Archive for the ‘European Competition’ Category

Liverpool's 1984 European Cup win in Rome was a catalyst for violence.

Turns out AS Roma don’t exactly enjoy the most harmonious relationship with English fans, and understandably so. Seeing “Liverpool” listed as one of Roma’s rivals in Football Manager (guffaw) first raised my interest. I personally find Liverpool to be one of the game’s most dislikeable clubs (especially at this point in time) but, a couple of unfavourable European ties aside, why would Roma and the Anfield Reds care about each other?

A little bit of research unearths an understandable explanation. I’ve heard of a link between city rivals Lazio and Chelsea, but the crux of the rivalry stems from the 1984 European Cup final. The game took place in Roma’s Stadio Olimpico with Liverpool besting the hometown side 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 finish AET.

Roma, the pre-match favourites, had been humiliated on their own turf. Bruno Conti and Francesco Graziani lost their composure and skied the decisive spots kicks, leaving Giallorossi fans to suffer the indignation of watching an opposing team lift Europe’s most prestigious trophy inside their own stadium.

As unpleasant as this situation must’ve been, however, there are far darker reasons for the rivalry’s birth. Localised rioting ensued after the game and a handful of Liverpool fans were unfortunately caught-up in the violence. The celebrations were ruined, but, more importantly, a number of Liverpool fans were hospitalised as a result.

Mark Lawrenson penned an eye-opening recollection of the situation in 2007. He alleges that Liverpool fans were corralled down a tunnel towards a horde of Roman hooligans, who viciously beat the visitors as the idle police watched-on. You’ve got to take such a piece with a big pinch of salt, but it sounds horrific. I’m sure that Lawrenson, a Liverpool great, exaggerated much of his tale, but all football violence is disgusting and completely unjustifiable.

This makes the bad blood pretty clear. If my team’s support ever fell victim to such violence I’m sure I’d resent the offenders too. It only takes a quick Google search to show that Liverpool fans still loathe their Roman counterparts, and sects of the Giallorossi supportership have done little to endear themselves in subsequent ties with English teams.

Liverpool visited Roma twice in 2001 and there were further stabbings. Middlesbrough visited the Eternal City as part of their 2006 UEFA Cup campaign and their fans became embroiled in trouble with local ultras. Further incidents followed after Manchester United’s visit in 2007 and an Arsenal supporters’ coach was set upon in 2009.

It’d be completely wrong to sympathise with the perpetrators of such violence. Hooliganism, unfortunately, remains a significant problem on the peninsula, and its eradication will take years of hard work. However, there’s no way that the English supporters are completely blameless. Finding unbiased, English-language reports on these incidents has been difficult for obvious reasons. Yes, the Giallorossi have a significant hooligan sect, but it’s wrong to tar every Roma fan with the same brush.

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As if being implicated in a match-fixing scandal wasn’t bad enough, Udinese’s 1954-55 campaign would end on an even worse note. Arrigo De Pauli, the club’s deputy president, was killed in a car accident en route to watching Udinese’s pre-season friendly with Torino. He died only a few hours after the Bianconeri’s punishment was announced.

Udinese’s dream season had turned to the darkest of nightmares. Lazio, Bologna and Triestina cherry-picked the squad but the Bianconeri soldiered-on with the barebones. Spearheaded by new forward Giuseppe Secchi’s 22 goals, Udinese finished 1955-56 as Serie B champions and thus secured an immediate top-flight return.

Finishing fourth in their first season back, Udinese enjoyed another extended period in Serie A and survived until 1962. The slide resumed, and the Bianconeri’s yo-yo reputation continued. They were in Serie B for two seasons before dropping down to Serie C. Giuseppe Bertoli returned as an advisor but Udinese finished just 11th in Group A (1964-65).

The Bianconeri’s primavera (youth) team fared much better and captured their Scudetto equivalent. This saw a number of primavera players promoted to the senior squad in 1965-66 and the team performed much better, finishing second.

Udinese’s performances had improved, but financial restraints forced them to continually sell their better players to bigger sides year after year. It took Udine over a decade to achieve promotion: they finally achieved it in 1978, a year that also saw them win the Anglo-Italian Cup.

Having been out of Serie A since 1962, Udinese were in no mood to mess around in Serie B. The club’s new board helped mastermind a barnstorming season from which Udinese claimed 55 points and a quick return to the big time. The Bianconeri had a torrid 1979-80 campaign, and won just three Serie A games all season. Their points total (21) should’ve seen Udinese relegated, but, ironically, the very thing that had started their demise in the first place ended up saving them.

Investigators unearthed an illegal betting pool ring involving multiple players and clubs. Milan, who’d originally finished third, were the most severely implicated. Along with Lazio (originally 13th), Milan were relegated which meant survival for Udinese and Catanzaro (originally 15th and 14th respectively).

Marquee signing: Zico.

The 1980’s progressed with a highlight sixth-place finish in 1982-83. Udinese, by this point, were regarded as one of the peninsula’s stronger sides, and they hoped to cement that status with a blockbuster signing on June 1st, 1983. Brazilian legend Zico, 33, joined Udinese after a minor financial hiccup. A record 26,611 season tickets were sold for the season ahead, and Zico was soon turning on the style at the Stadio Friuli.

