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Posts Tagged ‘Azzurri’

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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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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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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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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Tomas Brolin wasn’t the only excellent midfielder to strut his stuff at the Stadio Tardini in the ‘90’s. I chose Brolin because I wanted to celebrate the highs of his career. A lot of people only remember the podgy Tomas Brolin who shambled his way through spells at Leeds and Crystal Palace, but he was a great player once upon a time and I don’t think that should be forgotten.

That said, Parma also fielded a lot of top quality midfielders who made the most of their opportunities and enjoyed lengthy, successful careers. Here are a few of my favourites.

Dino Baggio

A rock-solid defensive midfielder who deserves a lot more international credit, Dino spent 7 seasons with Parma and scored 20 goals in his 172 Serie A appearances for the Gialloblu. Baggio came to Parma after the 2004 World Cup. Wanting to stay at Juventus, Baggio rejected Parma’s first contract offer but changed his mind a few days later. The move effectively scrapped an already agreed deal to take Alessandro Del Piero to Parma, but that didn’t exactly work out badly for the Bianconeri…

Baggio’s period at the Tardini was very successful and he collected two UEFA Cup winners’ medals and one for the Coppa Italia during his time there. He was a stalwart for Parma during their most successful period, and also won 60 international caps in a 9-year Azzurri career.

My first memory of Baggio comes from watching him at USA ’94. A confused 6 year old, I still remember turning to my father and saying “’Dino’? I thought Baggio’s name was ‘Roberto’?”. I’m glad I finally sussed the difference between the two as both were wonderful players in their own right.

Massimo Crippa

Read his name again: Massimo Crippa. He just <I>sounds</I> like a hard-man, doesn’t he?

Crippa, like Baggio, was a defensive midfielder but his playing style was much more abrasive. Signed from Napoli in 1993, Crippa held Parma’s midfielder together for 5 seasons before departing for Torino at the age of 33. He was a true battler: the kind of player who never gave anything less than 100%. Even when all hope seemed lost and his teammates had surrendered, Crippa puffed his chest and carried on like he could beat the opposition on his own.

But Crippa wasn’t just a pure destroyer. Sure he wasn’t quite as classy as Baggio, but Crippa was comfortable with the ball at his feet and was very adept at recycling possession. He was gritty, ferocious and strong in the challenge, but Crippa was no hatchet man and he rarely lost the ball.

In addition to winning the UEFA Cup and Super Cup with Parma, Crippa won Serie A, the Supercoppa and a further UEFA Cup with Napoli. Crippa was capped 17 times by Italy, and finished his career in 2002 after a two-year spell with non-league Canzese.

Juan Sebastian Veron

A completely different type of player to Crippa and Baggio, Veron is (was?) one of the classiest playmakers of his generation. Veron only played for Parma for a single season (1998-99) but he helped the Gialloblu scoop two trophies (UEFA Cup & Coppa Italia) that year. Because of the briefness of Veron’s Parma stay it’d be a stretch to call him one of the club’s all-time greats, but this isn’t about that: this is about my favourite Gialloblu players.

Veron, like yesterday’s subject (Tomas Brolin), endured a rough stay in England but he was always world-class in Serie A. Equally at home in deep and advanced positions, Veron’s technical quality, vision and passing made him one of calcio’s great creators. He was the heartbeat of the side spraying passes around the field and dictating the game like a metronome.

I’m sure Parma would’ve achieved even greater things if they’d been able to keep hold of Veron, but Lazio’s lure was too much for him and he left the Gialloblu in 1999 for approximately £18m. To be fair to Juan Sebastian, the move paid-off: he won Serie A, the Coppa Italia, the Supercoppa and the UEFA Super Cup in two seasons with the Aquile.

Honourable Mentions

Journeyman Stefano Fiore played for 12 professional clubs before his retirement this year and enjoyed two spells with Parma in the ‘90’s. I remember him and Diego Fuser in Gialloblu shirts crica 1998 with Fiore as playmaking and Fuser occupying the right channel. Alain Boghossian always springs to mind and not just because he has a fantastic surname: the Frenchman was real terrier around the centre circle.

Two players that I’m too young to vividly remember but definitely deserve a shout: Gabriele Pin and Marco Osio. I know that Osio in-particularly was hugely popular with the fans, and not just for his impressive Jesus-haircut/beard combo. One of Parma’s first real stars during the ’90’s.

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It’s difficult for me to write an article about Fabio Cannavaro without filling the opening paragraph with superlatives. This is one of the all-time greats we’re talking about here: a great captain for club and country, my favourite defender and, more importantly, a Parma legend.

