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Posts Tagged ‘Serie B’

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.

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Cristiano Doni’s implication in the Calcioscommesse scandal has shattered his reputation and effectively ended his 20-year playing career, but he remains an Atalanta legend. Nerazzurri staff, players and fans have been vociferously supportive of their club and captain since the guilty verdicts were announced in August. The denial, protestations and fight to prove their innocence will continue, and Doni will remain a hero regardless of the outcome.

The ordeal has only strengthened the Nerazzurri’s resolve, and they’ve never been more supportive of Doni than they are today. Such is the nature of Bergamo’s sons and daughters. They are a proud, defiant people, and Doni is very much one of their own. Named an honorary Bergamo citizen in 2008, Doni and Atalanta have been great for each other. It’ll take more than a betting scam to break their bond.

Born in Rome on April 1st, 1973, Doni began his footballing education with Modena in 1988 but didn’t make his professional debut until a 1992-93 loan spell with Serie C2’s Rimini. Doni notched 6 goals in 31 appearances for the Romagna side, before moving up a division with Pistoiese the following season.

Modena decided against retaining Doni’s services despite the productivity of his loan spells, and the gifted midfielder moved to Bologna in 1994. Two promotions in two years saw Doni’s star rise with Bologna’s, but he was discarded before he could make his top tier debut. Doni didn’t have to wait long, however, as his new club Brescia were promoted as Serie B champions in 1997.

Cristiano’s Bergamese odyssey began in 1998 when he arrived at newly relegated Atalanta. Finishing with 8 goals in 27 games, Doni’s on-field influence continued to grow but his new side were unable to secure promotion and finished sixth in Serie B. The following season, 1999-00, was more productive for Doni and La Dea. Playing as a left-winger for the first time in his career, Doni scored an impressive 14 goals in 35 games, and a fourth-place finish was enough to secure Atalanta’s Serie A return.

The Nerazzurri impressed in Serie A and finished 7th, but 2000-01was a dark season for Cristiano Doni. He and his team-mates were accused of rigging a cup tie were accused of rigging a Coppa Italia tie with Pistoiese. Everyone involved was eventually acquitted, but Doni’s involvement has only compounded suspicion of his Calcioscommesse involvement.

Doni returned with aplomb in 2001-02 to record his most successful season yet. 16 goals in 30 Serie A appearances saw the playmaker earn a call-up to Giovanni Trappatoni’s Azzurri. Scoring on his debut (a friendly with Japan), Doni’s good domestic form earned him a place in Italy’s Euro 2002 squad. Doni made seven international appearances overall, scoring once.

A playoff loss to Reggina in 2003 saw Atalanta relegated, and Doni, too talented for Serie B, soon departed. He moved to Sampdoria that summer but became increasingly injury prone and rarely produced his best form. Two fruitless seasons in Genoa ended with a switch to R.C.D. Mallorca in 2005 but Doni continued to struggle, scoring just twice in 24 games.

Aged 32, it looked like Doni’s career was winding down. A spate of injuries and erratic performances meant Doni wasn’t exactly a hot commodity upon leaving Mallorca, but La Dea swooped to save him from the scrapheap. Doni returned to Atalanta in 2006, famously comparing his Nerazzurri jersey to Clark Kent’s Superman costume.

If Doni became a fan favourite during his first Atalanta spell, he became a legend during his second. Doni missed 10 games through injury in 2006-07 but still captained the side to an eighth-place finish, scoring 13 goals along the way. La Dea achieved another strong finish in 2007-08 (9th) as Doni’s rejuvenation continued. The following season he notched nine goals (including four against champion Internazionale), having already become Atalanta’s all-time top Serie A goalscorer in 2008.

Atalanta went into decline the following season. Doni mustered just 2 goals as La Dea slipped into the relegation zone and struggled for consistency all season long. A finish of 18th eventually saw Atalanta relegated, but Doni, 37, had become a Bergamese institution. Doni announced that he wanted to see-out the rest of his career with La Dea, and stuck around for his first Serie B season since 1999-00.

