Imagine being a coach who is always on a hiding to nothing, knowing that every match you play is almost certain to end in defeat. But then imagine the pleasure gained from seeing every little step in improvement - a reward for the unstinting work put in by coaching staff and players alike.
Giampaolo Mazza looks after the footballing fortunes of San Marino, one of the smallest states in Europe, surrounded by Italy and with a population of some 28,000 people. San Marino became a member of UEFA in 1988, since when the tiny republic's football community has been hard at work developing the sport while remaining realistic about its status within the European game. uefa.com caught up with Mazza to discuss the state of play in San Marino.
uefa.com: You enter another EURO qualifying round as the big outsiders – how philosophical are you at always having this role?
Giampolo Mazza: I often discuss it with the players. Even if this situation could be frustrating, we live with defeats in a philosophical way. We know that we have little chance of collecting points, but don't forget that it is a great honour for our team to play in the biggest stadiums, against world-class players. Every time we play, we always try to do our best - that's what always keeps me and the players enthusiastic.
uefa.com: How do you motivate your team? For the coach of a small national team, what, realistically, constitutes success?
GM: I know we can't realistically hope to win matches against stronger opponents, so it can be very easy for a player to become discouraged during a game. In these situations, we usually fix 'alternative targets' before matches: these help us maintain concentration and motivation, in spite of huge defeats. For example, in these types of matches, our goal can be to improve our ball possession, or to try not to concede goals in the closing minutes, as often happens to us. Success is when we reach these goals, or every time we show signs of a little improvement.
uefa.com: Tell us about player development in San Marino. In which clubs do the players play?
GM: At the moment, San Marino has no professional players. Most of the national players play in regional divisions in Italy. The player who plays at the highest level is forward Andy Selva, who plays for Bellaria in Serie D.
uefa.com: How about youth development?
GM: Since 1998, San Marino's national association has had direct control of young players. In most cases, clubs can't sustain youth teams, so I think it was a correct decision to exploit our small resources, both human and financial, in the best way. Sammarinese youngsters are grouped by age in different teams that participate [as San Marino] in Italian youth leagues, playing against club teams of the same age.
uefa.com: How do you plot your strategies for dealing with so-called stronger teams? Must your strategy always be defensive or reactive?
GM: Of course, we have to pay attention to our defence, so we always play with five defenders, in order to give less room to our opponents' forwards. But, obviously, we don't give up attacking. In the last [FIFA] World Cup qualifying competition, we scored three goals, and this was a great result for us. At the moment, we are playing with a more offensive formation than we used to, with 5-3-2 instead of 5-4-1.
uefa.com: How close are San Marino to producing positive results against other nations in Europe?
GM: It's difficult to make any plans for the future, we don't have enough resources to say, 'In three or five or ten years, we will start to win matches'. Our plans are made day by day, trying to improve our play without being obsessed by results.
uefa.com: One day, it is certain, by the law of averages, that San Marino will shock the football world with a victory. If you were coaching the team, how would you react?
GM: I must admit that we sometimes think about it. And I am sure that our opponents are afraid of knowing that we have never recorded a victory, because everybody knows the laws of averages and nobody wants to be the first. It will be a historic result, and of course it would be great if I was still in charge. I think people would consider me a hero. [laughs]
uefa.com: Finally, what are your ambitions for yourself and for your team?
GM: I hope our players will keep giving their best and show great sportsmanship in every game, so that at the end of a match, whatever happened on the field, they'll have gained the praise of both sets of supporters, as happened against Poland. It made us proud of our work.
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