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Posts Tagged ‘Cristiano Doni’

This is the start of a new weekly feature aimed at summarising my week’s writing and a more digestible format than the round-ups of before. I hope that this well make navigating the past week’s content easier for you guys, and it’ll definitely make it easier for me to quantify everything I’ve accomplished.

Atalanta week was very productive. Doing that extra research certainly paid-off, and I feel like I’ve dug-up a lot of quality stuff. From now on I’ll be providing a full list of sources with each piece that required research to produce. It’s something that I should’ve been doing since day one, and it’ll provide a good source of further reading.

Anyway, here’s this week’s summary. See you tomorrow for a quick brief on the following week’s focus club.

  • The Boys from Bergamo: From 1907 to 2011, a look at all the major events that’ve shaped Atalanta into the club they are today.
  • Notes on a Scandal: This season’s Calcioscommesse match-fixing scandal and Atalanta’s involvement.
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Cristiano Doni’s implication in the Calcioscommesse scandal has shattered his reputation and effectively ended his 20-year playing career, but he remains an Atalanta legend. Nerazzurri staff, players and fans have been vociferously supportive of their club and captain since the guilty verdicts were announced in August. The denial, protestations and fight to prove their innocence will continue, and Doni will remain a hero regardless of the outcome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Implicated: Beppe Signori.

I knew I had to research last season’s betting scandal from the moment I chose Atalanta as my next club to focus on. Atalanta were deducted six points for the start of this season because of their involvement, a lot of lower league Italian teams were implicated and Giuseppe Signori played a role. That’s literally everything I knew about what happened, so it was only right that I took the opportunity to expand my knowledge.

Known as Calcioscommesse (“Operation Last Bet” or literally “football bet”), the 2011 betting scandal took place in Italy’s lower leagues and has thus resulted in far lower levels of infamy than Calciopoli. Calciocommesse operated on a far smaller scale than Calciopoli. In 2006, a large group of clubs contrived to manipulate Italian football’s infrastructure to their favour. The 2011 scandal alleges that smaller groups of individuals worked to illegally influence one-off results.

The difference in scale doesn’t mean that Calcioscommesse isn’t important, though. Investigations are still underway, but 18 individuals and the same number of clubs have already faced sanctions for their suspected involvement. Calcioscommesse could yet have huge implications not just for Atalanta, but the multitude of cash-strapped lower-league sides that have already faced point deductions and fines.

Doubt first arose when an unusually large number of bets were placed on SPAL beating hosts Cremonese 4-1 in a Lega Pro game last season. Lo and behold, SPAL won the game 4-1. The FIGC and lawyer Guido Savaini immediately opened a case, thus spawning calcio’s second great scandal of the century.

The bribing of players and clubs influenced the 2011 scandal, whereas Calciopoli’s conspirators focused on match officials. All of this is said to have gone through a Bologna-based group, and former Lazio hitman Signori is thought to have played a central role. As a player, Signori was idolised almost everywhere he went. His name, for me, is synonymous with Serie A’s glory years, and he scored an extraordinary amount of goals for Foggia (46 in 100), Lazio (117 in 152) and Bologna (70 in 142).

A pacy goal-getter with a unique no-run penalty taking technique, Beppe was a joy to watch but his involvement in Calcioscommesse has sullied his reputation. It’s a huge shame that one of the best strikers of the ‘90’s may now be remembered mostly for a scandal and not the wonderful things he did as a player.

It doesn’t look good for him. Signori was traced to a meeting with two Bologna businessmen, from which a document inscribed in Signori’s handwriting outlining conditions for a bet was recovered. The Ex-Azzurri hitman has protested his innocence ever since, but the evidence is extensive. The initial arrest order was over 600 pages long, and the wiretap operation was so big that it took almost a month for the prosecution to analyse the tapes.

Marco Paolini was arrested as soon as Calcioscommesse came to light.

Of the players involved, ex-Cremonese goalkeeper Marco Paoloni is said to be the ringleader. He first raised suspicion when a serious of overly eccentric early-season performances caught the eye. Paoloni was accused of directly fixing matches involving Cremonese and Benevento (for whom he signed in January), and worse.