Captain Doni made an immediate impact, scoring five times in the season’s opening three months. His peak years were long gone, but Doni was reborn in the second-tier, providing a touch of class rarely seen outwith Serie A and finishing with 12 league goals, his highest tally in three seasons. Atalanta finished as champions and returned to Serie A, but without their captain. Doni was hit with a 3½-year band for his involvement in Calcioscommesse, and his playing days are probably numbered.

Doni was an advanced playmaker who typically operating between midfield and attack. His vision, touch and passing accuracy were superb: his game was based on technicality, not physicality, which explains why he was still playing at 38. Last season he played at the tip of Atalanta’s midfield diamond and showed that his ability to cut defences open with a single pass hadn’t diminished. His ageing body mightn’t have been able to cope with Serie A’s demands this season, but it would’ve been nice to see him try.

If this is the end of Doni’s career, he’s left plenty to be proud of. He’s seen Atalanta through two promotions and some of their best ever Serie A finishes. 112 goals in 323 appearances make him the club’s all-time leading goalscorer (by a margin of 50) and Atalanta’s fourth all-time appearance maker. His reputation outside Bergamo is now tainted, but Nerazzurri fans will always revere him.

In July, over 4,000 fans took to the Bergamo to protest their club’s innocence. That their club are guilty is incomprehensible to them, and that Doni could’ve played an active role in Atalanta’s demise is unspeakable. In their eyes, Atalanta will always be innocent, and Doni will always be a legend.

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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.

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Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio, based in the northern city of Bergamo, were founded in 1907 and officially recognised by the FIGC (Italian Football Federation) seven years later. They are nicknamed La Dea (“The Goddess”) or the Nerazzurri (“black-blues,” relating to their colours), and are often called the “Regina delle provinciali” (“Queen of the provincial clubs”) as they’ve historically been one of Italy’s most successful non-metropolitan sides.

Atalanta currently back in Serie A after winning last season’s Serie B championship. They’ve made a great start to the season, having only lost twice in their opening 11 fixtures, and would currently be 5th if they hadn’t started the season on -6 points. Embroiled in a betting scandal last season, La Dea have rallied through adversity and are in good stead for a midtable finish.

As documented yesterday, Atalanta have been in and out of Serie A more times than most teams. In recent times they’ve struggled to hold down a top-tier place for any longer than a couple of seasons at a time. European forays and a 1963 Coppa Italia win make Atalanta more famous than most of their provincial counterparts, and they’ve only played a single season outside of Italian football’s top two tiers since Serie A’s 1929 inception.

A football club existed in Bergamo three years prior to Atalanta B.C.’s birth. F.C. Bergamo were founded by wealthy Swiss immigrants in 1904. Atalanta emerged as a splinter of FC Bergamo after a difference in sporting ideologies between members, and, while the Nereazzurri have prospered, Bergamo faded into obscurity.

Named after a mythological Greek athlete and huntress, Atalanta merged with another local club, Bergamasca, to create the club of today. Originally competing in Bergamo’s local league, Atalanta progressed to the larger Lombardy league system and won the First Division championship to secure participation in the 1928-29 national championship.

Poor performances that season meant Atalanta were placed in Serie B’s inaugural 1929-30 season. It took seven seasons before they achieved Serie A promotion, but coach Ottavio Barbieri, a former Genoa winger, achieved that feat in 1937.

La Dea have floated between Serie A & Serie B ever since, with their longest period of top tier competition spanning 15 years from starting in 1940-1955. Several club legends emerged during this period, including Giuseppe Casari and James Mari, the first Atalanta players to ever represent the Italian national team (despite the latter’s Brentford upbringing). Another Englishman, Adrian Bassett, spearheaded La Dea’s frontline during the later years of this period, scoring 57 times in 125 appearances.

