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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.

Sources:-

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No full pieces today, but there’s a link to an excellent appraisal of one of Atalanta’s stars of the season so far, Germán Denis, from The Score’s Paolo Bandini. Denis has been dossing around Serie A without really making an impact since 2008, but he’s hit a rich vein of form for La Dea and has already notched 9 goals in 11 appearances. The powerful striker struggled to make the grade at Napoli and Udinese, but he’s thriving in coach Stefano Colantuono’s system and is playing the best football of his calcio career.

Have a read.

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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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After the negativity of the last two posts I think it’s only right to celebrate a brighter period of Inter Milan’s history today. The Nerazzurri are true giants of modern calcio, but their historic success has typically come in sporadic bursts. Inter haven’t always been as dominant as they are today (the 1990’s were particularly barren), but they’ve had some great teams over the years and none are more decorated than the Internazionale of the 1960’s.

Back (l-r): Sarti, Facchetti, Guarneri, Bedin, Burgnich, Picchi; front(l-r): Jair, Mazzola, Joaquim Peiro, Suarez, Corso

It started in 1960. Inter hadn’t won a championship since 1954 and had gone through three managers (Aldo Campatelli, Camillo Achilli and Giulio Cappelli) in the 1959-60 season. Seeking stability, the Nerazzurri turned to Franco-Argentine coach Helenio Herrera who’d just won consecutive Spanish titles with Barcelona.

European Footballer of the Year Luis Suarez (no, not that one) followed Herrera from Barcelona and became Inter’s chief playmaker for most of the decade. The Hispanic influence didn’t reap immediate rewards and Inter finished third and second in Herrera’s first two seasons in charge. The Nerazzurri continued their improvement in 1962-63 by winning Serie A. Using Herrera’s refinement of the Catenaccio system, Inter went from strength to strength.

Of course, it helped that they had some of the best players in the world to call-on. Suarez aside, Armando Picchi was one of the era’s biggest stars. Often referred to as “the first of the liberos,” Picchi was a pioneer. A wall of a sweeper, Picchi was Inter’s spare man at the back for years and always there to mop-up opposition attacks.

The liberos who followed him might’ve played with more grace, but Picchi’s supreme anticipation, vision and sense of position allowed him to snuff-out attacks with great efficiency. The Livorno-born player made 257 appearances in seven years with Inter, and, as Il Grande Inter’s captain, his contribution will never be forgotten.

Full-backs Giacinto Facchetti and Tarcisio Burgnich were equally pivotal with Facchetti in-particular leaving a lasting legacy on the modern game. Possibly the world’s first attacking full-back, Facchetti is rightfully remembered as one of the all-time greats. He dedicated his entire career to Inter, making 629 appearances between 1960 and 1978, and later joined the Nerazzurri board.

Brazilian Jair enjoyed two spells in Milan and was a key player despite never breaking through at international level, and inside-right Sandro Mazzola became a legend with the Nerazzurri. Inter were mostly known for their excellent defensive work at the time, but Mazzola still notched 116 goals in 417 league appearances despite the pragmatic nature of Italian football at the time.

These players and more reached the 1964 European Cup final. Inter were to meet a feared Real Madrid side that had reached seven of the past nine finals. The above players lined up alongside Giuliano Sartri, Carlo Tagnin, Aristide Guarneri, Joaquin Peiro and Mario Corso as Inter, the underdogs, scooped a 3-1 win. MazzoIl Grabbed the headlines with two goals in the final and Il Grande Inter’s legacy was well on its way.

Further European success followed in 1965 when Inter met Benfica in the final. A lone Jair goal was another to seal Inter’s second consecutive European Cup win in a season that also saw them win Serie A. Another domestic title followed in 1966, but it wasn’t long before the wheels fell off.

Inter failed to win a major trophy under Herrera after 1966. The 1967 European Cup final can be seen as a turning point. Inter faced-off against Celtic’s now-legendary Lisbon Lions with Jair sold, Facchetti fading and Suarez injured. The Nerazzurri lost-out to Celtic’s breathless attacking display, and erratic results during the 1969-70 saw Herrera sacked.

