The hustle and bustle preventing the workers of Brescia’s unglamorous neighbourhood of Urago Mella from going to bed early on a Monday night had a definite epicentre: the Paul VI parish youth club.
Latecomers were trying to make their way through cars parked on the pavements. Thousands of eyes were already staring at a small synthetic field, packed with stars from Serie A’s past and present like Andrea Caracciolo and Dario Hübner. Among them, local legends Antonio and Emanuele Filippini were having fun in the most intimate of testimonials, some 50 metres from the house they grew up in under the watchful eye of their mother Teresa.
“Why do they have to play in shorts and a t-shirt? It’s too cold,” she shouted at USO Urago Mella coach Arturo Dassa upon taking their seven-year-old sons to a football pitch for the first time. “I’m not leaving them here unless they’re allowed to wear a jumper and a scarf!”
Antonio and Emanuele were born identical on 3 July 1973 and weren’t always in perfect health during their early years. That’s why Teresa never ceased to look after them, not even when they were grown men plying their trade in professional football.
This was proven by one time they played Bari, and rival coach Eugenio Fascetti repeatedly referred to them as “fucking dwarves” throughout the first 45 minutes. At half time, she rushed to the dressing room, introduced herself, then calmly addressed the source of her displeasure: “Hi, I’m the mum of the fucking dwarves, and you don’t look like Brigitte Nielsen either.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic took her life in April 2020, you can bet that such a hot-tempered woman had her mind at ease. Not only did her two children take over the highest tiers of Italian football, but they also did so while constantly watching each other’s back – on and off the field.
After taking their first steps between their neighbourhood and Voluntas Brescia, the Filippinis finally joined the youth ranks of the city’s main club in 1990. Then, from 1992 to 1995, they were loaned out to Serie C2 team Ospitaletto. After toughening themselves up in a league where a strong physique traditionally marks the difference between failure and success, the two diminutive twins went back to Brescia with every intention of staying.
Legend has it that Antonio, more used to the right flank, was a little tougher and less technical than Emanuele who, on the other hand, favoured the position of central or left midfield. What caught the eye though, was their absolute complementarity and the unsustainable pace they imposed on rivals. These characteristics allowed them to share a dressing room with the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Pep Guardiola and Roberto Baggio, and to swiftly became a staple of the Brescia side that shuttled between Serie A and Serie B at the turn of the millennium.
The two split up for the first time in 2002, when Emanuele joined Parma and gave Italian media outlets an unusual reason to take interest in their game against Brescia in November. “Emanuele is my twin, but he’ll be an opponent like any other at kick-off. Hopefully he won’t expect any preferential treatment,” bluntly declared Antonio before the clash, displaying the sporting ethic that made many coaches set so much store by him and his brother.
In a year and a half, the Filippinis stepped on a football pitch sporting different colours twice, with Emanuele earning bragging rights for many Christmas Eve suppers to come thanks to a win and a draw.
From January 2004, when Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini reunited the pair in Serie B, their career reverted back to a tandem affair. The only exceptions to this being the 2006/07 campaign and Antonio’s last two seasons, when his brother had already retired. From Palermo to Lazio, from Treviso to Livorno, every sporting director deemed it worthwhile to invest in the whole package. And it always paid off.
Never had two players been identified as such an individual entity as Antonio and Emanuele, and it wasn’t all about the appearance. It was about a way of conceiving football that made them look like two villains from a superhero comic, or the end bosses of a fantasy-themed video game.
“They’re two, but they look like ten. They drove me crazy. Every time I dribbled past one of them, the other one squared up to me. If I got rid of him, I had to face the first twin once again,” despairingly commented Rui Costa after a game versus Brescia. Even Ronaldo mentioned the dynamic duo when asked about his Serie A memories in 2019: “The Filippini twins were my nightmare. They were everywhere, always running a million miles an hour. They looked like five twins. I remember every match against them.”
Apart from their on-pitch worth, the Filippinis earned the respect of many for being men of integrity. Their moral principles led them to refuse Brescia boss Mircea Lucescu’s proposal to swap shirts at half time to spare Emanuele a second yellow in a game against Perugia. Paired with the tactical acumen they displayed as players, this allowed the twins to undertake a fruitful coaching career.
This eventually resulted in a match nothing short of a clásico for the people of Urago Mella. On 25 March 2018, five and a half years after their testimonial kickabout, Emanuele’s Rezzato took on Trento, managed by Antonio, in division B of Serie D. The former would consolidate their coach’s long-standing bragging rights over his brother through a 4-2 success.
Despite their never-faded dream of becoming the first twins to coach a Serie A team together, the second footballing life of Antonio and Emanuele has brought them farther and farther away from one another- at least geographically.
But if there’s a song that plays in their heads every time they’re distant and look back on the vast distance they’ve travelled, it is one written by Bruce Springsteen, the man who sparked their love for rock and even inspired the twins’ 2014 album Antonio Filippini and The Stalkers. Perhaps something to the tune of Blood Brothers: “We got our own roads to ride and chances we gotta take, we stood side by side each one fightin’ for the other, we said until we died we’d always be blood brothers …”
By Franco Ficetola @Franco92C14