parla calcio?

Start of an era?

Ciao Alex

It was fun. Or at least it was good to see a player play week in, week out with the same drive and determination to keep the club in Serie B for another season as he did. There were times when he looked as though he would only be beaten by the spectacular shots from outside the box – whether they were spectacular or not, was up to the interpretation of the cheering/slumping fan.

But it wasn’t to be. And now, as another name of that memorable (I won’t use great here, even amongst friends) side that secured promotion from Lega Pro to Serie B leaves, it really feels – for this newcomer at least – like the start of a brand new era.

Only Andrea Rosso, Alessandro Ranellucci, Tommaso Cancellotti and Andrea Marconi remain of the squad who played any game time in Lega Pro last time round. Marcos Miranda is still there, but his three games over the last two years hardly make him a likely contender to start this season.

Rosso gave his heart for the club in that last Lega Pro season; playing on one leg in the home playoff game against Taranto. It looked as if he would be on his way out last season as the club loaded the midfield with youth and Serie B level players. That didn’t work out. Rosso waited and bided his time and recently lead the club out as captain of the side that went down to Monza in the Coppa Italia.

Valentini will be a good signing for Spezia. He should make it as a Serie A goalkeeper at some point in his career; playing no doubt for a promoted side or one managed by Serse Cosmi, as they fight for their careers in to early spring.

How the new signings will fare going in to the new season is still uncertain. The club still, after two seasons, really lack their bomber. Ettore Marchi has come in to replace Matteo Di Piazza, but he’s averaging only five goals a season since the turn of the decade.

Is that enough to keep the fans happy? Well, at the moment there are positive vibes – but this is football, and positivity will only last as long as the positive results keep coming in.

Foto: Andrea Cherchi/Forsa Pro

Road to nowhere?

It was an inauspicious start – a forgettable start in an all too forgettable competition.

Losing to Monza 1-0, at home, in the opening round of the Coppa Italia – the opening game of the season – suggests that the hangover from last season’s disappointing Serie B campaign is still someway off lifting.

After 64 years in the footballing wilderness, I Leoni could barely muster a squeak, let alone a roar, as they slipped out of the second tier; back down to the depths of the all too familiar Lega Pro (Serie C in old money) once more. But then, this is a somewhat different Lega Pro from when they were last here. This is a set up with no relegation this year – and rather bizarrely – more teams in with a chance of promotion, than not, when the season proper draws to a close.

Of the 16 teams in Lega Pro Prima Divisione Girone A, one side will secure automatic promotion, with the next eight vying for the playoffs in May/June 2014. This is, in part, due to the shifting sands at this level of the Italian game. Girone A will be no more next year. It will be replaced by a unified third tier structure, with the 60 sides currently playing at this, and the level below, split across three divisions of 20 teams next term. Maybe that’s one reason why Massimo Secondo has opted to go with Cristiano Scazzola as “Mister” this season.

Scazzola guided Pro’s youth side to 10th of 14 teams in the Campionato Primavera. With his experience of managing youth players on a budget, his appointment suggested a more frugal approach to the transfer market. With Secondo looking for a buyer for the club, and a season in Lega Pro to look forward to, it all pointed towards another transfer window of northern Primavera players or journeymen pros heading towards the Silvio Piola. Yet the introduction of a safe division, with no relegation – and therefore nothing to really lose – it now also hints at a club giving a manager a chance to prove himself.

The objective is obviously tame. Scazzola will be expected to guide the side in to the top nine, to ensure that Massimo Secondo has something to bargain with, as he continues to look for a suitor to take the club on next season. Sponsors will need to be encouraged; fans will have to believe that this is not merely a transition both for club and league.

They will quickly find out how much this season means to the society when the transfer window closes in September. If new Sporting Director, Massimo Varini leaves Scazzola to manage a mismatched team, as Braghin and Camolese did last season, then I wouldn’t expect another triumphant return to Serie B any time soon. The key is to hold on to the likes of Alex Valentini and Pietro Iemmello. Both could bring in fairly decent transfer fees if they were to leave, but both will also play a pivotal role in the race for the playoffs if they stay.

Secondo and Varini have to decide what is more important – money in the bank and a team of loan players – or your two best players wearing the Bianche of this once great club?

The fraudulent fan

Io sono una truffa

Io non sono un tifoso

Io non sono uno scrittore

But, still, just maybe…

I write this, having struggled to write anything for ages; anything at all – anything worth submitting here.

