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Archive for October, 2011

Now that I’ve familiarised myself with Lecce’s squad it’s time to follow the usual formula and research their history. The club was formed in 1908 as Sporting Club Lecce and, like a lot of Italian teams, competed in multiple sports (initially cycling, track-and-field and football).

Lecce spent their early days competing in regional competitions and actually disbanded during the 1923-24 season before returning in 1927 under their current moniker: Unione Sportiva Lecce. They continued to potter around in local southern Italian leagues, before a play-off with Taranto Sport (now of Lega Pro) was arranged in 1929 to see which side would enter the FIGC’s new Serie B competition.

Lecce won the game 3-2 and entered the inaugural 1929-30 Serie B season, defeated current Serie A side Novara 2-1 in their first fixture. A 13th-place finish that season was followed by 17th in 1930-31, but the club folded for a second time in 1932 and didn’t return for another four years.

Lecce's squad for the 1929-30 season: their first in Serie B.

It’s not clear why Lecce stopped competing at these times but I’d definitely like to find out. If I can learn more about these odd situations I’ll document what I’ve found later in the week.

The Salentini (“Salentians”) were placed in Serie C when they returned and finished 11th at the first time of asking (1936-37). Adding to the turmoil, Lecce had to withdraw from Serie C the next season and did so just four days into the new campaign. In 1938-39 they finished 3rd but the FIGC ended-up changing this to 12th when it was found that Lecce had violated the league’s federal regulations (how, again, isn’t clear).

Things improved for Lecce and they won Serie C in 1945-46, thus ending a sabbatical from Serie B. Three years later they were relegated back to Serie C which started a long period in the doldrums. This was a particularly grim period for Lecce fans as their club didn’t return to Serie B until 1976, but it did see the emergence of a hero in Anselmo Bislenghi. Bislenghi’s scored 84 league goals for Lecce during this period: a total that’s yet to be bettered.

Fortunately, Lecce have barely been in Serie C since. The past four decades have seen them frequently flutter between Serie B and Serie A, which has given them the reputation of a yo-yo team. I don’t think it’s too unfair to see them as calcio’s answer to West Brom.

Scandal erupted in 1980 (before the Salentini’s first Serie A promotion) when Lecce’s president Franco Jurlano was implicated as a match-fixer. Jurlano was able to prove his innocence, but player Claudius Merlo was hit with a lengthy ban. Misfortune of a different kind followed in 1983: players Michele Lorusso (the club’s appearance record holder with 415) and Ciro Pezzella perished in a car accident. The tragedy no doubt contributed to Lecce’s poor 14th finish in Serie B.

The Salentini won Serie A promoted for the first time in 1985 but couldn’t survive and were immediately relegated. They reached the play-offs next season but a 2-1 loss to Cesena meant they’d have to wait until 1988-89. Manager Carlo Mazzone led Lecce to their highest-ever finish (9th), but safety wasn’t mathematically secured until the last day of the season with a 3-1 win against Torino.

The decision not to tear apart the squad that got them promoted is said to have played a big part in Lecce’s success that season. The Salentini maintained their team spirit by keeping their Serie B players around, and supplementing the team with the likes of striker Pedro Pablo Pasculli and future Juventus captain (and coach) Antonio Conte. A similar squad finished 14th the next season, before a Zbigniew Boniek-coached Lecce were relegated in 1990-91.

The next eight years brought seven promotions and relegations. Lecce returned to Serie A after two seasons, but consecutive relegations saw them spend a single season in Serie C1 (1995-96) before consecutive promotions brought them back to Serie A. Two more up-and-down years followed, and a three-year Serie A run ended in 2001-02 with a 16th-place finished and relegation. Phew.

Delio Rossi was appointed manager in 2002 and Lecce were promoted again. They recovered from a terrible start well and finished 10th in 2003-04, beating Inter Milan and Juventus along the way. Rossi left in 2004, replaced by renowned Czech tactician Zdenek Zeman who brought his trademark open, attacking philosophies to the Salentini.

