It has taken Thiago Motta just six years to progress from the bottom of the coaching ranks to one of the most sought-after tacticians in Europe: here’s how the ex-Italy international has taken the Rossoblu to the Champions League and became the leading candidate for the Juventus job.

The 41-year-old’s appointment at Bologna was not greeted with universal approval yet the former Italy international has led the Rossoblu to the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history.

It is a monumental achievement for a coach who was belittled for suggesting the merits of a 2-7-2 formation when he transitioned from the pitch to the dugout with the Paris Saint-Germain under-19 squad.

Motta’s pathway to qualification for Europe’s top competition has been unconventional.

Sacked after just 10 games at the helm in Genoa the ex-Inter midfielder had to wait patiently before leading Spezia to safety in the 2021-2022 season. Drafted in when Bologna relieved Sinisa Mihajlovic of his duties in September 2022, the Brazilian-born coach was not greeted by hordes of cheering Rossoblu ultras.

Yet Motta guided the club to its best-ever points tally in the modern era—matching the 54 recorded by the 1963-1964 championship-winning team—as he steered the Emilia-Romagna club to ninth in the table.

Nobody foresaw such an improvement this term.

The benefits of a full pre-season as coach and excellent player recruitment, especially in defence, yielded spectacular results.

Motta’s willingness to adapt different strategies within a flexible formation while utilising every talented squad member produced a formidable team that was undaunted to duke it out with the Serie A heavyweights.

The young tactician ostensibly lined up his side in a 4-3-3 configuration with an emphasis on the flanks. It has also been interpreted as 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1 depending on his starting XI. Yet there has been consistency in the deployment of a back four, a holding midfielder, two wingers and a lone forward.

Motta favours an advanced press to suffocate the opposition and retrieve possession rapidly. A calculated build-up from the back aims to manipulate occupied areas, as the widemen rarely stray from the touchlines.

Everyone tracks back as Bologna resembles two blocks of four and five when defending their goal. It is a mixture of pragmatic and creative, as Motta’s side’s fitness and physical tenacity have proved the difference in several big games.

An animated and motivational presence on the sidelines, the former Inter treble winner clearly has the respect of a committed player pool. Before an extremely unfortunate season-ending injury, Lewis Ferguson established himself as one of the leaders in a side with multiple match winners.

The Scottish midfielder’s link-up play with Dutch forward Joshua Zirkzee had been a hallmark of a Rossoblu side which patiently dictates from the back.

Motta transformed former full-back Riccardo Calafiori into a ball-playing central defender with a license to roam forward. The ex-Roma youth product now looks certain to be part of Luciano Spalletti’s Italy squad at the European Championships after an outstanding campaign.

Although there are reliable mainstays—Austrian full-back Stefan Posch, Colombian stopper Jhon Lucumi, and Dutch centre-back Sam Beukema in defence, Swiss midfielder anchor Remo Freuler, and Zirkzee upfront—Motta has often rotated his squad, leaving key players out.

Even star winger Riccardo Orsolini has not been guaranteed a starting place as the coach has tweaked his team with surprising regularity.


It is a testament to Motta’s decision-making and man-management that no schisms have emerged in the 24-strong squads despite the changes.

His ability to keep fringe players fresh and focused should not be underestimated either.

Motta has not left anyone on the bench permanently.

Italian under-21 cap Giovanni Fabbian, Moroccan international Oussama El Azzouzi and versatile Danish forward Jens Odgaard have all made vital contributions when called upon. Backup goalkeeper Federico Ravaglia has also played his part in place of regular first-choice Lukasz Skorupski.

Without such a unified effort the Rossoblu’s advance up the standings would not have been possible. Success inevitably attracts admirers and Motta might be coaching a different club in the Champions League next term.

It has been widely reported for weeks that Juventus, who travel to Stadio Renato Dall’Ara on Monday night, want the Brazilian-born coach to replace Massimiliano Allegri.

Regardless of where he ends up, the innovative young tactician can look back on a milestone campaign that will be remembered for years to come in Bologna.