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I could spend several hours waffling about my admiration for Francesco Totti (and I probably will before Roma “week” is done) but my research has helped my uncover a host of Roma legends who I hadn’t even heard of before. Here are a few notable names I’ve discovered along the way.

Bruno Conti

One of the most popular players in Giallorossi history, Conti’s legendary status is only matched by Totti’s. Born in the Roman province of Nettuno, Conti stayed with Roma his entire career (interrupted only by two loan spells at Genoa) and made a total of 304 league appearances in 17 years with his hometown club.

A jet-heeled left-winger of great guile and crossing ability, Conti came through Roma’s youth system to make a name for himself. He’s widely considered one of the best wingers of his generation, and won a Scudetto and four Coppa Italias during his domestic playing career. He was also an international success, and played a key role in Italy’s 1982 World Cup triumph.

Success, however, didn’t come easy for Conti. He debuted aged 18 but struggled to hold down a regular first team place for years. Many derided him for his tiny stature (Conti is just 5’6”) but two seasons spent with Genoa in Serie B helped him greatly. Nils Liedholm was in-charge when Conti returned, and he established himself as a real franchise player in the 1980s.

Conti is still with Roma today and currently works as the club’s director of football. Aged 56, Conti has also worked with the Giallorossi youth team and as a caretaker manager in the past decade. His legendary status ensure he’ll have a job for life.

 

Roberto Pruzzo

Nicknamed “Il Bomber”, Pruzzo was Roma’s top scorer for seven consecutive seasons from 1979 to 1986. His trophy haul is identical to Conti’s, and his 136 goals in 315 appearances make him Roma’s second all-time top scorer.

Born in Genoa, Pruzzo signed from his hometown side for an Italian record 3m lira in 1978. Totti has since usurped him as Roma’s leading goalscorer, but Pruzzo was incredibly prolific for Roma for several seasons. He finished three seasons as Serie A’s top goalscorer while with the capital club but only accumulated a paltry six Azzurri caps in his career. Pruzzo retired in 1989 after a single season with Fiorentina.

 

Agostino Di Bartolomei

Playing in the same Roma side as Conti and Pruzzo, “DiBa” was born and raised in the eternal city. A product of the youth system, Agostino made his first Giallorossi appearance in 1972 but, like Conti, struggled to make an additional breakthrough. He spent a year on loan with Vicenza before really making the breakthrough in 1976.

DiBa was a natural leader, and captained Roma during their Scudetto-winning season in 82-83. Vision, technique, passing ability and determination were his key attributes and he played with an almost perfect combination of grit and finesse. He’s considered one of the Giallorossi’s greatest ever captains and never gave anything less than 100% for the team he loved.

Sven-Goran Eriksson’s 1984 sale of DiBa to Milan sparked protests around the capital: the player never wanted to leave, and the fans were shocked to see him go. In hindsight, however, it might’ve been the correct decision. Agostino was never the same after leaving Roma and his career slowly petered out at Cesena and Salernitana. DiBa, a lifelong depression victim, tragically committed suicide in 1994.

 

Giacomo Losi

Losi’s 450 appearances make him Roma’s second all-time appearance leader (after, you guessed it, Totti). He captained the Giallorossi for nine seasons from 1959 to 1968 and won three trophies at Roma (two Coppa Italias and the Inter Cities Fairs Cup).

More of a club legend than a national hero, Losi nonetheless picked-up 11 Azzurri caps in his career. He played as a full-back and his clean-but-strong defender style saw him pick-up just a single booking in his 14-year career. Born in Soncino, Lodi became a true Giallorossi hero in 1961 when he played almost a whole match against Sampdoria injured, even scoring the winner. He still lives in Rome to this day and occupies himself as a director of non-league Valle Aurelia 87.

 

Giuseppe Giannini

A precursor to Totti as a symbol of Roma, Giannini played for the club from 1981-96 and, like Losi, captained the Giallorossi for nine seasons. He was an attacking midfielder who scored 49 goals in 318 Roma appearances, winning three Coppa Italias and 47 Italy caps along the way.

Giannini earned instant favour by opting to sign for Roma ahead of rivals Lazio, and was nicknamed “Il Principe” (the prince) for his grace and elegance on the pitch. Retiring in 1998, Giannini is still only 47 and has managed a series of lower-level clubs (including Foggia and Verona) since 2004.

