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Whatever happened to Nicola Ventola?

It is a well-known fact that many talented prospects don’t turn out, with the mental and tactical rigours of modern football often too heavy a load to carry. It hurts far more, however, when a player has the brains, the technique and the guts to go far, only for it to become clear that his body – and his luck – were never cut out for a career in the pros.

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Inter and Mancini need each other

Inter’s tour of the United States has hardly been a relaxing affair: as if speculation over a possible Mauro Icardi departure to Napoli wasn’t bad enough, the Italian sports press is awash with reports of Coach Roberto Mancini’s dissatisfaction with the club’s transfer policy, with some even indicating that the former Manchester City gaffer would leave if his demands were not met.

There is, however, something that isn’t quite convincing about Il Mancio’s supposed desire to leave.

Read the rest of the article on Football Italia here
http://www.football-italia.net/88438/inter-and-mancini-need-each-other

Future is bright for Roma

It is rare to claim that ending an eight-game Serie A winning streak and losing your Sporting Director in one night is good news.

Yet for Roma, last night’s 1-1 draw with Inter could well end up being a step in the right direction, and for reasons which go beyond Walter Sabatini’s departure.

For a start, there is no shame in drawing with an Inter team whose manager, Roberto Mancini, has outsmarted Coach Luciano Spalletti before (and vice versa). Despite murdering Inter 6-2 in the 2007 Coppa Italia Final, Lucianone’s Giallorossi never won a home league game against Mancini’s men (even losing 4-1 in September 2007), and generally struggled to right the ship if things went wrong against the Nerazzurri.

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What’s Mihajlovic ever done for Milan?

A typical refrain heard from many Milan fans this season is that the squad isn’t good enough. Early on, it wasn’t strong enough to compete for the Scudetto, despite Silvio Berlusconi’s usual bombast and the spending of around €85 million on the likes of Carlos Bacca and Alessio Romagnoli.

More recently, many Rossoneri fans weren’t buying that Mihajlovic’s men could suddenly lead the charge for Europe, despite a 12-game unbeaten streak and rivals Roma, Inter and Fiorentina all either running out of steam or facing an identity crisis.

And who could blame them? The Diavolo lined up the likes of Mattia De Sciglio, Antonio Nocerino, Cristian Zapata and Suso as they lost two of their first three league games, triggering an early panic and somehow justifying Silvio Berlusconi’s repeated public criticism of his coach.

Read the rest of the article here on Football Italia’s website

Incubi del fantacalcio: Andrea Consigli

C’è chi passa settimane a studiare statistiche obsolete e trafiletti fuorvianti per sfornare la rosa vincente, e chi preferisce affidarsi al proprio quinto senso e mezzo per scovare quella pepita che nessun’altro ha notato. Ma c’è, naturalmente, anche chi si iscrive ad un campionato all’ultimo minuto, scegliendo di spendere poco sui portieri “perché tanto non valgono nulla”.

Non a caso, lo stesso luminare è stato costretto a raddoppiare il proprio budget saracinesche al primo mercato di riparazione, ormai troppo tardi, però, per evitare certe figuracce, come il -2 rimediato contro l’Inter (sette pugni incassati da un attacco piu’ Jekyll che Hyde), il tris della Lazio e il pareggio di Marco Sau al Mapei, arrivato pochi secondi dopo la prodezza di Zaza. Insomma, tredici gol presi in 7 giornate, e sono pochi se si considera che i prodi di Di Francesco hanno affrontato la bellezza di Juventus, Napoli, Lazio e Fiorentina dopo la disfatta di Milano.

E’ la punizione che tocca a chi crede di poter comprare un portiere a basso costo senza fare caso alla difesa, a chi conta solo sul talento di un giovane ex estremo difensore della nazionale olimpica senza rendersi conto che davanti non ha nemmeno le controfigure di Thuram e Cannavaro, bensì il fratello di quest’ultimo e Cesare Tavernel Terranova. E’ una cosa comprare Consigli al fantacalcio, un’altra ritrovarsi col portiere del Sassuolo.