I also writing this, with hindsight – knowing that I was always going to end up writing a piece like this. For this is a piece that not only questions my commitment and desire to write, but also the subject I took, possibly, too close to heart.

Some of you will know how it started; with a desire to follow a club in the lower reaches of Italian football in an attempt to learn the language, and offer up an excuse to take the family on holiday. They had to be hard to follow – as in website, papers, TV coverage – but well known enough to have a hook; to spark that initial level of interest. That club was their club - Pro Vercelli.

I started to write; tiptoeing my way through Google Translate and a line or two in Gazzetta dello Sport. I joined forums; I scoured the net for tifosi sites – hoping to find the odd post in English – or at least a group of Italians who would converse in English. I went to a game. I planned a trip around another – which was moved just after the flights had been paid for. What had started out as a means by which to get a few readers and learn a few sentences in a foreign language had turned in to a minor obsession – uncomfortably so.

For Pro started to win. They out performed anything they had done in the previous 64 years. The game I saw was the first leg of their Lega Pro playoff match. It rained so hard I threw away the shoes I wore to the game (including a toe nail); modern day, stadia related “trench foot”. They won that game with an injury time goal. I went mad. Screaming and shouting as football fans do, but even then I had to stop myself – for fear I was going too far.

I watched the playoff final on a laptop at home. I danced around the kitchen, I drank Italian beer – I hugged my daughter; before stopping myself, once more. This wasn’t right. I had gone too far. No one was reading the blog – 20 people at most per post if lucky; but I didn’t care about that. The cost of hosting, of the name – the time I was putting in to it – they were just minor details. I was writing it because I wanted people to feel the same way I did. The minor details were quickly engulfed by the bigger issues. When would I next get out there? How could I talk to the fans on the forums? How could I convince them that this interest was now, not about languages or holidays – it was genuine?

Stop. Stop it now.

I still haven’t learnt the language. I couldn’t find an evening class that would take me at the level I wanted. I also didn’t get back out there. The aborted trip to Cittadella became “just” a family holiday to Venice (which was great, by the way). The planned trip to see Crotone was put off due to finances. I stopped going on the forums. I stopped writing. I finally stopped. The point I stopped was when I realised that Pro were taking over. Taking me to the toilet in restaurants to check scores when out at the pub with friends; taking over Facebook so that I now have more Italian posts and adverts in my timeline than English ones. They even took over my interest in my own club, my real love – Spurs.

Where I could tell you who Pro would be playing for the next month and the implications of each result, I sometimes only found out who Spurs were playing through the vitriolic moutbreathing on twitter ahead of each game. My brain is clearly not big enough to manage the various permutations of more than one football club.

But, still, just maybe…

I keep checking the highlights. Keep responding to the various additions to my @ column on twitter from Juve fans wanting updates on their players. I keep starting to write posts that I know I won’t finish due to the frustrations nagging away inside. I keep looking at the Tifosi pages on Facebook, where proper journalists post their articles and get more and more frustrated – that I am not there, that I can’t really, and I mean really, offer up an opinion when I am limited to three minute highlight reels.

Or can I? I can see the obvious mistakes the players are making. I can see where Mister Braghin lost the ability to shape the side. I can still scream “cazzo” or “merda” at the screen as Pro concede yet another penalty, another soft goal – play with only the keeper, Alex Valentini proving his worth in Serie B. I can sit here, at work, planning in my head how I can convince my wife, daughter and soon to be, new born child, why I should go to the derby match against Novara next season. I get hooked back in, time and again as Italian friends introduce me as the “Pro Vercelli Tifoso”. They are three simple words that appear to mark me out as someone strange and interesting to the newly acquainted.

If you’re thinking about supporting a lower league club, in a foreign country, maybe through a share offer or a shirt bought on holiday. Well, stop. Stop it now. You don’t just start supporting a club. It’s not that simple. Before you know it you are checking scores, reading articles, making new friends and ignoring old ones; weighing up family arguments against money spent and good times had. You are sat in a hotel room, on your own, with a missing toenail as you grin from rain soaked cheek to cheek at the day you’ve just had. You write, rewrite and delete updates on twitter, Facebook or blogs – as you try so painfully hard to convince the locals that you are worth following; worth their time.