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Apologies for the recent paucity of updates, but a busy festive season will do that to a man. I’m looking to get back into the swing of things from today onwards so that I can give AS Roma the attention they deserve. Here’s my take on their Spanish revolution.

The Luis Enrique project has interested me from day one. Thomas DiBenedetto took ownership in April and soon disposed of caretaker manager Vincenzo Montella. In came ex-Barcelona player Luis Enrique, followed by swathes of Spanish-based players (Bojan, Fernando Gago, etc.) and the likes of Maarten Stekelenburg and Miralem Pjanic.

Wholesale changes were made with 19 players coming and going to and from the Stadio Olimpico. Roma spent over €70m on players last summer (offset by €26m worth of sales), but all this on-field arrivals were secondary to the new man in the dugout.

Enrique’s only management experience had been with Barcelona’s B team. He managed the Catalans’ second string from 2008 to 2011, bringing them to heights that even his now-illustrious predecessor, Josep Guardiola, couldn’t reach. Barca B finished in the Segunda Division’s playoff places in Enrique’s last season, representing an all-time high for the Mini Estadi side.

Essentially, Roma had brought in a man whose track record was even better than Guardiola, who now ranks among world football’s most successful managers. Enrique and Guardiola were cut from the same cloth: both were Blaugrana favourites who’d cut their teeth with the reserve team. Enrique’s appointment naturally caused a lot of excitement, given how well Guardiola has done since moving up the managerial ladder.

That’s not to say there wasn’t apprehension. As encouraging as the Guardiola/Enrique parallels were, Enrique was still a vastly inexperienced manager who’d be operating in a league that typically places tactical intelligence over flair and trickery. Roma’s squad, additionally, was ageing and seemingly unsuited to Enrique’s vision, and the Giallorossi would have to deal with the disharmony caused by widespread personnel changes from day one.

Roma had big plans. Enrique describes himself as “an offensive coach who looks good football,” echoing the Barcelona philosophy. “We chose Enrique for symbolic reasons,” said Roma’s Sporting Director, Walter Sabatini. “Enrique represents an idea of football that we would like to follow, which imposes itself today through Spain and Barcelona… I was looking for someone outside of Italian football. Uncontaminated.”

A bold, brave stance from both men. Taking influence from the Rinus Michels-inspired tiki-taka philosophy, Roma became a unique project in Italy. A league traditionally based on getting results at all costs now featured a man who saw attacking football as the only way to play. Things were about to get interesting.

Enrique’s Roma made a slow start and claimed just two points from their opening fixtures against Cagliari, Inter and Siena. The Giallorossi won just three games by the start of November, and Enrique’s job was already under threat by mid-December.

Roma’s teething problems were understandable and inevitable. It’s impossible to achieve instant fluency with such a high player turnover, regardless of the who’s in the dugout. The players, additionally, needed more time to adapt to a completely new style of play, and Roma’s defenders often look all-at-sea. Players were out of position, Pjanic became an overworked creative outlet and having too many attackers in one area often stifled forward play.

This was always going to be a long-term project and it should surprise nobody that Roma are still finding their feet. Enrique is still learning the trade and his team are still adapting to his ideas. It’ll be a while before Roma reach full potential and Enrique’s boys have plenty of trials and tribulations ahead of them.

Recent signs, however, have been very encouraging. Roma drew 1-1 with Antonio Conte’s unbeaten Juventus on December 12th, and followed-up with a superb 3-1 victory in Naples six days later.

Both games exhibited everything the Giallorossi had been lacking. They’d become accustomed to dominating possession without getting results, but took points from two very strong sides with less than 50% of the ball. Roma became ruthless, took their few chances and played with the fire and grinta they’d been lacking.

“Enrique has become Italianised,” said the critics. “He had to become like us in order to win.” Nonsense, I say. Roma won an ugly game with Napoli, yes, but it wasn’t because Enrique had abandoned his ethos: he <I>adapted</I> it.

I always cringe when I here coaches say “we will play like Barca.” Barcelona’s proactive approach is admirable, exciting and successful, but you can’t just mimic another team’s style and expect to win. Messi, Xavi & co. have spent most of their lives living by the Barcelona philosophy. For them it’s not just a playing system, it’s a way of life. It’s impossible to completely recreate without years and years of work from a grassroots level upwards.