Come detto, qui non si vuole puntare il dito su Consigli, un estremo difensore di cui si dice un gran bene da tanto tempo, ingiustamente ignorato dalle big nonostante le numerose prodezze con la maglia dell’Atalanta. Se non altro è una sorta di omaggio, la constatazione che il destino di un giocatore è talvolta molto piu’ soggetto al caso di quanto si voglia pensare. Non è certo banale fare buona figura sotto i riflettori e guadagnare un posto in nazionale, ma non lo è nemmeno giocar bene per una squadra provinciale e a tutti i livelli cadetti degli Azzurri. E’ un’ingiustizia non avere l’opportunità di sfondare nel calcio che conta, di mettere in mostra il proprio talento dove può essere notato. Chiamatela sindrome Taibi, che ha passato troppo tempo a Piacenza e troppo poco a Manchester, roccaforte che ha risputato tutti interi giocatori della risma di Veron.

Ora speriamo che Karnezis e Gillet non facciano schifo. E che non finiscano in panchina. In bocca al lupo Andrea!

What Inter can learn from St Etienne

Other than Walter Mazzarri’s woes, last night’s Europa League tie underlined just how a team of Inter Milan’s stature could stand to learn a thing or two from Saint Etienne, who either put into effect or incarnate some methods that a cash-strapped Serie A needs to take an interest in. In the wake of news that Inter Milan are still over 100€ million in debt, the sight of a former trigger-happy coaching graveyard – not to mention relegation struggler- following a manageable yet promising strategy must set alarm bells ringing in Milan. Here are a few of the contrasts that struck me as a youthful and ambitious Saint Etienne side made Inter look like they were playing away:

If you’re not going to compete with the Galacticos, spend efficiently

The post-Champions League hangover didn’t take long to set in at the Giuseppe Meazza, with Massimo Moratti announcing spending cuts to keep Inter in line with the upcoming Financial Fair Play (FFP). With Italy already in decline compared to other, richer leagues, it was time for a rethink.

14-10 Inter- St Etienne 3

Alvaro Pereira upon being asked how he thinks Inter fans view him

If Inter couldn’t be big spenders either on the Italian or the European scene, then they needed to separate themselves from the pack, to find talent where no-one else saw it, develop their own, or at least sign players at market-efficient prices. Think of what the Oakland Athletics have been able to achieve in America, or indeed Udinese, going full Portuguese and reselling their young, cheap, well-scouted talent at exhorbitant prices.

What Inter didn’t want to do was spend in excess of £60 million over a season (that of 2012-13) on a few signings that didn’t really make the team significantly better. There was certainly quality to be found (Samir Handanovic, Rodrigo Palacio, Mateo Kovacic), but also ridiculous clangers (Alvaro Pereira) and overpaid players (Pereira alone cost Inter £10.96 million, Fredy Guarin £9.68), making sure that Inter couldn’t reel in many recruits and properly rejuvenate an ageing squad comfortably past its prime.

Why were Inter waiting in line behind the richer clubs and settling for the last turkey in the shop, and not looking for a value find to trump the competition?

Saint Etienne, for their part, have spent a mere £35.82 million since the 2012-13 season. Obviously, the French market is less affluent, but we’re still talking of the 8th budget in France  regularly overachieving since Christophe Galtier helped the club avoid relegation in 2010, coming in fourth last time round.

That 2012/3 window summarises the situation perfectly, ASSE snatching two exciting playmakers inYohan Mollo and Romain Hamouma, a decent striker in Brandão, one of France’s most dynamic midfielders (Renaud Cohade) and a veteran defender (François Clerc) for a combined £3.52 million. Only one of them -Mollo’s- was a loan, though he has recently signed with the club.

Invest in youth

Surprisingly, the average age of the Inter squad is lower than Saint Etienne’s (transfermarkt has them at 26.2 and 26.8, respectively). Nobody would believe that of the team that gave away Davide Santon to Newcastle for mere peanuts.

