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A lot has happened since we last spoke, hasn’t it? Juventus won Serie A. Italy exceeded all expectations to reach the Euro 2012 final only to suffer a 4-0 loss to Spain. Torino, Pescara and Sampdoria were promoted from Serie B. Calcioscommesse has erupted with Leo Bonucci, Antonio Conte and Stefano Mauri among those implicated. Milan have shed the likes of Clarence Seedorf, Pippo Inzaghi and Alessandro Nesta to give him their youngest squad in years. Zdenek Zeman is back in Serie A. Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ezequiel Lavezzi have left the peninsula.

You get the point. It’s been a busy, busy summer for Italian football, so it seems only right to resurrect Around the Peninsula in-time for the new season. This time, however, things are going to be a little different. Instead of spending a set amount of time talking about every team in the league, ATP will take a less rigid approach. In short, I’m going to cover the topics I want, when I want. Every club will still get a fair shake of the stick, but I lack the time and energy to return to the old approach.

ATP was started last summer as a means of further educating myself and my readers (all three of you) on calcio. I am pleased with what I accomplished in the first few months, but I quickly ran-out of steam at the turn of the year. Going forward, things will be a little sparser and I definitely won’t be able to churn out 3-5 pieces a week like the old days, but I’ll endeavour to provide topical commentary on the forthcoming Serie A season.

There’s already a lot to talk about, and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into some of the summer’s big topics. See you soon for more.

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Angelo Schiavio: World Cup hero.

Bologna’s rich early-1900s history isn’t the only thing that caught me off-guard this week. Not only have the Rossoblu scooped seven Scudetti since 1909, but they’ve also provided the Azzurri with a healthy number of international champions.

1934 World Cup

FIFA’s second World Cup took place in Italy in 1934, and comprised of 16 teams competing against each other in a straight knock-out competition. Mussolini’s government looked to use the even as a means of propaganda for their fascist message, but that didn’t deter travelling fans. The 1934 World Cup broke all kinds of international sporting travel records, with an estimated 7,000 fans travelling from the Netherlands and a further 10,000 from Austria and Switzerland.

The Azzurri’s tournament kicked-off on May 27th. Italy opened with a 7-1 battering of the USA at Rome’s Stadio Nazionale, with prolific Bologna forward playing a leading role. Staring alongside the likes of Giuseppe Meazza in a five-man attack, Schiavio struck a sweet hat-trick to put Italy well on their way to a convincing victory.

Spain, who’d just eliminated Brazil, awaited Italy in the quarterfinals. The Azzurri fell behind after 30 minutes, but Giovanni Ferrari’s 44th-minute strike levelled it on the stroke of half-time. Schiavio started again but couldn’t find a winning goal for Italy, and the goal headed for a second leg after finishing 1-1 AET.

Schiavio wasn’t the only Bologna player to feature in this game. Defender Eraldo Monzeglio came into the XI for the first leg, and also started in the following day’s return fixtures. This time a Schiavio-less Italy grafted to a 1-0 victory, securing a semi-final showdown with Austria (who’d already eliminated France and a pre-Puskas Hungary).

It was always going to be a tight affair with a place in the final on the line, but Italy didn’t disappoint their home fans. A single Enrique Guaita goal was all it took to secure victory at the San Siro. Schiavio and Monzeglio both played as Italy reached the final, and were called-on for the final seven days later.

Italy and Czechoslovakia went in 0-0 at half time. Czechoslovakia’s Antonin Puc broke the deadlock in the 74th minute but the Azzurri, fearful of tasting defeat on home soil, summoned some of their legendary grinta and rallied. Raimundo Orsi equalised to send the match into extra-time just seven minutes later, and who popped-up when Italy needed a hero? Angelo Schiavio.

Schiavio’s 95th-minute strike effectively won Italy the 1934 World Cup, and he finished as their top scorer with four goals. This was to be Schiavio’s last game in an Azzurri shirt, and he retired shortly after the World Cup having notched 15 goals in 21 caps. A quick, purposeful dribbling with tremendous skill and a wicked strike, Schiavio will not only be remembered as Bologna’s greatest goalscorer, but also the man whose goals won Italy’s first World Cup.