Ex-Argentina boss Sergio Batista learned this the hard way after last year’s disastrous Copa America campaign, but Enrique is too smart to fall into the same trap. Roma’s displays against Napoli and Juve demonstrate this. Enrique saw that certain elements weren’t functioning as he’d like, so he tweaked his gameplan. The goal is still to use elements of Enrique’s Barca education to forge a new playing style, but the means of achieving this needed to be altered.

Enrique has not conformed to Italian football but identified his system’s weaknesses and acted accordingly. Roma were dominant in their next fixture (a 2-0 win at Bologna), recording 71% possession and putting their opponents to the sword accordingly. The plan is coming to fruition.

Gian Piero Gasperini tried to force his preferred system on Inter without considering his players’ strength and weaknesses. Enrique is taking the smart manager’s approach of tweaking his vision to accommodate his players’ attributes, much like Chelsea’s Andre Villas-Boas. He can only work with what he’s got at the moment, and it’ll probably take another summer mercato before he can acquire his ideal type of player.

This is why I respect Luis Enrique. He has a clear vision of what he wants to do with Roma, but he’s clever enough to realise that his mission will take time and a consideration of his available resources. This is a man who knows exactly what he wants to accomplish: commend Luis Enrique for his adaptability, don’t accuse him of becoming “Italianised.”

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Better than you think: Samir Handanovic.

Samir Handanovic is rightly recognised as one of the most improved goalkeepers in Europe. Udinese have conceded just seven Serie A goals with the 6’5” Slovenian keeping net this season, and last season he saved six penalty kicks. No, that isn’t a typo. Obviously there’s more to being a great ‘keeper than saving penalties (look at Mark Crossley) but the stat displays says a lot about Handanovic.

His size definitely helps, but you’ve got to be agile to size a well-placed penalty. Most players will try to hit their penalties in the bottom corner, well out of reach for most goalkeepers. Not that all of the penalties Handanovic faced last season were perfectly placed, but they certainly weren’t all scuffed mishits.

Composure is very important in these situations. The onus is on the striker to score, but a calm, composed goalkeeper has a far better chance of making a penalty save than a shaky, erratic one. Keeping calm allows a ‘keeper to read his opponent’s body language and get a better idea of where the ball’s going to go. Such strong anticipation is another of Handanovic’s finest points.

Handanovic has no obvious physical or mental weaknesses. He has no qualms about rushing off his line and bravely diving at oncoming strikers’ feet and his reflexes are second-to-none. It seems like Samir makes a blinding point-black save every time I watch him play, and he’s approaching an Edwin van der Sar level of proficiency with the ball at his feet.

Aside from his outstanding penalty record, Handanovic went 704 minutes without conceding a goal between February 5th and March 20th last season. In a team known for its swashbuckling attacking style and disregard for defence, this statistic doesn’t require elaboration.

Atalanta coach Stefano Colantuono has called him the best goalkeeper in Europe, and Handanovic’s excellent form has seen him receive plaudits from around the globe. There’s no doubt that he’s a fantastic, match-winning goalkeeper, but how does the 27-year-old compare with the world’s best?

In Italy, Gianluigi Buffon is the obvious benchmark. Gig has been one of the most dominant ‘keepers in the world for years and, aged 33, should have a few more years of top-level performances left in him. I don’t need to discuss the guy’s legendary status; I’m sure you already know plenty about his accolades.

Buffon is the complete ‘keeper, and Handanovic’s self-confessed idol. The problem with Buffon, however, is that he hasn’t looked the same since recovering from an injury sustained at the 2010 World Cup. He missed a huge chunk of last season and has re-established himself at Juventus, but he hasn’t been the exceptional ‘keeper of old. I’d expect Buffon’s old self to return soon and his performances haven’t been bad, they just haven’t been as out of this world as we’ve come to expect.

Elsewhere on the peninsula, there’s Napoli’s Morgan De Sanctis. Highly-regarded by the Partenopei, De Sanctis is often referred to as “Italy’s second-best goalkeeper.” I can get behind that. De Sanctis is particularly impressive in one-on-one situations, but I don’t think he can match Handanovic for reflexes and exuberance.

