Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Lega Pro’

Englishman Joseph Whitaker: an important figure in Palermo's birth.

Football in Palermo, as in Genoa, has English roots, even if the Aquile’s founding fathers’ legacy isn’t as storied. Palermo’s early days are hazy and there’s a lot of debate on the particulars of their foundation, but the football club’s first stages are thought to have appeared in 1898. English sailors docked into the city’s harbour first brought football to Palermo, and the Aquile’s original registration papers are addressed to an Englishman, Joseph Whitaker.

Despite this, the club’s foundation date is usually accepted as November 1st, 1990. Ignazio Majo Pagano, a colleague of Whitaker, founded the Anglo Palermoritan Athletic and Football Club with a squad of three Englishman and nine Palermo natives. They played their first match on December 30th of that year, losing 5-0 to an unknown English amateur team.

Whitaker remained prominent throughout the club’s formative years. The team trained on his own football pitch, and they competed in the “Whitaker Challenge Cup” from 1905, winning the competition once. The club’s name changed to the more memorable Palermo Foot Ball Club in 1907, and they competed in the Lipton Challenge Cup from 1909 to 1914.

Set-up by famous tea mogul Sir Thomas Lipton, the original competition only comprised of two times, Palermo and Naples FBC, but was later expanded to include Internazionale Napoli and Messina. Palermo won the competition in 1910, 1912 and 1913, memorably thrashing Naples FBC 6-0 in 1912.

Palermoritan football was suspended after the last Lipton Challenge Cup for the First World War, but resumed again in 1918. A committee of university students refounded the Palermo club in 1919 as Unione Sportiva Palermo, and the club started competing in the national football league’s southern division. They were forced to withdraw for financial reasons in 1927, but merged with Vigor Palermo to become Palermo Football Club in 1928.

The new side were readmitted into the Italian league system that year, and competed in the Prima Divisione (the equivalent to today’s Lega Pro Prima Divisione/Serie C1). Palermo were promoted to Serie B by 1930, and it only took them a further two seasons to reach Serie A. Striker Carlo Radice was a key man in Serie B, and scored 27 of Palermo’s 50 goals during their promotion season.

Palermo adapted well to life in the top tier, notching an impressive 5-1 over Atalanta in their first game and finishing as high as seventh in 1934-35. It wasn’t to last, however, and the Aquile’s four-year stint in Serie A ended with relegation the following season.

Joining fellow Sicilian sides Messina and Catania in the second tier, Palermo established themselves as a decent midtable team and notched three consecutive seventh-place finishes. The Sicily Derby between Palermo and Catania was born with the teams’ first clash in 1936, with the first game ending in a 1-1 draw.

The financial problems of old resurfaced in 1940, and the Aquile were again suspended from the football league. This brought about yet another merger, this time with Unione Sportiva Juventina Palermo, with the new team competing as Unione Sportiva Palermo-Juventina. Palermo-Juventina were admitted into Serie C in 1941 and returned to Serie B in 1942 but World War II forced their withdrawal the following year.

Another year, another refoundation. Palermo came back to life in 1946 and returned to Serie A in 1948. Czechoslovakian winger Cestmir Vycpalek and ex-Catania man Carmelo Di Bella were key players on Palermo’s flanks, and the Aquile were able to stay in Serie A for six seasons despite never finishing higher than 10th. 1954 was a particularly grim year for Palermo: not only were they relegated, but club president Raimondo Lanza di Trabia committed suicide on New Year’s Day.

A new board was formed and the club rallied. Players like Enzo Benedetti and Argentine hitman Santiago Vernazza (the club’s second top goalscorer) turned out for the Aquile along with the likes of future Juventus legend Giuseppe Furino. An imperious defensive midfielder, Furino made 27 appearances in his single season in Sicily before a 15-year Bianconeri spell garnered a record eight Serie A titles.

A yo-yo spell saw Palermo promoted and relegated between Serie A and Serie B six times in eight years. Consistency returned in the mid-‘60’s, though not in the league Palermo would’ve wanted, as Palermo stayed in Serie B for five consecutive seasons from 1963.

