Posts Tagged ‘Napoli’

Another good, productive week. It would’ve been nice to get something posted yesterday but I feel that the rest of the week’s work makes up for one quiet day. Here’s what I’ve done this week:-

  • Made in Sicily: My rough guide to Palermo’s history and how they became an upper-midtable force in Serie A.
  • The Madness of Maurizio Zamparini: In a league known for its eccentric club owners, one man stands head and shoulders above the rest. Palermo’s resident mentalist, profiled.
  • (Serie A Weekly) Palermo’s Home Run Continues: Analysis of Palermo’s 2-0 win over Fiorentina last weekend and what the result means for the rest of their season.
  • (Off-topic) (Back Page Football) Napoli’s Unsung Heroes: Walter Gargano, Hugo Campagnaro and the other players who don’t get enough credit for Napoli’s continued ascension.

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Genoa, for me, are a very easy club to identify with because of their English roots. I can’t say that the Rossoblu’s heritage gave me an instant connection to the club but, as a Brit, it caught my attention and got me interested in the club.

It was like bait: at the faintest whiff of a similarity between Genoa and myself I instantly wanted to learn more about the club, their history, and the legacy of their English founders. James Richardson Spensley and William Garbutt aren’t exactly revered in their home country and this is a big shame. I’m willing to bet that calcio would be even more popular in Britain if more of us took the time to research this unique link between our island and Italian football’s genesis.

Spensley and Garbutt both had huge roles to play in shaping Genoa’s early years. Born in London in 1867, Spensley first arrived on the peninsula in early 1896. A doctor, Spensley’s initial duty was to tend to the crews of British coal ships docked in the port city. He joined Genoa’s cricket & athletics club after three months in Italy, and personally opened the club’s footballing section in April 1987.

James Richardson Spensley

Playing as a defender during the club’s first two seasons and a goalkeeper from thereon, Spensley was one of only two players two feature in all of Genoa’s six championship-winning campaigns between 1898 and 1904. He retired a few years after the Grifone’s last title win, and would continue his football career as a coach and referee.

To truly appreciate Spensley’s contribution to Italian football’s development I think it’s important to acknowledge just how big a deal Genoa were back then. Genoa are often believed to be Italy’s first dedicated football club, although there exists evidence suggesting that the first Italian football club was founded in Turin.

The first ever Italian Football Championship took place in 1987. The structure saw several regional groups compete in small round-robin competitions (not unlike today’s Champions League group stage) with the winners advancing to a play-off stage. Genoa bettered three Turinese clubs in this stage of the competition (FBC Torinese, Ginnastica Torino and Internazionale Torino), and eventually beat Internazionale 3-1 to win the competition’s final.

A long period of dominance followed. Think Inter Milan under Jose Mourinho or Roberto Mancini or Milan and Juventus in the 1990’s. Genoa were calcio’s first true powerhouse club, winning 6 out of the first 7 Italian Football Championships, and none of it would’ve been possible without James Richardson Spensley.

Not only did he establish one of calcio’s most significant clubs, but he helped introduce football to the Italian people by forcing through a vote allowing native players to join Genoa C.F.C.’s ranks. Originally Genoa only admitted English players and Italians were hesitant, but the floodgates to over 100 years worth of history in one of the world’s most decorated footballing nations had been opened.

Spensley sadly perished in Mainz, 1910 while on active duty as an army medic during the First World War while compassionately tending to the wounds of a fallen enemy. His name is scarcely mentioned in Britain, but the Genoese will always rightly remember Spensley as one of Italian football’s founding fathers.

William Garbutt

William Garbutt didn’t arrive in Genoa until two years after Spensley’s passing. The Stockport native had had a modest playing career with the likes of Woolwich Arsenal and Blackburn Rovers, but was forced to retire in 1912 (aged 29) as persistent injuries took their toll. In need of a means of supporting his family after his forced retirement, Garbutt moved to Genoa later that year to work as a docker.

He was appointed Genoa’s first ever head coach on the 30th July, but how this came about is unclear. There are two popular theories: some believe that Thomas Coggins (and Irishman who’d been coaching Genoa’s youth team at the time) pushed for his appointment, while others say he was recommended by future World Cup-winning manager Vittorio Pozzo. Either way, Genoa (the most successful club in Italian football to that date) had employed an Englishman with zero managerial experience completely out of the blue.

