Massimo Maccarone and Maurizio Sarri go back many years, sharing in the joy of promotion to Serie A with Empoli in the 2013-14 season.
Empoli favourite Maccarone played at the Tuscan club when Sarri made his reputation there in a three-year stint that began in 2012, before the coach went on to Napoli, Chelsea and now Juventus.
Veteran boss Sarri only came to prominence in his early fifties, when Maccarone was a key figure in his Empoli side, just as Ronaldo now is at Juve.
While 61-year-old Sarri has forged a plan to fit superstar Ronaldo alongside Gonzalo Higuain and Paolo Dybala in a three-man Juve attack, it was once the case that he had a quandary involving Maccarone. Once he solved that puzzle, Empoli and Sarri went from strength to strength.
“At Empoli, the strikers were me and [Ciccio] Tavano, but he started with only one forward,” Maccarone told Stats Perform. “So, to let us both play – we were still young at 33 since we are still playing at 40 now, but still we were not so young – he adapted himself to the talent he had.
“This is when a manager proves to be smart. Ever since he changed the formation, we started getting points. Now he says, ‘I have got Cristiano Ronaldo who will score at least one goal per game, so I have to adapt my style to his’.”
Maccarone is a cult hero to many followers of Italian football, having returned from a spell in England with Middlesbrough to score regularly, largely for Siena and Empoli.
11 – Only 3 players have scored at least a goal in 11 league apps in a row in the Serie A history (considering the same Serie A campaign):
Gabriel Omar Batistuta in 1994/95
Fabio Quagliarella in 2018/19
Cristiano #Ronaldo in 2019/20
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) February 22, 2020
Still playing at the age of 40 for Serie C side Carrarese, he has fond memories of Sarri.
Maccarone and Tavano, who turned 41 last month, have taken their Empoli partnership to Carrara, where the veteran pair are again team-mates. Sarri knew they were a potent partnership, which is why he ripped up his lone-striker policy at Empoli.
That flexibility was rewarded in the 2013-14 campaign when Empoli were promoted to Serie A, and a year later Sarri was on his way to Napoli, his home city club.
Looking back on Sarri’s Empoli reign, Maccarone said: “At the beginning things didn’t work out well, but there his style was born. I think he is one of the best managers I had.
“He gives you a lot of motivation and is a good talker. On the pitch you already know where, how and when you will receive the ball, then of course you have to add your spin.
“I like Sarri’s way of playing football. When needed, he makes himself understood, he gets often angry because he wants everything perfect.”