A squad featuring the likes of Mirko Vucinic and Valeri Bojinov finished 10th in 2004-05, and Lecce set a unique record along the way. They scored 66 goals that term (second only to Juventus’ 67) but had the worst defence with 73 conceded. This was the first time in history that the team with the worst defence in Serie A had survived relegation. Zeman, eh? Gotta love him.

2005-06 was a season of struggle for Lecce. Zeman left that summer and the club changed managers twice more before the end of a season that saw them finish 19th. There were hopes that the Calciopoli scandal would help them stave-off relegation, but they started 2006-07 in Serie B again under Zeman’s tutelage.

Zdenek Zeman

The Prague native wasn’t as fortunate this time around and was sacked after a run of 10 defeats in 18 games. Giuseppe Papadopulo came in and oversaw a finish of 9th, before a 3rd-place finished and a playoff win over Albinoleffe saw Lecce return to Serie A for the 2008-09 season.

You can probably guess what happened next. Papadopulo left the club after a difference of opinion with the club’s general manager. Mario Beretta came in but was replaced by current manager Luigi De Canio, who could only help Lecce to seven points from their last 10 games. Surprise, surprise: Lecce were relegated.

2009-10 was a superb season for the Salentini, who took 1st-place in November and didn’t relinquish it until the season’s end. De Canio lead them back into Serie A and, lo and behold, they weren’t relegated the following season! Lecce survived with a game to spare, and compounded their joy with a 2-0 win over relegated rivals Bari on the final day.

Talk about a mixed bag. Lecce’s promotion/relegation records read like a laundry list, and it’s hard to pick highlights out. Zdenek has always fascinated me as a character and tactician, so I might use this week as an excuse to write something about him. Aside from that I’d like to find out more about some of Lecce’s key players over the years, as I’ve found information quite thin on the ground so far.

Tomorrow I’ll have some more for you. Hopefully this primer served its purpose.

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Yesterday I admitted that I couldn’t name a single Lecce player, but a quick glance at the Salentini’s squad reveals a few familiar names:-

  • Christian Obodo: I’m pretty sure I’ve only heard of Obodo through football manager, as the Nigerian midfielder spent most of his calcio career with Perugia, Fiorentina, Udinese and Torino, four teams I don’t exactly follow. I think he’s a tough-tackling holding midfielder, but I’m not sure.
  • Rodney Strasser: The Sierra Leone midfielder is on-loan from AC Milan, which is where I know him from. Chances are if you know who Strassers is, it’s probably because of his “altercation” with Zlatan Ibrahimovic last season.
  • David Di Michele: I’ve always thought that Di Michele is a much better player than he actually is but I don’t really know why. He had an unspectacular loan-spell with West Ham in 2008-09 during which he became better known for his diving ability rather than goal-scoring prowess. Earned 6 Italy caps in his heyday but, at 35, that period appears to be far behind him.
  • Julio Sergio: Brazilian ‘keeper who was never good enough to properly establish himself at Roma. Probably a good fit for a team of at Lecce’s level, but the fact that he’s 32 and has made less than 80 career league appearances isn’t encouraging.
  • Massimo Oddo: Veteran fullback on-loan from Milan. Oddo was a good player at his peak and was a part of Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning squad but faded badly afterwards, especially at Bayern Munich. I’ve now idea good he is these days.
  • Cristian Pasquato: 22-year old winger on-loan from Juventus. Apparently this guy is full of promise and impressed during Juve’s pre-season campaign. I only really know about Pasquato because of a typically excellent Adam Digby article I read this summer.

Turns out I know a bit more about Lecce than I thought. Still, six players isn’t exactly a lot. Let the research commence!

Lecce haven’t had the best of starts: they’re 18th in Serie A and haven’t won since mid-September. Because of this it’d be a bit of a stretch to name their “star performers,” but, going by match reports and WhoScored.com, midfielder Djamel Mesbah looks to have been a consistent performer.

