Posts Tagged ‘Inter Milan’

Last week I wrote about the Calciopoli scandal and Inter’s apparent involvement. I noted that I wanted to do some more research on the subject, so that’s exactly what I’ve done. I can’t say that I dislike the Nerazzurri without knowing all the facts so further reading was definitely needed.

It’s safe to say Inter benefited from Calciopoli in a big way. Their biggest rivals were neutralised, all but ensuring their domestic dominance. The lack of competition meant they became Italy’s premiere football club by default and it’s only recently that Milan and Juventus have showed signs of recovering.

This alone isn’t enough of a reason to dislike Inter. The threads linking them to Calciopoli and the arrogance they’ve shown in its aftermath, however, most certainly are. Christian Vieri’s allegations and Massimo Morrati’s involvement with Telecom Italia (documented in my previous entry) are too strong to ignore, and I’m inclined to believe that this whole thing isn’t just a coincidence.

I’m no conspiracy theorist, but it doesn’t look good for Inter. The Nerazzurri’s involvement in the scandal was revealed last year with the not-so-shocking revelation that Inter had also contacted the referee designators, but they cannot be prosecuted as this took place more than two years ago. Italian law, eh? Gotta love it.

Had Inter’s involvement been revealed at the same time as their rivals then they would certainly have been punished. They might have not been dealt with as severely as Juventus, but the would’ve (and should’ve) felt the implications of their underhand actions.

Why didn’t this happen? Guido Rossi. A close friend or Moratti, Rossi headed TIM (a branch of Telecom Italia), the company that revealed the wiretappings and leaked the implication conversations, in 2006. Rossi was there when it all went down. There’s no way he wouldn’t have known about Moratti and Giacinto Facchetti’s conversations with the designators.

Paolo Bergamo, the chief referee designator, has openly revealed that nobody contacted him more than Facchetti during this period but his words were swept under the rug. Rossi knowingly ignored the Nerazzurri wiretaps that we now know existed, and it’s a sham that he hasn’t yet been prosecuted.

Where did these wiretaps come from? Two police officers with pending charges for interfering with wiretaps where, at the time, in-charge of handling all wiretap recordings and handing them to the prosecution. These officers were handed the intercepts by another officer, Adamo Bove, who was heading the wiretap operation and had set-up shop in a Telecom Italia building. Who was the work comissioned by? Massimo Moratti.

Bove’s secretary later revealed that instructions to disregard certain intercepts were passed onto everyone on the team, which explains why the Inter wiretaps weren’t revealed at the time. These confessions where heard in court on July 10th, 1996. Adamo Bove committed suicide 11 days later.

Moratti, when asked if he’d commissioned the wiretap operation, responded with uncertainty. “Yes I did. No, wait… maybe. I’m not sure.” This was in an interview with Corriere della Sera dated 31st August, 2006. The wiretaps were then, allegedly, illegally sold to the Gazzetta della Sport by the newspaper’s president, who also happened to be Inter’s vice president.

You do the maths.

It’s time to draw a line under this. I don’t know enough about Italian law to know if further implications could lead to Inter’s prosecution, but their comeuppance his to come. Calciopoli was Italian football’s darkest hour, and it’ll be years (maybe decades) before the league returns to its former glory. Inter must be punished for their role in what happened.

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Roberto Mancini won seven trophies in four years and Jose Mourinho notched five in two, but neither left a legacy at Internazionale that can match Helenio Herrera’s. A tactical innovator and a pioneer of motivational techniques, Herrera managed Inter on two separate occasions: it is his first spell, from 1960 to 1968, that he’s most fondly remembered for.

It took a couple of years for Herrera to fully impose himself on Inter. His first two seasons were trophy-less, but Herrera did guide the Nerazzurri to third and second-place Serie A finishes. Things really started to heat-up in 1962-63: Inter won Serie A for the first time in nine years thanks to a watertight defence that conceded just 20 goals in 34 games.

The best was yet to come, and Inter won back-to-back European Cups (and Intercontinental Cups) in 1964 and 1965 to establish themselves as the most dominant side in Europe. Herrera’s side won Serie A again in 1965 and 1966 and became known as La Grande Inter (“the Great Inter”): one of the peninsula’s greatest ever club sides.

