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Posts Tagged ‘Lecce’

Now that I’ve familiarised myself with Lecce’s squad it’s time to follow the usual formula and research their history. The club was formed in 1908 as Sporting Club Lecce and, like a lot of Italian teams, competed in multiple sports (initially cycling, track-and-field and football).

Lecce spent their early days competing in regional competitions and actually disbanded during the 1923-24 season before returning in 1927 under their current moniker: Unione Sportiva Lecce. They continued to potter around in local southern Italian leagues, before a play-off with Taranto Sport (now of Lega Pro) was arranged in 1929 to see which side would enter the FIGC’s new Serie B competition.

Lecce won the game 3-2 and entered the inaugural 1929-30 Serie B season, defeated current Serie A side Novara 2-1 in their first fixture. A 13th-place finish that season was followed by 17th in 1930-31, but the club folded for a second time in 1932 and didn’t return for another four years.

Lecce's squad for the 1929-30 season: their first in Serie B.

It’s not clear why Lecce stopped competing at these times but I’d definitely like to find out. If I can learn more about these odd situations I’ll document what I’ve found later in the week.

The Salentini (“Salentians”) were placed in Serie C when they returned and finished 11th at the first time of asking (1936-37). Adding to the turmoil, Lecce had to withdraw from Serie C the next season and did so just four days into the new campaign. In 1938-39 they finished 3rd but the FIGC ended-up changing this to 12th when it was found that Lecce had violated the league’s federal regulations (how, again, isn’t clear).

Things improved for Lecce and they won Serie C in 1945-46, thus ending a sabbatical from Serie B. Three years later they were relegated back to Serie C which started a long period in the doldrums. This was a particularly grim period for Lecce fans as their club didn’t return to Serie B until 1976, but it did see the emergence of a hero in Anselmo Bislenghi. Bislenghi’s scored 84 league goals for Lecce during this period: a total that’s yet to be bettered.

Fortunately, Lecce have barely been in Serie C since. The past four decades have seen them frequently flutter between Serie B and Serie A, which has given them the reputation of a yo-yo team. I don’t think it’s too unfair to see them as calcio’s answer to West Brom.

Scandal erupted in 1980 (before the Salentini’s first Serie A promotion) when Lecce’s president Franco Jurlano was implicated as a match-fixer. Jurlano was able to prove his innocence, but player Claudius Merlo was hit with a lengthy ban. Misfortune of a different kind followed in 1983: players Michele Lorusso (the club’s appearance record holder with 415) and Ciro Pezzella perished in a car accident. The tragedy no doubt contributed to Lecce’s poor 14th finish in Serie B.

The Salentini won Serie A promoted for the first time in 1985 but couldn’t survive and were immediately relegated. They reached the play-offs next season but a 2-1 loss to Cesena meant they’d have to wait until 1988-89. Manager Carlo Mazzone led Lecce to their highest-ever finish (9th), but safety wasn’t mathematically secured until the last day of the season with a 3-1 win against Torino.

The decision not to tear apart the squad that got them promoted is said to have played a big part in Lecce’s success that season. The Salentini maintained their team spirit by keeping their Serie B players around, and supplementing the team with the likes of striker Pedro Pablo Pasculli and future Juventus captain (and coach) Antonio Conte. A similar squad finished 14th the next season, before a Zbigniew Boniek-coached Lecce were relegated in 1990-91.

The next eight years brought seven promotions and relegations. Lecce returned to Serie A after two seasons, but consecutive relegations saw them spend a single season in Serie C1 (1995-96) before consecutive promotions brought them back to Serie A. Two more up-and-down years followed, and a three-year Serie A run ended in 2001-02 with a 16th-place finished and relegation. Phew.

Delio Rossi was appointed manager in 2002 and Lecce were promoted again. They recovered from a terrible start well and finished 10th in 2003-04, beating Inter Milan and Juventus along the way. Rossi left in 2004, replaced by renowned Czech tactician Zdenek Zeman who brought his trademark open, attacking philosophies to the Salentini.

