Why Alessandro Nesta is American soccer's most interesting coach

Photo: NASL

Miami FC is storming through the NASL. Is this Italian legend destined for greatness?

Alessandro Nesta’s resume as a player speaks for itself.

After coming up through the Lazio ranks and debuting in 1993, Nesta was part of a marquee transfer to AC Milan for nearly 31 million pounds. Over his 10 seasons there, Nesta won the Serie A twice and earned two Champions League titles. A member of FIFA’s World 100, Nesta spent his final 18 months as a player with the Montreal Impact before retiring in December 2013.

At that point, his coaching resume was blank, but doors open up when you are a legend, and the one Besta chose was that of head coach a second-division startup, Miami FC. The club, owned by entrepreneur Riccardo Silva and Nesta’s former teammate, Paolo Maldini, began play in the NASL in 2016.

“After leaving Montreal, I told my family, let’s move to Miami for a little bit,” Nesta told FourFourTwo. “We love it down here. My family is happy, I’m happy. Not many people can say they started a team from nothing, but now I can and I’m very happy with my decision.”

Miami is on its way to a spring-season championship, and it is doing so in style. Nesta has firmly established a narrow 4-4-2 diamond formation, allowing his fullbacks to overlap while his team dominates the midfield.

“The way he sets up his team is comparable to the setup at AC Milan when he played,” Miami FC midfielder Richie Ryan said. “Obviously, not in terms of the individuals, but the formation is quite similar.

“He sticks to his philosophies. Last season, things didn’t go as well as he wanted. Some coaches might have wanted to change things up, change the formation. From the preseason, he said he wanted to stick to it. I think that’s a good thing in a coach.”

Nesta cites Carlo Ancelotti and Czech-Italian manager Zdenek Zeman as two influences on his coaching ideology.

“I always say we have our philosophy and we never change that,” Nesta said. “If we can dominate and possess the ball the entire game, the other team can’t score. We have the ball, we are in control. My team continues to impress me.”

This decision to stick to his guns has built confidence across the locker room. In a league that sees so many changes across all rosters, this type of continuity stands out.

Of course, that very league makes it difficult to truly assess Nesta’s prowess as a manager. The NASL has seen a few managers get results on a yearly basis. Giovanni Savarese has with the New York Cosmos, and, previously, Manny Lagos’ Minnesota United was consistent. Marc Dos Santos is finding success for the second time in the league with expansion San Francisco Deltas this season.

However, the league changes so drastically every season that it’s tough to gauge how Nesta would stack up at another level. Lagos moved to a full-time front office role before the Loons made their MLS move, and while Savarese and Dos Santos have had MLS interviews, neither has held a top-flight position.

Photo: NASL

Photo: NASL

Individually, there’s a lot to like about Nesta as a manager. He showed an ability as an on-field leader in his playing days. In a league that seems completely married to the 4-2-3-1 formation, his steadfast belief in the diamond has made Miami one of the toughest teams to play. And he’s done well to manage large personalities on the field and off.

Nesta joins several former greats currently thriving in coaching roles, a list which is growing each year. Fellow Italian Antonio Conte just won the Premier League with Chelsea after a successful stint at Juventus. Zinedine Zidane just led Real Madrid to a second straight UEFA Champions League title. And in the U.S., Patrick Vieira has turned New York City FC into an MLS contender despite not having previous top-flight coaching experience.

Is Nesta due for success in more high-profile places? Miami FC finished last in its debut campaign in 2016 before spending big on Ryan, new captain Michael Lahoud, Gabriel Farfán, Hunter Freeman and Kwadwo Poku. Adding these marquee players in the middle of a season can often be a tough proposition. However, Nesta was clearly up to the challenge.

“He brings a lot of confidence out of us,” Ryan said. “The first time I came down to sign the contract, I met him. I instantly had that thought where you think, ‘It’s Alessandro Nesta.’ I watched him play for Milan and Italy in Champions League and World Cups. I can honestly say that he’s really down to earth. He’s a normal person, and that’s the way everybody looks upon him as players.”

Miami FC this season added 2015 NASL Golden Boot winner Stefano Pinho and former Indy Eleven ace Dylan Mares, and the club is a leading favorite to win the NASL Championship.

It’s natural to wonder what might be next for Nesta, but still less than two years into this new phase of life, he’s still getting assimilated to his first coaching stop.

“The transition from player to coach was not easy, and I’m still learning, but I accepted the challenge and I’m very happy I did,” Nesta said. “My focus right now is my team and my players. I hope to win a lot with Miami FC.”

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