Morzeglio started in four of Italy’s five games at the tournament. While his team-mate Schiavio grabbed the headlines with his match-winning goal in the final, Morzeglio played a big role in keeping the Czechoslovakian’s Golden Boot-winning striker Oldrich Nejedly at bay. A clever ball-playing defender, Morzeglio was a capable defender who also acted as the Azzurri’s quarterback with pinpoint passes from deep positions.

1938 World Cup

The Azzurri took three Bologna players to France in 1938. Goalkeeper Carlo Ceresoli, midfielder Amedeo Biavati and Michele Andreolo, the nationalised Uruguayan, made the cut with only the latter starting in Italy’s opening fixture.

Italy faced Norway in Marseille on June 5th, with Pietro Ferraris and Silvio Piola providing the goals in a 2-1 win for Italy. Biavati joined Andreolo in the XI for the quarterfinal showdown with France on June 12th and Italy’s winning ways continued. An even first half saw the scores level (1-1) at half-time, but two Piola goals saw the reigning champions ease through to the next round.

Both Rossoblu outfielders started as Italy met Brazil in the next round. An 87th-minute Romeu goal gave Italy a late scare, but they rarely looked like losing and ran-out 2-1 winners thanks to Gino Colaussi’s 55th-minute strike and a Giuseppe Meazza penalty.

The Azzurri played in their second consecutive World Cup final on June 19th, and it turned out to be one of the most exciting games of the era. Hungary’s Pal Titkos immediately cancelled out Colaussi’s opener after eight minutes, but Piola soon restored the advantage and Italy were 2-1 up after just 16 minutes.

Colaussi completed his brace to put Italy 3-1 up at half time, but Hungary continued to threaten. Gyorgy Sarosi pulled one back on 70 minutes, but Silvio Piola, the quiet assassin, broke Hungarian hearts with a decisive 82nd minute goal. Andreolo and Biavata started as Italy won their second World Cup in a row by defeating an improving Hungary side 4-2. Bologna had once again provided the Italian national side with two of its World Cup-winners.

Gathering details on Andreolo has been difficult, but I know that, for Italy at least, he played as a defensive midfielder in the W-M formation. Andreolo made 165 appearances in a seven-year Bologna career, scoring 24 goals.

Biavata played as one of the W-M’s support strikers and was a key player for Bologna in the 30s and 40s. He was a quick-footed forward whose feints and tricky feet made him difficult to play against, and he specialised at drifting into wide areas. On the peninsula he is regarded as the father of the double-step dribbling technique, and he amassed 18 Azzurri appearances throughout his career.

Ceresoli failed to appear for Italy at the 1938 World Cup and had a shorter Bologna career than most, making 79 appearances in three seasons. He won two Italian Championships with Bologna, but a broken arm prevented him from appearing in the World Cup. Nonetheless, Ceresoli collected a winner’s medal.

Eraldo Monzeglio, a Roma player at this point, was also part of the squad.

1968 European Championships

A few notes on Giacomo Bulgarelli and Aristide Guarneri, who, as Bologna players, claimed Euro 1968 winners’ medals with Italy. Neither played during the tournament, but both deserve mentioning for their presence in the squad.

Guarneri played just a single season with Bologna (1967-68). He was as graceful as a defender can be, having never been sent-off in his 16-year career, and was a key play for Helenio Herrera’s Grande Inter in the 1960s. Guarneri made 28 Rossoblu appearances towards the end of his career.

Bulgarelli is widely regarded as Bologna’s greatest ever player. A one-club man, Bulagrelli won an Italian Championship, two Coppa Italias and a Mitropa Cup during a 16-year career. Bulgarelli’s 392 league games make him Bologna’s all-time appearance leader and a hugely popular figure in Rossoblu folklore. “Jack” famously turned AC Milan down at his peak, and he notched 29 Azzurri caps before retiring in 1975.

Sources

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Moving Forward

The past few weeks have been rough on here. I never envisioned such a lengthy period of inactivity, but, unfortunately, it happened. I’ve had a mad couple of weeks, but they’re behind me now and I’m ready to move forward.

What did I learn about Lecce? That they just aren’t very good. Looking at their performances, I think it’ll take a huge effort for them to say up this season. I’d be surprised if Di Francesco’s in a job for much longer if things don’t start improving. They beat Cesena this weekend, but everyone’s battering the Seahorses at the moment so that’s hardly surprising. At least Novara attack with a thrust: Lecce just look limp.