Federico Marchetti has had an excellent start to life at Lazio after spending last season on the sidelines at Cagliari. Marchetti, 28, has only been a Serie A ‘keeper since 2008, and I think it’s too early to consider him one of the best. Julio Cesar? Not the player he was a few seasons ago. Christian Abbiati? Solid but unspectacular. Maarten Stekelenburg? Hasn’t really done it at Roma.

The English Premier league is awash with goalkeeping talent. I regard Liverpool’s Pepe Reina as the best in the league. His consistently outstanding performances have, at times, been the only thing preventing the Reds descending into total farce, but he still commits the odd error every now and then.

Petr Cech, in my eyes, hasn’t been the same since Stephen Hunt almost kicked his head off in 2006. Cech is still undeniably very, very good and can still make brilliant saves but has played hesitantly since his injury. The Cech of 2011 is reluctant to dive at strikers’ feet and looks bothered by having to come off his line and claim a cross. It’s only natural for such an injury to have a long-lasting psychological affect, and while I still think Cech is world-class he’s lacking the bravery that used to make him truly special.

Manchester City’s Joe Hart is ever improving and an excellent shot-stopper, but he’s still raw. He’s yet to suffer the wrath of the savage English press when they’re out for blood and I don’t think it’s right to call him one of the world’s best until his mental strength is significantly tested. Just look what happened to Robert Green and Paul Robinson.

Hugo Lloris, France’s best goalkeeper, is a definite contender for the “world’s best” title. The likes of Arsenal have been courting Lloris for years, but he looks set to remain a Lyon player for the foreseeable future. An incredible athlete and a commanding presence in the box, Lloris is a ‘keeper of the highest calibre and one any team would be delighted to have.

How about the Germans? Manuel Neuer is settling into life with Bayern Munich after a difficult start and looks set to be number one for club and country for years to come. Elsewhere Rene Adler and Tim Wiese are very good ‘keepers in their own right, but neither are performing at a level comparable to Handanovic at the moment.

Arguing Handanovic’s status as a top, top ‘keeper gets difficult as soon as you reach La Liga. Iker Casillas is regarded by many as the best goalkeeper in the world, and for good reason. The Spanish #1 is an icon for Real Madrid and Spain and routinely pulls-off outstanding saves like they come naturally to him. He puts his body on the line week after week and his performances have won Real plenty of games over the year.

Victor Valdes is almost as good. Far removed from the clanger-prone buffoon of old, Valdes has become an integral part of a Barcelona team that could be argued as being the greatest club side in history. Not just an excellent shot-stopper, Valdes is brilliant with the ball at his feet and passes like a central midfielder. Hardly surprised for a La Masia graduate.

How does Handanovic compare to all of the above? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. I’m convinced he’s a better ‘keeper than most I’ve mentioned, but it’ll take a few more years of excellence before he’s comparable to Buffon and Casillas in-particular. That said, I can’t think of another goalie I’d rather have playing for my team at the moment.

Data: whoscored.com.

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Earlier this week I came across an unexpected name while browsing Udinese’s squad list. I’d never heard of Liam McCarthy, but a Scotsman’s name in an Italian squad tends to stick out considering the paucity of Scottish footballers plying their trade abroad.

As a Scot who loves calcio, discovering McCarthy was interesting to me. Wikipedia (I know…) told me that he’s a midfielder currently on-loan at Anderlecht, but I wanted to know more. Naturally I headed to both clubs’ official websites, but all I could dig up was a couple of references to Mick McCarthy after Jelle Van Damme’s transfer from Anderlecht to Wolves a few seasons ago.

Unperturbed, I headed straight to Google. Results, again, were thin on the ground but I did manage to dig-up a few bits and bobs from our good friend Wikipedia. McCarthy is 17-years-old and started his youth career with Kilmarnock in 2008. He transferred to Celtic two years later, before joining Udinese this past summer and immediately going to Anderlecht on-loan. He is yet to make a senior appearance for any club.

I wasn’t happy with this. My only source was an unreferenced Wikipedia article for heaven’s sake. In search of concrete proof of this guy’s existence, I scoured numerous Celtic, Udinese and Anderlecht fan-sites but found nothing. Google proved useless as well, throwing up nothing but Mick McCarthy stories. Turns out information on obscure Scottish youth players who haven’t made their pro debut is thin on the ground.

