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Associazione Calcio ChievoVerona are this week’s (and yes, I do mean “week”) feature team. They’ve been Serie A mainstays for a number of years now, and theirs is one of Italian football’s greatest “rags to riches” tales. Take a look at their progress graph and you’ll see what I mean:-

Chievo were formed in 1929 by a small group of football fans from the Veronese borough of the same name. Initially they played as an amateur side, competing against other teams after the players had finished their working day. Their first league season started in November 1931 when they were admitted into Italian football’s eighth tier.

The team’s first incarnation didn’t last long, however, and financial problems forced Chievo to disband in 1936. It’d be a full 12 years before the team resurfaced in the regional Seconda Divisione league before league restructuring in 1959 saw them placed in calcio’s second-bottom tier.

Chievo continued to hover around the pyramid’s lower ebbs until 1964, when businessman Luigi Campedelli took the club over. His arrival coincided with the beginning of of Chievo’s rise through the leagues, and by 1975 they were a Serie D (fifth tier) club. It took 11 seasons of midtable finishes before the team, then known as Paluani Chievo, could mount a serious promotion push, but they were eventually promoted to Serie C2 in 1986.

Stringent stadium regulations in Serie C2 meant Chievo were forced to move across town and share the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi with city rivals Hellas Verona. Chievo’s fortunes only continued to sore, however, as they were promoted to Serie C1 under the tutelage of manager Gianni Bui in 1989.

Playing at a higher level than ever before, Chievo changed their name to their current title in 1989 and finished sixth in Serie C1 in that season. Luigi Campedelli sadly died in 1992, but his son, Luca, would carry on his good work. Aged 23, Luca was Italian football’s youngest club president at the time, and his hand still guides Chievo to this day.

Giovanni Sartori became Chievo’s Director of Football, and Alberto Malesani, a future UEFA Cup winner with Parma, was appointed manager. Malesani helped Chievo achieve a remarkable promotion to Serie B in 1994, but left the club in 1997 when Fiorentina turned his head. Nonetheless, Chievo did the unthinkable in 2001 when they were promoted to Serie A having finished third in Serie B.

The fairytale became a national sensation. Sport pages were clogged not only with the success of Roma, that year’s Serie A winners, but also the “Chievo Phenomenom.” Coach Luigi Delneri had brought an unfashionable side who attracted no more than 4-5,000 fans per game into Serie A, and the fairytale has only continued to grow over the past ten years.

History-wise I’m going to cut things short there. Chievo’s Serie A years have produced some great tales, and I want to explore them later this week. I don’t want to waste time repeating myself.

A few notes on Chievo, then. They’re nicknamed the Gialloblu (“yellow-blues”) or Mussi Volanti (“flying donkeys”) depending on your preference. The second nickname is pretty funny: Hellas fans originally coined it, claiming “donkeys will fly before Chievo reach Serie A.” Chievo fans turned it around when the team reached Serie A and embraced it as Hellas flounded in Serie B and C1.

Chievo don’t attract big crowds, and its only in the past decade that they’ve been able to regularly draw more than 10,000 fans to the stadium. Last season their average attendance was just 12,676, and its not uncommon for Hellas, who’ve played at a lower level since 2002, to attract more fans than Chievo.

The Mussi Volanti haven’t had a great 2011-12 season so far. They’re currently 14th after 17 games, having scored a paltry 13 goals all season. That’s about all I can tell you of Chievo at the moment as I really don’t know all that much about them. More tomorrow.

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Another good week. I now feel sufficiently educated on the major events that have defined Bologna’s history, but I’m sure I’ll come across more as my calcio research continues. I could’ve spent more time profiling Schiavio, Bulgarelli & co., but there’s only so much time in the day.

This week’s history-centric format worked well, I think. Ideally I’d spent two weeks with each club: one outlining their history, the other covering other topics (profiles, successes, failures, etc.). Sadly, Serie A has 24 rounds to play and I still have nine teams to cover. Spending a fortnight with every club before the season’s end just isn’t possible.

