Archive for September, 2011

Societá Studio e Divertimento (“Society for Sports and Entertainment”), a multi-sport club known for their black and white uniforms, were formed in 1904. It wasn’t until 1908 that they opened their football section Societa Sportiva Robur, the club we now know as A.C. Siena. Siena, like many other European clubs, have a number of teams playing different sports, and so the football section have retained the nickname Robur (“strength”) to differentiate between Siena’s two basketball teams (Mens Sana and Virtus).

Siena didn’t officially become a Serie A team until 2003, but their top flight history stretches as far back as 1945. Though Torino’s Scudetto remains official, statistics from the 1945-46 “Serie A” season have been discarded. This is due to the competition’s composition. In the midst of the Second World War several Italian teams were understandably unable to fulfil their calcio obligations.

Because so many teams had to withdraw, the competition officially became “Serie A-B,” with several southern Serie B teams (including Siena) filling the gaps left by the withdrawn Serie A sides. Siena won just twice from twenty games and finished 10th out of 11 teams, but that was probably to be expected given the elevated level of competition.

The Robur went back to Serie B after this brief flirtation with top flight but only lasted two seasons before being relegated to Serie C for the 1948-49 season. The next few decades worth of Robur history are pretty unremarkable. They flip-flopped between Serie C/Serie C1 and Serie D for half a century and didn’t return to Serie B until 2000.

This is where their fortunes start to improve dramatically. Siena finished 13th and 15th in their first two Serie B seasons before a massive upturn saw them win the league in 2002-03. Manager Giuseppe Papadopolu led a squad featuring the likes of current Roma winger Rodrigo Taddei into Serie A for the first time in the Robur’s history, and Siena finished a credible 13th.

Several seasons bottom-half finishes and relegation battles followed. The Robur never finished above 13th in seven seasons before a 19th-place finished in 2009-10 saw them relegated. As unspectacular is this record looks, staying in Serie A for such a long period was a huge achievement. The vast majority of Siena’s history has seen the club competing below Italian football’s second tier, and the 2000-01 seasons was the first time they’d been above Serie C1 in over 50 years. That they were able to maintain a lengthy Serie A run after years in the wilderness is very impressive.

Former Juventus midfielder Antonio Conte joined as manager for Siena’s first season back in Serie B. Conte was coming off a disastrous spell as Atalanta manager the year before, but he’d achieved Serie A promotion with Bari in 2008-09 and was charged with repeating the feat with the Robur. Conte enjoyed a productive season with Siena: the Robur were a constant threat to Atalanta’s title charge and a second-place finish saw them promoted.

Such was the strength of Conte’s contribution that he was offered (and accepted) the Juventus job at the end of the season. Current Siena manager Giuseppe Sannino isn’t as big a name as Conte but he’s a lower league veteran. This is the first time Sannino has ever managed in Serie B, but his record with Varese (his previous club) is incredible. Sannino performed minor miracles in guiding the Leopardi to two successive promotions and a 4th-place Serie B finish in his three years in-charge, and the Robur will be hoping his obvious skills can guide them to Serie A safety.

I’m not going to talk about the season ahead too much as I’ve already covered this in my Serie A Weekly article. I will, however, be taking a look summer signing Gaetano D’Agostino later in the week and I hope to be able to find out a little bit more about the 1945-46 Serie A-B season too.

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Just a quick update to let you all know that I have a new article up on Serie A Weekly that just so happens to focus on this week’s featured team, Siena. In it I take a look back at an excellent week for the Robur that saw them take a point from Roma and three from Lecce. There’s a little bit on their squad, manager and long-term prospects, so click here to check out my take on Siena’s current situation.

Tomorrow I should have a little ditty on Siena’s history posted. Stay tuned.

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This Week on ATP

Associazione Calcio Siena currently sit 9th in Serie A having collected 5 points from their first 4 games. They are a newly-promoted side who finished 2nd in Serie B last year after just a single season away from the top flight. Siena play at the 15,373 capacity Stadio Artemio Franchi and are nicknamed the Bianconeri (“white-black”) or Robur (“strength”).