Djamel Mesbah (left)

The 27-year old signed for Lecce in 2009 having started his career in Switzerland. Usually a left-sided midfielder, Mesbah made his international breakthrough last year and has since made 8 appearances for his native Algeria. Most of his appearances this season have been at left-back, and he’s clearly been a steady performer for the Salentini.

Uruguayan midfielders Carlos Grossmuller and Guillermo Giacomazzi are Lecce’s top league goalscorers with two each and the latter also has an assist to his name. Grossmuller typically sits behind the strikers and has only completed 90 minutes once this season (perhaps this is fitness related?). Giacomazzi, on the other hand, as an uncompromising ball-winner known for his lack of discipline.

Columbian utility man Juan Cuadrado can play anywhere on the right flank and has featured in all of Lecce’s seven Serie A games so far. He’s particularly excelled in the three games he’s played at right back and his dribbling ability has given Lecce some much-needed penetration. Given that Cuadrado, like Mesbah, is a natural winger I wonder why both have been played mostly as full-backs this season?

Serbian Defender Nenad Tomovic was man match in the 0-0 draw with Genoa a few weeks ago but he looks like a pretty limited centre-back. Reports suggest his other appearances prior to that were mediocre, and WhoScored lists “Aerial Duels” as his only strength. I don’t like taking a statistics website’s word for it, but Tomovic sounds like a bit of a clogger.

Nobody else really sticks out. New-signing Andrea Esposito hasn’t really made much of an impact at the back and none of Lecce’s strikers have scored (or assisted) this season. Of the players I’d heard of, Julio Sergio has had a rough time in his 5 Lecce appearances, Obodo has been average in midfield and the rest haven’t done anything of note. I think Pasquato and Strasser, given their age, will improve as the season goes on.

Christian Obodo

On further research, Obodo seems an interesting case. Apparently he started-out very strongly at Udinese until a series of bad injuries derailed his progress. He was a first-team regular from 2005 to 2007, but only made 19 league appearances in his last four seasons with the Friulani. He was fit enough to make 30 Serie B appearances for Torino last season, and this term represents a great opportunity for him to re-establish himself as a top tier midfielder.

Lecce’s survival hopes don’t look great from an outsider’s perspective. I haven’t watched them in action yet, but the reports I’ve read aren’t too encouraging. They’ve beaten Bologna and were 3-0 up on Milan at one point this weekend, but they’ve already been comprehensively defeated by Atalanta and Siena, teams they should be putting up more of a fight against.

I’ll be paying close attention to the Salentini’s game with Palermo on Wednesday, but I suspect it could be another long night. The Sicilians are undefeated at home this season, and Lecce had only scored three goals this weekend. There are a few promising players in Lecce’s team, but they clearly have work to do to escape the relegation zone.

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This Week on ATP: U.S. Lecce

That was a lot of fun. It’s a shame that “Genoa week” turned into “Genoa fortnight,” but I probably should’ve seen it coming. Blame my birthday celebrations for the tardiness, but I managed to cover everything I wanted to write about in the end. Maybe next time I’ll expand on the 2005 match fixing scandal and their dodgy owner, but I’m pretty satisfied with what accomplished.

I’ve learned a lot this past couple of weeks and I definitely feel a stronger affection for Genoa because of it. This has been the most in-depth and educational club to cover, and I put that down to the wealth of Genoa information available in English. If only covering every club was this easy!

Looking forward, I’m going to be covering Lecce this week. I know absolutely nothing about this team bar their name and colours. Honestly, I can’t even name a single Lecce player off the top of my head. I am therefore anticipating this to be a busy week: literally everything I learn about Lecce will be new to me, and I’ll have to pick and choose what to write about.

As always I’m excited to be getting my teeth sunk into a brand new team. Check back soon for more on Lecce.