Sometimes you’re not. Sometimes you’re just a bloke, sat in a room in a far off country, staring at a key ring that dares you to dream; dares you to believe that a small club, with a fantastic history, can survive the hardest battle they’ve faced in years. Someone who can try to switch off; hide from the results coming in from Italy – put all their hope in the club they really love; really care about.

Problem is – I’m no longer sure which club that is?

Image: Of the Curva Ovest from the ever brilliant Andrea Cherchi

Novara

“Love your neighbour as yourself”

That’s what the bible says. You know; that book, which is supposed to provide our spiritual and moral guidance.

That quote comes from the Gospel of Mark. Imagine then if Mark, rather than being an Evangelist and Saint, was simply Mark, the football fan. That rather than write a gospel in the New Testament, he actually wrote a football blog. Could you imagine him offering up the same, sage advice?

“Love your neighbour; as long as they’re not from Novara!”

I knew that at some point when I started following Pro Vercelli that I would have to show a level of interest in their near neighbours, Novara. The clubs were two divisions apart when I started trying to decipher the insults as Novara struggled to maintain their Serie A status. They didn’t – so the insults were amplified; gained momentum in the knowledge that the two sides would face each other this season.

As they do, for the first time this season on Sunday. It could have been the first game I would have penciled in as a must see game in Serie B, but sometimes I just can’t be bothered with the hassle a derby game brings.

Back home I am a Tottenham Hotspur fan. I’ve been following them since the early 80s. This means I have had to endure what feels like hundreds of bile coated, spittle laced, vitriolic encounters with our near rivals, Arsenal. Our fans sing songs about them. They stand up to show their hate for them. It all seems so pointless; misplaced. Do we really have to hate, just to show how much we love?

The biggest issue with derbies is that they are rarely as important as what the fans make out – rarely worth the hate. You don’t get any more points for winning a derby. They rarely change your league position. Getting one over on your rivals is often forgotten by Monday morning.

Not always.

This derby sees both sides occupying Serie B relegation spots. If this was a match in England, it would be billed as a six pointer – which is such a terrible, overused phrase. The emphasis here is not in just getting one over on Novara, it’s about retaining our Serie B spot. It’s about getting three points – three points the side have needed all season. It doesn’t matter that it is Novara on Sunday; but you can understand why, for some, it might mean more.

Just not to this blogger. I have never been to Novara. The only thing I know about the place is that it has, or had, a very good women’s volleyball side. It’s also the birthplace of a very good, family friend. Can I really hate a place, a football team, just because of location – when I’ve never seen the two play in the same stadium before?

I can’t. I’ll therefore leave the hatred to others. I’ll channel only positive thoughts from here, in England, to you – to the side – in Novara. I want a win. For three points; not for any tribal driven, location based histrionics.

It is what St Mark (and his lion) would want. That and Reggina, Virtus Lanciano and Cesena to lose.

Buon Natale all!

 

 

Grosseto

Hello?

Can you hear me?

Is this still on?

It’s hard to know where to start after returning after a long and somewhat enforced absence (both time and dedication).

It’s tempting to look back at the weeks/months I’ve missed off the blog and capture the emotion and frustration that clearly exists out there – but then I would be putting the words of others, in to my own, poorly translated “voice”.

That’s not entirely the case. Even though I have been away from the blog, I have still been watching the highlights – following the chat on Twitter and Facebook; trying to find a way to position my own thoughts in the ever expanding list of people with an opinion on Pro Vercelli and the players. 

I do find it hard to catch their mood. Hard to see if people are frustrated with the mistakes, with the lack of cutting edge – or simply frustrated that, after 64 years, their moment in Serie B seems to be dwindling; without so much as a fight.

The players are quick to counter this with comments they feel the fans want to hear. Just this week Andrea Rosso has been talking of determination, belief; not looking back. If he means it – and I believe he does – then let’s hope he and the rest of the squad can show the characteristics (is it, grinta?) they claim they need to change the fortunes of Pro.

The best thing about coming back now is that I rejoin Pro on an undefeated run – of one. The 2-1 home win against Vicenza lifted the club back within touching distance of, if not safety, at least the relegation play-off zone. This week they face Grosseto, the side currently occupying bottom spot in the league (with only Novara separating the two clubs). Grosseto’s two wins have come against Crotone and Ascoli. Pro have lost to, and beaten the same opposition.

