Francesco Zanoncelli to take on ‘new challenge’ with Brisbane City juniors
Francesco Zanoncelli has been around the world as a coach, and after a stint on the Darling Downs, is now in Brisbane and ready to help develop a new wave of junior NPL talent at Brisbane City.
The former Serie A defender brings a wealth of experience to the club, and will look to impart his invaluable knowledge to the Under 15 National Premier Leagues team and the Skills Acquisition Phase Under 11’s.
“I start to play as a professional player with AC Milan, [in the] youth team up to the senior men.” Zanoncelli said.
“I played there for three years, [then] for many many clubs in Serie A and Serie B for more-or-less 20 years.”
“I started as a midfielder, after a few seasons, when I was with Padova in Serie B, they needed a centre back or sweeper – in that period many clubs played with a sweeper.
“They asked me if it was fine for me to play in that position, I said yes and I didn’t change any more, apart from to move to centre back because of the evolution of the system.”
This extensive experience as a player, in such a vital tactical role placed Zanoncelli in a great position to move into a coaching role after his retirement from playing.
“It is an advantage for me,” Zanoncelli admitted. “I played for many years as a professional player, and I transfer to the players, my experience as a player.”
Zanoncelli moved straight into coaching, first as an assistant and junior coach in Serie C, before progressing right the way to the top with Serie A club Napoli.
It was after his experience in Napoli that his path began to lead to Australia, through his work at the AC Milan International Academy.
The former head of the AC Milan youth set up, Filippo Galli, is a good friend of Zanoncelli’s after the two grew up in the Milan junior teams together and it was through the three-time European Cup winner that Zanoncelli and was able to, in his words, “move around the world.”
“I coached in Colombia, New York, Washington, Puerto Rico, Azerbaijan and Sydney.” Zanoncelli said.
“I coached for five years in Sydney as head coach of the AC Milan Academy, then two years ago I moved to Toowoomba and I start to coach the open men in SWQ Thunder.”
Coming to Toowoomba was something of a culture shock for Zanoncelli, who admitted to the significance of the challenge of taking on the then-cellar dwellers of the NPL.
“Many many things were missing,” Zanoncelli said.
“Professionally they wanted to grow up as a club, but they were missing the knowledge.
“They wanted to achieve at the top level, but it is not easy because they had many difficulties, the structure, not many fields, no venue, no facilities, no changing room, many many problems but the club is working and they are moving forward.”
And move forward they did.
Under Zanoncelli’s tutelage, the Thunder went from being the competition’s easy beats, failing to record a single victory in the NPL, to finish in eighth spot in Zanoncelli’s first season in charge, recording with eight victories, including over reigning champions Moreton Bay United.
The Thunder won a further six matches in 2017, before finishing in seventh last season with ten wins – just one place and nine points behind Brisbane City.
“As an experience it was very important for me, it was a good challenge.” Zanoncelli said.
“Most of the players were local players, because it was not easy to bring the players back from Brisbane because it is not around the corner, Toowoomba, but last season we did very well.
“We achieved our goal and then more. I’m happy for what we did for the players, the club.”
“The players, they listened to me, so they improved in knowledge, but also in personality and confidence and then the result that we achieve, because they push very well, so we create a good squad, a good team and I’m happy because it was good for the players, for the coaches.”
Now, Zanoncelli has a “new challenge” at Brisbane City, one that excites the veteran coach.
“I think Brisbane City represents the future, in many ways. I’m so happy to be a part of the club.” Francesco said.
Part of Zanoncelli’s role at Brisbane City will be work with SAP players, and Zanoncelli’s view is that this is vital due to the overall lack of “knowledge” in the majority of players that he has seen.
Absolutely,” Zanoncelli said. “In my opinion, the knowledge is missing.
“Now we are talking about the juniors but we can also talk about the SAP as well.
“Here in Australia the coaches have to follow the curriculum, which in my opinion is missing the technique, the improvement in the quality of the players, and the coordination, the agility.”
“It is very important because I believe that if you are coordinated, the first touch is better. The technique to improve the skill of the players to transfer to them the knowledge, to teach them the right behaviour on the field in any situation, that is very important, to start with the little ones, because the SAP they learn [clicks fingers] like this.”
Zanoncelli believes that this lack of knowledge extends all the way up to senior football, and that although the curriculum plays a huge roll in helping develop players, there is also something else that needs to be added.
“What we realise [is that what] I coach the eight and under and local players, you realise the 19, 20 years old, seniors, [it is] missing in them, the knowledge.
“It is not their fault, they grew up like this. In my opinion, to start with the little ones to teach them how to manage their situation, in confidence they will improve, in technique they will improve, in personality… it is very important.
“It is very important to follow the curriculum of course, but it is important for them to use their mind, in that situation.”
Part of the reason for this is the mentality of the players being different to that of Italy and elsewhere around the world.
“Here the mentality is very different.” Zanoncelli explained. “I coached in Sydney for five years, ok [it was] an Academy program but it is still hard because the mentality is completely different, their commitment as well.
“I tried to change, even in Toowoomba. their attitude, because if you want to achieve the top level, you have to push yourself, not just on a Saturday and Sunday.
“I believe that your performance during the week [is most important], the performance on Saturday or Sunday is just a consequence [of that]. That is what I believe. Even the result, in my opinion.”
These changes take time, but after his success in Toowoomba, Zanoncelli understands that the hard work will pay off, and he hopes his players understand that too.
“They believed more and more, week by week in what we did.” Zanoncelli said of his former charges on the Darling Downs.
“In the beginning it was not so easy, but slowly slowly.”
Brisbane City will be hoping that his invaluable experience leaves a lasting impression in 2019 and beyond.