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Posts Tagged ‘Fabio Capello’

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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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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L-R: Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl, Nils Liedholm.

My goal with this blog is to further my knowledge of Italian football by studying a different club every week and digging-up as much info as possible. Last week I took a club that I knew every little about (Cesena) and learned a lot about their football philosophy and attack-heavy squad. This was pretty easy: because I knew almost nothing about Cesena, everything I learned about the club was new to me. I’m sure I would’ve learned a lot more if I had more time to work with (the blog only started last Friday), but researching a smaller club was a piece of cake.

Milan was always going to be more of a challenge. The Rossoneri are huge and researching their history online isn’t exactly difficult, but because they’re such a big club I already know quite a lot about them. You’d think Milan’s size would make them an easier club to document, but they’re not. I could’ve produced article after article on the transition between the Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello eras, the impact Silvio Berlusconi’s ownership has had on the club, and the misunderstood genius of Pippo Inzaghi, but that’d be missing the point.

The point of ATP is not to write about what I already know (which I could’ve done in a pinch), but to write about what I didn’t know before starting my research. For Milan, I knew I was going to have to delve beyond to ‘80’s and ‘90’s, and I did just that.

Bypassing Gil Immortali and Gil Invincibili, past Milan’s 10th Scudetto and forced relegation in the ‘70’s and beyond the ‘60’s and Nereo Rocco’s catenaccio. Eventually I found myself in 1949 with three very special players.

Look through A.C. Milan’s official Hall of Fame and their names immediately jump out at you. Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm (Gre-No-Li) aren’t just the only three Scandinavians in the Rossoneri HOF, but also one of the greatest forward lines in world football history.

Granted, I already knew a snippet or two about Nordahl and Liedholm, but I had no idea they’d played together and I’d never even heard of Gren. Their story is as interesting as it is extraordinary: when was the last time a country of Sweden’s size produced three world class forwards in the same generation? Milan’s current Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic is an excellent player in his own right, but Gre-No-Li have left him one hell of a legacy to live up to.

The trio first rose to prominence during the 1948 Olympic Games. Gre-No-Li played a pivotal role as Sweden won the gold medal with a 3-1 triumph over Yugoslavia in the final. Gunnar Nordahl finished as the competition’s top scorer and was the first of the three to appear on Milan’s radar. He joined the Rossoneri in January 1949 and notched an impressive 16 goals in 15 league games before the end of the season.

Gre-No-Li were reunited in September 1949 when Gunnar Gren and Nils Liedholm signed together, making their debuts in a 3-1 victory over Sampdoria later that month. Milan didn’t win any silverware that season, but they did manage a whopping 118 goals in 38 league games. The seeds for Gre-No-Li’s success were sown, and in the 1950-51 season Milan won their fourth Scudetto.

Winning Serie A was the most notable accomplishment of the trio’s careers thus far, despite their Olympic success. All three had won numerous Allsvenskan Championships back in Sweden, but none had accomplished anything like winning the Scudetto.

For Gren, his first piece of silverware won at the San Siro was also his last. He had a shorter Milan career than Lieholm and Nordahl, and departed in 1953 after a brief spell as manager the year before. Gren’s contribution shouldn’t be devalued though. He scored 38 goals in 133 league appearances for the Rossoneri despite never being seen as the team’s main goalscoring outlet. During his time in Italy he earned the nickname Il Professore (“The Professor”) for his intelligent attacking play. The Teddy Sheringham of his day, Gren spent three more years in Italy with Fiorentina and Genoa, before returning home to Orgryte and retiring in 1957.

Like Gren, Nils Liedholm was also more of a creator than a finisher. Lying deeper than his countrymen, Liedholm was a player of great elegance and one of the finest playmakers of his day. Known for his footballing brain, Liedholm’s pinpoint passing made him a vital component of Milan’s success right up to his retirement in 1961. In total he scored 81 goals in 359 league appearances for the Rossoneri. Unfortunately it’s impossible to find out how many assists he supplied during his 12 years at the club, but I’m willing to bet the total is huge.

Liedholm was not only a pioneering playmaker, but also one of the first footballers to realise the importance of fitness. Liedholm played until he was 38, a rarity during that era. He did it by integrating pure athletics (sprints, javelin, etc.) into his training regime, making him a true athlete during a period when footballers were known more for hard drinking and chain smoking than hitting the gym.

If Liedholm and Gren were creators, Gunnar Nordahl was very much a finisher. The 6’1” powerhouse is, by all accounts, one of the most dominant strikers to ever terrorise Serie A. His strength and power are very well documented, and his goalscoring record is absolutely outstanding. 210 strikes in 257 appearances make him Milan’s all-time leading scorer in Serie A, and a further 15 for Roma make him second only to Silvio Piola in the league’s all-time scoring chart.

