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.