Giuseppe Casari made over 170 appearances for Atalanta in the forties.

Atalanta made their competitive European debut in 1963, when, on September 4th, they defeated Sporting Lisbon 2-0 in the Cup Winners’ Cup. They’d also compete in other now-defunct competitions like the Coppa delle Alpi in the early years but achieved no notable success.

The 1970’s were barren for Atalanta but the ‘80’s proved much more productive. Relegated to Serie C1 for the first time in history, La Dea galvanised and were back in Serie A just three years later. They reached their second Coppa Italia final in 1987 (having won the competition in 1963), but suffered a 4-0 aggregate loss to a Diego Maradona-inspired Napoli.

The following season, 1987-88, is considered the club’s most successful. The Emiliano Mondonico-managed side achieved promotion with a 4th-place Serie B finish, but the real fun came in the Cup Winners’ Cup. Atalanta battled to the semi-finals, their greatest ever European accomplishment, beating Sporting Lisbon, Ofi Crete and Merthyr Tydfil along the way. La Dea suffered a 4-2 aggregate loss to Belgian side Mechelen, but reaching the semi-finals was a huge achievement for such a second tier side.

Atalanta qualified for the 1989-90 and 90-91 UEFA Cups thanks to consecutive top seven Serie A finishes. Eliminated at the first hurdle by Spartak Moscow in 1990, La Dea were considerably more successful the following season. Having already eliminated Dinamo Zagreb, Fenerbahce and FC Koln, Atalanta met Italy’s other Nerazzurri, Internazionale, in the quarter-finals. Holding Inter to a goalless draw in the first leg, Atalanta were defeated 2-0in the return fixture at the Giuseppe Meazza.

No further European escapades followed, but Atalanta reached a third Coppa Italia final in 1996 (they were unsuccessful, losing 3-0 to Fiorentina on aggregate). 1996-97 saw the emergence of future poaching legend Pippo Inzaghi, whose 24 goals made him Atalanta’s first-ever Serie A top scorer. Inzaghi highlighted the growing efficiency of Atalanta’s youth academy, which was headed by current Azzurri coach Cesare Prandelli from 1990-93 and 94-97.

The following seasons were devoid of interesting events, barring the standard relegation and promotion here and there. Attacking midfielder Cristiano Doni became a talismanic figure during two lengthy spells with Atalanta, and the 38-year old would still be strutting his stuff for the Nerazzurri today if it weren’t for a 3½-year ban for his involvement in the 2011 betting scandal.

La Dea have a rich history for a provincial side. They were promoted with games to spare last term and are in a good position to survive relegation this season. History suggests that their latest Serie A stay won’t be long, but Atalanta are Coppa Italia winners and their European history is hugely impressive for a club of their stature. The Nerazzurri have plenty to be proud of.

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Atalanta players celebrate the 4-1 hammering of Portogruaro that saw them promoted last season.

I thought I’d start this week off with a look at Atalanta’s final league positions since the start of the Serie A era (1929). I’ve always viewed them as a yo-yo club as they’re always hovering around Serie A’s lower reaches or Serie B’s upper end whenever I check on them. I want to discover how long this has gone on for, and if they’ve ever had a long period in the top flight or a grim stretch in the lower leagues.

My customary rundown of Atalanta’s history will follow, but curiosity makes me want to get this out of the way first. Lets start with the early days:-

  • 1929-30: 8th in Serie B.
  • 1930-31: 6th in Serie B.
  • 1931-32: 4th in Serie B.
  • 1932-33: 16th in Serie B.
  • 1933-34: 5th in Serie B, Group B.
  • 1934-35: 7th in Serie B, Group B.
  • 1935-36: 10th in Serie B.

Atalanta were placed in Serie B, Italy’s (then) newly-reconstructed second tier, after being relegated from the Italian Football Championship’s National Division in 1928-29. Thus follows a solid spell in Serie B with the Nerazzurri only coming close to promotion in 1931-32.