That said, Bologna are one of the clubs I’ll be revisiting in 2012. I’ve covered a lot of ground with them, but I feel like there’s still plenty to learn. It’ll be interesting to see how Pioli’s mini-revival progresses after a few months have elapsed.

I still haven’t decided which team to write about next week so check back tomorrow for a quick briefing. Here’s what I’ve written this week:-

  • After the Goldrush: The fallout from Bologna’s golden era and a good excuse for a Neil Young reference.
  • (Off-topic) (Serie A Weekly) Fiorentina Defeat Farcical Roma: The latest edition of my Team of the Week column, focusing on Fiorentina’s performance against Roma last weekend.

 

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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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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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I was always going to give Enrico Chiesa some props this week. Sure, Gianfranco Zola and Hernan Crespo were probably better players, but I had too much fun watching Enrico when I was younger to pick either of them over him. Besides, I mostly know Zola from his time with Chelsea and there’s only so much I can say about his Parma career. Crespo? A great goalscorer, no doubt, but nowhere near as eye-catching or exciting to watch.

I’m going to try and keep this as concise as possible. Over-analysing Chiesa would only dilute the pure, unbridled joy I still get from watching old footage of him playing, and I really don’t want to do that. For me, watching Chiesa playing (and scoring) was pure entertainment. It was all about great moves and great goals. Some of the goals this guy scored were just perfect. Long-range drives, delicate chips, volleys, headers, toe pokes: Enrico scored them all. He was a great goalscorer and a scorer of great goals, and there aren’t many other strikers who can say that.

One goal that I always remember is Chiesa’s wonderstrike in the 1999 UEFA Cup final. Parma were already 2-0 up against French giants Marseille after goals from Crespo and Paolo Vanoli. Juan Sebastian Veron took the ball up the right flank in the 55th minute. 30 yards from goal, Veron chipped the ball towards the box. Crespo’s dummy foxed Laurent Blanc and the ball fell perfectly for Chiesa to rifle a perfect volley into the top corner from 15 yards.

The above video encapsulates everything that Enrico Chiesa was about for me. Those great, great goals. Those astonishing moments of beauty that draw us to the sport in the first place. Chiesa’s goals for Parma, Fiorentina and Sampdoria played a huge role in getting me interested in calcio in the first place, and he didn’t score many better (or more significant) than the above.

Once described as playing like “a cross between Paolo Rossi and Gigi Riva,” Chiesa was an incredibly well-rounded striker. Capable of playing advanced and dropping deep, he moved quickly and had a cannon of a right foot. When the ball landed at Chiesa’s feet you knew something exciting was going to happen. He was a game-changing forward who could turn a game’s tide in a split second, and that’s what made him so special. Enrico wasn’t a perfect player, but few could light a stadium up like him in his prime.

He played for the Gialloblu for a total of three seasons, scoring 33 goals in 92 Serie A appearances and countless more in Europe (he scored 8 in Parma’s 1998-99 UEFA Cup run alone) and domestic cups. During his time at the Stadio Tardini he broke into the Italy squad, scoring a credible 7 goals in 17 Azzurri appearances. He left Parma for Fiorentina in 1999, and had further spells with Lazio, Siena and Figline before retiring last year at the ripe old age of 40.

Chiesa is currently enrolled in a coaching course at Coverciano, the famed Italian football education centre. I can only hope that the teams Chiesa goes on to manager play with the same zest and exuberance as Enrico in his pomp.

I could waste another 500 words rambling about Enrico and his career but I’d rather not. Instead lets just sit back, relax and watch the great man doing what he did best: score goals.

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It’s difficult for me to write an article about Fabio Cannavaro without filling the opening paragraph with superlatives. This is one of the all-time greats we’re talking about here: a great captain for club and country, my favourite defender and, more importantly, a Parma legend.