Three domestic titles and four European trophies (including two Intercontinental Cup wins) in four years is a record any team would be proud of and Il Grande Inter have earned their place in history. The Nerazzurri conceded an average of less than a goal a game under Herrera: their defence is legendary, and it’s something I’ll be exploring in an extended piece tomorrow.

Sadly, like the “great” Inter side of the 2000’s, Il Grande Inter’s legacy has been tainted by controversy. British newspaper The Times reported in 2003 that then-president Angelo Moratti had Hungarian referee Gyorgy Vadas in 1965 in an attempt to fix a European Cup tie with Malaga.

It was also suggested that Inter had made similar attempts at European Cup match-fixing during both of the previous seasons. Brian Glanville stated that Il Grande Inter’s success was “the fruit of bribery and corruption in which Angelo Moratti played a crucial part in a process implemented by two men also now dead: Deszo Szolti, the Hungarian fixer, and the serpentine Italo Allodi (Inter’s sporting director).”

There’s no doubt that this was an excellent side but their legacy has been severely tainted by these allegations. As if match-fixing wasn’t bad enough, ex-player Ferruccio Mazzola alleged that the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs was rife at Inter in the 1960’s. Chairman Massimo Moratti and president Facchetti (among those implicated by Mazzola) immediately sued.

Mazzola won the case in 2010, and it’s very telling that Inter decided against appealing. I’m no lawyer, but this suggests guilt to me. It’s probably no coincidence that these allegations rose under the ownership of Angelo Morrati and that Inter’s next big scandal (Calciopoli) came about under Angelo’s son’s (Massimo) stewardship.

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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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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, for me, are a very easy club to identify with because of their English roots. I can’t say that the Rossoblu’s heritage gave me an instant connection to the club but, as a Brit, it caught my attention and got me interested in the club.

It was like bait: at the faintest whiff of a similarity between Genoa and myself I instantly wanted to learn more about the club, their history, and the legacy of their English founders. James Richardson Spensley and William Garbutt aren’t exactly revered in their home country and this is a big shame. I’m willing to bet that calcio would be even more popular in Britain if more of us took the time to research this unique link between our island and Italian football’s genesis.

Spensley and Garbutt both had huge roles to play in shaping Genoa’s early years. Born in London in 1867, Spensley first arrived on the peninsula in early 1896. A doctor, Spensley’s initial duty was to tend to the crews of British coal ships docked in the port city. He joined Genoa’s cricket & athletics club after three months in Italy, and personally opened the club’s footballing section in April 1987.

James Richardson Spensley

Playing as a defender during the club’s first two seasons and a goalkeeper from thereon, Spensley was one of only two players two feature in all of Genoa’s six championship-winning campaigns between 1898 and 1904. He retired a few years after the Grifone’s last title win, and would continue his football career as a coach and referee.

To truly appreciate Spensley’s contribution to Italian football’s development I think it’s important to acknowledge just how big a deal Genoa were back then. Genoa are often believed to be Italy’s first dedicated football club, although there exists evidence suggesting that the first Italian football club was founded in Turin.

The first ever Italian Football Championship took place in 1987. The structure saw several regional groups compete in small round-robin competitions (not unlike today’s Champions League group stage) with the winners advancing to a play-off stage. Genoa bettered three Turinese clubs in this stage of the competition (FBC Torinese, Ginnastica Torino and Internazionale Torino), and eventually beat Internazionale 3-1 to win the competition’s final.

A long period of dominance followed. Think Inter Milan under Jose Mourinho or Roberto Mancini or Milan and Juventus in the 1990’s. Genoa were calcio’s first true powerhouse club, winning 6 out of the first 7 Italian Football Championships, and none of it would’ve been possible without James Richardson Spensley.

