Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mancio's next mission

From Bleacher Report

Watch out England, the Italians are taking over.

The national team is in the hands of Fabio Capello, the league leaders belong to Carlo Ancelotti, and struggling West Ham is under the guidance of Gianfranco Zola.

Now the biggest of your big spenders have Roberto Mancini.

If things keep going at this pace, we’ll be able to change the Premiership brand into Serie A by the end of the next decade or so. But what are Manchester City getting for their many million pounds?

Well, Mancio was certainly one heck of a footballer. His elegance, class, and improvisational skills made him a star performer for Bologna, Sampdoria, Lazio, and Italy.

The less said about his brief spell with Leicester City the better.

As for his coaching career to date, it has certainly carried one key component more than any other—trophies.

He started out as assistant to Sven Goran Eriksson (where have I heard that name before?) at Lazio but got his first proper job at Fiorentina in 2001. In something of an emergency situation due to their financial difficulties, he took a patched-up Tuscan side to the Coppa Italia final and won.

He also ensured their Serie A survival, but with the club in turmoil off the pitch, he moved on to pastures new just a year after taking his first managerial trophy.

It was, however, out of the frying pan and into the fire.

The big-spending days at Lazio had gone and Mancio once again found himself trying to manage a club obliged to sell its best players. A Coppa Italia was delivered again as he triumphed in adversity.

It was only in his third coaching position, at Inter, that he got a bit of money to spend.

With Italian football in the eye of the Calciopoli storm, he delivered three league titles in a row.

His supporters saw that as confirmation that he was one of the finest young managers of his generation. Detractors complained that he had been handed one title and won the others because his major rivals were either not in the league or significantly penalised.

Manchester City fans can reach their own conclusions.

It was Europe, however, which ultimately proved fatal to Mancini in Milan.

All conquering at home, he could not deliver a team which performed to the same levels in the Champions League. Mind you, it has also proved beyond Jose Mourinho so far.

Now he takes up the fresh challenge of the Premiership and, presumably, trying to break into the top four some time soon.

As a player he was known for attacking flair and he likes his teams to play with a certain panache too. However, over time he has learned to give them the bite necessary to produce results.

Only time will tell if he can prove himself in a different country.

But one thing is for sure. If he can put Manchester City into the Champions League it would rank alongside anything he ever achieved in Italy.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Gilardino hits 120th

With his weekend goal against Atalanta, Alberto Gilardino made it 120 in Serie A.

Not bad for a boy born in 1982 and likely to have some of the best years of his career ahead of him.

I know Milan don't miss him but we're sure delighted in Florence that he made the move from the San Siro to the Artemio Franchi.

Grazie Gila!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Crazy World Of Milan

From Calcio Italia

Carlo Ancelotti has got it easy. While his new team Chelsea stroll past average opposition almost every week, his successor at Milan is having kittens. You can say what you like about Leonardo’s Rossonero regime, but definitely not that it is boring.

Sunday’s rollercoaster display came against in-form Cagliari and the result was in doubt from beginning to end. Ultimately, it took four goals from four different scorers to see off the battling islanders. No wonder the new man on the bench in the San Siro looks a little older every time we see him.

How Carletto must chuckle down at Stamford Bridge if he ever switches on the Serie A highlights. He can lord it over a League where there are teams tactically inept enough to concede nine goals in a single game. Poor Leonardo seems to find himself involved in a knife-edge thriller every week.

Doubts have to remain about the sustainability of this approach. Surely the wheels must eventually fall off the Milan challenge. However, a bit like one of those plate-spinning acts, it is good fun to watch – at least until it all comes crashing down.

Meanwhile, Inter brushed off Bologna on Saturday evening after a Marcelo Zalayeta strike had threatened to spoil their build up to Barcelona on Tuesday. The Nerazzurri remain far and away the most solid team in Italy. The only negative element was a red card for Douglas Maicon which might make them suffer while he is suspended.

Juve kept up their challenge by seeing off Udinese courtesy of Fabio Grosso but it was a workmanlike display. The Bianconeri were never troubled, to be sure, but they rarely produced much attacking flair either. It will not, one suspects, have had Inter quaking in their boots.

Resurgent Roma enjoyed the fruits of a Francesco Totti hat-trick as they saw off revelation side Bari. But Fiorentina were unable to defeat another surprise package – Parma – as they succumbed 3-2 in the Artemio Franchi. The result catapulted Francesco Guidolin’s men into Champions League contention.

At the bottom end of the table the most significant results were wins for Livorno and Atalanta over Genoa and Siena respectively. It allowed them to join Bologna and Lazio on 12 points after the latter played out the only game without goals in the top Division at Napoli.

A quick scan of the standings suggests there has rarely been a more balanced season in Serie A – at least if you clip Inter off the top. You can argue about the quality of play but not the openness of all the major issues, bar the Scudetto. And, you never know, a steady Juve and this madcap Milan might yet have something to say about that.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Calcio - Il Primo Amore

It is only a number, I guess, but still a pretty significant one. No fewer than 300 times have I voiced my opinions on football through these columns. That's quite a lot of hot air - probably enough to burst a couple of fresh holes in the ozone layer.

I thought I would go back to how it all began.

I first fell in love with Italian football before I reached my teenage years. Fiorentina were "in ritiro" in the hillside above the Tuscan village where my family is from and we were there on our annual pilgrimage/holidays from Scotland. Then Giancarlo Antognoni and company strolled into town.

It was as if the Gods had come down from Mount Olympus to walk among us mortals.

The stars of Serie A have always had an element of cinematic glamour about them. They were WAG-ing around before Wayne and Colleen had even been thought of. To a star-struck young Scottish-Italian this was football of a different kind.

The way they conducted themselves on the field of play was different too. Antognoni played "while watching the stars". His took his first touch for granted and kept his head raised looking for the destination of a defence-splitting pass. If there has ever been a more elegant player, he has missed my gaze.

Of course, of course - the fact that we share the same name makes me somewhat biased.

But those days lit a flame inside me which has never gone out to this day. It has flickered, I admit, during the times of crowd violence or match-rigging scandals. But something always manages to re-ignite it before it completely dies away.

Vulcanic presidents, colourful coaches and mercurial talents keep me coming back for more. The intense debates of the Monday morning in the Bar Sport have been rekindled by the arrival of blogs, Twitter and who knows what next?

Opinion is everything in Italy, after all. First you must have one and then you must express it loudly.

It's that world which draws me back time and time again. The land where the constant replays of the "moviola" spark hours of pointless but passionate debate. A nation where you sometimes get the feeling a government could be toppled by a penalty kick conceded or denied. A country that is frustrating and exhilarating in equal measure.

The Artemio Franchi signing the Canzone Viola, the Rossoneri in the Champions League, the Culo di Juve, the "grinta" of Inter - these are a few of my favourite things.

So let's cherish our Cassanate, the pearls of Pirlo, the magic of Jojo, Totti's cucchiaio and all the rest. It may not be perfect but, heck, I for one wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mouthwatering midweek

I thought we were going to get a break from the action but no such luck.

Serie A swings back into action on Wednesday and Thursday with a cracking run of fixtures.

My personal highlights are here.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Now The Work Really Begins For Marcello Lippi

It was the draw we all expected but not, perhaps, in the tedious manner many predicted. A late, late Alberto Gilardino strike put the World champions on the plane to defend their title. However, it cannot be allowed to hide this side's deficiencies.

At this moment in time, Italy would truly have their work cut out to make it very far in South Africa. The team still looks unsure of itself. And, too often, it is overpowered by its opposition.

What is not missing, however, is character.

It took some guts to come from behind twice at Croke Park against Ireland. Maybe Trapattoni's men were not too bothered about pushing for the win after the score filtered through from other group game in Cyprus. Nonetheless, the Azzurri at least showed some much-needed "grinta" to book their spot with a match to spare.

Now comes the hard part of filling in the gaps in the squad.

An understudy to Gigi Buffon needs to gain experience and credibility. It's time to let some youthful zest play down the flanks to supplement what Zambrotta and Grosso have left to offer. A new Gattuso also needs to be found.

Then there is the little matter of resolving the questions over Amauri and Antonio Cassano - although Lippi seems to have made up his mind on the latter.