Zico’s new team started the season excellent, soaring as high as third, but Zico was injured in a March clash with Brescia and the Bianconeri missed him badly. They were sixth by the time he returned to fitness, and finished ninth (just five points from third) at the end of the season. Zico made a telling contribution, scoring 19 of Udinese’s 47 goals.

A troubled season followed for Udinese and Zico. Injuries and suspensions limited the Brazilian to a handful of appearances as his team finished 11th. Legal problems arose for the Zico in May 1985 and he immediately went AWOL. Zico re-appeared in Brazil after an appeal five months later, having clearly had enough of Italian football. He was never seen in an Udinese shirt again.

Meanwhile, The Biancroneri’s slide continued. Gianpaolo Pozzo took over in 1986 and was met with a baptism of fire as the club were implicated in another betting scandal. Their original punishment of relegation was overturned and replaced with a nine-point penalty for the 1986-87 season. This ultimately saw Udinese relegated, and they were in Serie B for 1987-88.

Udinese’s most notable yo-yo period followed. They were promoted and relegated four times between 1988 and 1995, never staying in the same division for any longer than two years. 1994-95 saw them promoted as Serie B runners-up, and they’ve been a top tier side ever since.

Thus starts the story of today’s Udinese. Alberto Zaccheroni was appointed manager in 1995 and Pozzo redefined the Bianconeri’s philosophies. Udinese focused their energies on setting-up a comprehensive scouting network to unearth cheap, unknown talents as a way of acquiring quality players for severely reduced fees. It’s a strategy that serves them incredibly well even today, and it has allowed the small-town side to maintain their Serie A status without considerable expenditure.

Udinese finished 10th in 1995-96. In April 1997 they scored an excellent 3-0 win over Juventus (despite playing most of the game with 10 men) and came fifth in Serie A to qualify for the UEFA Cup. Zaccheroni’s boys continued their rapid improvement in 1997-98, finishing third in Serie A before the talented coach was whisked away to AC Milan. German striker Oliver Bierhoff followed him to the San Siro after 57 goals in 86 Bianconeri appearances.

The 1990s closed with Udinese finishing sixth and eighth in Serie A. They fell into the table’s lower half in 2000-01 when they finished 12th (but still won the Intertoto Cup, that holy grail of European competition). Roy Hodgson came in for 2001-02 but was fired after badmouthing the Friuli side in the English media.

Luciano Spalletti, who’d originally managed the Bianconeri in the 2000-01 season, returned to Udine in 2002. The club’s fortunes improved immediately: Spalletti took Udinese to sixth in his first season back and seventh in his second. This was something of a golden era for Udinese. Armed with a squad of talented players like Sulley Muntari (he was a good player once upon a time, honest…) David Pizarro, Vincenzo Iaquinta and Felipe, Spalletti took the Bianconeri into the 2005-06 Champions League after finishing fourth in 2004-05.

Serse Cosmi took over when Spalletti left for Roma, and Udinese finished third in a tough Champions League group featuring Barcelona, Werder Bremen and Sporting Lisbon. Now well-known for their attractive, attacking football, Udinese finished 10th in 05-06, 10th the following season, and seventh in 2007-08.

They experienced another European high in 2008-09 by making it to the UEFA Cup quarterfinals. Udinese were sadly defeated by Werder Bremen, but it’s still an impressive achievement for a city of less than 100,000 inhabitants. The Bianconeri finished seventh in Serie A again but missed-out on UEFA Cup qualification.

2009-10 was grim. Udinese took several strides backwards and finished 15th, 11 points from Europe and nine from the relegation zone. Antonio Di Natale’s continued growth was one of the season’s only bright spots: the gifted poacher scored an outstanding 29 goals in 35 Serie A games.

Experienced coach Francesco Guidolin came in for 2010-11’s start and the Bianconeri rose again. Last season was one of Udinese’s best: they finished fourth, qualified for the Champions League and wowed Europe with some of the most exciting football on the continent.

The Bianconeri are top of Serie A by one point at the time of writing. They’ve solidified their defence (only 7 goals conceded in 14 games) without compromising they’re attacking verve, and are in a great position to make a genuine Scudetto push. This season is far from over, but Udinese are in better health than ever.


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In and out: Gigi Maifredi.

Bologna’s third Serie B stint started shortly after Gigi Maifredi’s departure. A dismal Serie A campaign saw them relegated in 1991. Maifredi returned after his Juventus dismissal, but was quickly out the door again as Bologna finished a poor 13th in Serie B (1991-92). By now the title-winning sides of yesterday were like ancient history, and a soul-destroying 92-93 saw Bologna relegated to Serie C1 again.

Here begins a new era for football in Bologna. Bologna Football Club dissolved on June 19th, 1993 after years of financial trouble, but re-emerged as Bologna Football Club 1909 in Serie C1. The refounded side were allowed to keep their league place, and finished fourth in Serie C1’s Group A at the first time of asking.

This meant another year in the doldrums (1994-95). The Rossoblu, however, had become almost unbeatable. Losing just once all season, Bologna stormed to the Serie C1 title with games to spare. On the last day of the season they stood 22 points clear of second-place Pistoiese, having accumulated 81 points and a +42 goal difference in 34 games.

