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.