I don’t know much about Siena. I know they enjoyed a decent spell in Serie A before their relegation in 2009-10 and that Antonio Conte managed them last season, but that’s about it. I’m a bit more familiar with their name because they’re not complete Serie A newbies but I draw a blank on their history, squad and… well, just about everything else.

They’ve had a couple of decent results this season with last Sunday’s 3-0 win over Lecce and a 0-0 draw with Luis Enrique’s new-look Roma sticking-out. They play Palermo this weekend: hopefully I’ll get an opportunity the watch the full ninety minutes and not just highlights.

This should be another fun week of reading-up on another club I’m completely unfamiliar with. I’ll be documenting their condensed history in a post this evening before presenting my thoughts on their win over Lecce on Wednesday. After that I’ve no idea what I’m going to write about. I’ll just trawl their history until I find something particularly interesting to write about, as I’ve already done for Milan and Novara.

Check back later for more on Siena.

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I am sad to report that “Novara week” came to a disappointing end on Sunday. The Biancoazzuri lost 2-1 away to fellow Serie A returnees Atalanta to cap-off a rollercoaster week that started with a 3-1 defeat of Inter. Novara were excellent on Tuesday, bettering the Nerazzurri in every department and well-worth their historic win. Their fire and grinta were too much for an Inter side too uncomfortable and wobbly to pose a threat, they had a far rougher time this weekend.

Novara were admittedly unlucky. They’d been playing well until Giuseppe Gemiti’s defensive lapse gave Ezequiel Schelotto a free header on 34 minutes. The goal was harsh on the away side who’d created more opportunities than Atalanta in the opening stages with Riccardo Meggiorini looking particularly threatening.

Unfortunately the Biancoazzurri amped-up the sloppiness after the opener and chance after chance went begging. Marco Rigoni flashed a header across goal before Meggiorini wasted two great chances from close range. Attilio Tesser’s side had nobody else to blame but themselves when Luca Cigarini scored Atalanta’s second after 59 minutes, such was Novara’s wastefulness in-front of goal.

Novara refused to give-up. They continued to push Atalanta and Rigoni come close again midway through the second-half. Eventually Novara got the goal they’d been looking for when Filippo Porcari struck on the 89th minute. The comeback was on, and the Biancoazzurri had the ball in the net again in stoppage time but substitute Pablo Granoche’s tap-in was ruled offside.

Replays, however, clearly show that this was the wrong decision. The speed of Porcari’s through-ball caught the Atalanta defence flat-footed which gave Granoche plenty of space behind them, but he was evidently onside when the ball was played.

The Biancoazzurri were unfortunate not to get something from the game. Their equalizer definitely wasn’t offside and they balance of play was even throughout with Novara managing 11 shots and 47% possession. But as unlucky as Novara were, they really shot themselves in the foot by not taking their chances. They probably could’ve had the game won by half-time and definitely created enough goalscoring opportunities to earn at least a point.

I’ve talked about Novara’s lack of a goal threat before but never has it been more apparent. The Biancoazzurri are going to run into serious difficulties this season if their frontmen don’t sharpen-up. As decent as their general play is it’ll mean little if they can’t take their chances, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Novara signed a striker or two in January.

This has been the most enjoyable week of the season so far. I’ve learned a lot about Novara, their history and some of the people who’ve shaped the club. I can’t wait to revisit Silvio Piola’s legacy when I look at some of his other clubs, and I loved researching Attilio Tesser’s managerial career and the uplifting change in fortunes he’s gone through lately.

I’ll definitely be revisiting Novara Calcio when the fixtures repeat themselves in the new year. For now, though, it’s onto this week’s feature club…

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When I started researching Novara I read somewhere that Attilio Tesser was the longest-serving manager in Serie A. I was shocked. The guy’s only been with his current employers since June 2009, I thought, surely there are at least 3 or 4 other Serie A managers who’ve been incumbent longer than two years?.

