It's my fault it didn't work out at Liverpool - but I'll never forget one wild week I had

VERCELLI, ITALY - AUGUST 13: Andrea Dossena Head coach of Pro Vercelli looks on prior to kick off in the Pre-Season Friendly match between Pro Vercelli and Juventus Next Gen at Stadio Silvio Piola on August 13, 2023 in Vercelli, Italy. (Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images)
-Credit: (Image: Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images)

“Liverpool cult hero is now completely unrecognisable as a manager”.

We see these kinds of headlines all the time when scouring the internet, and nine times out of ten, we’re left underwhelmed at the result. Yet in the case of Andrea Dossena, such media outlets might have a point.

It was back during last season's November international break when the Italian was the subject of such treatment, with a number of websites jumping on the bandwagon.

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After the aforementioned first hit, alerting the rest of the world wide web, ‘Liverpool cult hero looks unrecognisable in their new manager role - as former full-back is pictured on the touch-line in Italy's third division’ and ‘Liverpool icon who scored vs Man Utd now unrecognisable with full head of hair’, both followed elsewhere within the next 24 hours.

It’s admittedly true. When signed by Rafa Benitez in a £7m deal on this day in 2008, Dossena was a skinhead defender. Sold to Napoli 18 months later at a loss following a disappointing stint at Anfield, he returned with thick, dark locks when facing his former club in the Europa League the following season.

The 42-year-old is now manager of Serie C side SPAL, enjoying his fifth managerial stint since first taking to the dugout in 2019. And now boasting lighter, tied-back long hair, he looks very different from when he famously downed Real Madrid and Manchester United in the space of a week back in March 2009.

In truth, the Premier League winter break is probably a prime time for such ‘unrecognisable’ content to emerge. But at the time the ECHO thought they would just seek out an interview with Dossena himself instead. And no, his hairstyle was not something we included on the agenda.

Of course, a number of former Liverpool players from the Benitez era are now trying their hand at management. Xabi Alonso is the standout, thriving at Bayer Levekrusen, while Steven Gerrard’s reputation has taken a hit since winning the Scottish Premiership with Rangers, now managing in Saudi Arabia with Al-Ettifaq after being sacked by Aston Villa.

The chances are, you will have next to no idea about Dossena’s own managerial career in comparison, which saw him first take charge of Serie D side Crema, move on to Ravenna before stepping up to Serie C side Renate after a solitary campaign. He was on the move again after another single season when taking over at Pro Vercelli last summer. Then last month (June 2024) he moved to SPAL.

A career in management is something Dossena has wanted long before he moved to Liverpool in 2008. And while he would later return to England courtesy of stints with Sunderland and Leyton Orient as a player, the former Italy international admits he would like to return again, this time as a manger, if the opportunity ever arose.

“Since I was 20 years old in my first years as a professional, I understood that in post-football, the only role I liked was the coach,” he said. “Fortunately, dreaming costs nothing and allows you to work harder and harder every day to achieve your goal, so I think that each of us who wants to be ambitious should aim for the maximum.

“At the moment the best in football means the Premier League so yes, one day I would like to coach in England.”

Perhaps part of Dossena’s desire to return to the Premier League is to rewrite the view of him as a Liverpool flop? He would only make 31 appearances for the Reds, with just five coming in his second season at the club before signing for Napoli midway through the 2009/10 campaign.

With 22 coming from the start, he quickly fell from favour under Benitez. Looking back, the Italian admits he doesn’t think he worked hard enough to succeed and puts his struggles down to inexperience.

“For a young boy having his first experience abroad, it was certainly not easy,” he said. “The Premier League is very different from the Serie A and, unfortunately for us Italians, much more beautiful!

“In Italy we have a culture of work that is much more based on quantity, while you (in England) are very good at having an optimal quantity/quality ratio. In my opinion we lack this in order to adapt to your football because when we no longer work, as the quantity contains, the quality decreases accordingly.

“At least this was my problem in my case. I came from a culture of a lot of weekly work and in Liverpool we played every three days and we never trained. I would have had to train in my personal time so that at the time of my employment, I could have been at my 100%.

“I spoke to Benitez, I wasn't physically well. It wasn't his fault but I understood that I had to work on my own. But being inexperienced I didn't do it. My fault!

“If I went back instead of passively accepting it, I would behave differently. Now with the experience I certainly have in terms of daily work, I would make other choices.

“When I left, I wanted to return to Italy because, from speaking with Marcello Lippi (Italy manager), the best way to take my chances of earning a place in Italy's squad for South Africa (2010 World Cup) was to return to Italy.

“I certainly regret not being able to give my best due to my inexperience. No regrets about joining the club though, because in any case, Liverpool helped me grow both as a man, a footballer at the time, and as a coach today.”

Dossena had actually known of Liverpool’s interest in him four months before making the move to Anfield. The Reds weren’t the only side looking to sign him either, but it didn’t take long for his mind to be made up.

“In January 2008, I nearly moved to Tottenham but it didn’t happen,” he recalled. “Then in March 2008, I knew that Liverpool were targeting me.

“I spoke with Rafa and sports director Eduardo Macia, who tried to explain to me what that shirt meant, the history and the quality of the championship I was going to face.

“In Italy there were other teams interested, but the charm of the Reds and the Premier League prevailed.”

Despite his struggles, Dossena still has fond memories of his Liverpool career and playing alongside some modern legends of the game.

“A wild week, especially after the goal at Old Trafford!” he says when recalling his goals against Real Madrid and Man United. “The first thing I thought was, ‘Another one!’

“I think, especially due to the similar culture of life, I bonded more with the Spanish players. But now that I coach, I have stolen secrets from players like Carra (Jamie Carragher), Steven (Gerrard), Xabi (Alonso), or (Javier) Mascherano's intensity. It is very useful to me, they were fantastic.

“Jamie had the culture of Italian tactics mixed with English determination. He was a hammer and even if sometimes he was pressing, now you understand that he did it because, like Steve, he had the weight of an entire city team on his shoulders.”

Meanwhile, he also fondly recalls the reception he received when returning to Anfield with Napoli in November 2010.

Dossena said: “Coming back to Anfield was fantastic, especially for the welcome I didn't think I would receive. The Reds fans proved to be unique in that case. And that song (You’ll Never Walk Alone) in that stadium gets inside you and stays with you forever.

“The love from the fans has always been exceptional and I can say that, having worn that shirt, you feel special. I hope they remember me as a player who always tried to sweat his shirt off every time he was called into action.”

Dossena’s Liverpool career might not have worked out as he or the club would have hoped, but both the Italian and Kopites will always remember that week in March 2009 when he scored against Madrid and United.

But if the early signs from an encouraging managerial career to date, that has been over 20 years in the making, is anything to go by, it soon might not be all that he is known for in English football. Regardless of whether he one day returns to the Premier League or not, Dossena is well on his way to no longer being ‘unrecognisable’.

A version of this story was first published in January 2024