Joining from Napoli in 1995, Cannavaro made 289 appearances in 7 seasons with the Gialloblu, scoring 6 goals in the process. Cannavaro built his reputation as one of the world’s best central defenders during his time with Parma and the steps taken at the Stadio Tardini helped him accrue an enviable list of honours.

Fabio won two Serie A titles, two La Liga titles, the 2006 World Cup, the Ballon d’Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year award after leaving Parma in 2002, but I’m more concerned with his achievements at Parma (what with the title of this series being “Gialloblu Giants”). Cannavaro made 40+ appearances in 5 out of his 7 Parma seasons and never made less than thirty. He was an ever-present, an icon of consistency, a colossus

Cannavaro slotted straight into Parma’s XI and was immediately at home in Nevio Scala’s 5-3-2 formation. Leaving his hometown club Napoli was a huge wrench for Fabio, but the move paid-off big-time. The Gialloblu were already renowned for their sturdy defence and Cannavaro’s arrival further solidified their backline. This coupled with Scala’s sound defensive philosophies created the perfect environment for Fabio to grow into one of the all-time great centre-halves.

1995-96 wasn’t a great season for Parma. Cannavaro made 36 appearances in all competitions as the Gialloblu laboured to a 6th-place finish after finishing 3rd the season before. Things improved in 96-97 for both Parma and Cannavaro. Disappointing runs in the UEFA Cup and Coppa Italia saw Parma exit in the 3rd and 2nd rounds of those competitions, but they managed a 2nd-place Serie A position after drawing with Juventus on the closing day.

More significantly, January 1997 marked the start of a long and hugely successful international career. Cannavaro made his Azzurri bow in a friendly with Northern Ireland, and would go on to earn another 11 caps before the year’s end. A particularly notable performance came in a World Cup ’98 qualifier against England at Wembley. Cannavaro dominated Alan Shearer, then considered one of the best strikers in the world, for 90 minutes as Italy eeked-out a 1-0 win.

The next season was mostly fruitless for Parma as new coach Carlo Ancelotti could only guide them to another 6th-place finished. 98-99, however, was huge. The Gialloblu finished 4th in Serie A but won both the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Cup, beating Marseille 3-0 in the final. Parma’s record was hugely impressive in 98-99, but I’m going to hold the details for now as I plan on taking a look at their UEFA Cup winning sides later this week.

Doping allegations would sadly may Cannavaro’s 98-99 triumphs when Shady footage of the Parma captain receiving injections before the UEFA Cup final surfaced on the internet a few years later. The substance was later found to be Neoton (Phosphocreatine), a chemical commonly used to produce muscular energy. Neoton was not on the banned substance list and no action was taken, but the taint remains. Personally I see nothing wrong with an athlete using perfectly legal substances to enhance their performance before a big game, but c’est la vie.

Parma struggled to mount a serious title challenge after the highs of 98-99 and finished 5th the following season. They captured the Supercoppa in 99-00 and finished 4th in 2000-01 (reaching the Coppa Italia final along the way), before winning the Coppa Italia the following seasons despite a dismal finish of 10th in Serie A.

Sadly 2001-02 would be Cannavaro’s last at the Stadio Tardini as Fabio, now recognised as one of the world’s best defenders, left for Inter in a €23-million deal. Fabio pulled the curtain down on an illustrious career this summer after spells with Juventus (twice), Real Madrid and Al-Ahli Dubai. His international career continued until 2010, with his crowning glory being Italy’s 2006 World Cup win. Cannavaro put in a series of legacy-defining performances for the triumphant Azzurri, earning himself the nickname of “Wall of Berlin” after a particularly impressive showing in the final (held in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, hence the nickname).

Not only did the 2006 World Cup secure Cannavaro’s place in Azzurri history but his world-class performances helped him capture the 2006 FIFA World Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or (European Footballer of the Year) awards. Impressively, Cannavaro was the first defender to win the latter since Lothar Matthaus in 1990, while he and the German sweeper remain the only to defensive players to ever be named World Player of the Year.

Writing a laundry list of Fabio Cannavaro’s accomplishments is all very well but it only tells half the story. I’ve spent plenty of time going over Fabio Cannavaro’s legacy, but what about Fabio Cannavaro the player? Everybody he was a great defender, but what made him one of the most celebrated centre-backs in history?

Some believe that crunching tackles, determination and desperate lunges are the prerequisite components of a great defender. I disagree completely. Of course defenders need to be determined and strong in the tackle, but there’s more to defending than that. I believe that composure, intelligence and elegance are just as important in defence as in attack, and Cannavaro was the perfect personification of all three.