Nordahl was a great goalscorer everywhere he played. Moving to Italy effectively ended his international career, but Nordahl still managed 43 goals in just 33 Sweden appearances between 1942 and 1948. He was Serie A’s top scorer in five of his seven full seasons with Milan, and boasts a strike-rate of 0.77 goals-per-game. Ibrahimovic is undoubtedly a better technical player than Nordahl, but he has massive shoes to fill.

Gre-No-Li left a huge, gold-plated legacy behind when, one-by-one, they moved-on from Milan. Gren won just the one Scudetto, but Nordahl picked-up two Serie A winners’ medals between from 1949-56 and Liedholm has four from over a decade at the San Siro. Their exploits on the pitch are forever etched in Milan’s history, but Liedholm would also go on to make a significant contribution behind the scenes.

Moving into the assistant manager’s position after retiring in 1961, Liedholm became the Rossoneri’s head coach in 1963. Liedholm managed the club on three separate occasions (from 1963-66, 1977-79 and 1984-87), and is responsible for winning the club’s first gold star. In Italy it’s customary for teams to add a gold star to their jersey for every ten Scudetti they win, and Milan won their 10th in 1979 under Liedholm’s tutelage.

Barrel-loads of top forwards have called the San Siro “home” over the years, but never have Milan had a strikeforce as potent and effective as Gre-No-Li. Milan’s three Swedes complemented one another beautifully and their collective medal haul truly justifies their legendary status. Calcio and indeed world football may never see their like again.

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Forza Milan.

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A.C. Milan

Associazione Calcio Milan, to give them their full name, are one of the world’s most successful clubs. Last year’s Scudetto win was Milan’s 18th in total, and only Real Madrid have won more Champions League titles than the Rossoneri’s seven. Add five Coppa Italias and a further 11 European and intercontinental titles to this and you have a truly enviable trophy room.

Silvio Berlusconi’s team have been at European football’s forefront for years. Few clubs can match their star-studded list of former players, and the teams built by Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello in the late-80s/mid-90s are two of the best I’ve ever seen. So many of my footballing heroes have graced the Rossoneri shirt over the years. Who can deny class of Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Andrea Pirlo and George Weah? Going further back there’s Gianni Rivera, Nils Liedholm, Frank Rijkaard…

Milan’s current squad isn’t as star-studded as it once was, but the same can be said of any other Serie A team in 2011. Italy is still reeling from the aftermath of the 2006 Calciopoli scandal, and a lack of financial clout means that Italian clubs can’t hope to match the inflated transfer fees and wages required to attract today’s top talents. Nonetheless, this Milan side is functional and effective. They are the best team in Italy, but probably lack the dynamism to compete for the Champions League.

Coach Massimiliano Allegri has done an excellent job. An unheralded appointment of whom little was expected, Allegri joined Milan in 2010 after two successful years with Cagliari. He ended Inter Milan’s run of six consecutive titles by winning last year’s Scudetto, a feat he’ll be expected to repeat this season, and has managed to form a cohesive unit with some of the game’s most volatile personalities.

One of Allegri’s most impressive attributes at Milan has been his ability to get the best from his players. One-time Tottenham Hotspur cast-off Kevin-Prince Boateng has excelled as an unorthodox trequartista, veteran Mark van Bommel is enjoying an Indian summer and defenders Ignazio Abate and Thiago Silva have improved leaps and bounds. Notorious rabble-rousers Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Antonio Cassano and Robinho have formed a unified strikeforce with Pato, and ‘keeper Christian Abbiati is better than ever.

Milan have had a strong mercato. Losing Andrea Pirlo is a blow on paper, but Allegri’s system demands energy and athleticism from its midfielders, which, lets be honest, doesn’t really fit the Metronomo’s playing style. Alberto Aquilani and Antonio Nocerino have been signed to cover Pirlo’s departure, and the latter should play a huge role in any Milanese success this season.

Elsewhere former Marseille man Taye Taiwo should solve Milan’s longstanding issues at left-back and young forward Stephan El Shaarawy provides a much-needed pace injection. Loanees Ibrahimovic, Boateng and goalkeeper Marco Amelia have also had their deals made permanent, completing a squad that is deeper and more versatile than last season’s.

Milan have a rich, deep history and I fully intend on researching it this week. I grew up watching the Rossoneri sides of the 1990’s and it’ll be a pleasure revisiting them. That said, my knowledge of pre-Sacchi Milan is sketchy to say the least so I may choose to delve into the earlier archives of Milan’s history. Either way, expect the results of my research to surface here later in the week.

Naturally I’ll also be covering Milan’s fixtures for the week. Tomorrow night they face Barcelona in their first Champions League game of the season, and on Sunday they take-on Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo. The Barcelona game is particularly interesting to me. Watching Milan fall to Tottenham last season was embarrassing, but a spirited performance against the best team in the world would go a long way to improving Italian football’s flagging European reputation.

Check back soon for more updates!

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