But Herrera’s success wasn’t restricted to Inter. He was already a well-established coach before arriving in Milan, having already won Spanish league titles with Atletico Madrid in 1950 and 1951. Mixed spells with Malaga, Deportivo, Sevilla and Belenenses followed, but Herrera really came to prominence at Barcelona.

Joining the Catalans in 1958, Herrera won a league and cup double in his first season. Winning a second league title the following season, Barcelona also added the Fairs Cup (equivalent to today’s Europa League) to their trophy cabinet that season but Herrera’s tenure came to a premature end just a few months later. A disagreement with star player Ladislao Kubala, the Hungarian-born striker, lead to Herrera’s arrival in Italy.

Herrera enjoyed only moderate success after leaving Inter. He lead Roma to a 1969 Coppa Italia win and won the Spanish cup in 1981 during his second spell at Barca, but he never recaptured the magic of La Grande Inter. A heart attack in 1974 cut his return to Inter short, and a short spell with Rimini preceded his Catalonian return in 1979.

Born in Argentina to a Spanish mother and an exiled anarchist father, Herrera’s exact date of birth is unknown. It’s often accepted as April 10th, 1910, but some speculate that he changed his year of birth to 1916 sometime in the fifties. He was therefore either 87 or 81 when he passed away in 1997.

Managers weren’t given enough credit for their success before the sixties, but that La Grande Inter changed that. Previously managers had been seen as more of a guiding hand than genuine influences, with teams known more for their star players (a la “Di Stefano’s Real Madrid”). Herrera’s successes and innovations brought the manager’s role to the forefront for the first time.

If it wasn’t for Herrera’s Inter, we’d probably be referring to Messi’s Barcelona and Rooney’s Man United: Guardiola and Sir Alex would hardly get a mention.

There are plenty of reasons for this shift in credit. Herrera was one of the first managers to make extensive use of (then) advanced motivational techniques. Inter were so well drilled by their manager that, during training, they’d chant the slogans and sayings he often promoted. Some of his more famous quotes, like “who doesn’t give it all, gives nothing,” are still repeated today.

It might sound cheesy today, but this approach was seen as revolutionary back then. Billboards with mottos like “Class + Preparation + Intelligence + Athleticism = Championships” were plastered on billboards around the stadium and training ground. Herrera recognised the worth of a motivated squad, and his ability to inspire determination played a big part in his success.

He was big on togetherness and team spirit, often taking his players to remote, country hotels on Thursday nights to prepare for Saturday morning games. Also a promoter of self-discipline and clean living, Herrera regularly had club officials visiting players’ houses at night to make sure they were in bed and well-rested for the next day’s work.

Herrera made sure his players looked after themselves. Alcohol and cigarettes were strictly forbidden, and diets were controlled to ensure players were consuming the right balance of nutrients for optimum athletic performance. Herrera had no time for slackers: if you played for him you’d be a consummate professional, otherwise you’d be sent packing.

Aside from being an innovative man manager, Herrera also had a big impact on the game’s tactical evolution. He was a big proponent of catenaccio: one of the game’s most significant (and misunderstood) tactical developments, even if he didn’t invent the system himself.

Catenaccio was derived from the Swiss “verrou” (door-bolt) system, invented by Austrian manager Karl Rappan during his managerial spells with Servette and the Swiss national team in the thirties and forties.

Catenaccio's precursor, the Verrou.

The verrou’s shape looks highly unorthodox today. It relied heavily on collectiveness and workrate to compensate for Rappan’s amateur players’ lack of technical ability, and was a much more fluid system than the then-popular “WM” formation. It was one of the first systems to utilise a four-man defence, with the most significant role being that of the sweeper (“verrouilleur”).

In Rappan’s system the sweeper was a highly defensive. He was a support player who acted as the “security bolt” of the other three defenders. Sitting between the centre-back and goalkeeper, this player would “sweep up” the ball before it reached the goal. Some sweepers (like Franz Beckenbauer) became famous for driving forward and adding an offensive element to the role, but the verrou and catenaccio employed mostly defensive sweepers.