Not only did he establish one of calcio’s most significant clubs, but he helped introduce football to the Italian people by forcing through a vote allowing native players to join Genoa C.F.C.’s ranks. Originally Genoa only admitted English players and Italians were hesitant, but the floodgates to over 100 years worth of history in one of the world’s most decorated footballing nations had been opened.

Spensley sadly perished in Mainz, 1910 while on active duty as an army medic during the First World War while compassionately tending to the wounds of a fallen enemy. His name is scarcely mentioned in Britain, but the Genoese will always rightly remember Spensley as one of Italian football’s founding fathers.

William Garbutt

William Garbutt didn’t arrive in Genoa until two years after Spensley’s passing. The Stockport native had had a modest playing career with the likes of Woolwich Arsenal and Blackburn Rovers, but was forced to retire in 1912 (aged 29) as persistent injuries took their toll. In need of a means of supporting his family after his forced retirement, Garbutt moved to Genoa later that year to work as a docker.

He was appointed Genoa’s first ever head coach on the 30th July, but how this came about is unclear. There are two popular theories: some believe that Thomas Coggins (and Irishman who’d been coaching Genoa’s youth team at the time) pushed for his appointment, while others say he was recommended by future World Cup-winning manager Vittorio Pozzo. Either way, Genoa (the most successful club in Italian football to that date) had employed an Englishman with zero managerial experience completely out of the blue.

Garbutt would revolutionise Genoa C.F.C. One of his first acts was to dismantle and re-assemble the Rossoblu’s training methods, and he is noted as one of the first managers to recognise the importance of physical fitness and tactics. To this day Italian football is still known for its tactical sophistication and the superb conditioning of its players, and Garbutt helped set the prototype for both.

As well as his contributions to Italian football’s blueprint, Garbutt conducted the first-ever paid transfer deal on the peninsula and also made Genoa the first Italian club to play outside their native country (they travelled to England to face Garbutt’s former side Reading). He was trendsetter and a true trailblazer. International competition and paid transfers would surely have come along anyway, but it was Garbutt who set the foundations.

Genoa had gone through a rough patch prior to Garbutt’s arrival and hadn’t won an Italian Championship since 1904. The glory of their early days had started to fade, but Garbutt restored some prestige to the club with three Championship wins in 1914-15, 22-23 and 23-24. Genoa haven’t won an Italian championship since.

Garbutt may not have had as big a revolutionary effect on Italian football as Spensley, but his contribution to Genoa was just as immense. Not only did he return the club to its glory days but he did so with dignity and respect. Garbutt helped re-stablise Genoa after the War, and his intelligent approach to management is still being mimicked today.

Post-Genoa, Garbutt would go on to enjoy a long management career with Roma, Napoli, Athletic Bilbao and A.C. Milan. He returned to Genoa on two separate occasions in the thirties and forties, either side of being deported by Mussolini, before eventually returning home and dying peacefully in England, 1964.

It’s perhaps natural that neither of these men are exalted in Britain. Their greatest accomplishments came on foreign shores, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy of reverence. James Richardson Spensley and William Garbutt were helped sculpt calcio into what it is today and I, for one, am very grateful for their contribution.

Further reading:

Les Rosbifs, an excellent site chronicling the fortunes of English footballers abroad, features two excellent articles on Spensley and Garbutt. I’d recommend reading both: the writers are very knowledgeable and the articles are insightful and go into a lot more detail than I ever could.

Paul Edgerton, author of the above article on Garbutt, has released a book on Genoa’s former manager that I will be ordering immediately. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the tome, and I’d recommend you check it out if you have any interest in the man.

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Parma week has over-run a little bit but that’s okay. I don’t exactly have a wealth of time to devote to writing at the weekend so this is bound to happen from time-to-time. I’ll be introducing this week’s feature club later today and I hope to start sinking my teeth into them tomorrow, but I wanted to complete the Gialloblu Giants series first.