I already knew that Italian clubs (in the top tier, at least) weren’t exactly known for managerial longevity, but this seemed ridiculous. Two years! Really?!

Yes, really. The current longest-serving Serie A manager has only been with his club since 2009. Sadly, this manager isn’t Attilio Tesser. Further research told me that Luigi De Canio (a man I remember from his stint as Queens Park Rangers manager) has been at Lecce since March 2009, beating Tesser by three months. Boo hiss.

Still, it’s pretty amazing that Serie A’s two longest-serving managers have only been incumbent since 2009. Ten Serie A teams started the season with new managers, so maybe I shouldn’t have been that surprised, but it was pretty shocking to somebody like me. I’m used to Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, but Italian coaches are lucky if they get two years of employment. What is this madness?!

Discovering that De Canio had been at Lecce for longer than Tesser had been at Novara took a bit of gloss off the Biancoazzurri coach, but I still felt compelled to research his career. Here’s what I’ve found with the resources available to me.

Tesser’s playing career lasted from 1974 to 1991. Starting his career with Calcio Montebelluna (where he stayed for four years), Tesser would play for Treviso and Napoli before signing for Udinese in 1980. This was unquestionably the most productive spell of his playing career. In five seasons Tesser, a defender, notched-up over a hundred appearances for the Zebrette, scoring six goals in the process.

His time in Udine came to an end in 1985, and Tesser played for (then) lower-league sides Perugia, Catania and Trento before retiring in 1991. During his playing career Tesser earned 5 Italian under-21 caps but never really threatened to break into the senior side. Sadly, this is all I’ve been able to find-out about Tesser’s playing career other than a handful of appearance stats.

Tesser’s coaching career started in 1992 when he was appointed manager of Serie D’s Sevegliano. Sevegliano were then what they are today: a tiny, amateur side that don’t really stick-out among the myriad of provincial sides that populate Italian football’s lower tiers. Still, Sevegliano gave Tesser the opportunity to cut his managerial teeth. I’ve always thought it beneficial for young managers to start plying their trade at smaller clubs away from the spotlight. Working in such a low-pressure environment would’ve given Tesser a chance to master the craft and learn from his mistakes.

In 1994 Tesser left Sevegliano to rejoin former club Udinese as a youth coach. He worked with Udinese’s youngsters for two years before joining Venezia in a similar capacity. After seven years as a youth coach Tesser decided that the time to move into professional management had come, and he signed his first full-time managerial contract with F.C. Sudtirol-Alto Adige in 2001.

He stayed with the Serie C2 side for two seasons, guiding them to 4th in 2001-02 and 3rd in 2002-03. Suditrol made the Serie C2 group play-off final in both of these seasons, but fell to Brescello the first time round and Tesser’s current employer’s Novara the second.

In summer 2003 it was time to move-on. Serie B side Triestina had taken note of Suditrol’s good performances under Tesser and decided to take him to the Stadio Nereo Rocco. Sadly, Tesser didn’t fare quite as well with Triestina. The club had finished 5th the season before Tesser’s appointment, but Teser could only guide them to 10th in his first season in-charge.

Tesser’s second Triestina season was dismal. Finishing 19th in Serie B, Triestina found themselves in a relegation play-off with Vicenza. Tesser’s squad won the play-off (although the result was made irrelevant in the wake of a match-fixing scandal involving champions Genoa (another story for another day)), but the coach left at the end of the season.

Triestina’s struggles under Tesser weren’t exactly his fault and it’s unfair to describe his time with the club as a complete failure. I’ve learned that the board sold most of the squad’s key players from under Tesser’s hands, and the squad that started the 2004-05 season barely resembled that which he assumed he was taking over. On the surface it looks like Tesser was severely undermined at Triestina, but such is life in the trenches.

Cagliari handed Tesser his first Serie A job in 2006. At that point it was by far the biggest break of Tesser’s managerial career, but it would also be the shortest. Chairman Massimo Cellino sacked Tesser after just one match, a 2-1 loss to Siena. Sadly, Tesser was never really given a chance at Cagliari. Cellino, on the eve of the game, allegedly approached Tesser and said “let’s see if you are a lucky man.” This begs the question why Cellino employed Tesser in the first place, as such ominous works suggest Tesser was never going to last beyond his first defeat.