Nereo Rocca brought the system to Italy with Triestina in 1947, but it was popularised by Herrera in the sixties. Herrera tightened the formation to allow for more counter-attacks, and many long balls were played forward for Inter’s skilled forward to run onto. This isn’t to say that the midfield were bypassed, however, as Spanish playmaker Luis Suarez Miramontes played a big role in La Grande Inter’s success.

The verrou employed a mixture of zonal and man marking, but Herrera’s defenders were strictly man markers. Each stuck to an opposing attacker like glue and the sweeper (or “libero”) was free to mop-up any through-balls that eluded the defence. Armando Picchi was particularly effective in this role, and the Italian is typically seen as the blueprint for the liberos who followed.

Herrera’s version of catenaccio died with the advent of Rinus Michels’ Total Football in the 1970’s, but it left a huge mark on calcio. Focusing on defence has seen Italy produce some of the world’s greatest defenders in Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Claudio Gentile and countless others. It’s no coincidence that Italy hasn’t produced a defender of Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta’s quality since the death of the libero in the nineties.

Catenaccio has had its share of critics over the years, and today the word is synonymous with hyper-defensive play and often accompanies the ludicrous term “anti-football”. Criticising catenaccio for its poor entertainment value is quite fair, but the system and its variations have brought great success to the Italian national team and various club teams over the years.

Smaller sides still employ catenaccio’s principles to grind-out results against bigger teams, and Otto Rehhagel’s Greece used it to great effect at Euro 2004. I’d rather watch attacking football most of the team, but defensive tactics can be used to great affect in certain circumstances.

That’s why I find “anti-football” such a nonsensical term. Defensive football (and catenaccio) is, in my opinion, a perfectly acceptable way to win. Of course everyone would like to play an expansive, possession-based game, but most teams lack the resources and personnel to play like Barcelona and Arsenal.

Look at England’s game with Spain last week. Fabio Capello conceded the battle for possession and employed a defensive, catenaccio-lite gameplan. They snuck a goal from a set piece and defended well to hold onto their lead. The performance has attracted plenty of neutral criticism, but England would have been slaughtered if they’d tried to match Spain for possession and been more attacking.

Pure catenaccio is dead, but the ideas behind the system live on, and for that we have Herrera and Rappan to be thankful. Sure it’s produced some turgid games over the years, but, in football, pragmatism usually topples idealism. Successful managers work with a system that suits their players: just look what happened when Gian Piero Gasperini tried to forcefully impose his philosophies on Inter this season.

Herrera might be known as a defensive tactician, but he had a winner’s mentality that rubbed-off on everyone he worked with. He once suspended a player for saying in an interview that “we (Inter) came to play in Rome,” instead of “we came to win in Rome.” That, if anything, should tell you all you need to know about Helenio Herrera.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This week-and-a-half’s feature club is Inter Milan: the most successful Italian club of the last decade and one of the most storied clubs in world football. Inter are probably one of the first clubs you think of when Serie A is mentioned, and for good reason. They have been tremendously successful over the past few years and, despite their recent troubles, are one of the biggest clubs in the world.

Some of the world’s greatest players have strutted their stuff for the Nerazzurri over the years, and their list of honours is very enviable. Only Juventus (27) have won more than Inter’s 18 Serie A titles (although they’re tied with city rivals AC Milan) and their Barcelona-toppling, Champions League-winning 2009-10 campaign was remarkable. They are a hugely popular side with a big global fan base, and I really, really don’t like them.

It’s not because their popular or successful or because I have a big distaste for any of their personnel (I’m a big José Mourinho supporter and an admirer of Javier Zanetti). I dislike the Nerazzurri for the way they benefited from Calciopoli and the penalties handed to their biggest rivals, even though their hands were just as dirty as anybody else’s (except Juventus, perhaps).

I assume that if you’re reading this blog then you probably know a thing or two about Calciopoli already, but if not I’d recommend using good old Wikipedia (shhh, you at the back) to read up on it. If you don’t know it as “Calciopoli” then you’ll probably know it as the 2006 Italian Football Betting Scandal. Teams were accused of rigging games by selecting “favourable referees” for certain matches.