However, we'll enjoy this qualification for the time being. It allows Wednesday night to be more experimental and relaxed. Mind you, with Cyprus thrashing Bulgaria on Saturday, I wouldn't want to take the foot off the gas entirely.

I hope we don't give up our world crown without a fight. At least we are in a position to scrap it out next summer. It's up to Lippi to ensure we go as far as we can.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Dona departed

It seems to me that Roberto Donadoni's tenure at Napoli is an instructive tale about the shortcomings of Italian football. The moral to the story, I think, is that if you don't know what you want, you will never get it. Certainly, the lack of direction in the San Paolo seems commonplace across the country.

I remember voicing my misgivings at the time of Donadoni's appointment. Not because of his mediocre time in charge of Italy but rather because I did not feel Edy Reja deserved to go. Results were not brilliant but you could see an undercurrent of quality in the Azzurri's displays. He paid the price for the raised expectations fuelled by some impressive early performances.

Dona is a victim of the same process. This time, expectation levels were raised by a transfer campaign which everyone agreed was outstanding - some even described it as "sumptuous". The end product on the field of play, however, was anything but.

It left Napoli in a quandary. They brought in the former Milan and Italy star to usher in a period of stability. This is a long-term project, they told the fans and Coach. But at the first sign of adversity, they sent him packing and called in Walter Mazzarri.

I like Mazzarri fine as a Coach, don't get me wrong. I suspect he will do more to turn results around than Donadoni did but that misses the point. I reckon Napoli could just as well have stuck with Reja and probably be further up the league table already this season. And it certainly would have given a greater impression that the club actually knew what it was doing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Divin Jojo

Twenty years have passed since a frail-looking youngster with long dark curls lit up European nights in a purple shirt. His virtuoso performances put a huge smile on the faces of Fiorentina fans. I can feel echoes of Roby Baggio in Stevan Jovetic.

Back in 1989 I was living in Borgo San Lorenzo about 20 miles from Florence and the city's visceral love for its idol emanated across Tuscany. The club had helped to nurse him back from serious injury and was now beginning to see that faith earn its reward. He dragged the Viola all the way to the UEFA Cup final.

Fast forward a couple of decades and it's Jojo in the Champions League. Last season Cesare Prandelli kept the boy snuggled up in cotton wool and used him as sparingly as Luciano Spalletti works a hairbrush. This term that softly, softly approach has allowed the young Montenegrin to grow.

This Fiorentina side is streets ahead of the team that lost its UEFA final to Juve. That year the talk in the bars around Campo di Marte was all about avoiding relegation and hoping for a brighter future. Nowadays, some supporters get grumpy if the club drops out of Serie A's top three or four.

Yet a similar magic links Baggio and Jovetic. Each one sends a frisson of anticipation through the fans which nobody else can match. The ponytailed one did it with his breakneck dribbling. The young pretender manages it with a first touch as gentle as a snowflake brushing your face on a winter morning. And then a crack of imagination like a hypnotist snapping his fingers to end his victim's slumber.

One night does not a career make, of course. But we should all be allowed a little indulgence from time to time. Sinking Liverpool was the football equivalent of one of those giant ice creams that makes your daughter's eyes light up with glee. There's time enough for indigestion - let's savour the flavours for now.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Sick Men of Europe

If ever you needed a feeling of impending doom, then our European candidates provided it at the weekend. Of all seven Italian sides involved in the Champions and Europa Leagues, just one of them recorded a victory. And that was courtesy of a Stevan Jovetic penalty.

You could argue, I guess, that what is Europe’s loss is Serie A’s gain. The top of the table has an interesting look with Samp sitting pretty, Fiorentina and Udinese in the hunt and Inter and Juve already losing precious points. But while the domestic battle is entertaining, the omens for continental conflict are decidedly grim.

Certainly, there was no shame in Jose Mourinho’s men losing by a single strike to Samp (Vai Pazzo!). They tried their hardest to get back on level terms but could not muster a goal. However, having quietly accepted a draw in their opening clash with Barcelona, surely nothing more than a win will do this week. Rubin Kazan might sound more like the magic words of a sorcerer than a football team but they would love to make Inter’s Champions League dreams disappear.

Our other two “big guns”, Juve and Milan, were both held at home by the BB gunners – Bologna and Bari. I tend to think Juve’s result was the more disappointing, only because the Bianconeri have shown more promise this term. It was very unlike them to throw away a lead and an away trip to Bayern is never a simple prospect. The least said about the Rossoneri, the better. I like little Bari’s attitude – with pace and flair on the break – but they should have been no match for Leonardo’s men. Even Zurich must think a trip to the San Siro is not as daunting as it once was.

The only weekend winners were Fiorentina – courtesy of the talismanic Jojo. They were far from impressive against Livorno while their Tuesday night opponents, Liverpool, were dishing out a summary thrashing. Mind you, as my father pointed out, it was only against Hull.

In the Europa League corner, Roma left it late to salvage a draw with Catania. Lazio could do no better than a share of the spoils at home to Palermo and Genoa slumped to defeat against in-form Udinese. Our capital teams both face sides from Sofia this week and must get back to winning ways. The Grifone, I suspect, would be happy with a draw away to Valencia.

It does not look good, I admit. But hope still springs from somewhere in my soul. Every so often Italian football produces the goods in adversity. I hope this turns out to be one of those weeks.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Addio Andrea

I admit, at first, I had some trepidation. I felt a bit like somebody on the rebound from a bad relationship not wanting to get hurt again. How could I know if their intentions were good?

Over time, of course, Andrea and Diego Della Valle have won me over. Yet, at the outset, even their names caused me concern. I had just watched another set of double-barreled names almost kill the club I love. It seemed like a short step from Cecchi Gori to Della Valle. OK, this time they were brothers but it was not such a big difference from the previous father and son team.

In truth, they could not have been more different. While Cecchi Gori Snr was a figure of some substance, his son was more concerned about appearance. The Della Valles are no slouches in that department either - as befits shoe-making millionaires - but that is where the similarities end. They helped to rebuild Fiorentina without the smoke and mirrors of the last regime.

It has taken time, however, to warm to ADV as president. He comes across as a slightly cold character and a little bit timid under the harsh stare of the television cameras. But, if you listened to what he had to say, it always seemed to make plenty of sense. In a cauldron like Florence post-collapse and Serie C2, he was just what was needed.

No doubt, the club's involvement in Calciopoli tarnished his reign. Nonetheless, he seemed to emerge from it stronger and more determined to learn the lessons which it had taught. Eventually, he gave us a Fiorentina worthy of the Champions League once again.

I await an open letter to fans which is apparently in the offing. It is unclear whether Andrea's decision to step down as president is a question of reorganisation or an actual distancing from the club. The former would be perfectly acceptable but the latter could prove highly harmful.

These things have a habit of having repercussions for a team, no matter how much people protest they should not. On the one hand, the owners seem committed to building their new Cittadella training ground. On the other hand, they may have got sick of a rump of fans for whom even getting to fourth place in Serie A was not enough.

I signed up this afternoon to the Facebook group saying thanks to Andrea Della Valle. My memory is not so short that I don't recall where Fiorentina have come from in the last few years. He can't take all the credit but he at least deserves his share. It's the end of an era, that's for sure. But, as one fan wrote in a typical piece of dark Tuscan humour, "Come on now, he's not actually dead or anything!". We owe the Della Valle a debt of thanks but if it's time to move on then so be it. Comunque e per sempre, Forza Viola!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Grim viewing

The evening was clear, the children in bed and a nice espresso sitting at my right hand. Everything in place for a sporting battle between Roma and Fiorentina. It was all going so well ... until the game started.

Obviously, from a Giallorosso perspective it was a fine match. After a few setbacks, they are back on track in Serie A with a resounding victory. But the wheels came off the Viola campaign spectacularly.

The opening phases were well balanced enough but once Roma went ahead through a penalty it seemed like Prandelli's men lost all cohesion. They were three nil down before half time. Never before has my coffee tasted so bitter.

I guess I should be used to it by now, following Fiorentina. They always give you more pain than pleasure. Yet I had a sneaky feeling they could have got something out of this game. Instead, they put in their worst display of the season so far.