I’ve got to move onto the next club. I’m not going to reveal who it is yet, but it’s a team I really don’t like very much. It might be a bit of a challenge for me to hide my bias against this team, but I’m going to try and give them a fair shake of the stick. Normal updates will resume from tomorrow onwards but, as this week has already started, I’m going to dedicate the next two-and-a-bit weeks to two teams. More on that tomorrow.

Rest assured through that Around the Peninsula isn’t going anywhere. I love doing this blog and I’m thrilled with the responses I’ve had. Things have just been busy for me, but I’m back on track now and ready to get back into the swing of things. I should have something new for you tomorrow.

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I’ve built-up quite a collection of football shirts over the years. I don’t know how many I have, but it must be close to thirty. My first was a red & blue Aberdeen shirt adorned with Northsound Radio sponsorship that my parents bought for me when I was in my first year of primary school. I got my first Newcastle United (the team I support thanks to my father) kit shortly after, and I’ve had countless more since then.

I didn’t delve into foreign shirts until I got a Spain shirt with Raul on the back during a family holiday to Menorca. Since then I’ve had the jerseys of Spain, Barcelona, Sparta Prague, Austria, Real Madrid, Roma, Juventus, Germany and a few more that I’ve probably forgotten about. A lot, basically.

The ones I don’t really wear are kept at my parents’ house and the rest are crammed haphazardly into a chest in my bedroom with my football boots and goalie gloves. I only use them when I’m playing football, in the gym or vegetating on the couch. I never wear them in public (unless it’s matchday), so they don’t need to be taken care of: I wear them, wash them then throw them in the chest.

Except one. I got it earlier this year, but I’ve only worn it a handful of times. It’s the only football shirt that I care about enough to hang in my wardrobe with my “going out” shirts and work clothes. It’s immaculate, completely spotless and fits me better than any football shirt I’ve ever owned.

It’s AC Milan’s third shit from last season with Cassano, 99 on the back. I don’t wear it often because I play football on artificial surfaces peppered with tiny black pellets that stain light-coloured material (this one is white). This is a precious jersey and I don’t want to get it dirty. Heck, I don’t even want to get it sweaty.

I’m sure you understand where I’m coming from if you’re a football fan. A friend recently compared the process of men choosing & buying football boots to women going dress shopping. We spend hours going back and forth, considering our options, getting excited and debating with our friends. We cherish the product when we get it, and when an imperfection inevitably appears we feel like somebody’s died. Such is the power of a special piece of kit to a football fan.

The reason I take such good care of this Milan top isn’t because it’s a beautiful piece of attire (which it is), but because it’s a Cassano shirt. Antonio Cassano is my favourite player. Alan Shearer was (and still is) an idol to me growing-up, but I’ve always loved Fantantonito. I’ve followed him since his Roma days and supported him everywhere he’s gone. I love the guy’s skills, character and approach to the beautiful game, so it saddens me deeply to hear of his ongoing health problems.

Cassano fell ill on Sunday night while flying back from Rome with his Rossoneri teammates. Said to be “having great difficulty speaking and moving,” Cassano was taken to hospital. I was worried, but details were sketchy. Nobody really seemed to know what was wrong the Fantantonito, and Milan were being understandably coy.

Rumours that Cassano suffered an ischemic stroke (caused by an interruption in the brain’s blood supply) surfaced and don’t seem to be going away. Milan have promised a “clarifying statement” on Cassano’s situation, but with rumours of potential heart surgery now circulating it certainly doesn’t sound great.

I don’t know the truth. I’m writing this before Milan have released their statement so I’ve got my fingers crossed that all this talk of strokes and heart surgery is just hearsay. Either way, it’s very troubling. Knowing that somebody you look up to is experiencing health problems is a horrible feeling. It’s obviously nowhere near as dreadful as a loved one’s suffering, but it’s jarring nonetheless.

Fantantonito first caught my eye at Roma in the early-2000’s. Playing under Fabio Capello, Cassano’s interactions with Francesco Totti & co. were breathtaking to watch (check the evidence), and I knew straightaway that I was watching a special player. He was the type of player who could change a game in an instant and his ability to control the ball in tight situations was astounding.

Cassano left Roma for Real Madrid in 2006 following a contract dispute. Such was the extent of his falling out with the Giallorossi hierarchy that his services cost Real a measly €5m, which is amazing considering Roma signed him from Bari for about €30m.

