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Willy Garbutt, The Italian trailblazer

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.

 

When Genoa appointed inexperienced Englishman Willy Garbutt as coach in 1912, they could not have predicted the success he would bring to the club. Dan Brennan explains how Garbutt influenced Italian coaching for 40 years and why he is still a hero in Genoa.
 
Nowadays, it is fashionable to have an Italian coach in England but there was a time when it was the other way round. Just as football was becoming popular in Italy at the turn of the 20th century, an average English footballer became one of the most influential coaches in the Italian game.
 
His name was Willy Garbutt and he had played without much distinction for Reading, Blackburn and Arsenal, before he spent four decades as a coach in Italy, at Genoa, Roma, Napoli and AC Milan.
 
His first club, Genoa were among the early fore-runners of Italian football. The club had been built on British foundations and by 1912 they already had eight Britons on their books. But it was the appointment of Garbutt as manager in the same year, 1912, which opened the defining chapter in their history.
 
Still only 29, Garbutt had no previous managerial experience. Some say he was recommended by Vittorio Pozzo, who went on to coach Italy's national team. Others attribute his appointment to the intervention of an Irishman, Thomas Coggins, who worked as Genoa's youth coach. Either way, he was an inspired choice.
 
He quickly introduced new training regimes, placing emphasis on tactics and physical fitness. He assumed control of every detail, even insisting that Genoa installed hot showers in their dressing-rooms, something previously unheard of in Italy. He also orchestrated Italy's first paid transfers, signing two players from neighbouring side Andrea Doria and another from Milan. And, thanks to his English connections, he organised the first foreign tour by an Italian team, taking Genoa to play his old side Reading.
 
At a time when footballers and coaches in England struggled to earn a decent living, Garbutt showed no desire to return home. As he told an Italian journalist in 1918, after four years in the war had interrupted his managerial career: "It's surprising you have to go abroad to teach football. In England, hardly anyone will pay to hire a professional coach."
 
Genoa's championship triumphs of 1923 and 1924 were directly attributed to Garbutt's managerial skills, and prompted Italian coach Pozzo to appoint him to help prepare the national team for the Paris Olympics in 1924. According to one of his former players, De Vecchi, Garbutt "personified the archetypal old English gent, but was happiest on the field working with his players.
 
Garbutt's success with Genoa encouraged other Italian clubs to look to England. In 1921 Inter Milan appointed Robert Spottiswood as coach, while ex-Manchester United veteran Herbert Burgess took over at Padua, and later AC Milan.
 
In 1927, after 15 years at Genoa, Garbutt became the first professional manager at Roma, who had just been promoted to Serie A. Two years later, he was on the move again, this time to Napoli, who had been founded by another Englishman, William Poths. Garbutt twice guided them to third place in Serie A, their highest finish, a placing they would not achieve again until the 1960s.
 
Brief stints with AC Milan and then Athletic Bilbao in Spain followed before Garbutt returned to his beloved Genoa in 1937 for another 11 seasons in charge. Garbutt finally returned to England in the late forties. He died, aged 81, in 1964. In Italy, the memory of "the English Mister" has gone down in history.

 

 

Dan Brennan, April 2004

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