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I am sad to report that “Novara week” came to a disappointing end on Sunday. The Biancoazzuri lost 2-1 away to fellow Serie A returnees Atalanta to cap-off a rollercoaster week that started with a 3-1 defeat of Inter. Novara were excellent on Tuesday, bettering the Nerazzurri in every department and well-worth their historic win. Their fire and grinta were too much for an Inter side too uncomfortable and wobbly to pose a threat, they had a far rougher time this weekend.

Novara were admittedly unlucky. They’d been playing well until Giuseppe Gemiti’s defensive lapse gave Ezequiel Schelotto a free header on 34 minutes. The goal was harsh on the away side who’d created more opportunities than Atalanta in the opening stages with Riccardo Meggiorini looking particularly threatening.

Unfortunately the Biancoazzurri amped-up the sloppiness after the opener and chance after chance went begging. Marco Rigoni flashed a header across goal before Meggiorini wasted two great chances from close range. Attilio Tesser’s side had nobody else to blame but themselves when Luca Cigarini scored Atalanta’s second after 59 minutes, such was Novara’s wastefulness in-front of goal.

Novara refused to give-up. They continued to push Atalanta and Rigoni come close again midway through the second-half. Eventually Novara got the goal they’d been looking for when Filippo Porcari struck on the 89th minute. The comeback was on, and the Biancoazzurri had the ball in the net again in stoppage time but substitute Pablo Granoche’s tap-in was ruled offside.

Replays, however, clearly show that this was the wrong decision. The speed of Porcari’s through-ball caught the Atalanta defence flat-footed which gave Granoche plenty of space behind them, but he was evidently onside when the ball was played.

The Biancoazzurri were unfortunate not to get something from the game. Their equalizer definitely wasn’t offside and they balance of play was even throughout with Novara managing 11 shots and 47% possession. But as unlucky as Novara were, they really shot themselves in the foot by not taking their chances. They probably could’ve had the game won by half-time and definitely created enough goalscoring opportunities to earn at least a point.

I’ve talked about Novara’s lack of a goal threat before but never has it been more apparent. The Biancoazzurri are going to run into serious difficulties this season if their frontmen don’t sharpen-up. As decent as their general play is it’ll mean little if they can’t take their chances, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Novara signed a striker or two in January.

This has been the most enjoyable week of the season so far. I’ve learned a lot about Novara, their history and some of the people who’ve shaped the club. I can’t wait to revisit Silvio Piola’s legacy when I look at some of his other clubs, and I loved researching Attilio Tesser’s managerial career and the uplifting change in fortunes he’s gone through lately.

I’ll definitely be revisiting Novara Calcio when the fixtures repeat themselves in the new year. For now, though, it’s onto this week’s feature club…

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When I started researching Novara I read somewhere that Attilio Tesser was the longest-serving manager in Serie A. I was shocked. The guy’s only been with his current employers since June 2009, I thought, surely there are at least 3 or 4 other Serie A managers who’ve been incumbent longer than two years?.

I already knew that Italian clubs (in the top tier, at least) weren’t exactly known for managerial longevity, but this seemed ridiculous. Two years! Really?!

Yes, really. The current longest-serving Serie A manager has only been with his club since 2009. Sadly, this manager isn’t Attilio Tesser. Further research told me that Luigi De Canio (a man I remember from his stint as Queens Park Rangers manager) has been at Lecce since March 2009, beating Tesser by three months. Boo hiss.

Still, it’s pretty amazing that Serie A’s two longest-serving managers have only been incumbent since 2009. Ten Serie A teams started the season with new managers, so maybe I shouldn’t have been that surprised, but it was pretty shocking to somebody like me. I’m used to Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, but Italian coaches are lucky if they get two years of employment. What is this madness?!

Discovering that De Canio had been at Lecce for longer than Tesser had been at Novara took a bit of gloss off the Biancoazzurri coach, but I still felt compelled to research his career. Here’s what I’ve found with the resources available to me.

Tesser’s playing career lasted from 1974 to 1991. Starting his career with Calcio Montebelluna (where he stayed for four years), Tesser would play for Treviso and Napoli before signing for Udinese in 1980. This was unquestionably the most productive spell of his playing career. In five seasons Tesser, a defender, notched-up over a hundred appearances for the Zebrette, scoring six goals in the process.

His time in Udine came to an end in 1985, and Tesser played for (then) lower-league sides Perugia, Catania and Trento before retiring in 1991. During his playing career Tesser earned 5 Italian under-21 caps but never really threatened to break into the senior side. Sadly, this is all I’ve been able to find-out about Tesser’s playing career other than a handful of appearance stats.

Tesser’s coaching career started in 1992 when he was appointed manager of Serie D’s Sevegliano. Sevegliano were then what they are today: a tiny, amateur side that don’t really stick-out among the myriad of provincial sides that populate Italian football’s lower tiers. Still, Sevegliano gave Tesser the opportunity to cut his managerial teeth. I’ve always thought it beneficial for young managers to start plying their trade at smaller clubs away from the spotlight. Working in such a low-pressure environment would’ve given Tesser a chance to master the craft and learn from his mistakes.