The case had huge ramifications for Italian football. Four of the implicated clubs (Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Juventus) were all initially relegated, but most punishments were overturned on appeal. Some of them were still pretty severe nonetheless:-

  • Milan were deducted 30 points for the 2005-06 season, meaning they finished third instead of second. They were also forced to play one game behind closed doors in 06-07, and started that season on -8 points.
  • Fourth-place Fiorentina were kicked out of the 06-07 Champions League, deducted 30 points for 05-06, had to play two games behind closed doors and started 06-07 on -15.
  • Lazio, who finished sixth, were also deducted 30 points and booted from European competition (the UEFA Cup this time). This deduction left them just three points from relegation. For 06-07 they started on -3 points and had to play behind closed doors twice.
  • Reggina’s president, Pasquale Foti, was fined approximately £20,000 banned from all football activity for 2½ years. The club were fined £68k and started 06-07 on -11 points.
  • Juventus were handed the sternest punishment. Their Serie C1 relegation was changed to a Serie B relegation on appeal, and they were stripped of the Serie A titles they’d won in 2005 and 2006. They were kicked out of the Champions League, fined £31million, started 06-07 on -9 points and played three games in an empty stadium.

I’d say that some of the punishments handed-out on appeal were a tad lenient given the enormity of the situation, but I’m no expert on the situation. Lazio, Milan and Fiorentina only started showing signs of recovery in recent seasons, Reggina are stuck in Serie B and Juventus haven’t been the same since. Considering Calciopoli’s impact on these clubs, maybe the punishments were fair after all.

It doesn’t take a genius to see how Inter benefited from all this. Aside from being awarded the 2005-06 Scudetto despite finishing third, Inter had effectively seen their biggest rivals (Milan and Juventus) neutered. The lack of competition helped them two four legitimate straight titles until last season’s post-Mourinho demolition job. They dominated, and even won the league by 22 points in 2007.

It speaks volumes of the impact Calciopoli had on Inter’s fortunes that they collapsed as soon as Milan were strong enough to mount another challenge. There is nothing exceptional about Allegri’s Rossoneri, but they were functional, consistent team and the strongest opposition Inter had had since the scandal. A lot of blame for Inter’s fall can be placed on Rafa Benitez’s dire man management and their ageing squad, but it’s no coincidence that they started to slide as their rivals recovered.

The Nerazzurri weren’t exactly flying before Calciopoli either. They won just three titles in 40 years between 1966 and 2006, and their awarded 2005-06 Scudetto was the first they’d “won” since 1989. Inter often finished seasons without qualifying for Europe. Inter were also-rans to Juventus and Milan, and even the two Rome clubs (Roma and Lazio) won Serie A during Inter’s barren decade-and-a-half.

Calciopoli turned them into a dominant force. They ruled the roost because there was nobody to challenge them, even if Roma did push them all the way in 2008. Mourinho’s influence shouldn’t be completely discounted but, on a domestic level, Inter were “better” by default.

I wouldn’t have had a problem with this if Inter hadn’t actively taken part in Calciopoli. They weren’t punished, right? That must mean they were innocent? I wouldn’t be writing this if I thought they were. Inter were just as guilty of tarnishing Italian football’s reputation by participating in the scandal as everyone else, and the way they’ve trumpeted themselves as an honourable club in the aftermath is arrogant and hypocritical.

Inter aren’t innocent. It was found last year that the Nerazzurri’s then-president Giacinto Facchetti (RIP) had contacted Italian football’s referee selection committee to “discuss” which referees should officiate their games, just as Fiorentina had done. I’m not conspiracy theorist, but it’s very suspicious that we’ve only just heard of these discussions and the telephone transcripts weren’t leaked to the press at the time (as Juve’s were).

Juve have always protested their punishment and it’s hard to feel sympathetic for them, but they do have a point. Why weren’t Inter implicated? The Bianconeri were crippled by Calciopoli, and, if what I’ve read is to be believed, Inter should’ve been reprimanded as well.

FIGC president Franco Carraro resigned in 2006 after the first wave of phone calls had been revealed. Guido Rossi, Inter’s vice president, came in to head the investigation and soon, not long after the verdict was announced, left his position to head TIM (a branch of Telecom Italia). Telecom Italia are Italy’s biggest telecommunications company, and the ones who wiretapped the phone conversations between convicted Juventus president Luciano Moggi and the referee selectors.

