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.

71 comments:

patcook said...

when one of your teams stars move to a rival it is always one of the worst feelings you can experience as a football fan, almost on par with watching your team blow a 3-0 half time lead in the CL final

ginkers said...

Both very painful, I agree...

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