By Frank Risorto
He didn’t score or concede a goal for the entire 2020–21 Serie A season, he wasn’t even able to take the field, yet this man has had just as much impact on Inter Milan’s Scudetto, and Italy’s victorious Euro 2020 campaign as any individual.
No, it’s not a footballing riddle, it’s Gabriele Oriali, Inter Milan First Team Technical Manager, and for the Italian national team, Team Manager.
Make of those job titles what you will, but Oriali is more than just a team manager, pardon the Inter-related pun.
Much like an iceberg, you get the sense Oriali’s work as ‘First Team Technical Manager’ or ‘Team Manager’ is done under the surface and away from prying eyes.
A native of Como, Lombardy, Oriali joined the Inter Milan ‘Primavera’ set up as a 14-year-old before the midfielder made his Serie A debut on the 28th March 1971 as an 18-year-old against Catania.
The 1970–71 Scudetto was the first taste of success for the young midfielder and despite only making two appearances all season it was a sign of things to come for Oriali.
Oriali became an integral member of the Inter team of the 1970s and early 80s’ making 277 appearances in all competitions for Inter winning two Scudetti and two Coppa Italia trophies.
After seven seasons with the Nerazzurri first team Oriali made the move to Florence joining Fiorentina.
Once Oriali knew of the Viola’s interest, there was only one destination to continue his career.
‘When the offer from Fiorentina arrived, the conversation with Inter was already closed,’ Oriali told the media at the time of the transfer.
‘I already knew that Fiorentina had been looking for me. I was lucky, because Florence is one of the few cities that I would have gladly accepted.’
‘Everything went well because Florence is welcoming as they describe it’.
‘Maybe they (Inter) painted me differently. They didn’t understand me that time. But when I talk about Inter, I’m talking about thirteen years of life. I cannot forget so many pleasant things.’ Oriali said.
Former Inter and national teammate Ivano Bordon speaking to the Italian media last month saw his and Oriali’s exit differently in retrospect.
‘After all that Gabriele and I had given to Inter, perhaps we deserved a better treatment and today I regret not having had an even more genuine contact with Mazzola and Beltrami, to be able to face them and blame them for their hypocrisy,’ Bordon said.
‘Of course, I understand the club game, but after our time at Inter maybe they could have behaved differently.’
On the international front Oriali went onto have an even greater impact as a key member of the Italian team which won the 1982 World Cup.
First called up to the Italian national team by Enzo Bearzot in December 1978, the midfielder made his Azzurri debut in a friendly against Spain and quickly established himself as a crucial part of the Italian midfield winning 28 caps for Italy over five years.
Understandably the World Cup and becoming a World Champion is something Oriali has never forgotten.
‘When the referee blew the whistle at the end of the match it was the best moment of my football life, it still to this day seems surreal to me.’ Oriali said.
Oriali made himself available for selection at Mexico 86’ and despite reassurances from Enzo Bearzot he was in contention for the squad the veteran wasn’t selected, and he made the decision to retire from the game after the 1986–87 season.
Making time for his wife and three daughters Oriali stepped away from the game and enjoyed retirement returning to live in Milan.
Six years later Oriali returned to football and to the surprise of many it was as sporting director of then Serie C side A.S. Solbiatese Arno Calcio based in Lombardy.
The following season in 1994 he made the switch to Bologna as sporting director and working together with Renzo Ulivieri, the current chairman of the Italian Football Managers’ Association, and with a few smart unknown recruitments (Carlo Nervo, Francesco Antonioli and Michele Paramatti, to name a few) Oriali oversaw successive promotions from Serie C1 to Serie A.
Oriali also played a major part in bringing the Roberto Baggio renaissance to the Renato Dall’Ara and having achieved all he could with the I Rossoblù, in 1997–98 made the move to Parma.
Oriali spent one season as the Ducali Sporting Director, Juan Sebastian Veron from Sampdoria a notable arrival under his watch.
Then in 1999, Oriali answered the call of his spiritual home and returned to Inter to become Technical Director working alongside former Inter President Massimo Moratti, the late Giacinto Facchetti and Marco Branca.
Oriali’s second stint at Inter proved to be a massive success on and off the field as he oversaw the Nerazzurri rebuild and according to Oriali he was responsible for purchasing 10 of Inter Milan’s starting side for the 2010 Champions League final.
Spending a further 11 seasons with Inter until Oriali once again departed, feeling slighted and isolated by the appointment of Amedeo Carboni to work as ‘Technical Director’, essentially in the same role as Oriali, together with the newly appointed manager Rafa Benitez.