The competition was split into smaller, regional groups between 1933 and ’35 with Atalanta failing to make the top three (and therefore qualify for the final round) on both occasions. The split actually saved Atalanta from relegation to the third tier, as they’d finished 16th in an 18-team league in 1933.

  • 1936-37: 2nd in Serie B (promoted).
  • 1937-38: 15th in Serie A (relegated).
  • 1938-39: 3rd in Serie B.
  • 1939-40: 1st in Serie B (promoted).

Two promotions in four years, split by a relegation and a credible third-place Serie B finish, mark the start of Atalanta’s first yo-yo period. The Nerazzurri were relegated from a 16-team Serie A in 1938 and only missed-out on an immediate return as their goal difference was one worse than Venezia’s. Both teams had finished on 43 points, with champions Fiorentina on 45.

  • 1940-41: 6th in Serie A.
  • 1941-42: 13th in Serie A.
  • 1942-43: 10th in Serie A.
  • 1943-44: League suspended during World War II.
  • 1944-45: League suspended during World War II.
  • 1945-46: No Serie A competition.
  • 1946-47: 9th in Serie A.
  • 1947-48: 5th in Serie A.
  • 1948-49: 16th in Serie A.
  • 1949-50: 8th in Serie A.
  • 1950-51: 12th in Serie A.
  • 1951-52: 12th in Serie A.
  • 1952-53: 9th in Serie A.
  • 1953-54: 10th in Serie A.
  • 1954-55: 13th in Serie A.
  • 1955-56: 15th in Serie A.
  • 1956-57: 15th in Serie A.
  • 1957-58: 17th in Serie A (relegated).

15 consecutive seasons in the top flight ended with relegation in 1958. This remains Atalanta’s longest ever Serie A run, and their 5th-place finished in 1947-48 is the highest they’ve ever finished on the Italian football league ladder.

The Nerazzurri finished strongly in 1941 but only avoided relegation by a single point the following season. Serie A was suspended for three years during Italy’s involvement in the Second World War and didn’t resume again until 1946. A steady series of midtable finishes followed 1948’s 5th-place.

They slowly slumped towards relegation when Serie A was an 18-team competition in the fifties. Two years of close shaves preceded Atalanta’s eventual relegation in 1958: the Nerazzurri finished second-bottom in an incredibly tight league (just 10 points separated 5th and 17th, with five teams (12th to 16th) finishing on 30 points.

  • 1958-59: 1st in Serie B (promoted).
  • 1959-60: 11th in Serie A.
  • 1960-61: 9th in Serie A.
  • 1961-62: 6th in Serie A.
  • 1962-63: 8th in Serie A (Coppa Italia winners).
  • 1963-64: 11th in Serie A.
  • 1964-65: 11th in Serie A.
  • 1965-66: 14th in Serie A.
  • 1966-67: 11th in Serie A.
  • 1967-68: 13th in Serie A.
  • 1968-69: 16th in Serie A (relegated).

Atalanta returned on the first time of asking and it was business as usual during this 10-year Serie A stay. They finished in positions similar to those of the forties and fifties. They finished rock bottom in 1969, winning a measly four games out of 30.

Notably, Atalanta won the Coppa Italia in the 1962-63 season. I won’t say too much about that at the moment as I’ll try to cover it later this week.

  • 1969-70: 15th in Serie B.
  • 1970-71: 2nd in Serie B (promoted).
  • 1971-72: 10th in Serie A.
  • 1972-73: 14th in Serie A (relegated).
  • 1973-74: 11th in Serie B.
  • 1974-75: 6th in Serie B.
  • 1975-76: 10th in Serie B.
  • 1976-77: 2nd in Serie B (promoted).
  • 1977-78: 9th in Serie A.
  • 1978-79: 15th in Serie A (relegated).