Renzo Barbera, after whom Palermo’s stadium is named, took over in 1970 to start one of the more successful periods of the club’s history. Palermo never escaped Serie B during Barbera’s 10-year tenure but relegation was rarely a threat and their Coppa Italia performances were astonishing. They’ve never won the competition but took Bologna to penalties in 1974 and only fell to Juventus in extra-time in 1979. Unsuccessful on the surface, but remarkable considering Palermo were a middling Serie B side at the time.

Barbera’s era came to an end in 1980 when contractor Gaspare Gambino took the reigns. Shortly afterwards, Palermo were deducted 5 points for a match-fixing scandal involving midfielder Guido Magherini, who was handed a three-year ban. First Inter, then Atalanta, now Palermo. I’m doing this on purpose, honest…

The next few years were unremarkable. Palermo were still in Serie B in 1986 but expelled from the league for financial troubles for the third time. A whole year went by without professional football in Palermo, but the team was again resurrected in 1987. They won Serie C2 at the first time of asking, but it took another three years to achieve promotion back to Serie B.

Relegation in 1991-92 preceded a championship-winning Serie C1 season, and the club were <I>again</I> rebranded in 1993. Palermo adopted the moniker Unione Sportiva Citta di Palermo, which they still use today. If history is anything to go by, however, I’d say they’re probably due a name change in the next year or two.

A four-year spell in the doldrums started in 1997 and ended with promotion to Serie B in 2001. These were some of Palermo’s darkest days. The club almost fell into Serie C2 in 1998 after losing a relegation play-off with Battipagliese. Who knows what would’ve become of the Sicilians if Ischia Isolaverde’s Serie C1 expulsion hadn’t saved them from relegation.

Maurizio Zamparini, not known for his patience.

Back in Serie B, Palermo finished 10th in 2001-02. Incumbent president Maurizio Zamparini, who’d previously taken Venezia to Serie A, bought the club and immediately pledged a Serie A return. Several ex-Venezia players (including Arturo Di Napoli and Stefano Morrone) were brought-in as Palermo finished fifth, with a Luca Toni-inspired side capturing the Serie B title in 2004.

Palermo returned to Serie A for the first time since 1973 for the 2004-05 season and achieved an exceptional sixth-place finish. Toni continued his excellent form, scoring 20 goals in 35 appearances to earn him a summer move to Fiorentina.

Another excellent season followed despite Toni’s transfer. Palermo’s first ever UEFA Cup run would’ve seen them reach the final if it weren’t for a 2-2 away-goals loss to Roma in the semis. Things weren’t looking so bright domestically but a January managerial change soon turned that around. Palermo originally finished eighth in Serie A, but Calciopoli’s point deductions saw them bumped to fifth and another season of UEFA Cup football.

An excellent start in 2006-07 saw Palermo win nine of their first 11 Serie A fixtures, but they drew a tough UEFA Cup group (Frankfurt, Newcastle, Fenerbahce and Celta Vigo) and failed to progress. The Aquile did well in Serie A without the distraction of Europe, this time earning their fifth-place finish on merit with captain Eugenio Corini scoring 10 goals from midfield.

The standards started to slip in 2007-08. Future favourite Fabrizio Miccoli joined in summer but Palermo were knocked-out of the UEFA cup by Czech minnows Mlada Boleslav. A series of managerial changes saw Palermo struggle for consistency, and they finished in an extremely disappointing 11th in Serie A.

A finish of eighth in 2008-09 wasn’t enough to secure a European return but 2009-10’s fifth certainly was. Palermo have struggled to maintain the high standards set during their first two continental campaigns. Last season they were knocked-out in the Europa League’s group stage, and this season they didn’t even make it past the first the qualifying round.

Palermo have transformed themselves from also-rans to upper-midtable European contenders over the past decade. Zamparini has clearly had a big influence on this, and I’ll definitely be taking a look at his colourful reign later in the week. I’ve shied away from the present-day Palermo side too, as I intend on covering their recent fortunes in my Serie A Weekly column this Wednesday.

Sources

Read Full Post »

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.

Sources:-

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »