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Brescia, Baggio and Bellingham

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Pep is already a famous name in Brescia. Guardiola herself played there. His shirt adorns the wall on the training ground next to those of Roberto Baggio and Andrea Pirlo. But it’s another pep – Clotet, the former Birmingham boss – who now carries Brescia’s hopes.

The Spaniard arrived in February to find a team that had lost four games in a row and witnessed fan protests outside the club’s headquarters. Clotet was their fourth coach of the season and he was accused of preventing a double relegation.

Since then, there have been stories of eccentric owner Massimo Cellino on the contact line and even the alarming sight of an opposing coach who passed out in the last game against Pescara. “Some said it was a strategy, but to be fair he really passed out.” In the midst of all this, he could change everything in Brescia.

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Roberto Baggio remains a big fan favorite from his playing days

Talking about a Zoom call from Italy, Clotet needs to adjust the curtains to stop the glare on his screen. “After three years in Birmingham you don’t expect any sun,” he told Sky Sports. Joking aside, he enjoys this chance after overcoming the problems he has inherited.

Brescia has collected 21 points from 12 games and topped the form table at home. This put an end to the fears of relegation, which only became apparent when Clotet arrived one point above the drop zone. But an early loss to Cremonese had underscored the depth of their plight.

“That’s the worst thing I’ve felt. It got worse before it got better. The situation was difficult. It’s a huge club and there was a lot of pressure after some coaches came and gone this season Things are going. ” badly it can become a spiral.

“In my individual encounters with the players, everyone has mentioned Series C. They were afraid of going into the drop zone so I had to put a lot of work into restoring their faith.

“It was very important to know if the team had a tactical problem, a physical problem or just a trust problem. For us it was a mixture of everything. We had to move away from the mentality of trying to fix it.” Individual not the team.

“I tried to increase the intensity of the training sessions. Slowly they got a lot better physically. Everyone pulled themselves together, which is not easy in the situation we were in. As soon as that happened, things started to change quickly and everything turned around. “

Florian Aye celebrates after scoring during the Serie B match between Brescia and Frosinone on February 27, 2021 in Chiavari, Italy.  (Photo by Stefano Nicoli / NurPhoto)

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Florian Aye and Brescia turned things around under Clotet this season

Communication within the squad was a problem.

“Half of the team don’t understand Italian,” says Clotet. “That’s when I realized we had a problem.” He found a solution. Spanish for the Italians and English for the rest. “It’s funny because I translate in team discussions. Now I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

The quality of the players wasn’t such an issue.

“I realized immediately that it was the kind of team that I could play the football with, that I always liked. In Birmingham we had to play football that was the quality of the players we had. But we were in that football we had limited could play that would suit everyone.

“Here we can think about being offensive with high pressure and quickly winning the ball back if we lose it. We attack with a vertical mentality and a high line. Instead of being negative and waiting for the opposition to make mistakes, we can be positive and powerful mistake. “

Guardiola from Brescia in action during the 7th round match of Serie A between Brescia and Chievo, played at the M. Rigamonti stadium in Brescia, Italy.

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The first pep in Brescia – Guardiola in action during the club’s Serie A days

Clotet always speaks well on tactical issues, but the learning curve in Italy has been steep for the only foreign coach working in Serie B. He had to adapt to the culture. “It was easier for me to adapt and then grow from there than to ask for something new,” he explains.

“There are trends here that are not prevalent in England. Here there is the Atalanta model, which is based on three backs with high or medium pressure, but with a narrow structure for identifying people that the opposition space does not allow.

“The other is the 4-3-1-2. That’s what I use. Not because I prefer it, but because this team has been promoted so successfully. The idea was to give back to the players what they could leave you rely on it and have you already worked as a base for it. “

Even playing positions in Italy are different. Clotet discovered a new one. “Mezzala, that’s the word for it. These two midfielders who play on either side of the central midfielder in this system. This position is played completely differently here than elsewhere.

“I was surprised at how high this midfielder is in Italy to get the full-back at the source. You have to be physical enough to push that opposing full-back. It’s very intense for this midfielder, but it’s a very good kind and way. ” to do it. It changed the perception that I had before.

“We don’t play like that in Spain. We don’t play like that in England. So it’s difficult to find a player from abroad who can play that position. In Italy they teach it.”

England's Jude Bellingham warms up before the UEFA Nations League football match between England and Iceland at Wembley Stadium in London on Wednesday November 18, 2020.  (Michael Regan / Pool via AP)

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Jude Bellingham made his professional debut in Birmingham from Clotet

An English midfielder comes to mind. Clotet was the coach who made Jude Bellingham’s professional debut shortly after his 16th birthday. He followed the development of the youngster at Borussia Dortmund and saw how he rose to the English national team.

Clotet, 43, describes him as “a great ambassador for the British game” – and yes, a potential mezzala. “I really like the three of him. It allows him to go and attack. He has more options. From there he can push far or he can push in. He can have more freedom.”

Clotet admits that he is a kind of cultural magpie because of travels that also took him on his long coaching trip to Scandinavia. “I’m always the unusual. But I buy the culture. I did that in England and picked up the positive aspects from there.

“I didn’t come here to teach them here in Italy. That would be useless. I respect the way the game is played. But I’m trying to bring back some of what I learned in England For example, we train with intensity – these values ​​were cultivated in England.

“You work here.”

Brescia Calcio manager Pep Clotet looks on during the Serie B match between Empoli FC and Brescia Calcio at Stadio Carlo Castellani on April 17, 2021 in Empoli, Italy.

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Clotet on the touchline during the Weekeng game against front runner Empoli

Some cultural differences didn’t go that well. In this game against Cremonese there was even a red card for the new coach. “I stepped one foot out of the zone. That was enough to call it a pitch invasion. It was very strict. That was my welcome to the league.”

It was also the game that made headlines in England when Cellino, the controversial former owner of Leeds United, allegedly took over the team on the contact line in Clotet’s absence. He insists this was blown up beyond measure.

“It was made up a bit,” he says. “He was 50 meters away but someone from across the pitch is taking a picture and it looks like it isn’t. He wanted the team to feel like they were supporting them in the game, but it was nothing inside. “

BRESCIA, ITALY - FEBRUARY 9: Brescia Calcio President Massimo Cellino looks on during the Serie A match between Brescia Calcio and Udinese Calcio at Mario Rigamonti Stadium on February 9, 2020 in Brescia, Italy.  (Photo by Emilio Andreoli / Getty Images)

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Brescia’s president, Massimo Cellino, remains a controversial character

Cellino has “done a fantastic job at this club” according to Clotet, but it cannot be overlooked that the Italian is not shy when it comes to hiring and firing. “He’s very strict on coaches. We all know that. But he was always very clear with me.”

At the moment there is nothing to worry about. Not when Brescia is in the top half of a league that rewards the top eight with a play-off spot. “The team is clearly on the advance. They didn’t make it by scrapping and holding on, but by playing football.”

“I had a few conversations with them last week and saw how they have changed. With all the hard work, that fear is gone now. The fact that we are so many points above the danger zone is a great achievement for us I just hope there are enough games left because belief is there.

“We have a chance.”

No team in Italy has spent more seasons in Serie B than Brescia, but no team has been promoted more than once. The hope now is that the ultimate yo-yo club is on the rise again. Clotet and his players learn to accept this story all over again.

“When I arrived I thought maybe we should take the shirts off because it is not easy for a player to go into the room and see Baggio’s shirt. It can be a little scary. But we didn’t remove it. You Imagine the club that it was. ”Time to dream again.

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Steven Gregory