather than quantity. Schettino's story is an interesting one, perhaps one of the most interesting Italian football currently has to offer: hard work, love for the sport, a desire to launch young talents, basically all the things that Italian football needs to reform itself and write a better, different future.
How has the season been so far? Are you satisfied? Another important victory for the team and the city on Wednesday.
An exciting season so far. We started the season aiming to secure comfortably our stay in the league and we achieved this goal in the winter, managing to enhance the value of many of our players. We couldn't have asked for more.
In the winter window, we managed to sell Lettieri to Empoli and close the departure of Sangiorgio to a Serie A club. Wednesday there was another important victory for this fantastic group of players, we won a historic derby. We are happy because we managed to give another satisfaction to our club, always ready to please and work so that the players do well and for our numerous fans who came to celebrate with us. We were coming from a mini cycle of three defeats, and it was important to get a result. The players demonstrated great maturity, despite their young age.
What are the team goals for the immediate and near future?
The same as the club. We will try to honour the commitment we made at the beginning of the season. We have six games left to play, and we will approach them with the same concentration and motivation that have characterised our season so far.
You are a bit of an exception in today's football, a different and all-around figure. Not many coaches decide to get a degree. What are you studying, and why?
It's curious that a man almost 50 years old decides to do something that is usually done by younger people, after their studies, when they decide to go to university. I decided to enroll in psychological technical sciences for several reasons: to make an old passion more concrete. I have always been fascinated by this subject, and another fundamental reason is the path I have taken. After a serious injury, I had to face trauma, and perhaps most importantly, the idea of being able to help someone face a problem or find a solution to a problem gave me greater conviction.
When talking about psychology, you have to be careful. Often, the psychologist is associated with something negative, but I think you can go to a psychologist just for support or because you want to try to understand something different. At the last Sanremo Festival, a famous singer brought a text related to psychology (Mr. Rain). I will try to finish my studies quickly, take a master's degree in sports psychology, and put my skills and knowledge to help those boys who, like me when I was young, could face their football path differently. We must always tell the truth to the boys. Often in this sport, it is difficult to tell a boy, "Look, only a few of you manage to become footballers". Sometimes whether they are talented or not, they are discarded, and then they have difficulties.
I would like to be able to help them in the future, not only at the end of their career but also during it. I want to be an integral part of their journey. In recent years, I have worked with young people, and we need them, their certainties, their enthusiasm, their exuberance, their courage because when we were young, we hoped like them. We must give them a chance, and to do so, we need professional figures capable of helping them".
From a personal point of view, where does Massimiliano Schettino want to go and what does he aspire to? What kind of environment does he prefer?
I am ambitious and determined, and I would like to make significant progress in this sport, but I also think in the here and now. I believe in focusing on a few programs and putting in a lot of work. I come from the bottom, from the youth sector where you ask for little and give a lot. I am certain that at the end of my career, I will return to work with young people, but now is the time to do something different with the adults.
You coach Gozzano and represent them in the best possible way, being a man of the club, with a multi-year path within it: what does this team mean to you? What is your relationship with the fans like?
This is my fifth year at Gozzano, three in the youth sector and two in the first team. Even in my last year in the youth sector, when I coached the juniors, I was a technical collaborator for the first team. I am grateful to this club, proud to represent it, grateful to the honorary president, Mrs. Marilena Fornara, who gave me this chance, and grateful every day to the management who accompanies me in my growth, to the competent staff who have now become a group of friends and work together for the same goal. I am very happy with Gozzano, my Gozzano, and what it is achieving at the moment.
Do you have any role-models among today's or past coaches? Anyone who made you think "I want to coach" when you were young?
I have no particular preferences, no one has captivated me, but I am fascinated by everyone for what they can offer. Every coach has skills, and every coach should consider everything that is proposed. As an Italian, I would say Ancelotti, for the serenity with which he has always won and convinced, and Mancini for the skills and courage with which he makes his choices. Our national team coach has shown how important scouting in lower categories could be, scouting young people, demonstrating how important it is to give young players opportunities to grow and with them, Italian football.
You are forming an entire generation of boys who are also making their mark in the major leagues, what is your secret? Are there any players from your team already in Serie A or booked?
Anyone who works here must know that this club has decided to focus on the young players from the youth academy to give them the chance to be part of the football that counts one day, that of the adults, regardless of me and my position. Anyone who passes through here must know this, there is no secret, there is great competence in management, great scouting work, a serious and reliable project. Among the most interesting profiles are Vincenzo Lettieri, born in 2006, transferred to Empoli, and Lorenzo Sangiorgio, born in 2004, for whom the club has reached an agreement with a Serie A club.
Messias, Zerbin, Kayode, Yeboah, do these names mean anything to you?
All well-known names, Yeboah played for us, Zerbin played in the first team and is now at Napoli after some transfers, Messias now plays in the Champions League, Kayode is now in Florence and is part of the first team and Italy Under 19, others who play in Lega Pro, Mone Italiano also passed to Fiorentina (Under 18), Lettieri to Empoli, Sangiorgio who will go to Serie A, Matteo Rizzo (2004), an interesting goalkeeper who played with us and now is in Vercelli. They are many, so many, and there will be just as many because Gozzano is a talent factory.
Do you think Serie D is an underestimated world by the press? How often do you see talents and think "this is Serie A material"?
I don't know about that, but I wonder how many of our boys manage to confirm themselves in the first team by playing consistently while other peers from professional youth sectors struggle to find space in amateur football, I would reflect on this.
If you had a magic wand, what would you change about the world of football?
I think of a famous quote from Churchill, "change does not always mean improvement, but to improve we must change". With my magic wand, I would change the way we treat young players. We need young players to grow quickly, make mistakes, we need their exuberance, their initiative, their courage. We must help them and give them a chance, but we must really do it.
Gozzano is launching and training many young players, to the point of gaining attention from the press. How satisfying is this? How did this project come about, and what models, like Sassuolo and Atalanta, do you have in mind?
In the last two years, we have been approached by several clubs who have tried to understand how we work. It's true that we are in amateur football, but the numbers don't lie, and when you transfer so many young players from a lower level of football, it means that you are doing well. I don't know if we resemble Sassuolo or Atalanta more, or both, but I know that we have been making headlines in the amateur football scene for a long time, and I believe it will continue for a long time. Among our young players, there are many who are called for trials every week. We have players born in 2009 trying out for Juventus, and others born in 2008 trying out for big clubs. We are not surprised because the project is serious and valid, but we are very happy.
How important is it for Gozzano to have local players who understand the value of the club and its people? And how difficult is the transition from the youth sector to the world of professionals? Do you have any "rules" in scouting, you and maybe the club?
It is essential for us to have players from this city. We have 26 players, and 20 of them were born between 2000 and 2007, and 30% of our team consists of players from our youth academy. Those who grow up with us come to the first team with an incredible sense of belonging. Clubs like us need to work well in the territory and have youth academy players who make it to the highest level, and you see these players giving something different when they play and step on the field. For us, it's fantastic to see promising young players who can't make the jump playing with our first team. This is the winning project of this club.