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I’ve spent plenty of time writing about Genoa’s history this fortnight that it was only right for me to dedicate the last of my Rossoblu entries to the modern day Genoa. I feel like I’ve learned plenty about the club’s past but my knowledge of their current situation is still quite sketchy, so here we go.

We’ll start in 2003 with the purchase of the club by toy tycoon Enrico Preziosi. These were dark days for Genoa: the club had been stuck in Serie B since 1996 and had gone through three different owners and four different chairmen in seven years. Preziosi hoped to stabilise the Rossoblu and bring them back to Serie A but his reign didn’t get off to the best of starts.

Enrico Preziosi: saviour or lunatic?

Genoa finished 18th in 2002-03: a position that would’ve seen them relegated if it weren’t for the football federation’s decision to expand Serie B to 24 teams. The Rossoblu were spared, but apprehension remained. Things started to improve, though, and Genoa finished 16th the following season before winning the league with 76 points in 2004-05.

Allegations of match fixing arose, however, when Genoa defeated Venezia 3-2 on the last day of the season (a result that clinched the title). An investigation by the FIGC (Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio) resulted in the Rossoblu being found guilty and they were subsequently relegated to Serie C1.

This was a huge blow to Preziosi’s Genoa, who’d have been promoted even if they’d drawn with lowly Venezia (who’d originally finished 21st). The Rossoblu had paid Venezia approximately €250,000 to ensure victory and started 2005-06 in Serie C1 on –6 points after losing an appeal.

Preziosi, it seems, was (is?) quite a dodgy character. He was handed a five-year ban for his role in the allegations, but this was annulled on appeal in January 2006 in exchange for Genoa starting the following season with a three-point penalty. Preziosi was handed another five-year ban in 2007 for an abnormal transaction between Genoa and Como (who he also owned), but this overturned a few weeks later.

Two more bans followed in 2008: two months for abnormalities in the sale of Domenico Criscito to Juventus and 10 days for an illegal approach for Siena’s Erjon Bogdani. Quite how this guy is still allowed to participate in football is beyond me, but this is supposed to be about Genoa, not Preziosi’s discrepancies.

Genoa escaped Serie C1 on the first time of asking and overcame their six-point penalty to finish second. Back in Serie B for 2006-07, Genoa finished 3rd, 10 points above 4th-place Piacenza and second only to the Calciopoli-stricken Juventus and Napoli. This time they were promoted without question, and returned to Serie A for the first time in 11 years in the 2007-08 season.

Their first season back in the big-time went better than expected and Genoa finished a highly-credible 10th. Never really troubled by the threat of relegation, the Rossoblu set-out a summer spending plan with the aim of securing European qualification the next year.

The plan worked: Genoa finished 5th in 2008-09, beating Juventus, Roma, AC Milan and local rivals Sampdoria (twice) along the way. This turned out to be a career season for Argentine striker Diego Milito, who’d just rejoined Genoa from Zaragoza at the start of the season. Milito contributed to Genoa’s cause with 24 goals in 31 appearances, and his outstanding form earned him a move to Inter in the summer of 2009.

Diego Milito: a huge star for Inter today, but he came into his own at Genoa.

2009-10 didn’t go quite as well. Hernan Crespo and Rodrigo Palacio were brought-in to replace Milito but they only managed 11 goals between them. Thiago Motta’s grinta was hugely missed in midfield and the defence looked increasingly disorganised as the season went on. A last day loss to Catania saw Genoa finish 9th in Serie A, and their European return when they failed to progress from the UEFA Cup’s group stage.

Last season was even more disappointing. The Rossoblu finished 10th and continued to struggle up front even with the likes of Crespo, Palacio, Raffaelle Palladino and Roberto Acquafresca on the books. The hugely disappointing Eduardo, whose constant clangers didn’t exactly help the Genoese cause, replaced Marco Amelia in goal, but it was manager Davide Ballardini, sacked during the summer, who paid the ultimate price.