Cremonese were comfortably beating Paganese 2-0 in a Lega Pro clash, but five of their players mysteriously fell ill at half-time. The team pulled-off a minor miracle to hold-out and claim three points, but the illness was so bad that two were sent to hospital after the game and one Cremonese player crashed his car on the way home.

Post-match drug tests confirmed that the players had been administered a sleeping drug, and an internal investigation suggested that the players were likely drugged at half time. Paoloni’s wife had been prescribed a batch of similar medication a day earlier, and it didn’t take long for the authorities to put two and two together. Paoloni was jailed under suspicion of match fixing and drugging his teammates, and has since been banned from all football activities for five years.

26 suspects were questioned in court. Many were pronounced “not guilty” (including Signori, but his reputation remains permanently tainted) and escaped criminal prosecution, but their bans remained. Five-year bands were handed to a further five individuals, were many others receieved shorter punishments (the shortest being 12-month bands for Antonio Ciriello and Salvatore Quadrini).

Club-wise, it wasn’t just Cremonese and Benevento who came under suspicion. Serie B’s Ascoli were dealt with a six-point penalty and a hefty fine, Ravenna were relegated to Lega Pro Seconda Divisione (fourth-tier), Piacenza were fined and deducted four points and a host of other clubs (including ex-Scudetto winners Hellas Verona) were either fined or penalised via point deduction. Cremonese were deducted six points and fined €50k (a huge sum for a lower-level Italian side), while Benevento started this season on –9 points.

Calcioscommesse isn’t an international incident like Calciopoli because it occurred outwith Serie A. I’m sure that’s why the conspirators focused on the likes of Cremonese and not Juventus, Milan etc. Operating at a lower level allowed them to fly under the radar and avoid the public eye, presumably making them harder to catch. Fortunately they were caught, and this whole mess has been cleaned-up.

This was the last thing calcio needed in 2011. Football on the peninsula’s reputation had already been dealt a hammerblow by Calciopoli, and Calcioscommesse is a huge blow to the sport’s slow recovery. Lord knows how long this has set us back, but it won’t help dispel the droves of shallow-thinkers who already believe that every Italian game is a fix.

Atalanta’s Involvement

That’s Calcioscommesse in a nutshell, but how has it affected Atalanta? The Nerazzurri were undoubtedly the most famous club to be punished, and it was initially thought that they’d be denied entry into Serie A, but this wasn’t the case.

Three of Atalanta’s Serie B games came under scrutiny last season. Extraordinarily large bets were placed on their 1-1 draws with Ascoli and Padova, as well as their 3-0 win over Piacenza. Further evidence came from Ascoli’s Vittorio Micolucci, who claimed that Atalanta defender Thomas Manfredini had approached his squadmates to promote a mutally-beneficially draw, and further wiretap recordings.

Atalanta started 2011-12 in Serie A but on –6 points, while captain, star player and club legend Cristiano Doni was banned from football for 3½ years. Aged 38, this ban, if not overturned, effectively ends Doni’s career. The Nerazzuri and Doni have both appealed their punishments and continue to trumpet their innocence.

 Miraculously, La Dea would’ve topped Serie A with 10 points after four games if it weren’t for the deduction. They’ve started the season excellently despite a widespread assumption that they’d struggle without Doni. In truth, Atalanta bought very well this summer and now have a good balance of grit and silk within their squad.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that misfortune has rallied them. Italians thrive like no one else with their backs against the wall. An Azzurri squad branded the “worst Italy team ever” took home the 1982 World Cup, and the feat was repeated in 2006 just months after Calciopoli had come to light. Atalanta, bonded by the belief that they’ve done nothing wrong, are using that same grinta to great effect in 2011.

There’s not enough evidence for me to credibly say whether Atalanta are guilty enough. Hopefully the appeal will clear that up. For now, I’m enjoying watching La Dea rise above the Calcioscommesse malaise. Theirs has been one of Serie A’s great stories this season, and long may it continue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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