The Roma world is in mourning after the loss of one of the club’s own, iconic former head coach Carlo Mazzone.
Mazzone has passed away at the age of 86 after a life in which he got to play (albeit briefly) for and (more notably) coach his hometown club, Roma.
Born in the Italian capital in March 1937, when AS Roma was approaching 10 years in existence, Mazzone formed in the club’s academy ranks, setting out on a career in which he played as a defender. Before getting the chance to debut for the first team, he moved to Latina, but he was brought back to Roma for the 1958-59 season.
At the time, the team was coached by legendary former AC Milan striker Gunnar Nordahl, whose squad included players like Giacomo Losi, Alcides Ghiggia, Dino Da Costa and Arne Selmosson. Mazzone had to be patient for playing opportunities, making his Serie A debut as late as 31st May in a draw with Fiorentina (the penultimate game of the campaign), before also appearing in the season closer, a win over Torino.
In the summer of 1959, a new era began for Roma, with Losi taking over from Egidio Guarnacci as captain and Alfredo Foni replacing Nordahl as coach. It was also time for Mazzone to leave the club, as he signed for SPAL in a permanent deal. He failed to play for them in his short spell, though, and his time in the top flight ended there.
Mazzone went on to spend most of his career playing in Serie C, first with Siena but mainly with Ascoli, for whom he would make more than 200 appearances before embarking on his managerial career with them in 1969. He would guide the club from the third tier to the top flight, quickly showing his potential on the touchline.
Spells with Fiorentina and Catanzaro followed before he was appointed by Ascoli for a second time in 1980. After four years there, his next clubs were Bologna, Lecce, Pescara and Cagliari. He led the latter into Europe, before in 1993, at the age of 56, the call came from a Roma setup entering the Franco Sensi presidency.
Appointed as the successor to Vujadin Boskov, who had been the coach to give Francesco Totti his debut, Mazzone inherited a squad that included Aldair and Giuseppe Giannini, and had just signed Abel Balbo, who was their top scorer in his debut season. After a 10th-place finish under Boskov, Mazzone improved Roma’s fortunes by leading them to seventh (although they drew more games than they won or lost). Meanwhile, in the Coppa Italia, they lost on penalties in the round of 16.
Mazzone’s first game in charge had been a 2-0 loss at Genoa, before the following week, goals by Balbo and Roberto Muzzi earned them a 2-1 win over Juventus upon his home debut at Stadio Olimpico (which was not the ground he used to play at for Roma).
In his second season, Roma rose again in the table, this time to fifth, which earned them a place in the UEFA Cup. The Coppa Italia run this time went one round further, to the quarter-finals.
After the double signing of Jonas Thern and Daniel Fonseca from Napoli, among other additions but the loss of players like Sinisa Mihajlovic, Ruggiero Rizzitelli and Thomas Hassler, an improving Balbo was once again Roma’s leading marksman with 22 goals, while Totti opened his account for the club in September 1994 against Foggia.
One of the highlights of the season was a 3-0 win against Lazio in November, ending a streak of eight Rome derbies without a win (seven of them had been draws). Unfortunately, it was the only time Mazzone won a derby for his beloved club, but at the time, it was the biggest winning margin by either rival in a head-to-head since November 1960.
The subsequent season was Mazzone’s third and final on the touchline for his hometown club. They matched their fifth-place finish from 1994-95, and although they only reached the second round of the Coppa Italia, they got to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup. Another notable aspect from the season was Totti earning his first call-up for the Italy national team, showing how he had developed under Mazzone.
Mazzone’s last match as Roma manager was a 1-0 win at home to Inter in May 1996, which was won by a Luigi Di Biagio penalty. Then, in a summer of change, he left, as did club captain and fellow Roman, Giannini.
Mazzone’s most-used players for Roma were left-back Amedeo Carboni and midfielder Massimiliano Cappioli, both of whom played 103 times under him. Marco Lanna and Balbo also surpassed a century of appearances across his three years at the helm; the latter was comfortably the top scorer of his era with 52 goals, more than twice as many as runner-up Fonseca’s 20.
Totti, meanwhile, scored 11 times from 71 appearances granted by Mazzone. Only Luciano Spalletti, Fabio Capello and Zdenek Zeman would ever give him more games of his record-breaking stint for the club.
After winning 51 games, drawing 39 and losing 31, Mazzone’s win ratio at Roma was 42.15%, which was his best since his first ever role at Ascoli and would only be surpassed after from his second Bologna term.
Carlos Bianchi came in as Mazzone’s replacement – and did not last long – while Carletto went on to return to Cagliari. He then had a brief spell with Napoli before second and third stints at Bologna either side of time with Perugia and Brescia. The last club he coached was Livorno in 2006.
By the end of his managerial career, Mazzone had set a record for the most matches overseen by a coach in Italian football. His honour list was unfortunately small, but featured an Anglo-Italian Cup with Fiorentina and an Intertoto Cup with Bologna.
Mazzone can also be remembered for influencing the managerial career of ex-Roma player Pep Guardiola, whom he coached at Brescia. He was also held in high regard by Totti for how he developed his career and remained fondly thought of by his people in Rome.
Incidentally, the only Rome-born coaches to manage Roma since Mazzone have been Bruno Conti and Claudio Ranieri. And his place of birth was a large part of Carlo’s identity; indeed, he was known for having a strong Roman accent.
Mazzone passed away in Ascoli Piceno, having also left a significant legacy there. But there will always be a significant place in Roman hearts for Sor Carletto.