Tesser moved to Ascoli for the start of the 2006-7 season but his fortunes failed to improve. Ascoli sacked Tesser after the side collected just 4 points from their first 11 games. Though his record was poor, Tesser was once again a victim of bad lucky. In one game, for example, Ascoli were leading Roma 2-1 going into stoppage time. Roma scored a goal in the 92nd minute that was clearly offside, but the goal was given and the match finish 2-2. Perhaps Tesser would’ve turned things around if he’d been given more time, but his replacement Nedo Sonnets hardly fared better and Ascoli were relegated from Serie A.

His reputation tainted after failures at Triestina, Cagliari and Ascoli, Tesser endured a brief period in the managerial wilderness before joining Serie B side Mantova for the 2007-8 season. Mantova finished 8th the year before and made it perfectly clear that promotion was their goal.

Mantova started brightly under Tesser but it wasn’t to last. Tesser was dismissed in February 2008 with Mantova 7th in the league and seven points from a play-off place. It looked increasingly like Mantova would miss-out on promotion that season, but perhaps they should’ve retained Tesser’s services: they finished 9th without him.

Tesser would again have to drop down the leagues for his next job. It came in 2009 with Lega Pro Prima Divisione side Padova, but again Tesser’s employment was short-lived. Padova won four points in five games with Tesser at the helm, but he was sacked after just a month and a half.

Pretty depressing story so far, right? At this point I can’t help but feel sorry for Tesser. He had to cope without his best players at Triestina, was barely given a chance at Padova and Cagliari, and his time at Mantova wasn’t exactly disastrous. Aside from his poor Ascoli record, Tesser has been very unfortunate. I’m surprised he didn’t contemplate retirement after such a disappointing spell, but the man from Montebelluna finally got his break in 2009.

Novara’s first season under Tesser was a great success. The Biancoazzurri were promoted from the Lega Pro Prima Divisione with four games to spare and were eventually crowned champions. Their promotion ended a spell of over 30 years away from Italy’s top two tiers, and Tesser was rightly hailed as a hero for the work he’d done.

Ex-Inter Milan striker Nicola Ventola played a key role in Novara’s promotion push. Signed by Tesser in the second-half of the season, it was Ventola’s brace that secured a 3-3 draw with Cremonese and promotion back to Serie B. Ventola sadly went on to endure a series of serious injuries that would eventually end his career, but his contribution to Novara’s rise will never be forgotten.

Novara started the 2010-11 unfancied and favourites for relegation. This was Tesser’s opportunity to prove himself: he’d already shown his abilities in the lower leagues, but previous spells in Serie A and B had hardly been kind to him. Amazingly Novara finished 3rd and defeated Reggina, who finished 6th, in a two-leg promotion play-off final. Tesser’s Novara had finally returned to Serie A after a 55-year absence, and they’d done it with a swashbuckling brand of attacking football that was as exciting as it was effective.

Keeping Novara up will be the sternest test of Tesser’s managerial ability thus far, but whatever happens you’d think he’d done enough to earn a long stay at the Stadio Piola. Novara are a tiny club unaccustomed to playing at the highest level, and they’re back in the top flight thanks to Tesser’s assured management. Their squad lacks an all-out goalscorer and they’re favourites for relegation, but Tesser’s job will surely be safe even if they are relegated. Guiding any team to two consecutive promotions is no mean feat, let alone a club of Novara’s small stature and minuscule budget.

Whether or not Novara will be able to keep hold of Tesser is another matter. Tesser looks like he’s finally turned his managerial career around. Maybe it’s a case of right place, right time, but Tesser has clearly done an excellent job at Novara. Given the notorious trigger-happy nature of Serie A chairmen it surely won’t be long before a bigger club comes knocking…

For now, Tesser has the task of keeping Novara in Serie A ahead of him. He’s been run through the mill countless times, but now he’s at the helm of a Serie A side and has played a big role in one of calcio’s great resurgence stories. Here’s to Attilio Tesser and Novara Calcio.