Genoa have had an equally indifferent start to 2011-12 and new boss Alberto Malesani is already under pressure. They’re currently 10th after seven games and have picked-up a paltry two points in their past 4 games. I watched their 2-2 draw with Juventus last night and they fortunate to escape with a point. Juventus squandered countless chances to extend their lead, and they’ll be kicking themselves not to have won.

That’s not to say there weren’t bright spots for Genoa. Both of their goals were excellent, particularly Caraccioli’s dainty equaliser, and on-loan Milan midfielder Alex Merkel had a fantastic game as trequartista. Finally given a chance to strut his stuff, the German 19 year old looks a real prospect and it’ll be exciting to see how he develops this season.

Palacio had a pretty quiet game by his standards but he’s had a great season so far. The Argentine is really coming into his own and has built on last season’s impressive displays to notch 5 goals and 3 assists in 7 appearances this term. An excellent ball carrier and now a prolific goalscorer, Genoa will surely finish higher than 10th if Palacio can maintain his form.

Rodrigo Palacio: great player, terrible rat-tail...

Elsewhere Miguel Veloso has been a rock in central midfield and young trequartista Cristobal Jorquera is showing lots of promise. Sebastien Frey is an excellent goalie, one of the most under-rated in Europe, and his presence should help improve Genoa’s defensive record.

This is an exciting Rossoblu squad, but it’ll take some time before the players have properly gelled. Genoa have such a high turnover of players every year that it’s impossible for the team to live up to the owner’s expectations. Every summer they seem to transfer 20-40 players in and out of the club, and they’ve also gone through a whopping 9 managers since Preziosi’s 2003 takeover. Success requires continuity. Wanting to freshen-up your squad with a few new faces is all very well, but I don’t see the point in ripping your team to pieces and rebuilding every summer.

Preziosi needs patience: this is a decent squad, and Genoa should finish well this season, but the club cannot progress without stability. Give Malesani a chance and supplement the squad with 3 or 4 new faces when summer comes around. Don’t rip the team’s heart out before it’s had a chance to start beating.

This, in my opinion, is the biggest barrier to Genoa’s success. What I’ve read of Preziosi doesn’t exactly paint him in a positive light and I’m not expert on running a football club, but surely anybody can see that this is where their problems lie?

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Genoa vs. Sampdoria is one of the most heated games in calcio, and the Derby della Lanterna (named after the lighthouse that towers over Genoa’s port) is always a hotly contested, emotionally charged game of football. The derby has existed in its current format since Sampdoria’s formation in 1946, but its history stretches all the way back to the early 1900’s.

The first derby took place in 1902, when Genoa C.F.C fell to a 3-1 loss at the hands of Andrea Doria (one of Sampdoria’s many precursor clubs). These two teams competed in the Genoese derby for its first 24 years of existence with Genoa winning more often than not. The Rossoblu won 28 out of the derby’s first 44 games, with Andrea mustering a paltry 7 victories before 1946.

Sampierdarense joined the party in 1926 following the town’s annexation. Sampier (shortened for convenience) fared no better than Andrea, and scored just 1 victory in 13 games against Genoa.

These results aren’t at all surprising. Genoa were one of the biggest clubs in Italy at the time, while Sampier and Andrea were very small in-comparison and never came close to matching Genoa’s success. Andrea Doria, in fact, were so hard done by that they couldn’t afford their own stadium and had to cram fans sardine-style into a very small area around the outside of the pitch.

As a Brit, the idea of more than one team competing in a derby is strange enough, but Genoa, Andrea Doria and Sampierdarense weren’t the only clubs to compete in the Derby della Lanterna.

First came “The Dominant” (or “The Dominant Football Association,” if you please). Formed in 1927 from a forced merger of Andrea and Sampier by Mussolini’s government, the fascists’ idea was that the city’s rivalries could be tempered by the foundation of one “Dominant,” all-encompassing Genoese club.

The Dominant wore imposing all-black kits. How fitting.