Bologna’s momentum continued. A water-tight defence helped them battle through Serie B in 1995-96, and they were promoted as champions by the season’s end. History suggested that Bologna were back where they belonged, and they justified this with a seventh-place Serie A finish in 1996-97.

Legendary Azzurri forward Roberto Baggio joined the Rossoblu for a single season in 1997-98 and was a huge hit despite his advancing years. Baggio finished with a career-best 22 Serie A goals, firing Bologna to Intertoto Cup qualification and going on to star for Italy at the 1998 World Cup. The Divine Ponytail left for Inter after the World Cup, but his in Bologna remains one of his career’s most productive.

Change was afoot for the Rossoblu. They won the Intertoto Cup to gain entry into 1998-99’s UEFA Cup. Coach Carlo Mazzone arrived in the dugout and another heroic forward, Giuseppe Signori, took Baggio’s place. Bologna finished ninth in Serie A but fared well in Europe. Victories over Sporting Lisbon, Real Betis, Slavia Prague and Olympique Lyon saw them march to the UEFA Cup semi-finals, which they lost to eventual winners Parma.

1999-00 saw new coach Sergio Buso sacked after just seven games in-charge. In came ex-player Francesco Guidolin, who led Bologna through their second-consecutive UEFA Cup campaign. The Rossoblu again lost to the competition’s eventual winners (Galatasary), but fell in the third round on this occasion.

The Rossoblu were on a high, but fell to 11th (2002-03) and 12th (2003-04) in Serie A and struggled badly after Signori’s 2004 departure. A disastrous end to the 2004-05 campaign saw Bologna claim just 11 points from their last 15 games, forcing them into a relegation playoff with Parma. Bologna won the first leg 1-0, but were relegated after losing the home leg 2-0.

Down went Bologna, and in came Renzo Ulivieri who’d previously managed the club from 1994 to 1998. Majority shareholder Giuseppe Gazzoni Frascara left the Rossoblu and the club finished eighth, outside the playoff positions. Napoli, Genoa, and the Calciopoli-stricken Juventus made Serie B their home in 2006-07, severely limiting Bologna’s chances of promotion. They went one better than the previous year by finishing seventh, but still missed-out on the playoffs.

That coveted promotion came the following season, and Bologna have been a Serie A side ever since. They’ve constantly battled against relegation and haven’t finished above 16th in the past three years, but veteran striker Marco Di Vaio’s goals (56 in 108 games) have helped keep them afloat.

Bologna’s story is one of incredible highs and terrible lows. They’ve been Italian champions seven times and have tasted cup success at home and abroad, but they’ve been up-and-down since the ‘80’s and almost went out of business in 1993. Still, Bologna have never been outside the top tier for longer than six seasons and only Genoa, Milan, Inter and Juventus have more Scudetti to their name

The Rossoblu are currently 17th in Serie A: one position and four points from the relegation zone. Stefano Pioli is the new manager, and the ex-Chievo man has claimed four points from four games since his October appointment.

Watching Bologna can be a frustrating experience. They have some exciting attacking players, but it rarely comes together on the pitch. Di Vaio has recently overcome a six-month goal drought with three goals in his last five games, but his all-round play has been largely disappointing.

Prospect: Gaston Ramirez.

Gaston Ramirez, the 21-year-old Uruguayan, is Bologna’s most interesting prospect. Ramirez can play up front or out wide, but he’s played mostly as an attacking midfielder this term. He’s an excellent ball carrier who loves running at players, and his through-balls have already provided three assists from nine starts. Manchester City and Chelsea have reportedly been monitoring his progress, and it’s easy to see why.

Ex-West Ham player Alessandro Diamanti is the other key man in attack. A player of unquestionable ability (check his cheeky back-heel assist against Siena last week), Diamanti’s Achilles heel has been his inconsistency. The trequartista rarely produces two good performances in a row, and must improve if he’s to be anything more than a luxury player for the relegation-threatened Rossoblu.

Bologna are a counter-attacking side who are happy to concede possession and break with pace. This can make for some exciting moments as the Rossoblu plough down the flanks, but they’re more reactive than proactive. Bologna’s players lack the quality to control games and impose their will on opposing teams and their aggression has cost them numerous goals from set pieces this season.

It’s not hard to build an argument for Bologna’s survival. Pioli’s Chievo boasted a very tight defence, and Bologna’s defence should improve if the manager can transfer his ideas to the Rossoblu’s ageing defenders. Di Vaio could do with a more reliable strike partner than Robert Acquafresca, but the Rossoblu definitely have the firepower to outscore the likes of Cesena and Lecce.

Lets hope that this club of great tradition can escape the relegation battle sooner rather than later.


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Bologna circa 1930.

The 1930’s mark the start of the most successful period of Bologna’s history. Bolstered by the arrival of three Uruguayans (Francis Fedullo, Raffaele Sansone and Michele Andreolo) the Rossoblu looked to start the new decade with a bang, but finished seventh in Serie A’s first year of competition (1929-30).