Now the job is to bounce back against high-flying Samp. Giampaolo Pazzini could really make us regret selling him, Antonio Cassano can send out another message to Marcello Lippi and Angelo Palombo may make us wonder what might have been if he had stayed. I feel pessimistic again. Back to normal service, I guess.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dead and buried?

It's the first real chance to take the temperature of Italian football in a European context. Many have been rushing to pronounce the patient dead already. Over the next three nights we will get a better diagnosis.

The departures of Ibra and Kaka have been cited as symptoms of our illness. Well, the Swede-you-would-most-like-to-slap is coming back to the San Siro - all attitude and arrogance. The rest of Italy's Champions League contenders will go up against the best that France has to offer.

I fear for Milan and Fiorentina, I am hopeful for Inter and optimistic for Juve. They could all deliver a real tonic for Serie A if they manage to grab any kind of positive result. Then we will get an indication of our strength in depth when the Europa League takes centre stage.

By late Thursday night we will have the readings from the heart monitor. Is Italian football's decline terminal or is it responding to treatment?

ROUND ONE: He may be old but Super Pippo still knows where the goal is. His second strike was pure class to defeat Marseille. Juve got a draw which was probably fair on balance of play - but annoying after taking the lead.

ROUND TWO: Inter content with a draw, I reckon, typical Jose Mourinho approach - happy to hold Barca at bay. Still seething about Fiorentina. With 11 men against 11, we produced a very efficient display - better than last year's 2-2. Gila sending off compromised the whole night. Still, take it on the chin and move on.

ROUND THREE: Maybe the worst night of all. Genoa record a handsome win but Roma and Lazio lose to the might of Switzerland and Austria. Deary me...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Harbour hopes

It was Genoa's weekend, no doubt about that, and not just the Rossoblu half of the port city. With Sampdoria also recording a third victory out of three the two teams from the Stadio Luigi Ferraris top the Serie A table. Along with Juventus, of course.

The Doriani had to sweat for their victory - Gigi Del Neri admitted they were fortunate to beat his old team Atalanta. And, although, the scoreline suggests otherwise, Genoa had to work hard against Napoli. They went behind to a Marek Hamsik beauty when down to ten men. But, luckily for them, referee Tagliavento decided to even things up by sending off Campagnaro and giving them a penalty. At ten versus ten, they upped the tempo and a beauty from Giandomenico Mesto swung the game in their favour. Hernan Crespo and another penalty completed the destruction. The man in black got pretty much every major decision wrong, harming both teams in the process.

On Saturday, the Bianconeri saw off Lazio thanks to goals from Caceres and Trezeguet (with a little help from Muslera). If I was a Laziale, I would not despair, the team played OK. It was a tough encounter with plenty of bookings but Juve simply had more hunger for the win. The signs are good for Ciro Ferrara.

Elsewhere, it was Gila goal to the rescue for Fiorentina against a stuffy Cagliari side (half the team they were last season). Milan struggled to a drab draw with Livorno, Tony Christmas smashed a hat-trick to give Udinese a first win and Roma got their first points with a come-from-behind win over Siena to give Claudio Ranieri a triumphant debut.

Oh, and I almost forgot, Samuel Eto'o struck a sublime goal to help Inter see off a resilient Parma outfit. He will hope to reproduce the same when Barcelona come calling later in the week.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

That'll do nicely

At last, we looked like World Champions again. Well, at least for 45 minutes. After all the pessimism surrounding the Italian game in general and the Azzurri in particular, we got a real top class performance.

Fabio Grosso delivered the same goal he scored against Brazil in a friendly in London, only this time it was not disallowed. And our strikers - yes, our strikers - combined beautifully for big Vinnie Iaquinta to get the second. Along the way, we spurned a number of other good chances.

In the second period we definitely eased up too much and that remains a worry. Nonetheless, the job is almost done. A draw in Dublin or a victory over Cyprus in Parma will be enough to see us safely to the World Cup 2010. It is no less than we should expect.

What was particularly positive, apart from the result against Bulgaria, was the performance. Daniele De Rossi gave the midfield some bite and character, Claudio Marchisio looked like he was born in the Azzurri blue and the old stagers like Pirlo, Camoranesi, Buffon and Cannavaro put in star turns.

Still not entirely conviced old Zambro is the force he was at right back and I always cringe when Pepe is brought onto the pitch. Also little Giuseppe Rossi did not have the desired effect - but then he came on when we were having our poorest period of play.

Just the same, this was no night for dwelling on the negatives. ItalJuve, as they have been christened, performed admirably. It all brings back memories of 1978 when there was only really Giancarlo Antognoni and a bunch of bianconeri. That team did OK, for itself. Maybe this one can follow suit.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Io sto con Mario

Novara should be ashamed of itself. Or at least, a small section of Novara should be ashamed of itself. Or, possibly, the whole of Italy should be ashamed of itself.

There is no use trying to hide it or sugar-coat the facts, there was a section of the crowd at Italy's Under 21 game with Luxembourg which jeered Mario Balotelli. And it wasn't the opposition fans - given that there were hardly any. It was a painful aspect to what should have been a pleasant and victorious night.

Some people have got an issue with a black man playing for the Azzurrini and, eventually, the Azzurri. It is one thing to hope he fails when he is playing for Inter, that goes with the territory for talented footballers. However, it crosses a line, to my mind, when you start whistling your own country.

There must be a section of Italian society which can't accept Super Mario - which is pretty rich from a country which has seen its own populace emigrate around the world. I have written before about how questionable I have sometimes found Balotelli's attitude on the field of play. But now, I feel, I am beginning to understand it.

The Nerazzurri starlet was ready to walk off the pitch last night as his own fans howled when he rocketed a free-kick over the bar. Thankfully, Gigi Casiraghi talked him round and moments later he was on hand to thump home Italy's second. It was the best answer to the morons who had been whistling a few moments earlier. Long may he continue to respond to them in that way.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Twin wins to secure South Africa trip

Let's put it simply. A win on Saturday away to Georgia and another at home on Wednesday against Bulgaria will ensure we defend our world title. Even if we went and lost to the Republic of Ireland, a win at home to Cyprus in the final match would see us home.

It is a straightforward enough equation but the Azzurri rarely do things easy. The Confederations Cup was a debacle but the young generation looked alright in the Switzerland friendly. Now is the time to show everything can click together.

I don't really care about personnel. Yes, I would probably have liked to have seen Cassano get a call up but, as with all such omissions, he will only be missed if results go wrong. Even without him we should be able to get the twin wins.

After Fiorentina sneaking into the Champions League this would be another chance to blow away the cobwebs around Italian football. Are you too fed up reading that Serie A and the Nazionale are dead? If we could be sitting nicely clear at the top of our group by Wednesday night it would be the best answer to that possible. Vai, Italia!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Spalletti spurned

Just spotted that Roma have parted company with Luciano Spalletti after two defeats in the opening two games of the Serie A season. I have to say I am disappointed. The man surely deserved a bit more time to turn things around.

His first loss at Genoa was a ding-dong clash that could easily have gone right for the Giallorossi. In his second game, he lost to a powerful Juve side. It maybe did not help his position that Lazio currently sit top but, just the same, he had earned a little more respect.

The fact that he looks set to be replaced by Claudio Ranieri is even more surprising. Vabbene, he is Romano de Roma, but everybody knows his record. Nice guy, good interviews but not a prolific trophy winner. It seems like a backward step.

There are deeper troubles at the Olimpico, I feel. The financial struggles and boardroom politics are doing nothing to help a team which still has the potential for a top four finish. Sacking Spalletti, a baldy man with a typically Tuscan sense of humour, was not the way forward.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Tripping off the tongue

It was, to be fair, a UK commentator's nightmare. Paolo De Ceglie coming off to be replaced by Nicola Legrottaglie. Thanks to ESPN, it came out something like Dee Chiggly making way for Lee Grott Aggily.

This has been one of the highlights (or lowlights) of the return of Serie A to British screens. Chiellini becomes Chee-ell-eeny, Marchisio is Mar-cheesio, Maicon is transformed into May-son, and, most endearingly, Amauri becomes Amore.

So, yes, the song is true. When the ball hits the net, for Juve you can bet - That's Amore!

However, what ESPN has been graced with is some exciting football. Week one gave them the blistering battle between Genoa and Roma. The weekend gone by was not short on drama either.