The next logical step, it seemed, was to contact Udinese and Anderlecht. Getting a few words with McCarthy on his experiences in Udine would’ve made for an excellent post, and it’d have been fascinating to learn about the Udinese youth system from someone who’s experienced it.

I sent the email on Monday evening: it’s now Saturday morning and I’ve heard nothing back. I’m not entirely surprised by this. Club secretaries are probably bombarded with mountains of rubbish every day, and I doubt they even read my humble request to speak to one of their youth players. Still, it would’ve been nice to have at least confirmed McCarthy’s existence.

As it stands, I’m not even sure if Liam McCarthy is real. He’s on Wikipedia, but you can get away with posting any old guff on Wiki these days. If you are a Celtic, Udinese or Anderlecht follower who knows more about McCarthy than I do, I’d love to hear from you.

Maybe I should’ve checked Football Manager…

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As noted yesterday, the job of Palermo manager is very difficult to keep. Maurizio Zamparini is very short of patience and rarely willing to give coaches the time they need to succeed. He runs the club his way, and you disagree with him you’re as good as gone.

The Aquile have already gone through four coaches this season, and latest to enter the lion’s den is Devis Mangia. The 37-year-old has Palermo flying: they’re fifth in Serie A and have won all six of their home games this season. One would think this is the work of an experienced campaigner, but not. Mangia is a rookie in his first ever Serie Amanagerial role, and the start he’s made is remarkable.

Born in Cernusco sul Naviglio in 1974, Mangia didn’t have much of a playing career. Hometown side Cernusco Enotria had him on their books briefly, but he never made it as a professional footballer and left the sport to study jurisprudence.

Devis returned to football after graduating, and started learning his trade as a youth coach in 1999. Tiny sides Enotria Goliardo, Voghera and Fiorenzuola put him through his paces early on, and he became involved with organising youth tournaments in and around his local area.

A breakthrough came in 2004. Mangia moved to Serie D side Varese, first as a coach and then as manager. He stayed with the side until 2007, taking Varese out of Serie D and leaving them in a comfortable Serie C2 position.

The following season took him to amateur side Tritium, who he guided to a second-place finish in their division. Mangia moved to Serie D’s Ivrea a year later, but was unsuccessful and fired three days before the end of the 2008-09 season. Valencian took him on in 2009. Struggling financially and on the field, Valencian were in dire straights and competing in Italian football’s sixth tier. It looked like their season would end in disaster, but Mangia managed to stave-off relegation with a tenth-place finish.

Mangia left the club to return to Varese as a youth coach. This is when his career really started to take off. Varese’s youth side were unfancied and unfashionable. They had no notable prospects, but Mangia’s guidance earned them a spot in the Campionata Primavera (a competition made-up of the youth teams of Serie A & B sides) final. Roma’s kids beat them 3-2, but reaching the final remains a big accomplishment for one of Serie B’s smaller sides.

Varese’s Sporting Director Sean Sogliano left for Palermo this summer, and when he discovered the Aquile were looking for a new youth coach he knew exactly who to call. Mangia joined Palermo as the club’s under-19 manager, a job he’d only keep for two months.

Stefano Pioli, who’d only been at Palermo since June, had just overseen the club’s exit from the Europe League qualifying round. Despite not losing a game (Palermo went out on away goals having drawn 1-1 away and 2-2 at home), Pioli was relieved of his duties by Zamparini, who “had a feeling we (Palermo) were going to get relegated.”

Mangia, despite his complete lack of experience at a high level, was appointed caretaker manager for the start of the season. He lacked (and still lacks) the coaching badges that are usually required to manage in Serie A, but was granted an exemption as he’d already been admitted to the 2011-12 UEFA Pro License course.

Thrown straight into the deep end, Mangia could hardly have asked for tougher opposition for his first game in-charge: Internazionale. Mangia devised a gameplan with just 12 days to prepare. His Aquile lined-up in a 4-4-2 formation with the plan of pressing Inter right from kick-off. It worked: Inter’s rigid side couldn’t cope with Mangia’s system, and Palermo left with a 4-3 win.