1930-31 opened with plenty of promise. Bologna smashed Triestina 6-1 in the first game of the season and beat Livorno 5-0 to take an early lead atop Serie A, but their performances slid as the season went on. They finished a credible third, just seven points behind winners Juventus and three from second-place Roma. 81 goals in 34 games made Bologna the league’s second-higher scorers (top-scorer Carlo Reguzzoni finished with 18), and they had the second-meanest defence in the league with just 33 conceded.

A good platform for Bologna to build on, and build on it they did. The Rossoblu pushed Juventus closer the following season (1931-32) and finished second, four points behind the Bianconeri and 10 ahead of third-place Roma. Angelo Schiavio was back to his best, and his 25 league goals helped Bologna to Mitropa Cup qualification.

The Mitropa Cup was one of Europe’s first international club competitions, and the 1932 edition comprised of Bologna, Juventus, Sparta Prague, Slavia Prague, Admira Vienna, First Vienna, Ferencvaros and Ujpest PC. Bologna beat Sparta 5-3 on aggregate in the first-round, before a 2-1 win over First Vienna secured a place in the final.

The final was not to be, however. Crowd trouble in the other semi-final between Slavia Prague and Juventus saw their second leg tie abandoned in the first-half. Rocks were thrown, one striking Slavia’s ‘keeper, and the players were trapped in their dressing rooms for hours after the game as a riot ensued. Both teams were thrown out of the competition, leaving Bologna without opposition for the final. Naturally, the Rossoblu were awarded the trophy.

Inauspicious European success aside, 1932-33 wasn’t a hugely successful season for Bologna and they slipped to third in Serie A. They finished fourth the following season but still qualified for the Mitropa Cup after the competition’s expansion. Bologna reached the final, and were given a chance to earn their victory this time. The Rossoblu lost 3-2 to Admira Vienna in the first leg, but a Reguzzoni hat-trick helped them storm to a 5-1 home victory that saw them clinch the trophy.

European success was becoming increasingly regular, but domestic gold continued to elude Bologna. They finished sixth in 1934-35 as Juventus hoovered-up another championship. The Rossoblu had established themselves as one of the best teams in Italy, but they hadn’t won a title since 1929.

That changed in 1935-36. Bologna sealed their third Italian championship after a highly-competitive Serie A season saw them win just 50% of their 30 games. Just ten points separated first from seventh, and Bologna snatched the title by a single point thanks to a 1-1 draw with Lazio on the season’s last day. Bologna scored just 39 goals all season (Schiavio was their top scorer with 10), but conceded just 21. Theirs was not a stunning victory, but one of grinta and team-work.

Bologna repeated the feat in 1936-37, winning Serie A by a more-convincing three points and qualifying for the European Cup for the second season running. 1937 also saw the Rossoblu become the first-ever Italian club to defeat an English club after a 4-1 exhibition victory over Chelsea. Led by Hungarian manager Arpad Weisz, Bologna had become known as “the squad that makes the world tremble.” They’d become the strongest team in Italy, but would have to wait another two years to add to their trophy collection.

1937-38 saw Bologna finish fifth in Serie A but just four points off the top spot. It looked like their dominance was coming to an end, but they returned with aplomb in 1938-39 to record their most convincing championship win yet. 53 goals in 30 games saw the Rossoblu to a fifth Italian title. They lost just four times all season, with Uruguayan hitman Hector Puricelli scoring an impressive 19 goals in his first season at the club.

1938 also marked the retirement of legendary marksman Schiavio, who’d been with Bologna since 1922. Schiavio mustered just six appearances in his final season but retired aged 33 with his legacy in-tact. 242 goals in 248 appearances make him the Rossoblu’s all-time leading scoring and a true club legend. His place in Bologna folklore isn’t just assured: it’s guaranteed.

A second-place 1939-40 finish preceded Bologna’s sixth championship in 1940-41. Reguzzoni and Puricelli starred as Bologna beat Inter and Milan to the Serie A title, but this season will always be remembered more for non-footballing reasons than Bologna’s sixth Scudetto.

Benito Mussolini had declared war on France and Great Britain weeks after the previous season’s end. Mussolini insisted football continued as a means of propaganda, but there was an understandable sense of unease throughout the campaign. Nonetheless, Bologna overcame Fiorentina’s early-season dominance to win the title by four points, with the Viola eventually falling to fourth.

The seasons that followed were fruitless for Bologna, as the Emilia club finished seventh and sixth in 1942 and 1943. Serie A was eventually suspended in 1943 as Italy’s involved in World War II intensified, and that’s where I’ll pick-up tomorrow.

I still can’t believe that Bologna were so dominant during this time period. As I said on Monday, I’d assumed they were no more successful than Palermo or Udinese, but it looks like I was hugely wrong. I knew a thing or two about the early successes of Pro Vercelli, Torino and Genoa before starting this blog, but I had no idea about Bologna.

I’m guessing that the decline starts sinking-in after the Second World War, but we’ll see. Maybe there are more tricks up Bologna’s sleeve yet…

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Englishman Joseph Whitaker: an important figure in Palermo's birth.