Joining from Napoli in 1995, Cannavaro made 289 appearances in 7 seasons with the Gialloblu, scoring 6 goals in the process. Cannavaro built his reputation as one of the world’s best central defenders during his time with Parma and the steps taken at the Stadio Tardini helped him accrue an enviable list of honours.

Fabio won two Serie A titles, two La Liga titles, the 2006 World Cup, the Ballon d’Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year award after leaving Parma in 2002, but I’m more concerned with his achievements at Parma (what with the title of this series being “Gialloblu Giants”). Cannavaro made 40+ appearances in 5 out of his 7 Parma seasons and never made less than thirty. He was an ever-present, an icon of consistency, a colossus

Cannavaro slotted straight into Parma’s XI and was immediately at home in Nevio Scala’s 5-3-2 formation. Leaving his hometown club Napoli was a huge wrench for Fabio, but the move paid-off big-time. The Gialloblu were already renowned for their sturdy defence and Cannavaro’s arrival further solidified their backline. This coupled with Scala’s sound defensive philosophies created the perfect environment for Fabio to grow into one of the all-time great centre-halves.

1995-96 wasn’t a great season for Parma. Cannavaro made 36 appearances in all competitions as the Gialloblu laboured to a 6th-place finish after finishing 3rd the season before. Things improved in 96-97 for both Parma and Cannavaro. Disappointing runs in the UEFA Cup and Coppa Italia saw Parma exit in the 3rd and 2nd rounds of those competitions, but they managed a 2nd-place Serie A position after drawing with Juventus on the closing day.

More significantly, January 1997 marked the start of a long and hugely successful international career. Cannavaro made his Azzurri bow in a friendly with Northern Ireland, and would go on to earn another 11 caps before the year’s end. A particularly notable performance came in a World Cup ’98 qualifier against England at Wembley. Cannavaro dominated Alan Shearer, then considered one of the best strikers in the world, for 90 minutes as Italy eeked-out a 1-0 win.

The next season was mostly fruitless for Parma as new coach Carlo Ancelotti could only guide them to another 6th-place finished. 98-99, however, was huge. The Gialloblu finished 4th in Serie A but won both the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Cup, beating Marseille 3-0 in the final. Parma’s record was hugely impressive in 98-99, but I’m going to hold the details for now as I plan on taking a look at their UEFA Cup winning sides later this week.

Doping allegations would sadly may Cannavaro’s 98-99 triumphs when Shady footage of the Parma captain receiving injections before the UEFA Cup final surfaced on the internet a few years later. The substance was later found to be Neoton (Phosphocreatine), a chemical commonly used to produce muscular energy. Neoton was not on the banned substance list and no action was taken, but the taint remains. Personally I see nothing wrong with an athlete using perfectly legal substances to enhance their performance before a big game, but c’est la vie.

Parma struggled to mount a serious title challenge after the highs of 98-99 and finished 5th the following season. They captured the Supercoppa in 99-00 and finished 4th in 2000-01 (reaching the Coppa Italia final along the way), before winning the Coppa Italia the following seasons despite a dismal finish of 10th in Serie A.

Sadly 2001-02 would be Cannavaro’s last at the Stadio Tardini as Fabio, now recognised as one of the world’s best defenders, left for Inter in a €23-million deal. Fabio pulled the curtain down on an illustrious career this summer after spells with Juventus (twice), Real Madrid and Al-Ahli Dubai. His international career continued until 2010, with his crowning glory being Italy’s 2006 World Cup win. Cannavaro put in a series of legacy-defining performances for the triumphant Azzurri, earning himself the nickname of “Wall of Berlin” after a particularly impressive showing in the final (held in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, hence the nickname).

Not only did the 2006 World Cup secure Cannavaro’s place in Azzurri history but his world-class performances helped him capture the 2006 FIFA World Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or (European Footballer of the Year) awards. Impressively, Cannavaro was the first defender to win the latter since Lothar Matthaus in 1990, while he and the German sweeper remain the only to defensive players to ever be named World Player of the Year.