I’m not entirely surprised by this move, as Mussolini’s government’s distaste for Genoa C.F.C. at the time is very well documented. The fascist regime took umbrage to Genoa’s English heritage and un-Italian name (“Genoa Cricket and Football Club,” which Mussolini even forced them to change at one point). It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that The Dominant were formed to “dominate” Genoa and bring the side down.

The merger, however, didn’t exactly impress the fans of the two old clubs and The Dominant didn’t last very long. The hair-brained scheme fell apart in 1930 when, after two consecutive 10th-placed finishes in the Italian Championships, The Dominant weren’t invited to take part in the newly formed Serie A. The club ended-up in Serie B and the decision was made to merge them with another local club, Corniglianese, with the aim of improving league performance.

The newly formed club was christened FBC Liguria (after the region in which Genoa is based) and they played 16 games against Genoa between 1930 and 1945, winning on 6 occasions. This is where things start getting hazy. I know that Andrea Doria and Sampierdarense eventually came back into existence and were both competing in Serie A by the end of World War II, but I’m not sure exactly when or where this happened. Curse you, lack of readily available English-language Genoese football history…

Anyway, Andrea Doria and Sampier eventually merged on 12 August 1946, leading to the formation of U.C. Sampdoria and the establishment of the Derby della Lanterna as we know it today. The merger was tricky: Sampdoria knew it would be a hard sell after the backlash that The Dominant created, but they succeed in amalgamating the two clubs without much opposition. I guess Mussolini not being involved probably had something to do with it.

The first game between Genoa and Sampdoria took place on 3 November 1946 and resulted in a comfortable 3-0 ‘Doria win. Genoa had pretty rotten club in the fixture’s early days, only winning 2 of the first 17 fixtures, but things slowly improved for the Rossoblu. A total of 81 games have been played to date with Sampdoria winning 29, Genoa 21, and 32 ending as draws.

It’s difficult to decide which team has the historic bragging rights. Sampdoria have the edge in the head-to-head records but are currently stuck in Serie B after last season’s relegation. Hold the edge in domestic success (they’ve won 9 Italian titles to Sampdoria’s 1), but ‘Doria won the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1990 and where Champions League runners-up in ’92. I’ll let you decide which club holds more recent prestige.

One of the most notable derbies came in 1951. Sampdoria were safe in midtable but Genoa were struggling at the bottom of the table and in dire need of a win. They met on April 24th and Sampdoria raced to a 2-0 lead after just 17 minutes. Genoa battled back to make it 2-2, but an 88th-minute Mario Sabbatella winner broke Rossoblu hearts and sent them tumbling down to Serie B.

On 17 March 1973 they met with even higher stakes. Genoa were bottom of the table and Sampdoria second-bottom. What was known as the “Last Resort Derby” ended as a 1-1 draw that helped neither team. Sampdoria’s last minute equaliser left neither team with any real hope of surviving the drop and both were relegated at the end of the season.

The Derby della Lanterna of March 13th 1977 is considered Genoa’s revenge for the result of 1951. This time Sampdoria were in the relegation zone and Genoa were safe. The Rossoblu came back from 1-0 to score a 2-1 victory against their rivals, and, while this specific result didn’t consign Sampdoria the relegation, the Blucerchiati fell into Serie B at the end of the season.

Genoa Ultras make their presence felt prior to a recent Derby della Lanterna.

As significant as these games were on a local level, the derby didn’t really take-off nationally until the late ‘80’s/early ‘90’s when both clubs were flying high in Serie A. The games were often thrilling despite the low scorelines, with Sampdoria earning the lion’s share of victories.

Last season’s games both ended in single-goal Genoa victories (1-0 and 2-1). Serie B looks an incredibly tough division to get out of this year, but hopefully it isn’t too long before these two have a chance to renew their rivalry.