With that feather in his cap, Mangia has gone on to establish a flawless home record that even Zamparini has spoken highly of. Palermo’s away record, however, remains a cause for concern. They’ve only picked-up one point and are yet to score a single goal on the road this season, but such a run can’t last forever and they’re got a great chance to turn things around at Parma this weekend.

It’s almost unbelievable to think that Mangia was working at non-league level just two years ago. Devis’ rise has been almost meteoric but his ideas are easily transferable between division.

Ball retention is pivotal. Mangia likes the ball played along the ground with quick, dynamic wing play. The initial 4-4-2 somewhat neutralised Palermo’s most talented player, Josip Ilicic, but recent games have seen Mangia switch to a 4-3-1-2 to utilize the Slovenian’s strengths. The Aquile are pragmatic and gritty opposed to fluid and gritty, but they’re far from boring to watch.

Devis Mangia’s story is incredible. Plucked from obscurity having cut his teeth as a youth coach, Mangia is now living the dream as a Serie A manager. Zampa’s track record suggest that he mightn’t get long in the hotseat, but here’s hoping he gets enough time to prove his worth. Personally, I think he’ll be a Serie A manager for a very long time.

Sources

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Nobody does madness quite like Maurizio Zamparini. Football has always had its fair share of crackpot club owners (who could ever forgot Perugia’s Luciano Gaucci?) but nobody, not even Venky’s, can match Zampa in 2011. Palermo’s owner is the biggest Mangiaallenatori (“manager-eater”) in calcio (having gone through 30+ managers in his career), and is one of the most outspoken men on the peninsula.

A retail tycoon, Zamparini first dipped his toes into football in 1987 when he bought Serie C2 side Venezia. Zamparini and his money brought Venezia from the fourth-tier all the way to Serie A, and it’s telling of Zampra’s contribution (and resources) that the Venice side have slumped all the way to Serie D (non-league) without his backing. Zamparini left Venezia in 2002, and the club have been a non-entity ever since.

He bought Palermo in the same year and announced his plans to take the second-tier Rosanero back into Serie A. Zamparini achieved his goal in 2004, and Palermo have been a formidable upper-midtable side since.

Lets get this out of the way early: Zamparini has done a lot of good for Palermo. He’s taken the Aquile to new heights with excellent league finishes (three fifths and one sixth in Serie A), multiple European campaigns and last season’s Coppa Italia final. Palermo wouldn’t be where they are today without Zampa’s support, but the eccentric owner is considered one of the most ridiculous men in calcio for a number of reasons.

Never afraid to speak his mind, Zamparini will defend his club to the hilt. If he feels Palermo have been wronged, Zampa will take to the press and make his feelings known immediately. More often than not, however, this can work to Palermo’s detriment (see below for examples).

Zamparini is all too willing to openly criticise his subordinates in the public. Some of his rants against popular ex-coach Delio Rossi were particularly vile, given the excellent job Rossi did at Palermo, and he frequently criticises those he feels are underperforming.

In 2008 he famously likened Palermo to “a team of girls, not men” after a defeat to Torino. I can’t imagine why he thinks saying things like this is a good idea. In the dressing room or on the training ground, fine, say whatever you want, but in public? Such outbursts, to me, demonstrate a complete lack of professionalism that can only destabilise a squad. Constructive criticism is useful, but vitriolic tirades are completely unproductive.

He has threatened to leave Palermo on numerous occasions, most recent in August. Palermo fans jeered their team following a friendly loss to 10-man Fenerbahce, as they’re entitled to do, and Zamparini threw his toys out of the pram. “I am beginning to think that I am stinking-up Palermo,” he said, “I think this’ll be my last night as president.”

On the surface this looks like Zamparini taking responsibility for the Aquile’s failings. To me, it’s a childish outburst from a man desperate for this around him to molly-coddle his ego, kiss his backside and say “no Zampa, it’s not your fault.” And all this over a friendly? Tsk, tsk.

If Zamparini is known for anything, however, it’s his trigger-happy nature when dealing with managers. He’s gone through an extraordinary amount of managers in his time, and his patience isn’t showing signs of improving any time soon. The Aquile, for example, have changed managers 19 times since Zampa’s takeover. That’s an average of more than twice a season that would be far higher if not for Rossi’s two-year reign.