Garbutt would revolutionise Genoa C.F.C. One of his first acts was to dismantle and re-assemble the Rossoblu’s training methods, and he is noted as one of the first managers to recognise the importance of physical fitness and tactics. To this day Italian football is still known for its tactical sophistication and the superb conditioning of its players, and Garbutt helped set the prototype for both.

As well as his contributions to Italian football’s blueprint, Garbutt conducted the first-ever paid transfer deal on the peninsula and also made Genoa the first Italian club to play outside their native country (they travelled to England to face Garbutt’s former side Reading). He was trendsetter and a true trailblazer. International competition and paid transfers would surely have come along anyway, but it was Garbutt who set the foundations.

Genoa had gone through a rough patch prior to Garbutt’s arrival and hadn’t won an Italian Championship since 1904. The glory of their early days had started to fade, but Garbutt restored some prestige to the club with three Championship wins in 1914-15, 22-23 and 23-24. Genoa haven’t won an Italian championship since.

Garbutt may not have had as big a revolutionary effect on Italian football as Spensley, but his contribution to Genoa was just as immense. Not only did he return the club to its glory days but he did so with dignity and respect. Garbutt helped re-stablise Genoa after the War, and his intelligent approach to management is still being mimicked today.

Post-Genoa, Garbutt would go on to enjoy a long management career with Roma, Napoli, Athletic Bilbao and A.C. Milan. He returned to Genoa on two separate occasions in the thirties and forties, either side of being deported by Mussolini, before eventually returning home and dying peacefully in England, 1964.

It’s perhaps natural that neither of these men are exalted in Britain. Their greatest accomplishments came on foreign shores, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy of reverence. James Richardson Spensley and William Garbutt were helped sculpt calcio into what it is today and I, for one, am very grateful for their contribution.

Further reading:

Les Rosbifs, an excellent site chronicling the fortunes of English footballers abroad, features two excellent articles on Spensley and Garbutt. I’d recommend reading both: the writers are very knowledgeable and the articles are insightful and go into a lot more detail than I ever could.

Paul Edgerton, author of the above article on Garbutt, has released a book on Genoa’s former manager that I will be ordering immediately. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the tome, and I’d recommend you check it out if you have any interest in the man.

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I didn’t take an in-depth look at last week’s AC Milan vs. Napoli tie for a reason. From now on I’ll be working on a weekly “Team of the Week” article for the good folks at Serie A Weekly. Each week I’ll be taking the team I feel had the best weekend and taking a look at their performance (while analysing their current situation and prospects). This week I chose Napoli for their impressive counter-attacking display against the Scudetto holders.

Take a look at the article here.

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Well that sure was interesting. Lovely counter-attacking from Napoli to expose Milan’s chronic lack of pace and another three goals for Edinson Cavani. I shan’t be going into too much detail on this game at the moment, but I will be analysing the game and its implications early in the week. Unfortunately it’s going to fall outside of “Milan week,” but you’ll understand why when it comes.

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A.C. Milan 2 – 2 Barcelona

Tuesday 13th September, 2011

Last night’s Champions League clash between the Rossoneri and Barcelona didn’t quite live up to Adriano Galliani’s “Derby of the World” billing, but it was a far from drab affair. Many had predicted another Barca whitewash before the game, but Massimiliano Allegri’s gameplan was spot-on and won a point for the seven-time tournament winners.

Injury-stricken Milan took to the pitch minus Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho, Philippe Mexes, Taye Taiwo, Mathieu Flamini and Gennaro Gattuso. Antonio Cassano and Pato, Milan’s only available forwards, started up-front, supported by trequartista Kevin-Prince Boateng and midfielders Mark van Bommel, Antonio Nocerino and Clarence Seedorf. Regular starters Ignazio Abate, Thiago Silva and Alessandro Nesta started in defence with Gianluca Zambrotta at left-back and Christian Abbiati between the posts.

It’s testament to Milan’s strength-in-depth these days that the Rossoneri were still able to field such a strong squad even with six players missing. They were able to leave players of Alberto Aquilani and Massimo Ambrosini’s calibre on the bench which really highlights the excellent job Milan have done of padding-out their squad this summer.