What to say about Milan's capitulation in the derby? There was the amateur way they had to send Rino Gattuso back out when he was injured and ended up getting him sent off. There was the stubborn refusal to replace Ronaldinho when he was totally out of the play. And then there was the forlorn look of Leonardo like a man drowning.

Yes, he looks good in the white shirt which seems to be de rigeur for Coaches this year. Yes, he is a nice and intelligent guy. Yes, he may make a great manager in time. But, at present anyway, it looks like he has been given an impossible task - rival Inter and Juve without the players needed to do so.

The Bianconeri, for their part, despatched Roma with some style. It has been a bad start in terms of results for the Giallorossi but they will not play Genoa and Juve every week. Ciro Ferrara looks to have a real gem in Diego and Fiorentina fans knew he was getting a good one when he snapped up Felipe Melo.

It has been an exciting start to Serie A but la Nazionale now takes centre stage. An away day in Georgia and home clash with Bulgaria could all but seal a trip to South Africa to defend our World Cup crown.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Euro draw reaction

Remember the days when Milan blasted their way through Europe, gunning down their rivals along the way? Those times may well be long gone but I have used them as a yardstick to assess Italian teams chances of progress in Europe this year. Each side gets an "Arrigo Rating" with a maximum of five awarded to the team most likely to progress.

MILAN - Our only top seed could have landed more comfortably, but their prospects must be reasonable. They face the unknown element of the Galacticos and old boy Ricky Kaka at Real Madrid. They could be brilliant but, I suspect, they might be rusty in the opening rounds. The other teams are Ligue 1 runners-up Marseille and Swiss side Zurich - both of whom should be beatable either home or away. Rinaldi's rating - Three Arrigos.

INTER - Our top dogs only merited second seeding and paid the price by landing champions Barcelona. A first chance to see who got the best out of the Ibra-Eto'o deal. Dynamo Kiev and Rubin Kazan make up the numbers, surely able to be swept aside by Mourinho's men. Rinaldi's rating - Four Arrigos.

JUVENTUS - Potentially got the kindest draw with the weakest top seed in the form of Bayern Munich. Bordeaux are French champions with old acquaintance of Serie A Yoann Gourcuff in top form. Maccabi Haifa should be a tricky away trip and no more. Rinaldi's rating - Four Arrigos.

FIORENTINA - Always likely to face the toughest task and no doubt it ended up that way. Liverpool and Lyon have an impressive track record in the Champions League in recent years. However, they do have the comfort of little Debreceni as their last opponents. Rinaldi's rating - Two Arrigos.

In the EUROPA league the draw has also been made too. Roma get to take on the English with Fulham in their group along with CSKA Sofia and Basel. Got to fancy their chances (Five Arrigos). Lazio meet Villareal, Levski Sofia and Salzburg (Four Arrigos) . While Genoa are in the hunt along with Valencia, Lille and Slavia Prague (Three Arrigos if they use their full team).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A night of living dangerously

It began with talk of important arrivals at the Artemio Franchi. Sting was in the crowd, apparently, as well as new signing Lorenzo De Silvestri. Both, however, declined to speak to the waiting Sky Italia microphones.

The Fiesole was in the mood for a big European night. Showing off its full colours and voice, the Curva declared its faith that the Viola could make it to the Champions League group stages. Unfortunately, somebody forgot to tell the team.

Lacklustre would be the most kind description of Fiorentina's first half against Sporting Lisbon. The visitors bossed the game pretty much from the outset as Cesare Prandelli's men looked unsure of their approach. They knew they really should attack - but somehow could not bring themselves to do so.

When Joao Moutinho gave the Portuguese the lead it was no more than they deserved. You could grumble about a clear handball in the build-up to their free-kick but you could not argue they were the better team. Some dressing-room half-time magic was in order.

That's where Stevan Jovetic came into play. The introduction of JoJo and, hopefully, a verbal rocket in the direction of Riccardo Montolivo, transformed the team. For about 15 pulsating minutes the boys in purple revealed their true colours.

This is a team that only gives its best when going forward and taking the initiative. Vargas, Marchionni, Mutu, Montolivo, Gilardino, Jovetic and the rest are drawn towards goal. Ask them to simply "control" a game and they just can't do it.

The proof came in the last desperately defended 15 minutes. Sporting had lost some of the crispness to their play but they still hemmed the Florentines in. It would not be the Viola, if they did not make you suffer.

Now we look forward to the Champions League group stages. A kindly draw would be nice. But, whoever we land, we know it will be torture all the way.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Franchi focus

How much would I give to be in Florence tonight? The warm weather, the view of the Fiesole hills and a Champions League berth to be secured...

Instead, I am in the chill rain of Scotland, watching from my living room. But I will be there in spirit, willing the Prandelli Show to go on into Europe's elite competition. I think I read somewhere it would be the first time we had made consecutive group stages. If so, it would be quite some achievement.

It's all about attitude tonight, I reckon. If we take that typically Italian approach of trying to defend what we have, we will never get anywhere. However, if we are 100% concentrated and 100% clinical in taking our chances we just might do it. Come sempre, Forza Viola...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Diamanti geezer

If there was any doubt about which Premiership team Italians should support it looks like being shed pretty soon. Yes, there is Ancelotti at Chelsea if you want to go for guaranteed glory. Or there is Cudicini at Spurs if you want to get off to a flying start. There is even the Aquilani-Dossena connection at Liverpool.

But the time has surely come to say Forza Hammers!

It was probably enough for most Napoletani that Mara-Zola was in charge. Add in a little sprinkle of former Viola and Inter man Luis Jiminez and the temptations grew stronger. Now that it looks like they have snapped up Livorno starlet Alessandro Diamanti and there is no room for dubiety. Heck, they are even being linked with Massimo Oddo.

So, bring me my dictionary straight away. How on earth do you translate "I'm for ever blowing bubbles!".

Friday, August 21, 2009

Let the games commence...

Ah, it has been a long summer. Too long. There has been the Ashes, I suppose. And there was that thrilling finale to the British Open with the elderly Tom Watson so cruelly denied. But - just the same - give me this Sunday my Serie A.

In fact, things start on Saturday. Fiorentina head to Bologna to try to pick up their form after a shaky display but good result at Sporting Lisbon. Later in the day we get a chance to see how the new Milan is shaping up. They face a tricky wee trip to Siena. This is the post-Maldini, Kaka and Ancelotti era. It hasn't looked great so far but the crunch comes with competitive matches.

Reigning champs Inter have a pretty straightforward looking debut at home to Bari on Sunday. Pick of the days fixtures are last year's revelations Genoa at home to last year's disasters Roma and a potentially red-hot Palermo v Napoli match. Should be plenty to debate following those matches.

It is also the dawn of a new era for UK-based Calcio fans. We get ESPN covering Serie A for the first time this weekend. Initial signs look quite good. I enjoyed their coverage of the Scottish Premier League clash between Dundee Utd and Hearts the other night. Here's hoping they get some cracking matches to get the ball rolling.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Carletto kicks off with a win

OK, so it was not the most sporting affair but at least the Italian came out on top. Carlo Ancelotti made his first effort at managing in a competitive clash in the English set-up and he did not too badly.

His team started off shakily but he seemed to make the right adjustments and then come on strong in the closing stages. Yes, there was controversy about the second goal but it shouldn't disguise the fact that the Blues did get better as the game went on.

However, what a boost Pato could be to the Stamford Bridge side. Drogba and Anelka does not work for me. Drogba and Pato has mind-blowing potential. Be worth about 50 goals a season from the pair, I reckon.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Seeds of despair in Champions League

I know UEFA want to encourage smaller nations but the last play-off round of the Champions League has some bizarre seeding arrangements. The 20 teams fighting it out for 10 remaining group places have been divided into two pots and then divided into seeds and non-seeds.

On one path you have the seeds Arsenal, Lyon, Sporting, Panathinaikos and Stuttgart with the NON-SEEDS Fiorentina, Celtic, Atletico Madrid, Anderlecht and Timisoara.

On the other you find the SEEDS are Olympiakos, Copenhagen, Levski Sofia, Maccabi Haifa and FC Zurich. The non-seeds are FC Salzburg, Apoel, Ventspils, Debreceni and FC Sheriff.