Last season was a complete fiasco. Rossi was fired after a freak 7-0 loss to Udinese and replaced by Serse Cosmi, the eccentric ex-Livorno coach. Cosmi lasted just four games, and was dismissed after a 4-0 loss to Palermo’s Sicilian rivals Catania, and guess who replaced him? Delio Rossi, the man who Zamparini had accused of “ruining” Palermo just five weeks prior.

Then there’s the case of Stefano Pioli. The ex-Chievo coach is known as a mean defensive tactician, and was brought in on June 2nd, 2001 to shore-up Palermo’s notoriously leaky defence. Pioli was fired in August before the domestic season had even started (he had just two Europa League qualifying draws with FC Thun to his name), and why? Because Zamparini “had a feeling he was going to get us (Palermo) relegated.”

This has been going on for a while. Current Udinese boss Francesco Guidolin has had four different stints in-charge of Palermo, none of which have lasted longer than a year. First firing Guidloin in December 2004, Zamparini said “he has no future here,” then proceeded to bring him back to the club on three further occasions. Does anybody else see a pattern emerging here?

It’s amazing that Palermo have achieved such success without any continuity on the manager’s office. Italian clubs aren’t known for giving managers time, but the Aquile have had four different managers in 2011 alone. New-boy Devis Mangia has had an excellent start to the season and looks to be in Zamparini’s good books, but history suggests that it won’t be long before the young coach falls foul of the volatile owner.

Personally, I think Zamparini is great entertainment. It’s easy to say that from a distance, though: if I was a Palermo supporter, I suspect I’d have a different opinion. That he’s done a lot of good for Palermo is undeniable, but who would want such a brash, explosive character attached to their club? For now, however, I will continue to “enjoy” Zampa’s mad antics from afar.

Zampa’s Greatest Quotes

“Rossi has a one per cent chance of staying on the bench, you can bet on that. The team has been completely destroyed. He ruined my Palermo… I should’ve kicked Rossi out at Christmas.” – on Delio Rossi, one of Palermo’s most popular coaches of all-time, after a freak 7-0 loss to Udinese last season. Rossi was fired shortly after.

“Changing coaches was a mistake on my part for which I ask Palermo’s fans to forgive me. I rediscovered my belief in Rossi because he is an excellent coach.” – five weeks later, Rossi was reappointed and Zamparini was backtracking.

“I will cut off their testicles and eat them in my salad.” – on Palermo’s players after a particularly poor 2003 when the club were still in Serie B.

“I didn’t mean to offend Adrian Mutu when I called him a crafy, little gypsy.” – Zampa’s way of apologising for a borderline racist rant against Mutu in 2007, when the Romanian striker had scored against Palermo (who had a man down injured).

“The English are pirates.” – on rich English clubs poaching talented Italian youngsters before they have a chance to mature in their home country.

“We should put all of the referees in prison.” – English clubs, take note: this is how you criticise a referee. Zampa unleashes on match officials after a 3-1 loss to Cagliari in January. Alessandro Matri’s Cagliari opener was clearly offside, and Zampa demanded an apology (which he didn’t receive) from the referee designators.

Sources

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Cristiano Doni’s implication in the Calcioscommesse scandal has shattered his reputation and effectively ended his 20-year playing career, but he remains an Atalanta legend. Nerazzurri staff, players and fans have been vociferously supportive of their club and captain since the guilty verdicts were announced in August. The denial, protestations and fight to prove their innocence will continue, and Doni will remain a hero regardless of the outcome.

The ordeal has only strengthened the Nerazzurri’s resolve, and they’ve never been more supportive of Doni than they are today. Such is the nature of Bergamo’s sons and daughters. They are a proud, defiant people, and Doni is very much one of their own. Named an honorary Bergamo citizen in 2008, Doni and Atalanta have been great for each other. It’ll take more than a betting scam to break their bond.

Born in Rome on April 1st, 1973, Doni began his footballing education with Modena in 1988 but didn’t make his professional debut until a 1992-93 loan spell with Serie C2’s Rimini. Doni notched 6 goals in 31 appearances for the Romagna side, before moving up a division with Pistoiese the following season.

