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The Phone Call

Jul 18 2017
Photo by
Plumb Images/Leicester City FC/Getty Images
Photo by
Plumb Images/Leicester City FC/Getty Images
Jul 18 2017

I want to talk about happiness. There is too much unhappiness in football, no? Let’s talk about happiness for a moment.

Last year, when Leicester City was at the top of the table, everyone had started to take notice of our little city. But I kept reminding the players every week to just stay focused on one thing: working hard.

Hard work is the only thing we could be sure of.

And the whole season, I tried not to get too excited.

At the beginning, I just kept saying, “Forty points! Come on boys, 40 points!”

In January, when we got to 40 points, I started saying, “O.K., boys, Champions League!”

But when we were at the top of the table with two months left in the season, I got a phone call. And that made me realize just how special our story could be.

Because on the line was a fellow Italian. A very special man.

“Claudio?”

“Yes, this is Claudio.”

“It’s Andrea Bocelli.”

Now, I did not know Andrea personally, and I did not know that he had been following what Leicester City had been doing. But I guess that’s what’s so special about a beautiful thing, whether it’s a football team or a piece of music … it finds its way to all kinds of people. It had found its way to Andrea, and he wanted to be a part of it.

He said to me, “Claudio, I feel something.”

I said, “Oh, you do?”

“Yes, I feel something, Claudio. I want to come there to sing something. When is it possible?”

So I told him to come on May 7, for our final match at home. We had already done more than anyone expected of us, so even if we did not end up winning the title, we’d still be able to say hello to all of our supporters and thank them for an amazing season.

I told Andrea, “This could be a good day!”

For two months, I looked forward to Andrea’s concerto. Never did I expect that on that day, he would be singing a duet with the Premier League trophy. But our players were fantastic, and our fans were fantastic, and we stayed on top.

On May 7, Andrea came to perform for little Leicester City, champions of England. I stood next to him as he began to sing. And at one point, he grabbed my hand and leaned into me.

“Oh!” he said. “It’s fantastic! This emotion … it’s fantastic!”

And he was right.

It was happiness. For me. For the players. For the people of Leicester.

But even the most beautiful piece of music eventually has to come to an end.

Over the years I’ve learned that, to be a good manager, you need to have passion, and you need to have a strong character. Without those things, the job is very, very difficult.

It is with passion that I love my job. But it is with character that I am able to keep looking forward. Not just beyond criticism or bad results, but also beyond the good moments, too. Everything has to be a balance.

Not too high, not too low.

Thirty years ago, when I first became a manager, I learned that it was not an easy job, but it could be a beautiful one.

I’m from Italy, the home of Vivaldi, Rossini, Puccini. When I stopped playing and became a manager, football became like a beautiful piece of music to me — and the players, an orchestra. I wasn’t just a lone instrument on the pitch anymore. I couldn’t just look at one section, or one note. No, no, no. I had to all of a sudden see everything. See how certain players could link together, see strengths, see techniques.

I learned that I had to listen … until it all came together.

Harmony.

Matthew Ashton/EMPICS/Getty Images

And every team, I learned, has its own … sound. In Spain, it’s about domination and keeping possession of the ball. In England, it’s a more physical, stronger style, with tackling right up until the end of the game. In Italy, it is compact and very tactical.

And then, of course, wherever you are, it is important to have a goal scorer. Because then you get points. And when you get points, the fans are happy. When the fans are happy, the players are happy. And when the players are happy, everything comes easy.

It’s harmony.

It’s happiness.

And that’s the most beautiful sound you can hear surrounding the pitch.

I learned that from my mother.

Some of you may have read about her last year as well. She is a very, very special woman. She’s getting older — she’s in her late 90s now. So for many, many years, she has followed me and my football career. She’s been there for it all.

I try to see her when I’m back in Rome as much as I can. We always have so much to catch up on. And no matter where I am in my career, or which club I go to, she always asks me the same question.

“Are you happy?”

I think about this question a lot. Because yes, there are results. There are points to gain. And there are games to win. But what it really comes down to is you and everybody around you — the players and the people who come to watch and support you — and that they are happy.

And if you work very hard and you are very lucky, then you get to be part of something special that makes a lot of people very, very happy. Last year in Leicester, we found that.

In February, not long after I was let go, there was a ring at our door. My wife and I lived close to town. Last year, after we won the title, I remember a giant crowd gathered outside to celebrate. Supporters were all over our lawn, cheering and chanting.

But when I opened the door this time, I saw something different. Something I never expected. A crowd even bigger than when we had won the title! They had brought chocolate, champagne, cards — everything! They cried, they gave me their support … it was a very emotional moment.

I’ll never forget the number of people who came to say goodbye.

See, it is not just the players and the managers who are part of making something beautiful … it is the supporters too. And to the people of Leicester, I want to thank you. You’ve made me a very happy man.

So, my life right now is in Nantes, where I was hired last month, but I still carry something very special in my heart: the people of Leicester.

Now it’s time to look forward.

I know that in Nantes there are a lot of expectations, especially after all that happened at Leicester. But the stories of the two teams are very different. Leicester had never won a title before. Nantes has won eight.

George Kazianis at Only4Stars

But what drew me to Nantes was very similar to what had drawn me to Leicester: the chance to make something beautiful. When I got a phone call from my agent, George, that there was interest from the club, I knew the opportunity would be intriguing. When I met with the owners we just … talked. About what happened last season, about what I thought I could do at Nantes. It was very honest.

Will we have more concertos? I do not know. I do want the Nantes supporters to know that I will try very hard to make them happy.

And what I can promise the club is the same thing I promised to Leicester. I will not promise a miracle. I will not promise a dream.

I simply promise to work hard.

After 44 years in football, that is the only secret I know. It is the only thing we can be sure of.