The Catalans goals came from a defensive lapse and a moment of brilliance. Milan were never outclassed despite the statistics (Barcelona had 75% possession and 22 shots to Milan’s 6). With the Rossoneri sitting deep, Barca were often reduced to long-range shots and could only convert 9% of their chances into goals. Allegri’s narrow formation stifled Barcelona’s ability to play between the lines and his decision to chase the game and increase pressing in the second-half helped drag Milan back into the game.

Barcelona dominated possession and created more chances, but this was always going to be the case. Allegri’s tactics simply trumped Guardiola’s. Yes Barcelona probably deserved to win given the balance of play, and yes they’d been forced to play with a makeshift Busquest/Mascherano centre-back pairing, but they couldn’t better Milan’s gameplan.

Both Rossoneri goals were well taken. Pato took advantage of some uncharacteristic Barcelona sloppiness, knocking the ball between Busquets and Mascherano in the middle of the park before burning the flat-footed Busquets for pace and finishing deftly. Thiago Silva’s headed equaliser was excellent: the Brazilian leapt like a salmon, meeting the ball at the peak of his jump and powering it past Victor Valdes.

Calcio is this blog’s primary focus, but not giving Barcelona their due credit would be unfair. That even teams of Milan’s stature are forced but to employ defensive gameplans against the Catalans says everything of their global supremacy. They dominated possession and would surely have faired better with Puyol and Pique in the side. Villa’s 30-yard free-kick was inch-perfect, and, truthfully, they probably should’ve scored more.

Tiki-taka afficionados will complain about Milan’s defensiveness, but Barcelona were foiled by a true Italian defensive masterclass. Alessandro Nesta was flawless: the 35-year old’s superior reading of the game defies his declining physical attributes, and last night showed that he can still compete with the world’s best players. A flawlessly executed challenge on Leo Messi that left the Argentine punching the ground says all you need to know about both players’ respective performances.

Thiago Silva looked assured beside Nesta and popped-up with the crucial equaliser, while Gianluca Zambrotta had an excellent game as a defensive left back. Zambrotta rarely ventured forward, instead focusing his attention of stopping the usually rampant Dani Alves down Barca’s right flank. Zambrotta kept his opponent on the inside, forcing Barcelona to play through Milan’s wall of defensive players and neutralising one of their most potent attacking threats.

Antonio Cassano was largely anonymous, but the ex-Sampdoria man’s inability to impose himself had little bearing on his strike partner’s performance. Pato had a good game, breaking through Barcelona’s midfield to trouble a wobbly Catalan defence on a couple of occasions. Always a good goalscorer and one of the most composed forwards in the world, Pato took his goal well and could have a breakthrough season in the Champions League if he can stay fit.

Attack-minded purists will be cynical of Milan’s performance but Allegri’s men did exactly what they needed to. The Rossoneri conceded possession but they were mostly successful in stopping Barca’s play between the lines and they did a good job of shackling Messi and Alves. Barcelona didn’t have enough in their armoury to break Milan down on the night, and that’s why they couldn’t win.

All-in-all, an encouraging performance from Milan after the disappointing of drawing with Lazio at the weekend. The Rossoneri have enough bodies to rotate for Sunday’s tie with Napoli, so hopefully tiredness shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Having watched them perform admirably as underdogs I now look forward to seeing how they setout against a team they’d hope to be beating.

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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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Cesena fell to a 3-1 defeat at the Stadio Manuzzi last night as Napoli capitalised on Yohan Benalouane’s with a much-improved second half performance. The Partenopei were good value for their win and thoroughly deserved their three points but things could’ve been so different if it weren’t for the red card.

The first Serie A match to ever take place on artificial was a highly-entertaining affair with hosts Cesena matching their opponents during the first-half. Cesena should’ve taken the lead early-on when Comotto missed a free header with the ball dropping onto Benalouane’s head then wide of the goal. Napoli opened the scoring just a minute later when Lavezzi ran onto a long throw through a sleeping Cesena defence before stabbing the ball home from close range.

Lavezzi on-target: El Pocho opened the scoring for Napoli.