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Continuing the “British Genoa” theme, here’s an excellent piece from ATP favourite Giancarlo Rinaldi on Giovanni “Johnny” Moscardini. Johnny was a Scottish-born Italian who scored 7 goals in 9 Azzurri appearances and briefly strutted his stuff for the Rossoblu in the 1920’s.

I wish I’d discovered this guy during my own research, but I only discovered this piece earlier today while catching-up on Rinaldi’s excellent blog. I consider myself a Scot first and a Briton second, so while I like Genoa’s English connection (Spensley, Garbutt et al) I absolutely love this tale of one of my countrymen succeeding in calcio. Take a look: it’s a great read.

BBC: The Scotsman who played for Italy

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Genoa haven’t been a major force in Italian football since the 1920’s and their last major domestic trophy victory, the Coppa Italia, came in 1936-37. A handful of Serie B & C titles have come since then but it’s been a long time since they’ve tasted significant success on the peninsula.Geno

Despite this, the Rossoblu have actually won three European trophies in the past half-century. You’re probably thinking the UEFA Cup, Super Cup or even the Cup Winners’ Cup, right? If you are then you’re just as wrong as I was when I first heard of Genoa’s continental triumphs.

It turns out that Genoa’s European success came in three competitions that don’t event exist any more: the Mitropa Cup, Coppa delle Alpi and Anglo-Italian Cup. I knew of the Anglo-Italian Cup from the hours I spent pottering around in Championship Manager 2 as a youth, but I’d never even heard of the other two. The purpose of this fortnight has been to learn more about Genoa C.F.C., so naturally I did a bit of research on these now-defunct European Competitions.

Mitropa Cup

Officially titled La Coupe de l’Europe Centrale (“the Cup of Central Europe”, or “Central European Cup”), the Mitropa Cup was one of European football’s first major international club competitions. Far outdating the UEFA Cup and Champions League, the Mitropa Cup started in 1927 and ran all the way through to 1992. Sparta Prague (then) of Czechoslovakia were its first winners and Borac Banja Luka of the former Yugoslavia its last.

The Mitropa Cup was first devised during the fallout of the First World War to showcase the power and dominance of Central European clubs. Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia were among the first European countries to establish professional football leagues in the mid-twenties. These teams were considered the best in Europe in those days, and the idea was that a competition between them would reinforce their power in Europe and provide a big financial windfall.

The first Mitropa Cup took place in 1927 with two teams from Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia taking part. Qualification was much like today’s Champions League, with either the league winners & runners-up from each country taking part, or the league winners & domestic cup winners.

Italian teams replaced those from Yugoslavia in 1929 for reasons I’ve been unable to unearth, and the competition was expanded to include four teams from each country five years later. Swiss and Romanian clubs joined in 1936, and Yugoslavian teams made a comeback in 1937 with Austrian clubs withdrawing a year later due to the country’s occupation and subsequent annexation by Nazi Germany.

World War II’s breakout forced the competition’s abandonment, and the Mitropa Cup didn’t resume until 1951 (known as the “Zentropa Cup” for one year only). Sadly, the Mitropa Cup had lost much of its lustre by this point. Other European club competitions cropped-up around this time (including a far wider range of clubs) and the Mitropa was no-longer known as Europe’s premier international competition.

By the 1980’s its star had fallen so much that it was only competed for by the second division champions of the competing countries, and it was cancelled in 1992 after the last final was competed before a crowd of less than a thousand fans.

It took a while for Italian clubs to establish a foothold in the Mitropa Cup. Bologna and Fiorentina won the competition four times between them between 1932 and 1966, but true Italian dominance didn’t come until the 1980’s.

Clubs like Udinese, AC Milan and Pisa started winning with increasing regularity and Italian clubs won seven out of the last 12 competitions. Genoa never actually won the Mitropa Cup but finished as runners-up to Bari in 1990. By that point, of course, the competition had already lost most of its prestige but it was a highlight during a not particularly success period of Genoese history.