I’ve never seen another defender who can read the game like Cannavaro. Just as Barcelona’s tiki-taka wizards can see passes that are just invisible to other players, Cannavaro could telegraph attacking moves before they’d even happened. He was a master of nipping attacks in the bud by cutting them off at the supply with blocks, interceptions and straightforward tackles.

Cannavaro’s career isn’t littered with frantic, last-gap challenges because he simply didn’t need to make them. His vision was so good that he was able to kill attacks before they became serious threats by exercising one of the sharpest defensive minds in the game. Cannavaro was strong, but he didn’t use his brawn to carry him through games: he, like most other great defenders of the modern era, used his brain.

Watching Fabio Cannavaro in his prime was always a pleasure, especially at the 2006 World Cup. Rarely eye-catching but always effective, Cannavaro was always in the right place and not by chance. He turned defending, football’s most destructive element, into a genuine thing of beauty, and for that he should be commended.

That is why I’ve always loved Cannavaro. Studying his style completely changed my perception of how a defender should play, and his success shows that you don’t have to be the biggest (Fabio was only 5’9”) or the toughest to be a top centre-back. I salute you, Il Capitano, and hope we soon see your like again.

… and hey, how many other defenders have had such a “charming” song written about them?

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Silvio Piola

Silvio Piola is the highest goalscorer in Serie A history. Scoring 274 league goals in 537 appearances, Piola scored 49 more goals than his closest rival (Gunnar Nordahl) in a career spanning four decades. Also boasting 30 international goals in 34 Azzurri games, Piola is rightly remember as one of calcio’s all-time greats, and he spent the last seven season of his career with this week’s feature club, Novara.

Joining the Biancoazzurri from Juventus in 1947, Piola struck 16 goals in 30 appearances to help lead Novara to the Serie B title and promotion to Serie A. Thus began Novara’s longest ever run in the top tier: a period of eight seasons lasting until 1956, two years after Piola’s retirement.

Scoring 86 times in his 185 Biancoazzurri appearances, Piola is so fondly remembered by Novara that they named their stadium after him in 1976. The Stadio Silvio Piola is still Novara’s home to this day, and recently underwent a 7,000-seat expansion for their first Serie A campaign since the fifties.

Unfortunately, like a lot of Novara’s history, English-language information on Piola is hard to find online. Such is the problem when researching Italian clubs that aren’t based in Milan, Turin or Rome. The fact that Piola plied his trade so long ago doesn’t really help matters either, but this is where John Foot’s bible of Italian football, Calcio</I>, comes in.

A legend for Pro Vercelli (who also named their stadium after him), Lazio and Novara, Piola was prolific everywhere he went and also enjoyed productive spells at Juventus and Torino. Piola signed for Novara aged 34, played for Italy until he was 38 and was 40 when he retired.

Even in 2011, with all the advances we’ve made in sports science, it’s very rare for an outfield player to survive at the highest level for so long. Silvio Piola, however, knew how to take care of himself. Hedonism had no place in his life, with Piola shunning the limelight to concentrate on playing football and looking after his body. The general assumption was that he was going to Novara to wind down and retire: instead he maintained a goalscoring ratio of roughly one goal every two games and wrote himself into Biancoazzurri folklore.

Piola was an out-and-out striker. Equally adept at shooting from distance and finishing up-close, Piola was good with both feet and strong in the air. His range of attributes made him a unique player for his generation, as Italy was more accustomed to producing “specialist” forwards during Piola’s era rather than all-rounders.

His Azzurri goalscoring record is phenomenal, and he would surely have gone on to enjoy even more success had the Second World War not curtailed his international career. Piola won the 1938 World Cup with Italy, partnering Giuseppe Meazza up-front, his physicality providing the perfect foil to the technically outstanding Inter legend.

Surprisingly, Piola failed to pick-up a single Serie A winners medal despite his goalscoring exploits and glorious international record. He finished as a runner-up thrice (once with Lazio, twice with Juventus) but the Scudetto continued to elude him until retirement.

This is more to do with the clubs he played for more than anything else. Pro Vercelli’s dominant period ended seven years before Piola’s emergence, Lazio didn’t win their first Scudetto until long after his retirement, he was only at Juventus and Torino for a couple of seasons, and it would’ve taken a miracle for a club of Novara’s size to win Serie A, even with Piola’s contribution.

Regardless of this silverware shortage, Piola is a true calcio legend. A Biancoazzurri hero, a lethal marksman and a great professional, his place in history is secure. I knew a bit about Piola prior to starting this blog, but I’ve really enjoyed learning about his legacy, international exploits and character. My only regret is that I couldn’t discover a little bit more about his time at Novara.

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