I would have loved to add another 3-4 pieces to this series but I don’t want to get too bogged-down with Parma. A Buffon profile was on the cards as was a look at some Parma’s ’90’s managers and strikers, but I’m going to have to condense everything into one itty-bitty piece. These players definitely deserve a mention, and it would be criminal to close “Gialloblu Giants” without giving them their due.

Gianfranco Zola (1993-96) (forward)

Honours: UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup

An outrageously talented striker, Zola joined Parma after spells with Nuorese, Torres and Napoli and really started to grow into the outstanding player he’d eventually become while at the Tardini. His ability should need no introduction: Zola was one of the best deep-lying forwards of his generation and a wizard with the ball at his feet. Scoring 49 Serie A goals in 102 Gialloblu appearances, Zola was never more prolific than during his time with Parma. I’ll always remember him as (arguably) the best foreign player to ever play in the Premier League, but his dazzling sill first caught my eye at Parma.

Alessandro Melli (1985-94, 1995-97) (forward)

Honours: Coppa Italia, UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, UEFA Super Cup (x2)

Melli’s two spells at the Tardini brought him 56 goals from 241 Serie A appearances. He wasn’t exactly a goal machine, but he was an incredibly loyal servant and a vital contributor to Parma’s success in the ’90’s. I’ll always remember his partnership with Tomas Brolin, even though it was rather short-lived. Not the most outstanding individual player but a useful squad member who’d go on to serve as Parma’s General Manager.

Hernan Crespo (1996-2000, 2010-present) (forward)

Honours: Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana, UEFA Cup

One of two players on this list who is still actively playing, Crespo is actually still a Parma player. He left the club in 2000 to enjoy gold-filled spells with Lazio, Inter, Chelsea, Milan, Inter again and Genoa before returning to the Tardini in 2000. Crespo was a very capable advanced striker in his day and a very prolific goalscorer. Usually averaging about a goal every other game wherever he goes, Crespo will still be scoring when he’s 50. A return of 10 in 42 since his Gialloblu return shows there’s still life in this old dog yet.

Faustino Asprilla (1992-96, 1998-99) (forward)

Honours: UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, UEFA Super Cup, UEFA Cup (x2)

Tino was around for both of Parma’s UEFA Cup victories even if his second spell was nowhere near as productive at first. As a Newcastle fan I am naturally biased towards Tino. He was a big favourite of mine, and I was delighted when my team signed him from Parma in 1996. On his day he was unplayable. Genuinely one of the most talented players I’ve ever seen, Asprilla unfortunately lacked the mental strength to match his sublime technical and physical talents. He was equally capable of brilliance and madness, and would often show both in the same game.

Gianluigi Buffon (1995-2001) (goalkeeper)

Honours: UEFA Cup, Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana.

Buffon, like Crespo, is still an active player. I don’t think I need to explain just how good Gigi is. He’s clearly one of (if not the) best goalkeeper in the world, even if his recent form has been a tad suspect, and he’s fully justified his tag as the world’s most expensive goalkeeper. Buffon has been a stalwart for Juventus and the Azzurri for years, but a lot of people forget he actually made over 220 appearances for Parma back in the day. The world sat up and took notice of Buffon’s talents during his time at the Tardini, and his reputation really went skyward after an incredible three-trophy haul in the 1998-99 season. I realise I’ve used the word “favourite” to describe quite a few players this week, but I can’t think of a ‘keeper I admire more than Gigi.

Luca Bucci (1986-87, 1988-90, 1993-97, 2005-08) (goalkeeper)

Honours: UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup.

Bucci was the man Buffon displaced as Parma’s #1 in the mid-’90’s and was a good goalkeeper in his own right. Like Melli, Bucci’s mention has more to do with loyalty than exceptional ability, but he was a solid ‘keeper who always did well when called upon. Incredibly, Bucci had four separate spells at the Tardini and ended his lengthy career in 2009 (aged 40). Bucci made a total of 181 Serie A appearances with Parma, and was considered the club’s #1 again after his return in 2005.