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I didn’t take an in-depth look at last week’s AC Milan vs. Napoli tie for a reason. From now on I’ll be working on a weekly “Team of the Week” article for the good folks at Serie A Weekly. Each week I’ll be taking the team I feel had the best weekend and taking a look at their performance (while analysing their current situation and prospects). This week I chose Napoli for their impressive counter-attacking display against the Scudetto holders.

Take a look at the article here.

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Silvio Piola

Silvio Piola is the highest goalscorer in Serie A history. Scoring 274 league goals in 537 appearances, Piola scored 49 more goals than his closest rival (Gunnar Nordahl) in a career spanning four decades. Also boasting 30 international goals in 34 Azzurri games, Piola is rightly remember as one of calcio’s all-time greats, and he spent the last seven season of his career with this week’s feature club, Novara.

Joining the Biancoazzurri from Juventus in 1947, Piola struck 16 goals in 30 appearances to help lead Novara to the Serie B title and promotion to Serie A. Thus began Novara’s longest ever run in the top tier: a period of eight seasons lasting until 1956, two years after Piola’s retirement.

Scoring 86 times in his 185 Biancoazzurri appearances, Piola is so fondly remembered by Novara that they named their stadium after him in 1976. The Stadio Silvio Piola is still Novara’s home to this day, and recently underwent a 7,000-seat expansion for their first Serie A campaign since the fifties.

Unfortunately, like a lot of Novara’s history, English-language information on Piola is hard to find online. Such is the problem when researching Italian clubs that aren’t based in Milan, Turin or Rome. The fact that Piola plied his trade so long ago doesn’t really help matters either, but this is where John Foot’s bible of Italian football, Calcio</I>, comes in.

A legend for Pro Vercelli (who also named their stadium after him), Lazio and Novara, Piola was prolific everywhere he went and also enjoyed productive spells at Juventus and Torino. Piola signed for Novara aged 34, played for Italy until he was 38 and was 40 when he retired.

Even in 2011, with all the advances we’ve made in sports science, it’s very rare for an outfield player to survive at the highest level for so long. Silvio Piola, however, knew how to take care of himself. Hedonism had no place in his life, with Piola shunning the limelight to concentrate on playing football and looking after his body. The general assumption was that he was going to Novara to wind down and retire: instead he maintained a goalscoring ratio of roughly one goal every two games and wrote himself into Biancoazzurri folklore.

Piola was an out-and-out striker. Equally adept at shooting from distance and finishing up-close, Piola was good with both feet and strong in the air. His range of attributes made him a unique player for his generation, as Italy was more accustomed to producing “specialist” forwards during Piola’s era rather than all-rounders.

His Azzurri goalscoring record is phenomenal, and he would surely have gone on to enjoy even more success had the Second World War not curtailed his international career. Piola won the 1938 World Cup with Italy, partnering Giuseppe Meazza up-front, his physicality providing the perfect foil to the technically outstanding Inter legend.

Surprisingly, Piola failed to pick-up a single Serie A winners medal despite his goalscoring exploits and glorious international record. He finished as a runner-up thrice (once with Lazio, twice with Juventus) but the Scudetto continued to elude him until retirement.

This is more to do with the clubs he played for more than anything else. Pro Vercelli’s dominant period ended seven years before Piola’s emergence, Lazio didn’t win their first Scudetto until long after his retirement, he was only at Juventus and Torino for a couple of seasons, and it would’ve taken a miracle for a club of Novara’s size to win Serie A, even with Piola’s contribution.

Regardless of this silverware shortage, Piola is a true calcio legend. A Biancoazzurri hero, a lethal marksman and a great professional, his place in history is secure. I knew a bit about Piola prior to starting this blog, but I’ve really enjoyed learning about his legacy, international exploits and character. My only regret is that I couldn’t discover a little bit more about his time at Novara.

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