Coppa delle Alpi

 

Sadly there’s nowhere near as much English-language information available on the Coppa delle Alpi (“Cup of the Alps) as there is on the Mitropa. This was a much smaller competition though, so the paucity of information is pretty understandable.

Using Google Translate, I’ve learned that this competition was a precursor to the Intertoto Cup. Italian clubs created it in 1960, but understandably (given the geography of the alps) Swiss teams were allowed to compete in 1962. German and French teams also took part at various stages, but the competition was, for the most part, a tournament between Switzerland and Italy.

It’s hard to tell how prestigious the Coppa delle Alpi was, but the fact that I’ve seen it compared to the Intertoto suggests that it wasn’t held in high regard. Genoa had a decent record in the tournament, winning it in 1962 and 1964 under the tutelage of Renato Gei and Beniamino Santos respectively.

Italian clubs dominated the Coppa delle Alpi initially, winning the first six tournaments consecutively. Only Lazio won it after Napoli’s triumph in 1966, however, and Swiss and French clubs took hold of the competition until its demise in 1987.

Anglo-Italian Cup

This is the only competition out of the three that I’d actually heard of before I started researching Genoa. I didn’t really know anything about it though, other than it was a competition played between teams from England and Italy during the 1990’s.

As mentioned earlier, my first exposure to this tournament came from playing Champ Man and wondering what the heck Port Vale were doing in a tournament with Italian teams. Being 8 I never really had the impetus to read-up on the competition and it was abolished by the time the next version of the game came out, so that was that.

The Anglo-Italian Cup was started in 1970 and initially ran until 1973, before being resurrected in the 1992-93 season for another four years. Its seeds were sewn in 1967, when Queens Park Rangers won the English League Cup but were denied entry to the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (now the “Europa League”) due to a UEFA regulation preventing third-tier sides from competing in Europe.

The same situation arose two years later when Swindon Town won the League Cup. This time, however, a game between Swindon and that year’s Coppa Italia winners Roma was organised to compensate for Swindon missing out on Fairs Cup qualification. Such was the popularity of this game that UEFA announced the Anglo-Italian Cup in 1970 during the extended close-season period caused by the Mexican World Cup.

Swindon, funnily enough, won the first Cup. The competition comprised of six Italian teams and six English teams split into three groups of four teams (two from each country). The best team from each country after the round-robin competition met in the final, and Swindon met Napoli at the San Paolo on the 28th May 1970.

Sadly, the first final didn’t exactly end as planned. Violence erupted in the stands midway through the second-half with Swindon 3-0 up forcing the match’s cancellation. Swindon with rightly awarded the victory, and Blackpool continued England’s luck in the competition with an extra-time win over Bologna in the 1971 final.

Blackpool made the final again in 1972 but couldn’t repeat the previous year’s feat and fell to Roma, while Newcastle bettered Fiorentina in 1973. A lack of interest in the competition saw it cancelled after 1973, but it was soon resurrected in 1976 as a competition for semi-professional clubs. The Anglo-Italian Club ran with this format until 1986, with Sutton United, Monza and Modena among the winners.

The Anglo-Italian returned as a professional competition in the 1992-93 season, but only for clubs from Serie B and the English First Division. The group stages were cut down to feature just four clubs from each country, but the final still featured the best performing team from each country.

Cremonese, Brescia and Notts County won the competition before our boys Genoa had their moment in the sun in 1996. The Rossoblu smashed Port Vale 5-2 in the final, with captain Gennaro Ruotolo scoring a hat-trick.

This was the last time the Anglo-Italian Cup was ever contested as the competition was abandoned the following season when the two leagues couldn’t agree on fixture dates. I can see why such a competition could be hugely impractical given the huge amount of games teams have to play these days, but the Anglo-Italian Cup sounds like a lot of fun. It’s a shame it doesn’t run any more: surely such a competition would be welcome entertainment during those long, boring summers that aren’t taken-up by a European Championship or World Cup?

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