November 30, 2022

Jose Mourinho’s frustration spilled over during Manchester United’s win over Zorya: Who is Giovanni Cerra?

September 30, 2016
  • Manchester United beat Zorya Luhansk 1-0 in the Europa League
  • Jose Mourinho cut an animated figure on the touchline at Old Trafford
  • The Portuguese was irritated by a tactical flipbook compiled by an analyst
  • Giovanni Cerra was responsible and was confronted by Mourinho
  • The Italian used to work for Microsoft and The Barbican
  • He’s dined with Mourinho and worked under him at former club Chelsea

Until Thursday evening, Giovanni Cerra’s role at Manchester United was very much in the shadows.

Now, after receiving both barrels and the full hairdryer treatment from Jose Mourinho on the Old Trafford touchline, the Italian has found himself thrust into the limelight.

But who is Cerra? What is his back story? And what did he do to deserve his calling-out from the Portuguese?

The London-educated Roman is a graphic designer by trade, whose role among Mourinho’s staff is that of an analyst – turning scouting data and the manager’s gameplans into charts and images, making the information more easily digestible for United’s players.

Cerra will receive statistics relating to each United game and use them to illustrate marking systems for corners, the movement of players in and out of possession or how the opposition operate ‘in transition’ – the phrase used to describe play moving from attacking to defensive situations and vice versa.

It is a role that has become more and more prominent in modern football. And more and more important.

Andre Villas Boas – the former Tottenham and Zenit St Petersburg manager – filled a similar position under Mourinho during their Chelsea days, albeit with the title of ‘assistant scout’ rather than analyst.

Villas Boas produced reports in exhaustive detail and chopping up video clips to turn into tactical DVDs for the Blues squad. His meticulous attitude to his work and understanding of tactical data played a major role in convincing Chelsea to hand him the top job in 2011.

It is unlikely Cerra has eyes on following in AVB’s footsteps or the qualifications to do so – the former Tottenham manager had earned his UEFA A licence by the age of 19 as he actively pursued a route into management – but learning one’s trade under Mourinho is not a bad place to start if he does.

Cerra was a later arrival into football.

Schooled in Rome, he worked in Milan and the Italian capital after graduating with a BA in industrial design a decade ago.

A keen amateur biologist who spent 12 months on an exchange programme at the Univesity of Plymouth in 2005 and 2006, he arrived in England for a second time in 2010 to study at Goldsmiths – the college of the University of London which boasts alumni including Turner Prize-winning artist Damien Hirst and sculptor Antony Gormley, the man responsible for the Angel of the North.

After a year in London studying interactive media, he was employed by Microsoft and volunteered for The Barbican in various roles including conferencing, social media development and even organising an arts festival before he joined Chelsea as lead visual designer.

Well versed in three languages – English and French as well as his mother tongue – he worked under Mourinho at Stamford Bridge before reconnecting with his old boss in the north west over the summer.

Cerra describes himself as having ‘a flair for conceptualising and envisioning ideas that meet both people’s and industry’s needs’.

Mourinho’s needs, unfortunately, are a little more extreme than most.

The United boss’s gripes on Thursday related to errors within a tactical match-pack, which Cerra compiled and which led to confusion over Paul Pogba’s role against Zorya Luhansk.

After an animated conversation with trusted assistant Rui Faria before the start of the game, and having pulled a selection of bemused expressions, the United chief stormed towards the dugout to confront Cerra.

‘It was, you know, set pieces, organisation,’ Mourinho later explained.

‘They changed their team before the game and Paul was a bit confused with the changes and obviously I want my assistants to take care of all the details.’

While the Portuguese’s rant seemed somewhat harsh at the time, it’s unlikely to have affected the pair’s relationship.

Cerra has dined with Mourinho at Bem Brasil – a steakhouse in Manchester’s Deansgate – and is part of a tight backroom unit at Old Trafford.

It’s unlikely to be long before he can quietly do his job in the shadows once again.


Education: Goldsmiths College (MA, Interactive Media); ISIA Roma Design (MA, Systems Design); University of Plymouth (BA exchange, Industrial Design); ISIA Roma Design (BA, Industrial Design); Universita degli Studi di Roma (BA, Performing Arts and Sciences); Liceo EQ Visconti High School, Rome


Present: Team analyst, Manchester United

Jul 2013-Jul 2016: Lead visual designer, Chelsea

Apr 2013-Jul 2013: Freelance visual Designer, InfinVision

Jan 2013-: Event organiser, The Barbican (voluntary)

Jan 2012-Aug 2012: Interaction designer, Unruly Media

Mar 2011-Aug 2011: Conference organiser, Microsoft Research

April 2007-Oct 2008: Graphic and web designer, Icon2



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