Last year’s Inter-implicating calls were leaked by Moggi’s lawyers, not Telecom Italia. Rossi was good friends with Inter president Massimo Moratti, who was also on the TIM board. Putting two-and-two together, it’s not hard to see what was going on. Rossi must’ve known what was going-on with Inter, and given his involvement with Moratti (and Moratti’s involvement with Telecom Italia) it would’ve been in everyone’s best interests to keep Inter’s Calciopoli involvement under wraps.

Again, I don’t want to fall for what could be a load of cloak and dagger nonsense, but it’s hard not to see this as a murky plot to cripple Juventus and establish Inter’s dominance (this is Italy, after all). Christian Vieri made allegations last year that his phone had been tapped by Inter (who wanted to spy on him) and that the Nerazzurri squad were forced to sign contracts promising not to mention the club’s plans to “bring Juventus and Milan down.”

“I am ready to show everyone the document, everyone knew what was happening. I was spied upon because I cannot keep these things locked up. 70% of the contract was to be paid by inter and the other 30% by Telecom (Italia)” – Vieri speaking to firenzeviola.it

The Calciopoli scandal continues to rage-on and attempts to prove Inter’s guilt continue. I’m willing to accept the possibility that these theories on the Nerazzurri’s involvement are nonsense, but it certainly doesn’t look like that’s the case. I’m going to use this week to do some more research on Calciopoli and hopefully get a better idea of what really happened during the 2005-06 season. The timing couldn’t be any better (with fresh Calciopoli-related sentences being handed-out last night), and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in.

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Takayuki Morimoto and Yuto Nagatomo share a moment before kick-off.

I should’ve seen this coming. A team of title contenders travel to a newly promoted side for a midweek tie. The bigger team haven’t won all season. Rudderless players have struggled to adapt to their leader’s way of thinking and fluidity looks a million miles away. The new coach is already under pressure: his inflexibility is costing the team and his stubbornness, if it continues, will drag him to the gallows.

The smaller side are fired-up. This is their first season in the top flight in over 50 years. A modest side, they play in a tiny stadium and lack the star power of their prestigious opponents. Their shoestring-assembled squad has taken has won as many points as the bigger side in the first two games, but it shouldn’t be long before the gulf in class evens things out and the teams are far apart.

This is the minnows’ biggest game in years. More accustomed to Lega Pro than Serie A, they are like a mouse walking into the jaws of a lion. They’re huge underdogs despite their visitors’ woes, and they’d be delighted to snatch a draw and walk away with a point…

The script was perfectly set for an upset, but I still made the “sensible” prediction. The difference between these groups of players was too big, I thought. Inter would labour to a single-goal victory, overcoming a few scares from their opponents but convincing nobody of their Scudetto credentials.

Oh, how wrong I was. Inter were second best in every department. Disorganised at the back and sloppy in possession, this was one of the worst Nerazzurri performances I’ve ever seen. They created next to nothing with their 64% possession, and it took a defensive clanger for them to find the back of the net. In short, Inter were dire and I’m not at all surprised that Gian Piero Gasperini has lost his job.

Novara, on the other hand, played very well. They didn’t dominate but their lead rarely looked under threat and the scoreline could’ve been even higher if they’d been more clinical. Marco Rigoni was excellent in central midfield and showed no compromise in his battle with Cambiasso and Sneijder. Novara’s enforcer rounded-off a battling display with two goals, and his contribution will be vital if the Biancoazzurri are to survive this year.

A lazy clearance from Luigi Giorgi that gifted Inter their goal was the only blemish on a good team performance. Andrea Mazzarani caused plenty of problems sitting behind the forwards, and Takayuki Morimoto put in a lively display alongside Riccardo Meggiorini. The Japanese striker isn’t the most prolific goalscoring but he certainly doesn’t lack determination.

This was a great team performance, a historic result, and a game that Novara fans will remember for the rest of their lives. The Biancoazzurri put Inter to the sword in an exciting David vs. Goliath tie, but browse the internet and you could be forgiven for forgetting Novara had even played last night. Inter’s capitulation and Gasperini’s sacking have dominated the headlines, with Novara receiving scant praise for their performance last night.

I’m pretty disappointed by this. Inter Milan are a huge club and it’s big news when they change manager, but it almost feels like Novara’s performance has been swept under the mat and forgotten about. Yes Inter were dreadful last night, and yes their managerial change deserves column inches, but so do Novara Calcio.