Writing a laundry list of Fabio Cannavaro’s accomplishments is all very well but it only tells half the story. I’ve spent plenty of time going over Fabio Cannavaro’s legacy, but what about Fabio Cannavaro the player? Everybody he was a great defender, but what made him one of the most celebrated centre-backs in history?

Some believe that crunching tackles, determination and desperate lunges are the prerequisite components of a great defender. I disagree completely. Of course defenders need to be determined and strong in the tackle, but there’s more to defending than that. I believe that composure, intelligence and elegance are just as important in defence as in attack, and Cannavaro was the perfect personification of all three.

I’ve never seen another defender who can read the game like Cannavaro. Just as Barcelona’s tiki-taka wizards can see passes that are just invisible to other players, Cannavaro could telegraph attacking moves before they’d even happened. He was a master of nipping attacks in the bud by cutting them off at the supply with blocks, interceptions and straightforward tackles.

Cannavaro’s career isn’t littered with frantic, last-gap challenges because he simply didn’t need to make them. His vision was so good that he was able to kill attacks before they became serious threats by exercising one of the sharpest defensive minds in the game. Cannavaro was strong, but he didn’t use his brawn to carry him through games: he, like most other great defenders of the modern era, used his brain.

Watching Fabio Cannavaro in his prime was always a pleasure, especially at the 2006 World Cup. Rarely eye-catching but always effective, Cannavaro was always in the right place and not by chance. He turned defending, football’s most destructive element, into a genuine thing of beauty, and for that he should be commended.

That is why I’ve always loved Cannavaro. Studying his style completely changed my perception of how a defender should play, and his success shows that you don’t have to be the biggest (Fabio was only 5’9”) or the toughest to be a top centre-back. I salute you, Il Capitano, and hope we soon see your like again.

… and hey, how many other defenders have had such a “charming” song written about them?

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Il Capitano: can anybody name me a better centre-back?

 

I’ve had a soft spot for Parma ever since I started watching Italian football in the nineties. Though I’m a tad young to remember most of the Nevio Scala era, I have some vivid recollections of some of the great teams and players the Gialloblu used to have. Fabio Cannavaro is probably my favourite defender of all-time, Gianfranco Zola is the best foreign player I’ve ever seen playing in England and Massimo Crippa introduced me to the value of a “hard-man” midfielder. Then there’s Lilliam Thuram, Enrico Chiesa, Gigi Buffon, Alessandro Melli, Tino Asprilla…

It would be wrong to call myself a Parma supporter: they, like Napoli and Hellas Verona, are just one of a number of Italian teams I’m particularly fond of. I don’t actively follow them and I don’t pretend to have any real loyalty to them, but I usually cheer when I see them doing well. I was genuinely gutted when they almost went out of business a few years ago. Parma were a huge part of my football education, so it’s good to see them back in Serie A under Thomas Ghirardi’s ownership.

Parma’s name always pops into my head when I think of “big” Italian clubs, even though they’re small fries compared to the likes of Inter and Juve. They were just so good in the nineties, and I haven’t really been able to shake that from my head despite their recent misfortunes (and stint in Serie B). It’s testament to the greatness of those old sides that I will always consider Parma one of the greatest Italian clubs.

They’ve never Serie A but boy did they come close. Parma were runners-up in 1996-97 and rarely finished outside the top six. In addition they’ve won the Coppa Italia thrice (91-92, 98-99, 01-02), the Supercoppa once (1999) the UEFA Cup twice (94-95, 98-99), the Cup Winners Cup (RIP) (92-93) and the European Super Cup (1993). An impressive record, and one that I hope they can add to in the future.

This week is going to be pretty self-indulgent. I’m going to spend a lot of time revisiting the good old days and profiling some of the prominent figures from this time period. I don’t want to completely neglect the Parma of today, but there are so many good memories to look back on.

Starting tomorrow I’ll be taking a closer look at some of my favourite Parma players, teams and managers. I’ve no idea how many I’ll get through but there are literally dozens of things I want to write about this week. Lets see how I do.

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