More up-and-down action split by a four-year run in Serie B. What’s odd is that Atalanta finished 9th in 1978 but still couldn’t avoid relegation the next season, showing they are a yo-yo team in more ways than one. Four promotions & relegations in 10 years: we’re not quite at Lecce level of yo-yo-ness yet, but we’re getting there.

  • 1979-80: 9th in Serie B.
  • 1980-81: 18th in Serie B (relegated).
  • 1981-82: 1st in Serie C1, Group A (promoted).

 

A disastrous 1980-81 saw Atalanta finished second-bottom of Serie B after losing a play-off to Taranto, who were also relegated on 30 points. Atalanta slipped into the third tier for the first time since the Italian league system’s 1929 restructuring. This dark period of the club’s history didn’t last long, however, and Atalanta were back in Serie B for the 1982-83 season.

  • 1982-83: 8th in Serie B.
  • 1983-84: 1st in Serie B (promoted).
  • 1984-85: 10th in Serie A.
  • 1985-86: 8th in Serie A.
  • 1986-87: 15th in Serie A (relegated).
  • 1987-88: 4th in Serie B (promoted).

 

 

Three league changes in six seasons: can anyone else see a pattern emerging here? Atalanta even managed to get themselves relegated one season after finishing 8th.

  • 1988-89: 6th in Serie A.
  • 1989-90: 7th in Serie A.
  • 1990-91: 10th in Serie A.
  • 1991-92: 11th in Serie A.
  • 1992-93: 8th in Serie A.
  • 1993-94: 17th in Serie A (relegated).

Another solid run in Serie A after promotion in 1988. Atalanta performed superbly in their first two seasons back in the back time, and qualified for the UEFA cup on both occasions. Again I don’t want to say too much about these seasons as I think they’d make a good topic to cover later in the week.

Just when the Nerazzurri looked like establishing themselves as a decent midtable side… boom, along comes relegation. In a season that saw Inter Milan survive by just a single point, Atalanta were relegated by 10. Boo hiss.

  • 1994-95: 4th in Serie B (promoted).
  • 1995-96: 13th in Serie A.
  • 1996-97: 10th in Serie A.
  • 1997-98: 16th in Serie A (relegated).
  • 1998-99: 6th in Serie B.
  • 1999-00: 4th in Serie B (promoted). 
  • 2000-01: 7th in Serie A.
  • 2001-02: 9th in Serie A.
  • 2002-03: 15th in Serie A (relegated).
  • 2003-04: 5th in Serie B (promoted).
  • 2004-05: 20th in Serie A (relegated).
  • 2005-06: 1st in Serie B (promoted).
  • 2006-07: 8th in Serie A.
  • 2007-08: 9th in Serie A.
  • 2008-09: 11th in Serie A.
  • 2009-10: 18th in Serie A (relegated).
  • 2010-11: 1st in Serie A (promoted).

This is the most significant of Atalanta’s yo-yo spells, as they were only once able to muster more than three seasons in the same division. The Nerazzurri were like a Pro-Yo between 2002 and ’06, bouncing up-and-down between the top two years for four consecutive seasons. Atalanta returned to Serie A for the current season after winning last year’s Serie B title: they are currently 13th after 11 games, but would be 5th if it weren’t for a six-point penalty.

I haven’t sat down and compared Atalanta’s finishes with Lecce’s but, on the surface, they look just as crazy. A yo-yo club in every possible way, but can they stay-up this season? If they continue the excellent start they’ve made, absolutely.

Atalanta Since 1929

  • Highest finish: 5th in Serie A (1947-48).
  • Lowest finish: 1st in Serie C1, Group A (1981-82).
  • Longest Serie A run: 15 seasons, 1940-58 (minus three years for Serie A’s suspension during WW2).
  • Longest Serie B run: 7 seasons, 1929-36.
  • Total promotions: 13.
  • Total relegations: 12.

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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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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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