A squad featuring the likes of Mirko Vucinic and Valeri Bojinov finished 10th in 2004-05, and Lecce set a unique record along the way. They scored 66 goals that term (second only to Juventus’ 67) but had the worst defence with 73 conceded. This was the first time in history that the team with the worst defence in Serie A had survived relegation. Zeman, eh? Gotta love him.

2005-06 was a season of struggle for Lecce. Zeman left that summer and the club changed managers twice more before the end of a season that saw them finish 19th. There were hopes that the Calciopoli scandal would help them stave-off relegation, but they started 2006-07 in Serie B again under Zeman’s tutelage.

Zdenek Zeman

The Prague native wasn’t as fortunate this time around and was sacked after a run of 10 defeats in 18 games. Giuseppe Papadopulo came in and oversaw a finish of 9th, before a 3rd-place finished and a playoff win over Albinoleffe saw Lecce return to Serie A for the 2008-09 season.

You can probably guess what happened next. Papadopulo left the club after a difference of opinion with the club’s general manager. Mario Beretta came in but was replaced by current manager Luigi De Canio, who could only help Lecce to seven points from their last 10 games. Surprise, surprise: Lecce were relegated.

2009-10 was a superb season for the Salentini, who took 1st-place in November and didn’t relinquish it until the season’s end. De Canio lead them back into Serie A and, lo and behold, they weren’t relegated the following season! Lecce survived with a game to spare, and compounded their joy with a 2-0 win over relegated rivals Bari on the final day.

Talk about a mixed bag. Lecce’s promotion/relegation records read like a laundry list, and it’s hard to pick highlights out. Zdenek has always fascinated me as a character and tactician, so I might use this week as an excuse to write something about him. Aside from that I’d like to find out more about some of Lecce’s key players over the years, as I’ve found information quite thin on the ground so far.

Tomorrow I’ll have some more for you. Hopefully this primer served its purpose.

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Yesterday I admitted that I couldn’t name a single Lecce player, but a quick glance at the Salentini’s squad reveals a few familiar names:-

  • Christian Obodo: I’m pretty sure I’ve only heard of Obodo through football manager, as the Nigerian midfielder spent most of his calcio career with Perugia, Fiorentina, Udinese and Torino, four teams I don’t exactly follow. I think he’s a tough-tackling holding midfielder, but I’m not sure.
  • Rodney Strasser: The Sierra Leone midfielder is on-loan from AC Milan, which is where I know him from. Chances are if you know who Strassers is, it’s probably because of his “altercation” with Zlatan Ibrahimovic last season.
  • David Di Michele: I’ve always thought that Di Michele is a much better player than he actually is but I don’t really know why. He had an unspectacular loan-spell with West Ham in 2008-09 during which he became better known for his diving ability rather than goal-scoring prowess. Earned 6 Italy caps in his heyday but, at 35, that period appears to be far behind him.
  • Julio Sergio: Brazilian ‘keeper who was never good enough to properly establish himself at Roma. Probably a good fit for a team of at Lecce’s level, but the fact that he’s 32 and has made less than 80 career league appearances isn’t encouraging.
  • Massimo Oddo: Veteran fullback on-loan from Milan. Oddo was a good player at his peak and was a part of Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning squad but faded badly afterwards, especially at Bayern Munich. I’ve now idea good he is these days.
  • Cristian Pasquato: 22-year old winger on-loan from Juventus. Apparently this guy is full of promise and impressed during Juve’s pre-season campaign. I only really know about Pasquato because of a typically excellent Adam Digby article I read this summer.

Turns out I know a bit more about Lecce than I thought. Still, six players isn’t exactly a lot. Let the research commence!

Lecce haven’t had the best of starts: they’re 18th in Serie A and haven’t won since mid-September. Because of this it’d be a bit of a stretch to name their “star performers,” but, going by match reports and WhoScored.com, midfielder Djamel Mesbah looks to have been a consistent performer.

