Few players are more beloved for their time in red and black than Rino Gattuso. A mainstay in the Milan midfield for many years, his partnership with Andrea Pirlo was crucial in the decade of success that the Rossoneri enjoyed during the 00's. In his thirteen years at the club, Gattuso won two Champions League titles, and numerous Scudettos. On top of that, the Snarling Dog also won a World Cup with Italy in 2006, and gave us one of the best (or worst) celebrations ever, as he ran and slid around wearing just his shirt and his tighty whities.
After leaving Milan in 2012, he dove into management. And he did poorly. Like, really poorly.
Three wins in his twelve matches in charge of Swiss side Sion in the spring of 2013. He was sacked after the season concluded. Three wins in his eight matches in charge of then-Serie B side Palermo later that same year. He was sacked before getting out of September. Five wins in seventeen matches in charge of Greek side OFI Crete in 2014. He at least got halfway through the season this time; however, having only eleven goals during that timeframe killed any hopes he had of getting a full season.
So he took some time off, and in the summer of 2015, he was hired by Lega Pro side AC Pisa 1909 and nine months later, they are now Serie B side AC Pisa 1909, thanks to one Rino Gattuso.
After a contentious second leg of the Lega Pro playoff finals, Pisa drew with Foggia 1-1 on Sunday, which gave them a 5-3 aggregate victory and promotion to the second tier of Italian football for the first time since 2009. Playing at Foggia, the match was delayed over ten minutes after a home supporter hit Gattuso in the head with a missile, followed by a pitch invasion. After order was restored, Gattuso was roaming the sidelines holding an ice bag on his head. Faggio would get a penalty late to make things very nervous, but in the final minute, Pisa would get a goal to clinch their promotion.
Gattuso and Pisa followed the same pattern for each leg of the playoff--get a big lead at home, and then hang on when they played the second leg away. Lega Pro is divided into three groups, and Pisa finished second in their group, making them one of eight teams to enter the playoffs. After defeating Maceratese 3-1 in a single-match playoff, they defeated Pordenone 3-0 at home and then drew 0-0 on the road. In the final, their 4-2 home lead was enough to see them through.
It was a trying season at times for Gattuso. He kept Pisa near the top of the Group B table for much of the season, finishing nine points behind SPAL, whose 71 points were second in all of Lega Pro. After pulling within one point of SPAL with five weeks to go, they had a pair of draws, including a 1-1 draw to Pontedera. During that match, Gattuso was said to have "repeatedly directed offensive language" towards the referee, before he removed himself from the touchline and went to the locker room for the remainder of the match. He was suspended by Lega Pro for the final three matches, of which they drew one, won one, and lost one--and only scored once in the process.
The season also saw a moment that was pure Gattuso, and reminded us of the fire that he had possessed while patrolling the midfield of the Rossoneri. In a match against SPAL, Gattuso became incensed with his head coach who was shouting out instructions. He walked up to him, slapped him, and began to give the orders himself.
However, when the moment of truth came, his players answered the call. They turned their home stadium into a fortress during the playoffs, and then defended with all their might on the road. In return, they gave their manager his first major achievement in four attempts at management: a promotion to Serie B.
Gattuso has often spoken of managing a big-name club, once saying he would love to manage at Manchester United and would "walk all the way to Manchester" if that's what it took. He has also stated he would be interested in leading Glasgow Rangers, as well as AC Milan.
However, after numerous clubs began to make inquests as to his availability during this run--including newly-promoted Serie A side Crotone--Gattuso has made it clear that he doesn't plan on going anywhere, anytime soon. "It's true, I've received numerous offers with generous salaries," Gattuso recently stated, "but I want to remain here and rewrite the history books with this club. These guys, this place, I don't want to abandon them. I'm living in a great moment thanks to them."
For the club, this is a massive moment as well. In 2009, Pisa Calcio--as the club was known then--were relegated in their final match of the season, to the shock of many. The relegation brought to light financial issues that were unknown to many, and as a result the club was unable to register for Lega Pro. They were rebranded AC Pisa 1909 and had to start all the way down in Serie D. They were promoted twice in two seasons to make it to Lega Pro. Now, they will return to Serie B and hope for a fairy-tale ending to their run, and somehow find a way to the top flight of Italian football.
Maybe one day, Gattuso will be the man to take over the reigns at AC Milan, and do something that Clarence Seedorf and Pippo Inzaghi were unable to do. For now, Milan fans have a team to root for in Serie B next season. If his team continues to play with the fire and tenacity that their manager has shown for nearly two decades, I'm sure Rossoneri fans will be happy to root for the man they affectionately called Ringhio and cheer for AC Pisa.