Modena decided against retaining Doni’s services despite the productivity of his loan spells, and the gifted midfielder moved to Bologna in 1994. Two promotions in two years saw Doni’s star rise with Bologna’s, but he was discarded before he could make his top tier debut. Doni didn’t have to wait long, however, as his new club Brescia were promoted as Serie B champions in 1997.

Cristiano’s Bergamese odyssey began in 1998 when he arrived at newly relegated Atalanta. Finishing with 8 goals in 27 games, Doni’s on-field influence continued to grow but his new side were unable to secure promotion and finished sixth in Serie B. The following season, 1999-00, was more productive for Doni and La Dea. Playing as a left-winger for the first time in his career, Doni scored an impressive 14 goals in 35 games, and a fourth-place finish was enough to secure Atalanta’s Serie A return.

The Nerazzurri impressed in Serie A and finished 7th, but 2000-01was a dark season for Cristiano Doni. He and his team-mates were accused of rigging a cup tie were accused of rigging a Coppa Italia tie with Pistoiese. Everyone involved was eventually acquitted, but Doni’s involvement has only compounded suspicion of his Calcioscommesse involvement.

Doni returned with aplomb in 2001-02 to record his most successful season yet. 16 goals in 30 Serie A appearances saw the playmaker earn a call-up to Giovanni Trappatoni’s Azzurri. Scoring on his debut (a friendly with Japan), Doni’s good domestic form earned him a place in Italy’s Euro 2002 squad. Doni made seven international appearances overall, scoring once.

A playoff loss to Reggina in 2003 saw Atalanta relegated, and Doni, too talented for Serie B, soon departed. He moved to Sampdoria that summer but became increasingly injury prone and rarely produced his best form. Two fruitless seasons in Genoa ended with a switch to R.C.D. Mallorca in 2005 but Doni continued to struggle, scoring just twice in 24 games.

Aged 32, it looked like Doni’s career was winding down. A spate of injuries and erratic performances meant Doni wasn’t exactly a hot commodity upon leaving Mallorca, but La Dea swooped to save him from the scrapheap. Doni returned to Atalanta in 2006, famously comparing his Nerazzurri jersey to Clark Kent’s Superman costume.

If Doni became a fan favourite during his first Atalanta spell, he became a legend during his second. Doni missed 10 games through injury in 2006-07 but still captained the side to an eighth-place finish, scoring 13 goals along the way. La Dea achieved another strong finish in 2007-08 (9th) as Doni’s rejuvenation continued. The following season he notched nine goals (including four against champion Internazionale), having already become Atalanta’s all-time top Serie A goalscorer in 2008.

Atalanta went into decline the following season. Doni mustered just 2 goals as La Dea slipped into the relegation zone and struggled for consistency all season long. A finish of 18th eventually saw Atalanta relegated, but Doni, 37, had become a Bergamese institution. Doni announced that he wanted to see-out the rest of his career with La Dea, and stuck around for his first Serie B season since 1999-00.

Captain Doni made an immediate impact, scoring five times in the season’s opening three months. His peak years were long gone, but Doni was reborn in the second-tier, providing a touch of class rarely seen outwith Serie A and finishing with 12 league goals, his highest tally in three seasons. Atalanta finished as champions and returned to Serie A, but without their captain. Doni was hit with a 3½-year band for his involvement in Calcioscommesse, and his playing days are probably numbered.

Doni was an advanced playmaker who typically operating between midfield and attack. His vision, touch and passing accuracy were superb: his game was based on technicality, not physicality, which explains why he was still playing at 38. Last season he played at the tip of Atalanta’s midfield diamond and showed that his ability to cut defences open with a single pass hadn’t diminished. His ageing body mightn’t have been able to cope with Serie A’s demands this season, but it would’ve been nice to see him try.

If this is the end of Doni’s career, he’s left plenty to be proud of. He’s seen Atalanta through two promotions and some of their best ever Serie A finishes. 112 goals in 323 appearances make him the club’s all-time leading goalscorer (by a margin of 50) and Atalanta’s fourth all-time appearance maker. His reputation outside Bergamo is now tainted, but Nerazzurri fans will always revere him.

In July, over 4,000 fans took to the Bergamo to protest their club’s innocence. That their club are guilty is incomprehensible to them, and that Doni could’ve played an active role in Atalanta’s demise is unspeakable. In their eyes, Atalanta will always be innocent, and Doni will always be a legend.

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