If Pro are to win, then it will be the first success on their travels since that famous afternoon in the sun, when they beat Carpi to secure their Serie B status. That game feels like a lifetime away now. When you consider it took a lifetime to get back to this level, the club really does need to start putting in the performances worthy of a side following in the footsteps of the scudetto winners.

Forza Pro!!!

Image: Manuel Scavone runs away in celebration after scoring the opener against Vicenza (www.forsapro.it - Andrea Cherchi)

Dear Mister Camolese

Bocca di lupo. Break a leg. Best of luck. Bon voyage.

It’s unlikely that you’ll read this Mister Camolese; even less likely that I’ll be in Vercelli on Sunday to cheer on your side for their first proper home game of this Serie B season, but from this distance - I offer you all the luck my crossed fingers can provide you.

Let’s pull no punches. You join the club at a difficult time. We all loved Mister Braghin - all thankful for the moments of joy he brought us in May and June last year; but you find his club, the club of a very vocal tifosi, drifting - desperate for direction.

I won’t pretend to be one of those bloggers who use Wikipedia and claim to know everything about you. I know you’ve had a two year break. I hope the time away from the game has made you hungry for moments just like is - just like Sunday. For we need a hungry Mister. We need a risk taking Mister. We need a Mister the players believe in.

What we really need is points. We need victories. We need you to make players like Valentini, Gabriel, Iemmello and Bencivenga the very best in Serie B. To find that spark in “Tir” and to send Masi back as the best centre back outside of Torino.

Most of all we need you to provide the fans with something to be positive about. That’s not too much to ask for, surely?

ForzaPro!!!

Photo: Giancarlo Camolese (right) with Vercelli’s own Andrea Cherchi

Maurizio Braghin has, as expected, become the first victim of the apparent decline in fortunes for Pro Vercelli this season.

The coach, who appeared to be somewhat reluctant to change both his formation and faith in a core set of players around him, has paid the price for the poor run of results that have left Pro in the relegation playoff spots – with only one side below them that has not received penalty points this season.

There are mixed emotions at his departure. In some ways, the fact that Mister Braghin was even coaching in Serie B came, as the cliché goes, a season too soon. Pro were still looking to get out of Lega Pro Seconda Divisione 18 months ago. The quick promotion based on financial, rather than playing merit moved them up to Prima Divisione. A fantastic end to 2011 put the club in a position they nearly threw away, but hung on in to secure a playoff place. He was the man who got the club up to this level. He leaves with them still at this higher level.

The company then pushed hard to improve the quality of the squad; but how much quality – and how much faith Braghin had is questionable. Some will argue that Tiribocchi was left isolated due to the coach’s preferred formation, whilst some have also questioned the impact of “Tir” at the start of the season. The coach seemed to lack conviction in a partner for the “bomber” with Iemmello, Fabiano, Di Piazza and De Silvestro alternating in the support role. Did that have an impact on Tir’s performances?

It was the same in defence and midfield, with a number of players brought in by the company to challenge for position with the players of last season. Those new arrivals have either been tried and dropped or not played. One wonders why Federico Carraro chose to come back to Pro this season, having struggled to fit in the formation of Braghin last year.

If there is one player that did his all to save Braghin’s job it is goalkeeper, Alex Valentini. Once again he did absolutely everything on Sunday to thwart the opposition’s attack – pulling off a series of fine saves, including a penalty that ensured parity remained.

The new coach, whoever it will be, needs to find a better balance both in terms of squad use and formation on the field. Too many players seem to lack a clear role in the side – too much focus on individuals who aren’t quite performing at Serie B level. You could say “well what do we expect” – 64 years out of a division, with a squad of Lega Pro and Primavera standard players – maybe fifth from bottom is Pro’s current level? Unfortunately Calcio fans will not want to hear this. They will hope the new man has new ideas. They need the players to show they are ready to fight, not for the new man, but the shirts they wear on their backs.

Fans don’t care too much for talk – especially not the dreaming of a new boss. All they want is determination and points. They want a new coach who can get the very best from the squad Pro have – not calls for the society to bring new faces in just to solve the problem of relegation. Too many lapses have caused too many points to be lost – that is the one, major thing Braghin couldn’t stop.

Surely only the players – the right players – can make that change.

ForzaPro!!!

Video: Highlights of Sunday’s draw v Virtus Lanciano

Panettone

Confidence is the preference of the habitual voyeur.

Confidence is also something a board of a football club likes to vote on; often, just before a coach is given the boot - which seems apt - given Italy’s shape.