It was a poor goal to concede from Cesena’s point of view. The throw was taken quickly with the Seahorses’ backline standred high up the pitch. Credit to Napoli for recognising this and taking advantage, but to see such disorganisation from the home side’s backline was disappointing.

Nevertheless, Cesena continued to push forward and continually asked questions of Napoli’s defence on the break. They moved forward quickly and purposefully, with the stadium’s new surface providing the perfect conduit for a high-tempo game. Particularly impressive was Antonio Candreva, whose strong, direct running helped Cesena break into the final third and won a few free-kicks along the way.

Comotto rose well from a corner on the 22nd minute but, much like earlier in the game, the ball bounce wide of the post. Cesena would get the goal their play merited two minutes later, though, as the excellent Guana finished a move he’d started on the halfway line. Winning possession, Guana moved the ball on and made a lung-bursting run into the box, finishing deftly from Eder’s low cross.

After equalising Cesena continued to look good going forward, but, like so many teams of their ilk, their defence looked increasingly suspect. At times it seemed like they were too focused on playing the ball out of the danger zone when a clearance would’ve sufficed. The Seahorses can consider themselves fortunate that Napoli didn’t have more of a cutting edge, as they sloppily conceded possession in dangerous positions far too often.

Napoli were in ascendancy in the second-half, but Benalouane’s sending-off completely changed the course of the game. Penalised for a needless handball, the Tunisian received his marching orders as Marek Hamsik took to the pitch. Napoli started to dominate as Cesena struggled to get hold of the ball, and the home side conceded another sloppy goal on the 66th minute. A seemingly harmless Hamsik cross bobbled through two Cesena defenders and Hugo Campagnaro was at the back post to slide it come from point-blank range.

An astonishing open-goal miss from Goran Pandev followed, before Hamsik smashed-in a vicious half-volley to make it 3-1. Cesena had a few late flourishes (particularly after the introduction of Jorge Martinez) but struggled to create any real chances after Benalouane’s sending-off. It’s difficult to tell how the game would’ve gone if the Tunisian had stayed on the pitch: Cesena definitely outplayed Napoli for periods in the first-half, but Napoli definitely looked the better side after the break (even before the red card).

A disappointing result in the end, but Cesena certainly gave a good account of themselves. Their attacks were launched quickly and they passed like a team that had been playing together for years; impressive given the amount of players that have passed through the club this summer. What was most impressive about their performance, however, was the way they reacted to going 1-0 down. It would’ve been easy for them to capitulate after conceding such a disappointing goal, but they refused to compromise their style and kept their heads. In a buzzing Stadio Manuzzi Cesena defied the vocal away support and rallied superbly, as the quality of their equaliser testifies.

Ex-Palermo man Roberto Guana had a fine debut for Cesena.

Sadly their defensive display was quite the opposite. The Seahorses looked disorganised and ramshackle at the back, and coach Marco Giampaolo will shake his head when looking back at Napoli’s first two goals. Defend against players as good as Hamsik and Lavezzi like Cesena did and you’re going to be punished. It’s that simple. This won’t be as big a problem against lesser sides, but if Cesena hope to improve on last season’s 15th place finish they’re going to have to tighten-up at the back.

I’ve learned plenty about A.C. Cesena this weekend. This is an exciting, explosive side who can be thrilling to watch. Their attacking play is very pro-active, and teams will struggle to contain their slick passing and fast counter-attacks. Candreva looks right at home on the left wing, Mutu still has a touch of class about him, and Guana will be a vital physical presence in midfield if he can maintain this form.

While they should score plenty of goals this season, Cesena will also concede a lot if they don’t improve their defensive organisation. The speed at which they reacted to Campagnaro’s long throw was embarassing, and they defended Napoli’s second goal like unsure amateurs. Perhaps the likes of Comotto just need time to settle, but the Seahorses have a lot of work to do to forge a cohesive defensive unit out of these players.

Despite their defensive frailties, I stand-by my earlier assertion that Cesena can improve on last season. Relegation will always be a threat, but they have more quality going forward than a lot of Serie A teams and they have plenty of time to sort their defence out. It’s going to be an exciting season for the Seahorses, and I’m really looking forward to coming back to them after the turn of the year.

Cesena 1-3 Napoli: Highlights (101greatgoals.com)

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