Djamel Mesbah (left)

The 27-year old signed for Lecce in 2009 having started his career in Switzerland. Usually a left-sided midfielder, Mesbah made his international breakthrough last year and has since made 8 appearances for his native Algeria. Most of his appearances this season have been at left-back, and he’s clearly been a steady performer for the Salentini.

Uruguayan midfielders Carlos Grossmuller and Guillermo Giacomazzi are Lecce’s top league goalscorers with two each and the latter also has an assist to his name. Grossmuller typically sits behind the strikers and has only completed 90 minutes once this season (perhaps this is fitness related?). Giacomazzi, on the other hand, as an uncompromising ball-winner known for his lack of discipline.

Columbian utility man Juan Cuadrado can play anywhere on the right flank and has featured in all of Lecce’s seven Serie A games so far. He’s particularly excelled in the three games he’s played at right back and his dribbling ability has given Lecce some much-needed penetration. Given that Cuadrado, like Mesbah, is a natural winger I wonder why both have been played mostly as full-backs this season?

Serbian Defender Nenad Tomovic was man match in the 0-0 draw with Genoa a few weeks ago but he looks like a pretty limited centre-back. Reports suggest his other appearances prior to that were mediocre, and WhoScored lists “Aerial Duels” as his only strength. I don’t like taking a statistics website’s word for it, but Tomovic sounds like a bit of a clogger.

Nobody else really sticks out. New-signing Andrea Esposito hasn’t really made much of an impact at the back and none of Lecce’s strikers have scored (or assisted) this season. Of the players I’d heard of, Julio Sergio has had a rough time in his 5 Lecce appearances, Obodo has been average in midfield and the rest haven’t done anything of note. I think Pasquato and Strasser, given their age, will improve as the season goes on.

Christian Obodo

On further research, Obodo seems an interesting case. Apparently he started-out very strongly at Udinese until a series of bad injuries derailed his progress. He was a first-team regular from 2005 to 2007, but only made 19 league appearances in his last four seasons with the Friulani. He was fit enough to make 30 Serie B appearances for Torino last season, and this term represents a great opportunity for him to re-establish himself as a top tier midfielder.

Lecce’s survival hopes don’t look great from an outsider’s perspective. I haven’t watched them in action yet, but the reports I’ve read aren’t too encouraging. They’ve beaten Bologna and were 3-0 up on Milan at one point this weekend, but they’ve already been comprehensively defeated by Atalanta and Siena, teams they should be putting up more of a fight against.

I’ll be paying close attention to the Salentini’s game with Palermo on Wednesday, but I suspect it could be another long night. The Sicilians are undefeated at home this season, and Lecce had only scored three goals this weekend. There are a few promising players in Lecce’s team, but they clearly have work to do to escape the relegation zone.

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This Week on ATP: U.S. Lecce

That was a lot of fun. It’s a shame that “Genoa week” turned into “Genoa fortnight,” but I probably should’ve seen it coming. Blame my birthday celebrations for the tardiness, but I managed to cover everything I wanted to write about in the end. Maybe next time I’ll expand on the 2005 match fixing scandal and their dodgy owner, but I’m pretty satisfied with what accomplished.

I’ve learned a lot this past couple of weeks and I definitely feel a stronger affection for Genoa because of it. This has been the most in-depth and educational club to cover, and I put that down to the wealth of Genoa information available in English. If only covering every club was this easy!

Looking forward, I’m going to be covering Lecce this week. I know absolutely nothing about this team bar their name and colours. Honestly, I can’t even name a single Lecce player off the top of my head. I am therefore anticipating this to be a busy week: literally everything I learn about Lecce will be new to me, and I’ll have to pick and choose what to write about.

As always I’m excited to be getting my teeth sunk into a brand new team. Check back soon for more on Lecce.

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Just a quick update to let you all know that I have a new article up on Serie A Weekly that just so happens to focus on this week’s featured team, Siena. In it I take a look back at an excellent week for the Robur that saw them take a point from Roma and three from Lecce. There’s a little bit on their squad, manager and long-term prospects, so click here to check out my take on Siena’s current situation.

Tomorrow I should have a little ditty on Siena’s history posted. Stay tuned.

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