Spot anything there? The strength difference between the two paths is enormous. I would say the non-seeds in the first section are stronger than the seeded sides in the other. If they wanted to guarantee a few useless teams getting through to get thrashed in the groups they have gone the right way about it.

Bitter Viola fan? You bet.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Bird's Nest date for Supercoppa

Our first taste of all-Italian action for the season takes place on Saturday - in a Bird's Nest. Inter take on Lazio for the Supercoppa in the Chinese stadium of the same name. It will give an initial health check on the two teams.

Both sides have been transformed a fair bit in the summer. The Nerazzurri begin the post-Ibra era and all their new big names are expected to take part. So, worth tuning in for a glimpse of Lucio, Thiago Motta, Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito getting their first competitive outing in blue and black.

For Lazio, it is more about their Coach. Davide Ballardini replaces old "Squinty Tie" himself, Delio Rossi - whose reward for winning the Coppa Italia was to be shown the door by the Biancocelesti. It has always been thus in Italy.

The Roman outfit have also just signed former Inter hitman Julio Cruz. Be very interesting to see if he plays. The "Law of the Ex" as they call it in Italy would dictate that he should be among the goals if he does meet his former employers.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Daje Roma!

It sneaked up on me without allowing any real sense of anticipation. I was just finishing off my summer holidays and then, bang, there it is. The first Italian team plays the first match that really matters as Roma swing into action against Belgian outfit Gent.

As always, I'll be hoping the Italian team makes progress. It would be good to have our contenders repeat Udinese's good show in the equivalent competition last year. The Giallorossi have great potential to do so.

It has been hard to watch Roma's decline from Champions League elite to Serie A strugglers. However, this season without Europe's biggest prize to worry them might just do some good. The squad is still strong - the trouble is that they are unable to really add to it. Nonetheless, at their best they are capable of glorious football.

So, Daje Roma! There is a lot of doom and gloom around the Italian game at the moment. It would be nice to kick that into touch for a little while at least.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Et tu, Felipe?

Twenty years ago, more or less, I was an English language assistant living in a little town about 30km from Florence. The Viola were flirting with the bottom end of the table as usual but heading off on an amazing run in the UEFA Cup. Our undisputed idol was Roby Baggio.

Yet even as we made progress in Europe - I recall an icy night in Kiev in particular - there was the sound of distant thunder. Our Special One was being pursued with a pot of gold and the club did not seem likely to offer much resistance. It only aggravated matters that his suitor was dressed in black and white.

In my late teens, I tried sticking my head in the sand, I think. Hoping the deal might fall through. Nothing was signed and sealed, we could still see our magical number 10 in purple again next season. How foolish I was.

Enough has been written about how badly Fiorentini took the transfer to the Bianconeri when it was confirmed. I wasn't one of the ones out on the street throwing stones at the club's HQ. Instead, I was brooding in a one-bedroom flat in Borgo San Lorenzo.

I was angry, I guess, but it wasn't directed at Baggio. I don't believe in that fickle approach - one minute a hero, the next minute a Judas. Besides, even at the time it seemed pretty clear he could have done little to halt the process. To some extent, I could even understand the club for selling him. After all, why not cash in on your most valuable asset?

My biggest emotion, I think now, was one of emptiness and a feeling of powerlessness. You buy into your team so much that it feels like they belong to you - maybe are part of you in some way. Then they sell off the player you idolise and you realise just how far apart you actually are. Sometimes you feel that it is your world, but this just brings it home that it really is not the case.

Disillusioned is the right description.

Those same feelings have been stirred up now as I stare down the barrel of 40. In his brief time in Florence, Felipe Melo was a kung-fu kicking breath of fresh air. He brought a verve and vigour to our midfield in place of the surgical but often sluggish precision of Fabio Liverani. I loved the whole-hearted gusto with which he played each game.

His sending-off against Juve was the perfect calling card.

Nowadays, however, loyalty is a word which belongs only on store cards. You can't blame big Fil, really, nobody has it installed on their brain's hard-drive any more. The rush for honours, glory and personal gain has swept everything else to one side. The path of using a provincial club as a "shop window" is so well-worn it takes nobody by surprise.

Still, however, in the pit of my stomach, there is a sick feeling when I think about the Melo move. It says that Juve are back to their position of pre-eminence after just a couple of seasons of penance for their part in the Calciopoli affair. It also underlines that Fiorentina will only ever be a stepping stone for players with aspirations of playing at the top level.

I don't mind that, really, but it is sometimes hard to accept. I have seen what it can do to a club to spend beyond its means and I don't want to go back to Castelnuovo Garfagnana to play our games again. I admire the salary cap in Florence and the way they are using clauses in players' contracts not as a way of "trapping" them but rather as a method to assess their commitment to the cause.

All the same, it hurts to see a good player leave. Especially to Juve.

The first cut, with Baggio, was the deepest. This pain will pass. I will come to accept seeing Felipe in black and white and probably join the jeers when he comes back to the Artemio Franchi as our enemy. There will be new idols, other players in whom to invest my dreams.

But still, deep down, I know - as I did a couple of decades ago - that a little something has been lost and it will never return.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Calciomercato - Inter, Juve & Milan

There is still time for a few twists and turns but how have Italy's big three been looking in the summer transfer campaign? Inter started out with a distinct advantage from last season but how much, if at all, have Juve and Milan closed the gap. At about lunchtime on 22 July my appraisal of the situation is as follows.

Inter. IN: Milito, Thiago Motta (both Genoa), Lucio (B Munich), Quaresma (Chelsea, end of loan), Suazo (Benfica, end of loan). OUT: Crespo (Genoa), Jiminez (West Ham), Maxwell (Barcelona), Figo and Cruz (end of contract).

Of course, the big question over Inter at the moment is the will-they/won't they swap of Ibra for Eto'o. There is still a bit of haggling to be done but it seems like the Nerazzurri have finally tired of the Swede's constant posturing and grumbling. He is a great player but, to paraphrase an old hair-care advert, is he worth it?

On the one hand, he is a mercurial talent and one of the most addictive players to watch in Serie A. On the other, he has yet to deliver to the same level in Europe as he has in Italy. It might be best for all to let him move on and do his Ibra-cadabra magic elsewhere.

There is little doubt Milito and Motta were the best two early blows in the campaign. Since then, however, things have gone a bit quiet. Not sure about how Lucio will settle in and he certainly won't turn the Nerazzurri into the Champions League winners they aspire to be. Still a bit of fine-tuning required. A cautious 6.5/10.

Milan. IN: Onyewu (S Liege), Abate (Torino), Thiago Silva (Fluminense), Oddo (B Munich end of loan), Storari (Fiorentina, end of loan). OUT: Kaka (Real Madrid), Senderos (Arsenal), Maldini (end of career), Antonelli (Parma), Shevchenko (Chelsea, end of loan), Emerson (out of contract), David Beckham (LA Galaxy, end of loan).

With the Luis Fabiano deal looking dead in the water at the moment, there is a real danger of the Rossoneri being the summer's laughing stock. Kaka out for Onyewu in is hardly the stuff that dreams are made of.

To be fair, Thiago Silva may be a prospect and Abate is a rising talent. Nonetheless, this has been a sluggish campaign so far by the boys in red and black. They have been lacklustre so far and the gap between them and Inter appears to have widened.

They may still have a few tricks up their sleeve but the days when they competed for the best players in the world seem a distant memory. Maybe, just maybe, Leonardo can help them plunder the South American market and find the next Pato or two. Otherwise, it looks grim. A bleak 5/10.

Juventus. IN: Diego (W Bremen), Cannavaro (R Madrid), Almiron (Fiorentina, end of loan), Felipe Melo (Fiorentina). OUT: Mellberg (Olympiakos), Nedved (end of contract), Ekdal (Siena), Marchionni (Fiorentina).

While Inter stole the early thunder by plundering Genoa, it has been the Bianconeri who have landed the heavy late blows. Diego gives some craft, guile and goals to their midfield while Felipe Melo was one of the most sought after defensive midfielders in Europe. They certainly give the heart of the team a nice feel.