In 1994 Tesser left Sevegliano to rejoin former club Udinese as a youth coach. He worked with Udinese’s youngsters for two years before joining Venezia in a similar capacity. After seven years as a youth coach Tesser decided that the time to move into professional management had come, and he signed his first full-time managerial contract with F.C. Sudtirol-Alto Adige in 2001.

He stayed with the Serie C2 side for two seasons, guiding them to 4th in 2001-02 and 3rd in 2002-03. Suditrol made the Serie C2 group play-off final in both of these seasons, but fell to Brescello the first time round and Tesser’s current employer’s Novara the second.

In summer 2003 it was time to move-on. Serie B side Triestina had taken note of Suditrol’s good performances under Tesser and decided to take him to the Stadio Nereo Rocco. Sadly, Tesser didn’t fare quite as well with Triestina. The club had finished 5th the season before Tesser’s appointment, but Teser could only guide them to 10th in his first season in-charge.

Tesser’s second Triestina season was dismal. Finishing 19th in Serie B, Triestina found themselves in a relegation play-off with Vicenza. Tesser’s squad won the play-off (although the result was made irrelevant in the wake of a match-fixing scandal involving champions Genoa (another story for another day)), but the coach left at the end of the season.

Triestina’s struggles under Tesser weren’t exactly his fault and it’s unfair to describe his time with the club as a complete failure. I’ve learned that the board sold most of the squad’s key players from under Tesser’s hands, and the squad that started the 2004-05 season barely resembled that which he assumed he was taking over. On the surface it looks like Tesser was severely undermined at Triestina, but such is life in the trenches.

Cagliari handed Tesser his first Serie A job in 2006. At that point it was by far the biggest break of Tesser’s managerial career, but it would also be the shortest. Chairman Massimo Cellino sacked Tesser after just one match, a 2-1 loss to Siena. Sadly, Tesser was never really given a chance at Cagliari. Cellino, on the eve of the game, allegedly approached Tesser and said “let’s see if you are a lucky man.” This begs the question why Cellino employed Tesser in the first place, as such ominous works suggest Tesser was never going to last beyond his first defeat.

Tesser moved to Ascoli for the start of the 2006-7 season but his fortunes failed to improve. Ascoli sacked Tesser after the side collected just 4 points from their first 11 games. Though his record was poor, Tesser was once again a victim of bad lucky. In one game, for example, Ascoli were leading Roma 2-1 going into stoppage time. Roma scored a goal in the 92nd minute that was clearly offside, but the goal was given and the match finish 2-2. Perhaps Tesser would’ve turned things around if he’d been given more time, but his replacement Nedo Sonnets hardly fared better and Ascoli were relegated from Serie A.

His reputation tainted after failures at Triestina, Cagliari and Ascoli, Tesser endured a brief period in the managerial wilderness before joining Serie B side Mantova for the 2007-8 season. Mantova finished 8th the year before and made it perfectly clear that promotion was their goal.

Mantova started brightly under Tesser but it wasn’t to last. Tesser was dismissed in February 2008 with Mantova 7th in the league and seven points from a play-off place. It looked increasingly like Mantova would miss-out on promotion that season, but perhaps they should’ve retained Tesser’s services: they finished 9th without him.

Tesser would again have to drop down the leagues for his next job. It came in 2009 with Lega Pro Prima Divisione side Padova, but again Tesser’s employment was short-lived. Padova won four points in five games with Tesser at the helm, but he was sacked after just a month and a half.

Pretty depressing story so far, right? At this point I can’t help but feel sorry for Tesser. He had to cope without his best players at Triestina, was barely given a chance at Padova and Cagliari, and his time at Mantova wasn’t exactly disastrous. Aside from his poor Ascoli record, Tesser has been very unfortunate. I’m surprised he didn’t contemplate retirement after such a disappointing spell, but the man from Montebelluna finally got his break in 2009.

Novara’s first season under Tesser was a great success. The Biancoazzurri were promoted from the Lega Pro Prima Divisione with four games to spare and were eventually crowned champions. Their promotion ended a spell of over 30 years away from Italy’s top two tiers, and Tesser was rightly hailed as a hero for the work he’d done.

Ex-Inter Milan striker Nicola Ventola played a key role in Novara’s promotion push. Signed by Tesser in the second-half of the season, it was Ventola’s brace that secured a 3-3 draw with Cremonese and promotion back to Serie B. Ventola sadly went on to endure a series of serious injuries that would eventually end his career, but his contribution to Novara’s rise will never be forgotten.

Novara started the 2010-11 unfancied and favourites for relegation. This was Tesser’s opportunity to prove himself: he’d already shown his abilities in the lower leagues, but previous spells in Serie A and B had hardly been kind to him. Amazingly Novara finished 3rd and defeated Reggina, who finished 6th, in a two-leg promotion play-off final. Tesser’s Novara had finally returned to Serie A after a 55-year absence, and they’d done it with a swashbuckling brand of attacking football that was as exciting as it was effective.