That vote, in England at least, is quickly followed by a leaked comment, or newspaper led view, that the coach has just three games to save his skin - to save the club.

And so it appears, as Giancarlo Romairone - Pro Vercelli’s Tom Cruise look-a-like - reaffirms his, and the club’s faith in Il Mister and his technical team. The vultures have started to circle.

Agents are claiming management incompetence to protect their players. Websites are offering alternative options should the club’s patience finally run out (Alfredo Aglietti the ex-Empoli boss heads a list of one, thus far). Even the local Pasticceria has been told to put their Panettone orders on hold.

If Mister Braghin does get to eat his Panettone - as in, keep his job in time to eat the traditional Christmas treat - Pro may have to win more than just the next three games.

The club are in the playoff places at the wrong end of the table. They face Virtus Lanciano on Sunday. The side from Abruzzo are just a point above them, having struggled to just one win from eight. Pro’s travels have been fruitless thus far; a win would be very much against the odds. The match starts a run of four games against team’s that should, on current form, beat Pro with ease.

There is a positive. The club are now back training on the pitch at the “Piola” or “Robbiano” depending on your way of thinking. This is the first step on route to the club moving back proper from Piacenza. Maybe playing in front of their own fans, in their own home, might have a better affect on the team’s progress.

We can but hope.

Forza Pro!!!

Bari 2-1 Pro Vercelli

It was one of those games. Another one of those games which may well prove to be the downfall for Pro this term.

Two long range shots and a last minute reprieve saw Bari take the spoils on what is fast becoming, a customary minefield of a pitch in Puglia.

It could, as always, have been so different.

I’m not sure if you can blame Valentini for the first goal. He appears to have been caught by the flight and class of the strike from Bellomo, but there’s always a preference for the keeper to dive, no matter how futile. The second goal saw the usually reliable keeper sucked in behind his wall as the same opponent put his freekick past him and in to the net.

Gabriel reduced the deficit with a scrambled effort in th latter stages of the game - and the points could (should) have been shared, but for Tir struggling to get the ball out from under his feet, when a tap in looked the likeliest outcome.

After the positives of the Ascoli game, Pro have lost another game by the odd goal - where but for a mistake, another mistake, they would be higher up the league.

How many mistakes, odd goals and dropped points can Pro afford, before the frustrations of the press and fans boil over with the fear of a relegation scrap?

ForzaPro!!!

Deludente, dubbio, distanza, determinato, due e sognare.

OK, so the last word looks out of place – but in inglese, sognare is dreaming.

And that’s what I am still doing; what fans still have to do. When asked to describe how I felt the start of the season had gone for Pro, my first reaction was disappointing (deludente). I then had to check myself – step back and put that view in to context. This is, after all, Pro’s first season in Serie B in my lifetime – in a great number of lifetimes.

Is it really disappointing to be in their position – mid-table with one win under their belts – still ahead of local rivals Novara? Yes, the three consecutive defeats have not gone down well, but they were close, and they were against last year’s Serie B sides. So really, is that grounds for disappointment?

I guess not. What is disappointing is to see the goals conceded and the opportunities missed. To read – through translation – some of the comments directed at the team, at individual players; some of which have never played at this level before.

I feel the distance (distanza), as I did during the good times last year – which makes me even more determined (determinato) to get out in November, after the side has returned from exile. Then I can sit, side by side, with those who have better reason to feel disappointed – the true fans who have to travel to Piacenza for home games or the length of the country for away matches – only to watch those games ruined by obvious mistakes.

It’s also disappointing that I had planned to go to the Cittadella game next week, only for the league to move it to the day I return from Venezia.

But what of the last d. Due?

As happened last season – so the same this. Pro could find themselves comfortable in the top half of the league this weekend, thanks in part to the number of sides who have fallen foul of the penalty points handed out. Another two (due) sides have just been penalized two points – Bari e Crotone – dropping both below Pro as things stand.

Pro will travel to Piacenza to face Ascoli on Saturday. Both sides will be looking for their second win of the campaign. The side from Marche beat Spezia last time out and drew with Virtus Lanciano the week before. They finished two points above the relegation playoff places last season, so should be a good guide (as Livorno were) for the fans to see how much still needs to be done, if Pro are to finish in Serie B come May.

Video: Highlights of Pro Vercelli’s 1-2 defeat to Sassuolo last time out