Nevio Scala (1989-96) (manager)

Honours: Copa Italia, UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup.

A very talented manager who is sadly no longer in the game, Scala (along with Parmalet, of course) built the foundations for Parma’s success and moulded the club into a juggernaut in the ’90’s. Scala took Parma from Serie B to European tournament winners in just four season, and was responsible for bringing through some of the greatest players in Gialloblu history. His 5-3-2 system was a Parma mainstay for years, and he deserves to go down in history as one of calcio’s all-time greatest managers.

Alberto Malesani (1998-2001) (manager)

Honours: Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana, UEFA Cup.

Current Genoa coach Malesani didn’t quite leave behind a legacy as big as Scala’s at the Tardini bt he did guide the Gialloblu to their most successful season of all-time in 1998-99. Winning three trophies in one season made him an instant favourite, but Malesani would eventually be replaced by the legendary Arrigo Sacchi in January 2001 after a poor start to the 2000-01 season. Things started to decline badly for Parma after Malesani’s departure and Parmalet’s demise, but he deserve his place in history.

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I was always going to give Enrico Chiesa some props this week. Sure, Gianfranco Zola and Hernan Crespo were probably better players, but I had too much fun watching Enrico when I was younger to pick either of them over him. Besides, I mostly know Zola from his time with Chelsea and there’s only so much I can say about his Parma career. Crespo? A great goalscorer, no doubt, but nowhere near as eye-catching or exciting to watch.

I’m going to try and keep this as concise as possible. Over-analysing Chiesa would only dilute the pure, unbridled joy I still get from watching old footage of him playing, and I really don’t want to do that. For me, watching Chiesa playing (and scoring) was pure entertainment. It was all about great moves and great goals. Some of the goals this guy scored were just perfect. Long-range drives, delicate chips, volleys, headers, toe pokes: Enrico scored them all. He was a great goalscorer and a scorer of great goals, and there aren’t many other strikers who can say that.

One goal that I always remember is Chiesa’s wonderstrike in the 1999 UEFA Cup final. Parma were already 2-0 up against French giants Marseille after goals from Crespo and Paolo Vanoli. Juan Sebastian Veron took the ball up the right flank in the 55th minute. 30 yards from goal, Veron chipped the ball towards the box. Crespo’s dummy foxed Laurent Blanc and the ball fell perfectly for Chiesa to rifle a perfect volley into the top corner from 15 yards.

The above video encapsulates everything that Enrico Chiesa was about for me. Those great, great goals. Those astonishing moments of beauty that draw us to the sport in the first place. Chiesa’s goals for Parma, Fiorentina and Sampdoria played a huge role in getting me interested in calcio in the first place, and he didn’t score many better (or more significant) than the above.

Once described as playing like “a cross between Paolo Rossi and Gigi Riva,” Chiesa was an incredibly well-rounded striker. Capable of playing advanced and dropping deep, he moved quickly and had a cannon of a right foot. When the ball landed at Chiesa’s feet you knew something exciting was going to happen. He was a game-changing forward who could turn a game’s tide in a split second, and that’s what made him so special. Enrico wasn’t a perfect player, but few could light a stadium up like him in his prime.

He played for the Gialloblu for a total of three seasons, scoring 33 goals in 92 Serie A appearances and countless more in Europe (he scored 8 in Parma’s 1998-99 UEFA Cup run alone) and domestic cups. During his time at the Stadio Tardini he broke into the Italy squad, scoring a credible 7 goals in 17 Azzurri appearances. He left Parma for Fiorentina in 1999, and had further spells with Lazio, Siena and Figline before retiring last year at the ripe old age of 40.

Chiesa is currently enrolled in a coaching course at Coverciano, the famed Italian football education centre. I can only hope that the teams Chiesa goes on to manager play with the same zest and exuberance as Enrico in his pomp.

I could waste another 500 words rambling about Enrico and his career but I’d rather not. Instead lets just sit back, relax and watch the great man doing what he did best: score goals.

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