Football in Palermo, as in Genoa, has English roots, even if the Aquile’s founding fathers’ legacy isn’t as storied. Palermo’s early days are hazy and there’s a lot of debate on the particulars of their foundation, but the football club’s first stages are thought to have appeared in 1898. English sailors docked into the city’s harbour first brought football to Palermo, and the Aquile’s original registration papers are addressed to an Englishman, Joseph Whitaker.

Despite this, the club’s foundation date is usually accepted as November 1st, 1990. Ignazio Majo Pagano, a colleague of Whitaker, founded the Anglo Palermoritan Athletic and Football Club with a squad of three Englishman and nine Palermo natives. They played their first match on December 30th of that year, losing 5-0 to an unknown English amateur team.

Whitaker remained prominent throughout the club’s formative years. The team trained on his own football pitch, and they competed in the “Whitaker Challenge Cup” from 1905, winning the competition once. The club’s name changed to the more memorable Palermo Foot Ball Club in 1907, and they competed in the Lipton Challenge Cup from 1909 to 1914.

Set-up by famous tea mogul Sir Thomas Lipton, the original competition only comprised of two times, Palermo and Naples FBC, but was later expanded to include Internazionale Napoli and Messina. Palermo won the competition in 1910, 1912 and 1913, memorably thrashing Naples FBC 6-0 in 1912.

Palermoritan football was suspended after the last Lipton Challenge Cup for the First World War, but resumed again in 1918. A committee of university students refounded the Palermo club in 1919 as Unione Sportiva Palermo, and the club started competing in the national football league’s southern division. They were forced to withdraw for financial reasons in 1927, but merged with Vigor Palermo to become Palermo Football Club in 1928.

The new side were readmitted into the Italian league system that year, and competed in the Prima Divisione (the equivalent to today’s Lega Pro Prima Divisione/Serie C1). Palermo were promoted to Serie B by 1930, and it only took them a further two seasons to reach Serie A. Striker Carlo Radice was a key man in Serie B, and scored 27 of Palermo’s 50 goals during their promotion season.

Palermo adapted well to life in the top tier, notching an impressive 5-1 over Atalanta in their first game and finishing as high as seventh in 1934-35. It wasn’t to last, however, and the Aquile’s four-year stint in Serie A ended with relegation the following season.

Joining fellow Sicilian sides Messina and Catania in the second tier, Palermo established themselves as a decent midtable team and notched three consecutive seventh-place finishes. The Sicily Derby between Palermo and Catania was born with the teams’ first clash in 1936, with the first game ending in a 1-1 draw.

The financial problems of old resurfaced in 1940, and the Aquile were again suspended from the football league. This brought about yet another merger, this time with Unione Sportiva Juventina Palermo, with the new team competing as Unione Sportiva Palermo-Juventina. Palermo-Juventina were admitted into Serie C in 1941 and returned to Serie B in 1942 but World War II forced their withdrawal the following year.

Another year, another refoundation. Palermo came back to life in 1946 and returned to Serie A in 1948. Czechoslovakian winger Cestmir Vycpalek and ex-Catania man Carmelo Di Bella were key players on Palermo’s flanks, and the Aquile were able to stay in Serie A for six seasons despite never finishing higher than 10th. 1954 was a particularly grim year for Palermo: not only were they relegated, but club president Raimondo Lanza di Trabia committed suicide on New Year’s Day.

A new board was formed and the club rallied. Players like Enzo Benedetti and Argentine hitman Santiago Vernazza (the club’s second top goalscorer) turned out for the Aquile along with the likes of future Juventus legend Giuseppe Furino. An imperious defensive midfielder, Furino made 27 appearances in his single season in Sicily before a 15-year Bianconeri spell garnered a record eight Serie A titles.

A yo-yo spell saw Palermo promoted and relegated between Serie A and Serie B six times in eight years. Consistency returned in the mid-‘60’s, though not in the league Palermo would’ve wanted, as Palermo stayed in Serie B for five consecutive seasons from 1963.

Renzo Barbera, after whom Palermo’s stadium is named, took over in 1970 to start one of the more successful periods of the club’s history. Palermo never escaped Serie B during Barbera’s 10-year tenure but relegation was rarely a threat and their Coppa Italia performances were astonishing. They’ve never won the competition but took Bologna to penalties in 1974 and only fell to Juventus in extra-time in 1979. Unsuccessful on the surface, but remarkable considering Palermo were a middling Serie B side at the time.

Barbera’s era came to an end in 1980 when contractor Gaspare Gambino took the reigns. Shortly afterwards, Palermo were deducted 5 points for a match-fixing scandal involving midfielder Guido Magherini, who was handed a three-year ban. First Inter, then Atalanta, now Palermo. I’m doing this on purpose, honest…

The next few years were unremarkable. Palermo were still in Serie B in 1986 but expelled from the league for financial troubles for the third time. A whole year went by without professional football in Palermo, but the team was again resurrected in 1987. They won Serie C2 at the first time of asking, but it took another three years to achieve promotion back to Serie B.

Relegation in 1991-92 preceded a championship-winning Serie C1 season, and the club were <I>again</I> rebranded in 1993. Palermo adopted the moniker Unione Sportiva Citta di Palermo, which they still use today. If history is anything to go by, however, I’d say they’re probably due a name change in the next year or two.

