‘Gus and I want to get back into the dugout’ - Taricco on his time at Town, working with Poyet and his future on the touchline
In the first of a new series of interviews with former Town players now coaching or managing, Mauricio Taricco talks to Richard Woodall about his time at Portman Road and his subsequent roles coaching alongside Gus Poyet.
Mauricio Taricco is surprised to know that he still very popular amongst Ipswich fans. Perhaps this stems from the fact he last played for the club in November 1998. 'Really?' he queries, when I tell him.
'It was quite a long time ago since I was there, but I have great memories of being an Ipswich player - in particular the derby games against Norwich. I always knew what that game meant for the fans and for everybody involved with the club. Winning the derby, oh my god, it was a nice feeling.'
It's that kind of motivation to put Norwich to the sword which made Taricco such a popular figure in the stands at Portman Road. Fans old enough to have seen the Argentinian full-back play regularly will remember him as a big game player; in fact following a pre-match presentation of his Supporters' Player of the Year gong in 1997, he went on to score in that evening's 2-0 win against Norwich. The Argentinian described the award at the time as the 'greatest honour of my career.'
Taricco would go on to make 167 starts for Ipswich and score half a dozen goals. Particularly memorable ones are strikes in the 2-0 League Cup win over Manchester United in 1997, as well as the 3-0 league win against Crystal Palace in 1998 where he scored following a solo run from inside his own half of the field.
Signed in September 1994 as a result of a scouting trip to South America by then Town boss John Lyall and scout Charlie Woods, the Argentinian under-23 international was previously at Argentinos Juniors - the same club at which Diego Maradona made his name. Taricco arrived in Suffolk alongside the more heralded Uruguayan striker Adrian Paz, but it was Taricco who would go on to become a household name.
Despite this, his first few months in England were far from smooth. A debut defeat to Bolton in the Coca Cola League Cup proved that adapting to the English game was a tough transition.
'I remember the time leading up my transfer to England' he said. 'I had the chance to go to either Portugal as well, but I really wanted to experience the English game so I chose Ipswich. It was a great decision. I was only 21-years-old back then, and my girlfriend and I decided to marry ahead of moving to England - another good decision!
'The first year at Ipswich was very difficult. It was the season we were relegated from the Premier League and I didn't make a league appearance. I spoke no English when I arrived, and the weather was very different to back home, and so at first it was very hard to adapt.
'George Burley was soon appointed as Ipswich manager, and I think he wanted to use some of the more experienced players initially, so I didn't play many games to start with. Although at the time it was difficult, I now see how it was a learning experience.
'But things were different the following season and we played some really nice football. For my first few games I played a lot as a right-sided full-back, but when Gus Uhlenbeek came into the team I moved to the left. It meant I had the chance to improve my left foot, as well as the angles I needed to make to receive and pass to teammates. I always felt comfortable close to the touchline - either side - it was a position where I understood my obligations to the team. In the end, I didn't mind if it was left or right.'
Town fans would get to see Taricco play for three more years before George Graham made him his first signing at Tottenham in November 1998 for £1.75m.
'I think I enjoyed my time as a Tottenham player the most when Glenn Hoddle was in charge', Taricco said. 'Like with Ipswich, playing for Spurs was an unbelievable experience, but overall I definitely enjoyed my time at Ipswich the most.'
Taricco's first coaching opportunity came as assistant manager of Brighton in 2009 and alongside manager Gus Poyet he won the League One title in 2011. Brighton then went on to reach the Championship semi-final play-offs in 2013. Additional spells in a similar role followed for both at Sunderland, AEK Athens, Real Betis, Shanghai Shenhua and FC Bordeaux.
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Taricco - who is now based in Argentina but admis his coaching roles around the world have taken him everywhere over a short period of time - says he and Poyet share many similar traits as a coaching and management team.
'When I choose who to work with, I want to know that they are a decent human being, and Gus Poyet is certainly that,' he said. 'This quality is not always easy to find in football.
'Both of us come from similar cultures and we think about football the same way. As well as wanting to win, we both want to put our players in situations where they will flourish. Both of us feel that sometimes as players, our managers didn't necessarily give us that chance.
'There will times in a game where you feel isolated in a 1v1 situation. As coaches, we want to ensure those situations do not occur more than once or twice a game. I was a smart player, but not the quickest, and so when I played I occasionally found it difficult confronting physically strong players, or players with a lot of pace such as Trevor Sinclair and Damian Duff.
'When I first arrived at Ipswich, the game was a lot more physical and tactically very different to what I was used to. For example, in Argentina, we would always cover a teammate if they were in a tricky 1v1 situation. But I remember my debut against Bolton in the Cup, I struggled because I thought I would get cover and I didn't. It wasn't anyone's fault; it was just I was used to a different way of playing football. But I think this has changed now - there is much more emphasis on thinking about tactics.
'As assistant coach, both Gus and I have similar ideas but we were different kind of players and so we each think in slightly different ways too. Maybe because I was a defender, my mentality is less about risk-taking, but Gus was an attacking midfielder and perhaps always looking to make the key pass or to score in order to kill a game. So there are similarities and differences.
'But both of us grew up playing football on the streets. There were not many coaches then and I think we both learnt the game through experience. I think now you need to tell the players absolutely everything and to give players confidence. We want our teams to control games - not end up in a frenetic 3-3 or 4-3 kind of game.
'As I say, I think managers now spend a lot of time on different formations in training. When I was at Ipswich, I think we played more or less the same system each week. Occasionally, we might go for wingbacks, but generally speaking there was not so much change as you find now.'
A natural question is to ask Mauricio how he feels about being the manager himself one day.
'I wouldn't want to be - unless Gus decided to do something else. As long as Gus wants to be a manger, I like working with him.
'Also, as assistant coach, I train lots and play regularly in the small sided games. That's what I really enjoy. When you're a manager, you have to think of the board and chairman too.'
He mentions that he still follows Ipswich's results.
'Yes, I have an app with match results for Ipswich,' he explains. 'Obviously, recently it's not been the best time for the club.'
One romantic notion amongst some Ipswich fans is for Poyet and Taricco to take the hotseat at Portman Road, but Taricco says he and Poyet never had any contact with the club when the two most recent managerial changes happened.
'At the moment, I am just enjoying watching lots of football games,' he explained. 'At the right time of course, Gus and I want to get back into the dugout. But not being a coach now means I've had the time to think a lot, and I'm currently learning about world finance, how the world's monetary system works, and why poverty still exists, so quite big topics!'
He added: 'When the phone goes and the right opportunity comes along, I'll be ready to be assistant manager again!'
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