It’d be an understatement to say that Antonio had a wretched time in Spain. His Real spell was peppered with the kind of petulance that’s dogged him through his career, and he only managed a poxy four goals at the Bernabeu. After two years of conflict with Fabio Capello and Ramon Calderon, Cassano famously said he’d “walk all the way back” to rejoin Roma, and wound-up joining Sampdoria in 2007.

Thus began the most productive spell of Fantantonito’s career. Away from the spotlight of Real Madrid and the unique pressure of Roma, Cassano shone at Sampdoria. His growth (both as a player and a professional) was exponential, and the break-up of his lethal partnership with top goal-getter Giampaolo Pazzini was a huge factor in the Blucerchiati’s relegation last season.

Statistically, Cassano had never been better. He scored 41 goals and provided 38 assists in 115 Sampdoria appearances, which highlights his growth as a goalscorer and development as a playmaker. Accusations of laziness and selfishness had always been thrown at Antonio (especially after his grim spell at Real), but he really turned a corner with the ‘Doria.

Pazzini and Cassano: the perfect partnership?

Cassano played like a man with something to prove, and the discipline he learned at Sampdoria still serves him well today. Antonio left Sampdoria to link-up with Milan last winter and played a key role in the Rossoneri’s title run-in. This season he’s been as good as ever, with 9 goals and 7 assists in 19 games for club and country.

I don’t think anyone can argue that Cassano isn’t one of the most talented players in the world. His dribbling, close control and passing are genuinely world-class, and he’s a deceptively intelligent footballer who, at 29, has finally learned the value of teamwork. I think he’s one of the most naturally gifted players in the world, but he’s only just started to learn how to use his incredible gifts to full effect.

The name Antonio Cassano has sadly become synonymous with screw-ups and strops, so much so that the Capello-coined term “Cassanata” has emerged to describe “behaviour incompatible with team spirit”. He fell-out with Capello and Totti at Roma, everyone at Real Madrid and Riccardo Garrone at Sampdoria. Cassano’s behavioural and disciplinary meant he never really had a chance with the Azzurri under Marcello Lippi, but he has since become a regular fixture for Cesare Prandelli’s Italy.

Fantantonito seems to have finally turned a huge behavioural corner recently, and that’s what makes the timing of his illness so tragic. In the past five years he’s stepped his game up while becoming a hugely important player for club and country. Antonio is making the most of his “last chance at a big club,” and it’s rotten luck that he’s been struck with this affliction just as he’s coming into his own at Milan.

As good as Cassano is, he’s destined to go down as one of the biggest “what ifs” in football, even if he does make a full recovery. He was given a huge chance at Real Madrid and blew it, and his time in Rome ended acrimoniously despite his contribution over the years. Antonio had the potential and the talent to be an all-time European great, but his failure to apply himself in his mid-twenties has likely scuppered any chances of seeing Fantantonito at peak potential.

I think this quote sums things up perfectly: “I was poor my whole life, but I never worked, mainly because I don’t know how to do anything.” I believe that his work ethic has improved greatly in the past few years but it was undeniably poor when he was younger, and that’s why we’ll never see him at his very best. It’s all very well giving your all when you’re nearly 30, but footballers’ development slows considerably as they get older.

Fantantonito claims to have never given 100%. If Cassano has turned out this good without really trying then think just how good he could’ve been if he’d exerted himself more during his early years.

That’s not supposed to be a criticism though. I’m an Antonio Cassano fan not just because of his outstanding ability but also his personality. I don’t condone some of the things he did when he was younger, but Cassano is a maverick. If he doesn’t want to do something, he’s not going to do it. He loves food, women and making money, and he makes no secret of this.

It’s easy to criticise Antonio Cassano, but there’s much more to him than just petulance. A lot of people still look at him with disdain, but Cassano isn’t content to be a “yes man”: Fantantonito does what he pleases and lives on his own terms. Isn’t that what we all want from life?

It’s why I’ve always admired Cassano, and why I will continue to support him for the rest of his career. Hopefully this isn’t the last we’ve seen of him, but if it is, I thank him for the memories. He’s provided a ton of magical moments and memorable quotes over the years, and I’ll be very disappointed if he doesn’t get the opportunity to add to them.

Here’s to a true nonconformist and one of the most talented strikers I’ve ever seen. Guarisci presto, Fantantonito. Auguri di pronta guarigione.

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