A four-year spell in the doldrums started in 1997 and ended with promotion to Serie B in 2001. These were some of Palermo’s darkest days. The club almost fell into Serie C2 in 1998 after losing a relegation play-off with Battipagliese. Who knows what would’ve become of the Sicilians if Ischia Isolaverde’s Serie C1 expulsion hadn’t saved them from relegation.

Maurizio Zamparini, not known for his patience.

Back in Serie B, Palermo finished 10th in 2001-02. Incumbent president Maurizio Zamparini, who’d previously taken Venezia to Serie A, bought the club and immediately pledged a Serie A return. Several ex-Venezia players (including Arturo Di Napoli and Stefano Morrone) were brought-in as Palermo finished fifth, with a Luca Toni-inspired side capturing the Serie B title in 2004.

Palermo returned to Serie A for the first time since 1973 for the 2004-05 season and achieved an exceptional sixth-place finish. Toni continued his excellent form, scoring 20 goals in 35 appearances to earn him a summer move to Fiorentina.

Another excellent season followed despite Toni’s transfer. Palermo’s first ever UEFA Cup run would’ve seen them reach the final if it weren’t for a 2-2 away-goals loss to Roma in the semis. Things weren’t looking so bright domestically but a January managerial change soon turned that around. Palermo originally finished eighth in Serie A, but Calciopoli’s point deductions saw them bumped to fifth and another season of UEFA Cup football.

An excellent start in 2006-07 saw Palermo win nine of their first 11 Serie A fixtures, but they drew a tough UEFA Cup group (Frankfurt, Newcastle, Fenerbahce and Celta Vigo) and failed to progress. The Aquile did well in Serie A without the distraction of Europe, this time earning their fifth-place finish on merit with captain Eugenio Corini scoring 10 goals from midfield.

The standards started to slip in 2007-08. Future favourite Fabrizio Miccoli joined in summer but Palermo were knocked-out of the UEFA cup by Czech minnows Mlada Boleslav. A series of managerial changes saw Palermo struggle for consistency, and they finished in an extremely disappointing 11th in Serie A.

A finish of eighth in 2008-09 wasn’t enough to secure a European return but 2009-10’s fifth certainly was. Palermo have struggled to maintain the high standards set during their first two continental campaigns. Last season they were knocked-out in the Europa League’s group stage, and this season they didn’t even make it past the first the qualifying round.

Palermo have transformed themselves from also-rans to upper-midtable European contenders over the past decade. Zamparini has clearly had a big influence on this, and I’ll definitely be taking a look at his colourful reign later in the week. I’ve shied away from the present-day Palermo side too, as I intend on covering their recent fortunes in my Serie A Weekly column this Wednesday.


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Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio, based in the northern city of Bergamo, were founded in 1907 and officially recognised by the FIGC (Italian Football Federation) seven years later. They are nicknamed La Dea (“The Goddess”) or the Nerazzurri (“black-blues,” relating to their colours), and are often called the “Regina delle provinciali” (“Queen of the provincial clubs”) as they’ve historically been one of Italy’s most successful non-metropolitan sides.

Atalanta currently back in Serie A after winning last season’s Serie B championship. They’ve made a great start to the season, having only lost twice in their opening 11 fixtures, and would currently be 5th if they hadn’t started the season on -6 points. Embroiled in a betting scandal last season, La Dea have rallied through adversity and are in good stead for a midtable finish.

As documented yesterday, Atalanta have been in and out of Serie A more times than most teams. In recent times they’ve struggled to hold down a top-tier place for any longer than a couple of seasons at a time. European forays and a 1963 Coppa Italia win make Atalanta more famous than most of their provincial counterparts, and they’ve only played a single season outside of Italian football’s top two tiers since Serie A’s 1929 inception.

A football club existed in Bergamo three years prior to Atalanta B.C.’s birth. F.C. Bergamo were founded by wealthy Swiss immigrants in 1904. Atalanta emerged as a splinter of FC Bergamo after a difference in sporting ideologies between members, and, while the Nereazzurri have prospered, Bergamo faded into obscurity.

Named after a mythological Greek athlete and huntress, Atalanta merged with another local club, Bergamasca, to create the club of today. Originally competing in Bergamo’s local league, Atalanta progressed to the larger Lombardy league system and won the First Division championship to secure participation in the 1928-29 national championship.

Poor performances that season meant Atalanta were placed in Serie B’s inaugural 1929-30 season. It took seven seasons before they achieved Serie A promotion, but coach Ottavio Barbieri, a former Genoa winger, achieved that feat in 1937.

La Dea have floated between Serie A & Serie B ever since, with their longest period of top tier competition spanning 15 years from starting in 1940-1955. Several club legends emerged during this period, including Giuseppe Casari and James Mari, the first Atalanta players to ever represent the Italian national team (despite the latter’s Brentford upbringing). Another Englishman, Adrian Bassett, spearheaded La Dea’s frontline during the later years of this period, scoring 57 times in 125 appearances.

Giuseppe Casari made over 170 appearances for Atalanta in the forties.