Oriali made the decision to leave his role and it’s by no coincidence this coincided with some notable Inter transfers including Jonthan Biabiany, Giampaolo Pazzini, Victor Obinna and Nelson Rivas
Oriali went on to win five Scudetti, three Coppa Italias, three Italian Super Cups and one Champions League as Inter Milan’s Technical Director.
Legendary football journalist Gianni Brera nicknamed Oriali ‘the Piper’ due to his energy and personality.
And it was with a refreshed and renewed purpose, energy and personality that Oriali returned to the national team fold to work with Antonio Conte after spending four seasons away from football.
‘A national team set up is different to a club, but I think there’s a chance to work very well with Conte,’ Oriali told Sportmediaset in 2014.
‘I’ll put myself at Conte’s disposal and having never worked with him before I know that’s he’s a very good coach with a strong personality.’
Oriali proved to be the ultimate ying, to Conte’s yang, and as the Azzurri moved towards Euro 2016 their relationship got stronger on and off the field and he saw common traits between Conte as CT and Jose Mourinho, who he worked with during his memorable spell with Inter.
“It’s hard to make comparisons, but what they do have in common is their desire to make everybody feel part of the project,” Oriali told RAI television.
“He makes everybody feel like they are the stars, pursuing a common objective.”
When Antonio Conte accepted the role as Chelsea manager Oriali was strongly linked with making the move to the England but the Italian stayed put as Italian national team manager.
When Roberto Mancini accepted the role as CT the former Sampdoria star kept Oriali as a part of his backroom staff.
In May 2019 when Antonio Conte was appointed as Inter Milan manager, director Beppe Marotta was keen to reunite the pair on the bench and it didn’t take much to persuade the former World cup winner.
Oriali returned to the club for the second time as ‘First Team Technical Manager’.
According to Gazzetta dello Sport Oriali played a crucial role behind the scenes at Inter working as a screen between management and the coaching staff and was described as ‘a reference point for the whole squad’.
From day one Oriali was on the front foot handling a squad still reeling from the fallout of the Mauro Icardi situation, some big name off-season recruits, expensive veterans anyone, and the expectations and pressure that come working with Antonio Conte on a day-to-day basis.
Oriali quickly reminded everyone who was the boss on his first sit down with the players and the staff.
‘I believe that the speech I made to everyone, to the technical staff, the doctors, to the club staff and to the team, before I started was fundamental,’ said Oriali.
‘They all understood at that moment, any doubts, any boredom, any problem all had to go through me.’
Oriali endeared himself even more to the Inter faithful, if that was possible, after he managed to get himself sent off after being red carded in and fined 5,000 euros after abusing and insulting the referee Fabio Maresca in a scoreless draw against Udinese in January 2021.
Two seasons after being reunited with Conte, Oriali was present to see one more Scudetto triumph, however with Conte now out of a job, both may potentially find themselves on the outer watching Inter defend their championship this coming campaign.
‘It was not an easy season for anyone and especially for us, but we managed to cement ourselves, there were many sleepless nights for Antonio and I in Appiano Gentile.’ Oriali said.
As for comparisons between his two spells at Inter working with both Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho, Oriali could see similarities.
“They’ve got a special ability to get the most out of his players, putting them at ease and succeeding in making them all feel involved from the very beginning.’ Oriali told RAI television last year.
Oriali knows the foundations of another great Inter-era have been built over the past two seasons and the unity in and around the squad was evident to him, even more so after manager Conte and striker Lautaro Martinez fell out towards the end of the season.
Martinez kicked a water bottle and threw his shirt to the ground after being substituted by Conte during Inter’s victory over AS Roma and in years gone by this would’ve thrown Inter’s world into chaos.
Oriali was once again left to play peacemaker and was seen remonstrating strongly with Martinez as the striker aimed more than a few vulgar words towards Conte for all to hear in the empty stadium.
‘Everything had already been resolved at the end of the match,’ Oriali said.
‘It is the confirmation of the healthy unity in this group,’
‘Something important has been built here that can last a long time.’
In James Kerr’s best-selling book ‘Legacy’ about the New Zealand All Blacks’ famously consistent team culture, one of the fifteen mantras in the book says, ‘Be a good ancestor’.
There’s a fundamental Maori spiritual concept called ‘Whakapapa — the rope of mankind’, an unbroken chain of humans standing arm to arm to the end of eternity.
As the sun shines on you for this moment, this is your time, your obligation and responsibility to add to the legacy, in other words — to leave the jersey in a better place.
True leaders can outlast the competition by being stewards of the future and with over 20 years’ experience with the Nerazzurri, no one can accuse Gabriele Oriali of not leaving the Inter Milan jersey in a better place than when he first adorned the black and blue in 1967.
Gabrielie Oriali, a leader on and off the field, and Inter’s living and breathing own whakapapa.