It can be debated whether going back to Fabio Cannavaro is such a wise move. However, there is little doubt that Legrottaglie and Chiellini needed somebody to watch over them and fine tune their defensive skills. As for the outgoing players, few will mourn Mellberg and Marchionni and the club hopes to shift on Trezeguet (a legend in his time) and Poulsen (a disastrous signing from day one).

The intriguing element, like Milan, is how a young Coach can get on. Ciro Ferrara was a great player, now he must make the transition to management. A bold move by Juve, who have given him the best tools available in terms of playing resources. I don't know if the squad is strong enough to compete in both Europe AND Italy but the Scudetto might be in reach. A tentative 8/10.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Breathing space

Time for a calcio breather after the Confederations Cup and Under 21 Euro Championships. Much more bitterly disappointed about the latter than the former. We never looked all that enthusiastic for events in South Africa but the young boys were desperately hard done by.

What made it all the tougher to take, for me, was that Germany destroyed England in the final. We were so superior to the Germans in our clash that it was breathtaking. But the harsh rules of football state you have to stick the ball in the net. A lesson worth learning.

However, at least there is hope for the years to come. Judicious use of these young stars in the full international team should bear fruit. And who knows what judgements Serie A will bring in the year ahead?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Vai, Super Mario!

It seems ridiculous to say it about a boy yet to emerge from his teens but tonight is a big chance for Mario Balotelli to really come of age. Having seen red already in the European Under 21 championships, how sweet would it be to deliver the goals that send Italy into the final.

Let's be honest, the Azzurrini have sweated a fair bit to get where they are. But what they have shown is commitment and effort. Now they could do with the extra touch of class that the Inter hit man can bring. I don't feel any of Italy's big three - Giovinco, Balotelli and Acquafresca - has properly delivered yet.

Tonight could be that time.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

From Calcio Italia

Italian fans have had to keep their heads down of late. It seems that our descent from World Champions to total laughing stock has been complete. Thank heavens for a little bit of sunshine from the normally chilly climes of Sweden.

It is not that the Under-21s have been brilliant at their European Championship, but simply that they have made progress. The Azzurrini remain unarguably the most successful national side at continental level. They may not win the tournament this year – it would be their sixth triumph – but at least they are in the hunt.

What has pleased me, personally, is not any individual performance but more the spirit of the team. They hung tough against Serbia for a point. Then they beat the host nation despite playing most of the match with 10 men. And finally they turned the ship around when they could easily have been sunk by Belarus.

It was supposed to be all about the attacking trio of Sebastian Giovinco, Robert Acquafresca and Mario Balotelli. Instead, I have been more impressed with the graft and organisation of the midfield and defence which has provided a vital platform. All credit to Gigi Casiraghi for that.

Of course, anything the young boys achieve cannot take away the pain of Confederations Cup humiliation, but it can send a powerful message to Marcello Lippi. Perhaps more of our youngsters are ready for battle than the wise old Coach suspected. Certainly, a few of them deserve their chance.

A World Cup winning side rarely shines four years on. Italy found out in 1986, so did France in 2002 and Brazil in 2006. It is vital, however, that you use that transitional period well. The Azzurrini have shown there is a crack of light appearing between the clouds. It is up to Lippi to find the way of capturing it – and using it to his best advantage.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

From Pablito to Peppino

It was a long, hot Italian summer when a frail-looking striker burst into life in Spain to capture the heart of a nation. About 27 years ago, give or take a few days, we were living through the birth of a legend. Paolo "Pablito" Rossi has never been forgotten.

It was a magical story, one of rebirth for a player who had been beaten down and banned from the game for his part in a match-rigging scandal. With six stunning goals he catapulted Italy to winning the World Cup for the first time in 44 years. The little lad from Tuscany done good.

Nearly three decades on the Azzurri have another Rossi. Another kid who looks like his strip is a bit too big and clings onto the ends of his sleeves to hold them in place. And he might just help us turn back the clock.

This time our good fortune comes from the USA, not Prato. Giuseppe "Peppino" Rossi transformed a drab Italian display against the States with a performance full of verve, guts and character. The way he won the ball, strode forward and thundered his first goal past Tim Howard was a breath of fresh air in a side which was starting to smell a bit stale.

Different times, different styles, of course. Pablito was more the goal poacher, the Pippo Inzaghi of his day with a splash of Alberto Gilardino. His namesake likes to buzz about behind the strikers like a firefly. It is a position which can - when used effectively - throw the opposition into chaos. Finding the space between defence and midfield is a special gift.

For us old timers, it is great to see the name back on the scoresheet for Italy. The very thought of John Motson shouting: "It's that man Rossi again!" as he bagged his third against Brazil back in 1982 still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. For one brief moment, on Monday night thanks to Giuseppe Rossi, I was 12 years old again.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Confederations crazy

There was a time when I could recite the fixture list of any major tournament without a moment's hesitation. It was just kind of programmed into my brain. With the passage of the years, however, I have to admit those days are gone.

If I am being kind to myself, I could say that the Confederations Cup is not worthy of my mental exercise. No matter who wins and in what manner, not many will remember it next year - never mind in 20 years time. But it bugs be that I can't get the date and time of the ties fixed in my head.

I'm beginning to think part of the problem might be that I am turning into my great uncle Dante. In the early days of satellite TV he used to come round to join us watching the great European nights. Sometimes there were eight or nine games involving Italian sides on a Wednesday evening - many of them taking place at the same time. As we hopped from channel to channel, the old boy from Bergamo lost track of what the results were. Now I am starting to know how he must have felt.

I blame UEFA for putting the Under 21 championship on at the same time. It is too easy to get your Azzurri and Azzurrini mixed up. I end up thinking Italy play Serbia and the Under 21s face the USA. So I've decided to write out my schedule for the next few days to help myself out. You know things are getting bad when you have to write yourself notes. (All times based on UK)

Monday, 15 June - Italy v USA (19.30)
Tuesday, 16 June - Italy U21 v Serbia U21 (19.45)
Thursday, 18 June - Italy v Egypt (19.30)
Friday, 19 June - Italy U21 v Sweden U21 (15.00)
Sunday, 21 June - Italy v Brazil (19.30 - Even I couldn't forget that one)
Tuesday, 23 June - Italy v Belarus (19.45)

Feeling better now that I have got that down in print somewhere...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Showdown in Tuscany

This weekend Fiorentina and Milan go head to head for the last automatic spot in the Champions League. The Viola are already guaranteed a place in the qualifiers but a victory over the Rossoneri would see them leapfrog straight into the group stages.

Can it happen? Definitely yes. Should it happen? I think maybe so. At first I was inclined to say it might be better overall to have Milan in the main competition given their stature and pedigree. However, maybe it is time to let some new faces get in there. Unless the Milan giants spend a bit of money this summer they are only going to be another year older. The boys in purple, on the other hand, have a crop of younger players.

Of course, I'm hoping for a Fiorentina win anyway but it should be a pretty good game. Nice end to the season while Torino and Bologna fight it out to avoid the drop at the other end of the table.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A bit of Italian work

For those with a knowledge of the old Italiano, take a trip over here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Unlucky or unworthy?

So, the Ranieri era at Juve has come to an end. I suspect not many Bianconeri will be shedding any tears. The most sympathy, I reckon, will probably come from fans of other clubs. Claudio is a nice guy, but would you want him managing your team?

Did he do as much as could be expected with the players at his disposal? Probably. But the team needed a shake-up for the last couple of games. Otherwise Fiorentina might sneak up and pinch third spot and the automatic group stages in the Champions League. And how funny would that be?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Isn't it ironic?

The summer of 2002 is one I don't recall with any pleasure. I had to get time off work to get out of the office to watch the Azzurri clash with South Korea in the World Cup. I remember wishing I hadn't bothered.

And yet all the memories have come flooding back to me following Chelsea's elimination from the Champions League. The same finger-pointing at the referee, the same conspiracy theories, the same bitter recriminations. Except it has all been turned upside down.

Let us recall what Italy fans were told after they lost out in the Far East. "Get over it," was the main message. "You didn't take your chances - so don't blame the referee. You are just making excuses."

Well, great Blues of Stamford Bridge, how about taking that advice?

How many times have I seen an Italian team which based its game on stout defence and great organisation go out to a late goal? We are usually told it serves us right. So why does the same not hold true for an English club side?