Atalanta made their competitive European debut in 1963, when, on September 4th, they defeated Sporting Lisbon 2-0 in the Cup Winners’ Cup. They’d also compete in other now-defunct competitions like the Coppa delle Alpi in the early years but achieved no notable success.

The 1970’s were barren for Atalanta but the ‘80’s proved much more productive. Relegated to Serie C1 for the first time in history, La Dea galvanised and were back in Serie A just three years later. They reached their second Coppa Italia final in 1987 (having won the competition in 1963), but suffered a 4-0 aggregate loss to a Diego Maradona-inspired Napoli.

The following season, 1987-88, is considered the club’s most successful. The Emiliano Mondonico-managed side achieved promotion with a 4th-place Serie B finish, but the real fun came in the Cup Winners’ Cup. Atalanta battled to the semi-finals, their greatest ever European accomplishment, beating Sporting Lisbon, Ofi Crete and Merthyr Tydfil along the way. La Dea suffered a 4-2 aggregate loss to Belgian side Mechelen, but reaching the semi-finals was a huge achievement for such a second tier side.

Atalanta qualified for the 1989-90 and 90-91 UEFA Cups thanks to consecutive top seven Serie A finishes. Eliminated at the first hurdle by Spartak Moscow in 1990, La Dea were considerably more successful the following season. Having already eliminated Dinamo Zagreb, Fenerbahce and FC Koln, Atalanta met Italy’s other Nerazzurri, Internazionale, in the quarter-finals. Holding Inter to a goalless draw in the first leg, Atalanta were defeated 2-0in the return fixture at the Giuseppe Meazza.

No further European escapades followed, but Atalanta reached a third Coppa Italia final in 1996 (they were unsuccessful, losing 3-0 to Fiorentina on aggregate). 1996-97 saw the emergence of future poaching legend Pippo Inzaghi, whose 24 goals made him Atalanta’s first-ever Serie A top scorer. Inzaghi highlighted the growing efficiency of Atalanta’s youth academy, which was headed by current Azzurri coach Cesare Prandelli from 1990-93 and 94-97.

The following seasons were devoid of interesting events, barring the standard relegation and promotion here and there. Attacking midfielder Cristiano Doni became a talismanic figure during two lengthy spells with Atalanta, and the 38-year old would still be strutting his stuff for the Nerazzurri today if it weren’t for a 3½-year ban for his involvement in the 2011 betting scandal.

La Dea have a rich history for a provincial side. They were promoted with games to spare last term and are in a good position to survive relegation this season. History suggests that their latest Serie A stay won’t be long, but Atalanta are Coppa Italia winners and their European history is hugely impressive for a club of their stature. The Nerazzurri have plenty to be proud of.


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Roberto Mancini won seven trophies in four years and Jose Mourinho notched five in two, but neither left a legacy at Internazionale that can match Helenio Herrera’s. A tactical innovator and a pioneer of motivational techniques, Herrera managed Inter on two separate occasions: it is his first spell, from 1960 to 1968, that he’s most fondly remembered for.

It took a couple of years for Herrera to fully impose himself on Inter. His first two seasons were trophy-less, but Herrera did guide the Nerazzurri to third and second-place Serie A finishes. Things really started to heat-up in 1962-63: Inter won Serie A for the first time in nine years thanks to a watertight defence that conceded just 20 goals in 34 games.

The best was yet to come, and Inter won back-to-back European Cups (and Intercontinental Cups) in 1964 and 1965 to establish themselves as the most dominant side in Europe. Herrera’s side won Serie A again in 1965 and 1966 and became known as La Grande Inter (“the Great Inter”): one of the peninsula’s greatest ever club sides.

But Herrera’s success wasn’t restricted to Inter. He was already a well-established coach before arriving in Milan, having already won Spanish league titles with Atletico Madrid in 1950 and 1951. Mixed spells with Malaga, Deportivo, Sevilla and Belenenses followed, but Herrera really came to prominence at Barcelona.

Joining the Catalans in 1958, Herrera won a league and cup double in his first season. Winning a second league title the following season, Barcelona also added the Fairs Cup (equivalent to today’s Europa League) to their trophy cabinet that season but Herrera’s tenure came to a premature end just a few months later. A disagreement with star player Ladislao Kubala, the Hungarian-born striker, lead to Herrera’s arrival in Italy.

Herrera enjoyed only moderate success after leaving Inter. He lead Roma to a 1969 Coppa Italia win and won the Spanish cup in 1981 during his second spell at Barca, but he never recaptured the magic of La Grande Inter. A heart attack in 1974 cut his return to Inter short, and a short spell with Rimini preceded his Catalonian return in 1979.

Born in Argentina to a Spanish mother and an exiled anarchist father, Herrera’s exact date of birth is unknown. It’s often accepted as April 10th, 1910, but some speculate that he changed his year of birth to 1916 sometime in the fifties. He was therefore either 87 or 81 when he passed away in 1997.

Managers weren’t given enough credit for their success before the sixties, but that La Grande Inter changed that. Previously managers had been seen as more of a guiding hand than genuine influences, with teams known more for their star players (a la “Di Stefano’s Real Madrid”). Herrera’s successes and innovations brought the manager’s role to the forefront for the first time.