This is a club that was playing in the third tier just two seasons ago, has one of the smallest budgets in the league, and has an unheralded group of players none of whom I’d even heard of at the start of the week. They’ve just beaten Italian football’s most successful side of the past ten years. They play in the same division, but the difference in stature between Novara and Inter is huge, and these players have just accomplished something monumental. To put things into perspective, Inter were lifting the Champions League in the same season that Novara won promotion from the Lega Pro Prima Divisione.

It’s such a shame that their triumph hasn’t been given more credit. I’m sure they wouldn’t have fared so well against a more cohesive Nerazzurri, but lets not take anything away from the Biancoazzurri. They played exactly how a newly-promoted side should against a club of Inter’s size, and they fully deserved the three points. I can’t wait to see how they play against Atalanta on Sunday.

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Novara players celebrate last season's promotion, their second in a row.

Novara Calcio are currently enjoying their first season back in Serie A after a 55-year absence. Having won the Lega Pro Prima Divisione (Italian football’s third tier) in the 2009-10 season, Novara defeated Padova in last season’s Serie B promotion playoff thus securing back-to-back promotions after over three decades in Serie C/Lega Pro’s doldrums. This remarkable ascension is even more incredible by the fact that this has happened twice in as many years in Italy, with Cesena taking the same trajectory one year prior.

Currently 15th in the table, Novara have picked-up one point from their first two games. The Biancoazzurri fought back from 2-0 to snatch a credible draw away at Chievo on the opening day. They weren’t so fortunate in last weekend’s 2-1 loss to Cagliari, but Novara definitely haven’t disgraced themselves thus far. Tomorrow night they’ll face the strongest test of Novara’s mettle yet as they entertain Inter Milan in their first home game of the season.

On paper this should be a relatively straightforward walkover for the Nerazzurri, but things aren’t that simple at Inter Milan these days. Coach Gian Piero Gasperini has had a difficult start: a drab draw with Roma and losses to Trabzonspor and Palermo mean the former Genoa man’s position is already under scrutiny. A loss to Novara could mean the chopping block for Gasperini and Biancoazzurri coach Attilio Tesser will have his players fired-up for the occasion.

Can Novara win tomorrow? It’s a huge ask. Inter are wobbling at the moment, the difference in stature. Compare Novara’s trophy haul of two Serie B titles and a handful of lower league trophies to Inter’s outrageous list of honours, and you only need to glance at the squad lists to understand the gulf in class. Nonetheless, Inter are performing very poorly at the moment. If I was a betting man I’d still predict an Inter win, but anything could happen.

Novara's home ground, the Stadio Silvio Piola.

Formed in 1908 but not debuting in the Italian league system until 1912, Novara aren’t a big club by any stretch of the imagination. Aside from usually plying their trade in the lower tiers, the Biancoazzurri’s Stadio Silvio Piola only holds a meagre 17,000 (up from 10,106 last season) and their squad was assembled on a shoestring. Additionally their artificial playing surface has drawn criticism from other clubs, but there’s little to suggest that it gives them a significant advantage on the field.

Squad-wise, Novara fans’ biggest concern this season will be where the goals are coming from. Ricardo Meggiorini, Jeda and Takayuki Morimoto are the men tasked with leading Novara’s line, but none of them are exactly prolific. Between them they mustered a total of 5 goals in 53 Serie A games last season: they simply must do better this year if the Biancoazzurri are to survive. Novara’s inability to sign a proven goalscorer could cost them big time.

Midfielder Marco Rigoni is Novara’s main man. He’s been with the club since 2009 and played a vital role in both of their promotions. An uncompromising battler and a true leader, Rigoni has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders this season and he will be expected to drag his team-mates through the trenches on occasion. Elsewhere, defenders Massimo Paci and Paolo Dellafiore have both signed from Parma, and will be expected to shore-up the Novara backline.

I shan’t delve too deeply into Novara’s history just yet as I plan on saving that for later in the week. At the moment I’m just looking forward to watching tomorrow night’s match and seeing how this squad copes against Gasperini’s superstars. My fingers are crossed: here’s hoping the Biancoazzurri get something out of the game.

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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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