The conspiracy theory about UEFA not wanting an all-English final is laughable. Magnificent as the match referee was, how could he have foreseen Iniesta's late, late thunderbolt? Without that, remember, Chelsea were heading to Rome. And how does the ludicrous red card for a Barca player fit in to the theory anyway?

Of course, those of us long enough in the tooth to remember South Korea will recall who was sitting on the bench that day. Yes, it was Mr Hiddink. So when he says the referee on Wednesday night was the worst he has ever seen it is hard not to think he might have a slightly selective memory. Byron Moreno was streets ahead of Tubby Tommy Ovrebo in the controversial decision department. He managed to send a man off when he should have got a penalty. Now imagine if that had happened to Didier Drogba...

Check it out!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

There in spirit

It wouldn't be the Champions League if there wasn't a bit of Italian influence. This time, in the form of referee Roberto Rosetti. Guilty, apparently, of a "totally ridiculous" red card for Darren Fletcher - if you believe the pundits.

But, wait a minute, just because you get the ball doesn't necessarily mean it is not a penalty. My take is that he had to go through the man to get to the ball. It was only really in the context of the match that the decision was harsh - at 3-0 to Man Utd there was nothing left to play for. Was it a foul? Yes. Was it in the penalty box? Yes. Was it a clear goal-scoring opportunity? Yes.

I feel sorry for any player who has to miss a major final but all this ballyhoo leaves me cold. Why should UEFA reverse the decision? It was perfectly acceptable in the first place.

Oh, and should Chelsea get through tonight, prepare for all the stories about why the final should not be played in Rome.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tifare contro

It is a sorry state of affairs, but it is the only option left to me this season. I have been reduced to trying to come up with a combination of outcomes which allows England's Big Four to win the fewest trophies possible. At least I have already been spared Manchester United's quintuple celebrations and Liverpool's European triumph.

What I have come up with is as follows. Barcelona, obviously, to win the Champions League. Everton, naturally, to win the FA Cup and whoever the hell you like (probably not Man Utd since that would give them a double) to win the Premiership. It is a kind of damage limitation exercise since Italian teams have let me down.

In a more positive manner, I am still hoping Fiorentina can sneak into 4th spot in Serie A. However, after the way we played against Udinese and the penalties they have started giving to Roma I am none too optimistic...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

All quiet

All quiet on the Calcio front. What to say? Everybody out of Europe with the last hope of Udinese flickering faintly. Serie A looks like a stroll for Inter unless Juve can do something amazing. Only the relegation fight and last Champions League spot to stir the blood.

Quiet times indeed.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Fighting Irish!

Imagine looking at your enemy and finding it is like looking in a mirror. That will happen in Bari tonight when Italy take on the Republic of Ireland. On one bench a silvery haired Italian and, on the other bench, another silvery haired Italian!

Of course it is about the players on the pitch but it is hard not to think of it as Trap versus Lippi. Two legends of Juve - one with club honours from around the world, the other a World Cup winner. And Marco Tardelli involved as well. It will be hard not to have mixed emotions.

Still, a win for the Azzurri would put them virtually on the plane to South Africa. That is why I can hardly believe it will happen. Something must surely go wrong. Italy just don't do straightforward qualification campaigns.

Monday, March 16, 2009

All hail Super Pippo

From Calcio Italia

If they ever make a patron saint of the flukey goal, they should call him San Filippo. If there is an art form in scoring with every part of the anatomy imaginable then he is its Leonardo. Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore the 300 goals of Pippo Inzaghi.

It has been an amazing career for a man who has had many more lives than your average cat. His facial contortions as he takes a tumble in the penalty box have become the stuff of legend. And his ability to be in the right place at the right time is so uncanny that even experts in the paranormal are lost for an explanation.

It is a common insult of the school playground to dub someone a goal poacher. It implies a certain lack of effort in all other departments of the game other than popping up to tap the ball into the net. Inzaghi has taken it to a whole new level.

Yet there has to be more to his game than that surely? He scored the goals that gained Milan revenge over Liverpool in the Champions League Final. He is a bona fide World Cup winner. Your praise might be grudging, but it is nonetheless something he deserves. Inzaghi springs the offside trap like a master locksmith.

And, for a man with such a fragile frame, he shields the ball with the strength of Hulk Hogan. His precision in front of goal is football’s equivalent of keyhole surgery. Finally, of course, his ability to win vital penalties and free-kicks is totally priceless.

In many ways, Super Pippo is a symbol of Italian football. Disliked, reviled and generally belittled across Europe, he gets the job done. After all, he has got the trophies and the goals to prove it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Addio sogni di gloria!

And the lights went out all over Europe. Max Tonetto battered a penalty over the bar to seal the fate of the last Italian team left in the Champions League. A bitter feeling indeed.

It would be easy to wallow in despair, I guess. But let's look at things a little less harshly. Yes, Inter were pretty well beaten but even they had their moments at 1-0 down to turn the tie around. Roma went out after an extended penalty shootout. And Juve were worth something more from their two ties with Chelsea.

Of course, the results are the ultimate verdict. No teams in the quarter finals is something of a disaster. Especially when England has four. However, if you want the glass to be half full let's think of the green shoots of recovery. Marco Motta at Roma, Cristian Molinaro and Claudio Marchisio at Juve, Mario Balotelli and Davide Santon at Inter. It is something to build on.

It may take time for the great Premiership to collapse but, sure as anything, it will not dominate forever. There are creaking signs in some corners with the debt their clubs have amassed. However, until then it is hard to compete. All three Italians gave it their best shot but, in the end, they came up short. Better luck next year. At least, I hope so.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Good luck, Juve Tuesday

It's been a busy day for me, trying to get my house in order before this big Euro week. Got to hope at least one Serie A side can knock out a Premiership one. Tonight it is the turn of the Bianconeri to make their bid to overturn a one goal deficit against Chelsea.

They were worth a goal at Stamford Bridge. So maybe, just maybe.

And if you want to know how on earth a Viola man can be backing Juve you can find out courtesy of my Gazzetta blog debut. All of which came about courtesy of the legend that is Antonio Gurrado.

Exciting days indeed. They may end in misery by Wednesday night but, what the hell, let's go for it.

STOP PRESS: Juve drew 2-2 and went out but they showed a lot of heart. After going 1-0 up they got caught with a killer blow just before half time, deflected shot, parried onto the bar, bundled in by Essien. Then Chiellini got sent off for winning the ball twice. Then Del P converted a penalty. Finally got caught by Drogba to clinch their exit.

I hope the other two Italian teams show the same heart - and maybe get a little more rub of the green. At least we didn't lie down like Real Madrid.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Och aye the Mou!

From Calcio Italia

It is the easiest thing in the world to carp and gripe about the team which leads your League. It almost seems only right that Inter should take a bit of stick due to their position at the top of the table.

The trouble is, if you do it too often, you can lose sight of the qualities which put the team there in the first place. I confess I have been guilty of this myself. The Nerazzurri rarely produce the kind of football that is pleasing on the eye. And they have been the beneficiaries of a few kind refereeing decisions. But they do have a quality I reckon all of their challengers lack – backbone.

Look at the players down the spine of this Inter side and you will start to see what I mean. Julio Cesar is one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti are the kind of versatile and relentless footballers any team would love to have. And Zlatan Ibrahimovic forms an impressive attacking line all on his own.

The rest of the squad bristles with guts and commitment too. Nicolas Burdisso, Walter Samuel, Ivan Cordoba and Marco Materazzi are the kind of men you would like to have on your side in a fight. While Dejan Stankovic and Douglas Maicon provide the sort of surging power that even the national grid would love to harness.

Add to that the little matter of two of the most interesting young Italian talents of Serie A and you get a heady mix. Davide Santon and Mario Balotelli may not be the finished article but they are pretty exciting prospects. The simple fact that they can hold their own in this Inter line up speaks volumes.

It is this strength in depth and real resilience which has put the Nerazzurri so far clear of their rivals. Juve are the only ones who come even close in the character stakes. Roma and Milan look flimsy and weak-willed in comparison. It’s fine to criticise Inter and it goes with their territory – but it should never obscure the fact that they are, actually, a pretty good team.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Becks stays

I just spotted that a deal has been done to keep David Beckham at Milan. I had my reservations about this initially, then he won me over. Now I am having my reservations again.