Keeping Novara up will be the sternest test of Tesser’s managerial ability thus far, but whatever happens you’d think he’d done enough to earn a long stay at the Stadio Piola. Novara are a tiny club unaccustomed to playing at the highest level, and they’re back in the top flight thanks to Tesser’s assured management. Their squad lacks an all-out goalscorer and they’re favourites for relegation, but Tesser’s job will surely be safe even if they are relegated. Guiding any team to two consecutive promotions is no mean feat, let alone a club of Novara’s small stature and minuscule budget.

Whether or not Novara will be able to keep hold of Tesser is another matter. Tesser looks like he’s finally turned his managerial career around. Maybe it’s a case of right place, right time, but Tesser has clearly done an excellent job at Novara. Given the notorious trigger-happy nature of Serie A chairmen it surely won’t be long before a bigger club comes knocking…

For now, Tesser has the task of keeping Novara in Serie A ahead of him. He’s been run through the mill countless times, but now he’s at the helm of a Serie A side and has played a big role in one of calcio’s great resurgence stories. Here’s to Attilio Tesser and Novara Calcio.

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Silvio Piola

Silvio Piola is the highest goalscorer in Serie A history. Scoring 274 league goals in 537 appearances, Piola scored 49 more goals than his closest rival (Gunnar Nordahl) in a career spanning four decades. Also boasting 30 international goals in 34 Azzurri games, Piola is rightly remember as one of calcio’s all-time greats, and he spent the last seven season of his career with this week’s feature club, Novara.

Joining the Biancoazzurri from Juventus in 1947, Piola struck 16 goals in 30 appearances to help lead Novara to the Serie B title and promotion to Serie A. Thus began Novara’s longest ever run in the top tier: a period of eight seasons lasting until 1956, two years after Piola’s retirement.

Scoring 86 times in his 185 Biancoazzurri appearances, Piola is so fondly remembered by Novara that they named their stadium after him in 1976. The Stadio Silvio Piola is still Novara’s home to this day, and recently underwent a 7,000-seat expansion for their first Serie A campaign since the fifties.

Unfortunately, like a lot of Novara’s history, English-language information on Piola is hard to find online. Such is the problem when researching Italian clubs that aren’t based in Milan, Turin or Rome. The fact that Piola plied his trade so long ago doesn’t really help matters either, but this is where John Foot’s bible of Italian football, Calcio</I>, comes in.

A legend for Pro Vercelli (who also named their stadium after him), Lazio and Novara, Piola was prolific everywhere he went and also enjoyed productive spells at Juventus and Torino. Piola signed for Novara aged 34, played for Italy until he was 38 and was 40 when he retired.

Even in 2011, with all the advances we’ve made in sports science, it’s very rare for an outfield player to survive at the highest level for so long. Silvio Piola, however, knew how to take care of himself. Hedonism had no place in his life, with Piola shunning the limelight to concentrate on playing football and looking after his body. The general assumption was that he was going to Novara to wind down and retire: instead he maintained a goalscoring ratio of roughly one goal every two games and wrote himself into Biancoazzurri folklore.

Piola was an out-and-out striker. Equally adept at shooting from distance and finishing up-close, Piola was good with both feet and strong in the air. His range of attributes made him a unique player for his generation, as Italy was more accustomed to producing “specialist” forwards during Piola’s era rather than all-rounders.

His Azzurri goalscoring record is phenomenal, and he would surely have gone on to enjoy even more success had the Second World War not curtailed his international career. Piola won the 1938 World Cup with Italy, partnering Giuseppe Meazza up-front, his physicality providing the perfect foil to the technically outstanding Inter legend.

Surprisingly, Piola failed to pick-up a single Serie A winners medal despite his goalscoring exploits and glorious international record. He finished as a runner-up thrice (once with Lazio, twice with Juventus) but the Scudetto continued to elude him until retirement.

This is more to do with the clubs he played for more than anything else. Pro Vercelli’s dominant period ended seven years before Piola’s emergence, Lazio didn’t win their first Scudetto until long after his retirement, he was only at Juventus and Torino for a couple of seasons, and it would’ve taken a miracle for a club of Novara’s size to win Serie A, even with Piola’s contribution.

Regardless of this silverware shortage, Piola is a true calcio legend. A Biancoazzurri hero, a lethal marksman and a great professional, his place in history is secure. I knew a bit about Piola prior to starting this blog, but I’ve really enjoyed learning about his legacy, international exploits and character. My only regret is that I couldn’t discover a little bit more about his time at Novara.

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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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This Week on ATP

Novara Calcio

I’m really looking forward to this one. Novara are completely alien to me. I know that they used to be in Serie A a long time ago and that they’re back this season after two consecutive promotions, but that’s about it. They’re playing Inter on Tuesday evening (live on ESPN here in the UK) which should be a really interesting tie given Inter’s recent troubles, then fellow newcomers Atalanta at the weekend.

Really looking forward to getting my teeth stuck into this one. At first glance it looks like English-language information on Novara is a bit thin on the ground, so I’ll really have to do my research. Lets see what I uncover…

 

 

 

 

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