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Posts Tagged ‘Silvio Piola’

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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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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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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L-R: Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl, Nils Liedholm.

My goal with this blog is to further my knowledge of Italian football by studying a different club every week and digging-up as much info as possible. Last week I took a club that I knew every little about (Cesena) and learned a lot about their football philosophy and attack-heavy squad. This was pretty easy: because I knew almost nothing about Cesena, everything I learned about the club was new to me. I’m sure I would’ve learned a lot more if I had more time to work with (the blog only started last Friday), but researching a smaller club was a piece of cake.

Milan was always going to be more of a challenge. The Rossoneri are huge and researching their history online isn’t exactly difficult, but because they’re such a big club I already know quite a lot about them. You’d think Milan’s size would make them an easier club to document, but they’re not. I could’ve produced article after article on the transition between the Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello eras, the impact Silvio Berlusconi’s ownership has had on the club, and the misunderstood genius of Pippo Inzaghi, but that’d be missing the point.

The point of ATP is not to write about what I already know (which I could’ve done in a pinch), but to write about what I didn’t know before starting my research. For Milan, I knew I was going to have to delve beyond to ‘80’s and ‘90’s, and I did just that.

Bypassing Gil Immortali and Gil Invincibili, past Milan’s 10th Scudetto and forced relegation in the ‘70’s and beyond the ‘60’s and Nereo Rocco’s catenaccio. Eventually I found myself in 1949 with three very special players.

Look through A.C. Milan’s official Hall of Fame and their names immediately jump out at you. Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm (Gre-No-Li) aren’t just the only three Scandinavians in the Rossoneri HOF, but also one of the greatest forward lines in world football history.

Granted, I already knew a snippet or two about Nordahl and Liedholm, but I had no idea they’d played together and I’d never even heard of Gren. Their story is as interesting as it is extraordinary: when was the last time a country of Sweden’s size produced three world class forwards in the same generation? Milan’s current Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic is an excellent player in his own right, but Gre-No-Li have left him one hell of a legacy to live up to.

The trio first rose to prominence during the 1948 Olympic Games. Gre-No-Li played a pivotal role as Sweden won the gold medal with a 3-1 triumph over Yugoslavia in the final. Gunnar Nordahl finished as the competition’s top scorer and was the first of the three to appear on Milan’s radar. He joined the Rossoneri in January 1949 and notched an impressive 16 goals in 15 league games before the end of the season.

Gre-No-Li were reunited in September 1949 when Gunnar Gren and Nils Liedholm signed together, making their debuts in a 3-1 victory over Sampdoria later that month. Milan didn’t win any silverware that season, but they did manage a whopping 118 goals in 38 league games. The seeds for Gre-No-Li’s success were sown, and in the 1950-51 season Milan won their fourth Scudetto.

Winning Serie A was the most notable accomplishment of the trio’s careers thus far, despite their Olympic success. All three had won numerous Allsvenskan Championships back in Sweden, but none had accomplished anything like winning the Scudetto.

For Gren, his first piece of silverware won at the San Siro was also his last. He had a shorter Milan career than Lieholm and Nordahl, and departed in 1953 after a brief spell as manager the year before. Gren’s contribution shouldn’t be devalued though. He scored 38 goals in 133 league appearances for the Rossoneri despite never being seen as the team’s main goalscoring outlet. During his time in Italy he earned the nickname Il Professore (“The Professor”) for his intelligent attacking play. The Teddy Sheringham of his day, Gren spent three more years in Italy with Fiorentina and Genoa, before returning home to Orgryte and retiring in 1957.

Like Gren, Nils Liedholm was also more of a creator than a finisher. Lying deeper than his countrymen, Liedholm was a player of great elegance and one of the finest playmakers of his day. Known for his footballing brain, Liedholm’s pinpoint passing made him a vital component of Milan’s success right up to his retirement in 1961. In total he scored 81 goals in 359 league appearances for the Rossoneri. Unfortunately it’s impossible to find out how many assists he supplied during his 12 years at the club, but I’m willing to bet the total is huge.

Liedholm was not only a pioneering playmaker, but also one of the first footballers to realise the importance of fitness. Liedholm played until he was 38, a rarity during that era. He did it by integrating pure athletics (sprints, javelin, etc.) into his training regime, making him a true athlete during a period when footballers were known more for hard drinking and chain smoking than hitting the gym.

If Liedholm and Gren were creators, Gunnar Nordahl was very much a finisher. The 6’1” powerhouse is, by all accounts, one of the most dominant strikers to ever terrorise Serie A. His strength and power are very well documented, and his goalscoring record is absolutely outstanding. 210 strikes in 257 appearances make him Milan’s all-time leading scorer in Serie A, and a further 15 for Roma make him second only to Silvio Piola in the league’s all-time scoring chart.

Nordahl was a great goalscorer everywhere he played. Moving to Italy effectively ended his international career, but Nordahl still managed 43 goals in just 33 Sweden appearances between 1942 and 1948. He was Serie A’s top scorer in five of his seven full seasons with Milan, and boasts a strike-rate of 0.77 goals-per-game. Ibrahimovic is undoubtedly a better technical player than Nordahl, but he has massive shoes to fill.

Gre-No-Li left a huge, gold-plated legacy behind when, one-by-one, they moved-on from Milan. Gren won just the one Scudetto, but Nordahl picked-up two Serie A winners’ medals between from 1949-56 and Liedholm has four from over a decade at the San Siro. Their exploits on the pitch are forever etched in Milan’s history, but Liedholm would also go on to make a significant contribution behind the scenes.

Moving into the assistant manager’s position after retiring in 1961, Liedholm became the Rossoneri’s head coach in 1963. Liedholm managed the club on three separate occasions (from 1963-66, 1977-79 and 1984-87), and is responsible for winning the club’s first gold star. In Italy it’s customary for teams to add a gold star to their jersey for every ten Scudetti they win, and Milan won their 10th in 1979 under Liedholm’s tutelage.

Barrel-loads of top forwards have called the San Siro “home” over the years, but never have Milan had a strikeforce as potent and effective as Gre-No-Li. Milan’s three Swedes complemented one another beautifully and their collective medal haul truly justifies their legendary status. Calcio and indeed world football may never see their like again.

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