If it wasn’t for Herrera’s Inter, we’d probably be referring to Messi’s Barcelona and Rooney’s Man United: Guardiola and Sir Alex would hardly get a mention.

There are plenty of reasons for this shift in credit. Herrera was one of the first managers to make extensive use of (then) advanced motivational techniques. Inter were so well drilled by their manager that, during training, they’d chant the slogans and sayings he often promoted. Some of his more famous quotes, like “who doesn’t give it all, gives nothing,” are still repeated today.

It might sound cheesy today, but this approach was seen as revolutionary back then. Billboards with mottos like “Class + Preparation + Intelligence + Athleticism = Championships” were plastered on billboards around the stadium and training ground. Herrera recognised the worth of a motivated squad, and his ability to inspire determination played a big part in his success.

He was big on togetherness and team spirit, often taking his players to remote, country hotels on Thursday nights to prepare for Saturday morning games. Also a promoter of self-discipline and clean living, Herrera regularly had club officials visiting players’ houses at night to make sure they were in bed and well-rested for the next day’s work.

Herrera made sure his players looked after themselves. Alcohol and cigarettes were strictly forbidden, and diets were controlled to ensure players were consuming the right balance of nutrients for optimum athletic performance. Herrera had no time for slackers: if you played for him you’d be a consummate professional, otherwise you’d be sent packing.

Aside from being an innovative man manager, Herrera also had a big impact on the game’s tactical evolution. He was a big proponent of catenaccio: one of the game’s most significant (and misunderstood) tactical developments, even if he didn’t invent the system himself.

Catenaccio was derived from the Swiss “verrou” (door-bolt) system, invented by Austrian manager Karl Rappan during his managerial spells with Servette and the Swiss national team in the thirties and forties.

Catenaccio's precursor, the Verrou.

The verrou’s shape looks highly unorthodox today. It relied heavily on collectiveness and workrate to compensate for Rappan’s amateur players’ lack of technical ability, and was a much more fluid system than the then-popular “WM” formation. It was one of the first systems to utilise a four-man defence, with the most significant role being that of the sweeper (“verrouilleur”).

In Rappan’s system the sweeper was a highly defensive. He was a support player who acted as the “security bolt” of the other three defenders. Sitting between the centre-back and goalkeeper, this player would “sweep up” the ball before it reached the goal. Some sweepers (like Franz Beckenbauer) became famous for driving forward and adding an offensive element to the role, but the verrou and catenaccio employed mostly defensive sweepers.

Nereo Rocca brought the system to Italy with Triestina in 1947, but it was popularised by Herrera in the sixties. Herrera tightened the formation to allow for more counter-attacks, and many long balls were played forward for Inter’s skilled forward to run onto. This isn’t to say that the midfield were bypassed, however, as Spanish playmaker Luis Suarez Miramontes played a big role in La Grande Inter’s success.

The verrou employed a mixture of zonal and man marking, but Herrera’s defenders were strictly man markers. Each stuck to an opposing attacker like glue and the sweeper (or “libero”) was free to mop-up any through-balls that eluded the defence. Armando Picchi was particularly effective in this role, and the Italian is typically seen as the blueprint for the liberos who followed.

Herrera’s version of catenaccio died with the advent of Rinus Michels’ Total Football in the 1970’s, but it left a huge mark on calcio. Focusing on defence has seen Italy produce some of the world’s greatest defenders in Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Claudio Gentile and countless others. It’s no coincidence that Italy hasn’t produced a defender of Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta’s quality since the death of the libero in the nineties.

Catenaccio has had its share of critics over the years, and today the word is synonymous with hyper-defensive play and often accompanies the ludicrous term “anti-football”. Criticising catenaccio for its poor entertainment value is quite fair, but the system and its variations have brought great success to the Italian national team and various club teams over the years.

Smaller sides still employ catenaccio’s principles to grind-out results against bigger teams, and Otto Rehhagel’s Greece used it to great effect at Euro 2004. I’d rather watch attacking football most of the team, but defensive tactics can be used to great affect in certain circumstances.

That’s why I find “anti-football” such a nonsensical term. Defensive football (and catenaccio) is, in my opinion, a perfectly acceptable way to win. Of course everyone would like to play an expansive, possession-based game, but most teams lack the resources and personnel to play like Barcelona and Arsenal.

Look at England’s game with Spain last week. Fabio Capello conceded the battle for possession and employed a defensive, catenaccio-lite gameplan. They snuck a goal from a set piece and defended well to hold onto their lead. The performance has attracted plenty of neutral criticism, but England would have been slaughtered if they’d tried to match Spain for possession and been more attacking.

Pure catenaccio is dead, but the ideas behind the system live on, and for that we have Herrera and Rappan to be thankful. Sure it’s produced some turgid games over the years, but, in football, pragmatism usually topples idealism. Successful managers work with a system that suits their players: just look what happened when Gian Piero Gasperini tried to forcefully impose his philosophies on Inter this season.

Herrera might be known as a defensive tactician, but he had a winner’s mentality that rubbed-off on everyone he worked with. He once suspended a player for saying in an interview that “we (Inter) came to play in Rome,” instead of “we came to win in Rome.” That, if anything, should tell you all you need to know about Helenio Herrera.

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