However, it does ensure the profile of Serie A remains a bit higher in the UK. So I suppose I shouldn't grumble...

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sunday night special

Inter and Roma served up a treat on Sunday night. The Giallorossi really went for the jugular and twice found themselves two goals to the good at 2-0 and 3-1. They will be kicking themselves for not holding on for the win although a soft looking penalty helped Inter back into the match.

Still, it just shows Inter can be rattled. The rest of Serie A should take note.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Advantage England?

Well, not a single goal for a Serie A side in the Champs League this week. What are their chances of progress after such a drought? I am not entirely sure.

1) Inter. There are two ways of looking at their display. Either they cannot possibly be as poor again or they will be destroyed at Old Trafford. They were very fortunate to come away with a goalless draw but that is exactly what they did. An away goal from somewhere would put them in a very good position. If they get through, Mourinho looks even more "Special".

But why on earth did he play Rivas at the heart of the defence? It almost cost him very dear. And Muntari was woefully short of quality. I would give my highest marks to Julio Cesar with pass marks for Cambiasso and Zanetti. The jury is out on the rest. Where was the Maicon and Ibra magic?

2) Juve. The unluckiest of the Italian sides. They had some decent pressure at Stamford Bridge and lost a goal that might easily have been avoided. An away goal would have been particularly useful. However, they must have a strong hand when they get back to Turin. Chelsea looked eminently beatable.

3) Roma. I didn't see much of this game but the positive - like Inter - was that they were not mauled more severely. 1-0 can be overturned in the Olimpico if they turn on the style. But they will need to up the performance level a significant number of notches.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Boring, boring Inter

Is it just me or has Jose Mourinho succeeded in making Inter really boring? I suppose that is always a criticism of winning teams but some have done it in more style than others. Sunday night's Milan derby victory was another example of the result being much better than the performance.

I am sure he does not care - nor did the Interisti celebrating at the end of the game. But I can't help feeling this is short-sighted. With Man Utd on the horizon it surely won't be enough to pack the team full of hard-working, physical players plus Ibrahimovic for a slice of magic.

I hope I am wrong but I have been less than enthused by the boys in black and blue of late. We shall see what happens come next week.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Beeb to show Beckham!

I can't quite believe it but it is entirely true. Italian football is returning to British screens on Sunday night and with the BBC.

Not a main channel, granted, a Match of the Day special on the Milan derby on BBC3. Just the same, it represents something of a breakthrough after the demise of Channel 5's coverage with the lovely Laura Esposto. Could it be the start of something beautiful?

Well, probably not, since it all relies on Mr Becks. Unless Milan can secure a deal with LA Galaxy his participation in Serie A will come to an end next month. And that will almost certainly kill stone dead any interest the Beeb might have in our games.

On the other hand, if they could keep the Spice Boy it might make Italian football more appetising for next season. And surely they wouldn't just make it a dedicated Milan Channel? Maybe we might see the occasional game involving other sides.

The only thing for certain is that it is good to get more exposure for Serie A - even for just one game. Hopefully the derby is a cracker and whets the appetite for more among the British viewing public. Tell your friends to tune in to BBC3 to ensure it gets good viewing figures and makes a strong case for more matches in the weeks and months to come.

I wish Chelsea would sack me

Oh to be the Chelsea manager, even for just one day.


I would happily let them sack me for much, much less.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Botched against Brazil

It was only a friendly, of course. They looked more motivated, it's true. But just the same, it still stings to lose to Brazil. Especially when the Azzurri were so poor for the first half.

Yes, we could have had a goal in the opening five minutes when Grosso's strike was ruled out. After that, however, the lights went out a bit. A slip by Legrottaglie and Pirlo dwelling on the ball cost us two goals. Montolivo failed to command the midfield and we struggled to get possession for any length of time.

The second half was a bit better. Zambrotta fought like a lion. If we had had 11 playing like him we might have had a chance. Not as downhearted now as I was last night but it was still a bit of a wake-up call for everyone.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Milan fluff their lines

It should have been a great derby night in Milan next Sunday, it may well still be, but the Rossoneri missed the chance to put a bit more pressure on Mourinho's men. A draw with Reggina was never going to be enough as Inter cuffed Lecce to slip further clear at the top of Serie A.

There was more bad news for Carlo Ancelotti as Juve sneaked back into second place with a hard-fought win over Catania. Their task was made even more tricky by daft old Vincenzo Iaquinta scoring a goal and then getting sent off in the opening few minutes. Still, they ground out a precious three points.

Fiorentina, meanwhile, should erect a monument to Sebastien Frey. He produced a string of stunning saves to keep Lazio at bay and, with minutes to go, Alberto Gilardino applied the coup de grace to take all three points. Even I must admit the Biancocelesti were mighty hard done by.

Finally, Roma's recovery continues apace with a confident drubbing of high-flying Genoa. Is it really too late for the Giallorossi to mount a serious challenge for top spot? Probably. Just the same, they should have been Inter's main antagonist this season. Maybe they can give us something to smile about in the Champions League. Second place in Serie A should not be beyond them.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Because he's worth it

Marcello Lippi always seems to know the right thing to say. He has come under pressure of late to call up Paolo Maldini for a farewell performance in an Italy shirt. "Not for the game against Brazil," said the Azzurri Coach. "But maybe we can arrange something."

What a wonderful idea. Not since Roby Baggio's swansong has a player more deserved a final cap as icing on their career cake. Imagine what kind of crowd you would get at the San Siro for such a friendly - no matter who the opposition were.

I for one would want to be there for a player I have watched and admired since he was a boy. In truth, it's a shame they couldn't have given him 30 seconds in the last World Cup just to let him add the winners medal to his collection - about the only thing he is missing.

Still, it spices up the friendly fixture list for the months ahead. Indeed, I will have to keep an eye out for cheap flights to Italy just in case there is a chance to pay my footballing respects. Other players may be great but Maldini is, well, Maldini...

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Gila ties with Del P

Good to see this is a patriotic blog. Gilardino ties with Del Piero in my survey on who is Serie A's top striker. None of this Amauri or Pato nonsense.

A propos of Amauri, quite glad to see him pick Brazil in the end. I know he is a strong player but if his heart is with the Verdeoro I for one don't want to see him in the blue of Italy. Now we have to prove he made the wrong choice at the Emirates next week.

Finally, David Beckham. He's proved me wrong so far, much better than Ronaldinho. He gives Milan something they have been missing - shape. He seems to find acres of space to deliver the crosses we all know he can produce. No wonder he doesn't want to go back to the Galaxy...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Lord spoke to Kaka

On the third day, the Lord spoke to Kaka. He saw his child was troubled, there had been much wailing and gnashing of teeth. He asked his son what it was that tormented him so.

Kaka explained his predicament, how he knew the difficulty of the rich man gaining access to heaven. How he feared that taking such a sum of money would constitute a sin. How he was unhappy to turn his back on his long-time friends.

The Lord considered all of this. He spent 40 days and 40 nights in the desert before returning to his troubled child. He handed him a tablet of stone with a simple message of what he had to do.

"Manchester City," it said. "Thou art having a laugh..."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Midwinter madness

It used to be the summer that was filled with these crazy transfers stories but now we get them in the middle of winter too. God bless the January transfer window for the following...

Kaka to Manchester City - For all that is good in the game, and even what is not, don't let this happen. I know money talks, but surely not that loudly. This is Milan, glorious, legendary Milan. And they are Manchester City.

Kris Boyd to Lazio - This must be made up. Unless they are looking for something less mobile than the Colosseum in Rome.

Ah, the joys...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Beckham watch - Part One

I have never been a big Becks fan but he did a bit of work to address that issue last night. I thought he played a decent game for Milan against Roma. And, more to the point, he lasted 88 minutes (more than Ronaldinho).

There was nothing flashy about what he did and he showed his usual limits but, just the same, he did not look out of place. He put in some good crosses - as you would expect - and also showed some good positional sense.

Yes, he was outshone by Pato's wondergoal - but who would not have been? I am still dubious about his value to Milan but, on this game anyway, he was not the waste of space some might have suspected...