St Etienne are, by comparison, a model for many European clubs. One of France’s traditional four youth academies, Les Verts have unleashed Josuha Guilavogui, Faouzi Ghoulam, Allan Saint-Maximin, Kurt Zouma and Ismaël Diomandé, the latter three semi-finalists at the 2011 Gambardella Youth Cup. Not all of them are world beaters, but three have earned big transfers, and two are becoming contributors at the Geoffroy-Guichard, both playing over 180 minutes this year. St Etienne eventually welcomed six members of that Under-19s squad to the A team.

Inter don't want this guy! Nagatomo forever!

Inter don’t want this guy! Nagatomo forever!

Inter’s transgressions are too many to list, but their youth players all seem to go through the same gauntlet of endless loans, insignificant stints and preposterously low transfer fees. Not all these players have to be world-beaters, regular starters are a more than enough. Inter need both youth and development in their squad, not short-term punts on golden oldies looking for a golden parachute. A good example would be Davide Santon: did Inter so desperately need £4.5 million that they couldn’t be bothered to develop a fullback some had (prematurely) compared to Paolo Maldini? What about Faraoni, or Caldirola?

Italy’s Under-21 squad for the Slovakia game spins a sad yarn: Inter owns 4 of its members, but they’re all out on loan. Two more were recently given away. Again, this isn’t markedly different from other Italian clubs, but if you’re short of money and ideas, developing youth can provide a valid alternative, especially when it comes to resale.

Who would you believe had made more money off selling players, the Italian giant, or the French mining town scrapper that came within a few points of relegation back in 2010? Well, since 2012, it’s the giant, but by a whopping £2.97 million. St Etienne brought in £67.25 million over that time, £37.49 coming from Zouma, Guilavogui, Ghoulam and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Inter, for their part, sold most of the crown jewels two years ago, Erick Thohir’s policy of only spending what comes in a mere excercise in self-deception.

If you won’t buy Italian, Buy French

With Europe’s biggest clubs around snapping up most of the recognised star power, and Italian talent generally coming at a premium, clubs like Inter need to look for market inefficiencies in order to boost both squad and books. France is one such example, Newcastle paying £4.4 million for Yohan Cabaye and selling him back for £22, just a million less than what was spent on him, Yanga-Mbiwa, Debuchy, Haïdara, Debuchy and Moussa Sissoko combined.

Yet with the whole continent obsessing over Adrien Rabiot, only Fiorentina zoned in on Benjamin Stambouli, a highly promising young Frenchman. Most French clubs aren’t run by Jean Michel Aulas, and often don’t know how to extract the best price for their young talent: Faouzi Ghoulam’s £4.4 million price tag an example of a downright criminal steal from the Neapolitans. Stambouli himself left for a clip under €6 million, David Ospina for €3.5.

St Etienne, for their part, have been diligently recruiting French for a number of years: Renaud Cohade, Stéphane Ruffier, Benjamin Corgnet, Franck Tabanou, Yohan Mollo and Romain Hamouma being some of the examples. Most of them young, some from recently promoted clubs (and hence at better prices), all good Ligue 1 players. Worst case scenario, Les Verts have a cheap, well-stocked squad. Best case scenario, they compete for the Champions League and keep raking it in as some leave for foreign shores.

Keep your squad stocked

Inter are falling asleep at the wheel. Coach Mazzarri’s choice to play a 3-5-2 isn’t helping, of course, but there is no justification for how the Nerazzurri lack any serious cover at most positions. St Etienne’s sheer numbers are a major boon here. If Hamouma or Corgnet are out, Tabanou and Mollo can come on.

Inter’s barely-rejuvenated squad had seven players out last weekend (joint-most in Italy that weekend), a massive red flag for a team with evident fitness issues, which the club shamefully tried to bemoan after the humiliating 3-0 defeat to Fiorentina, as if it were normal after a whole seven games. Since the 2011/12 season it has become painfully obvious that Inter are stumbling around in the dark, not making any long-term plans or investing in their future. To quote Billy Beane in the movie Moneyball, “If we try to play like the Yankees in here [the boardroom], we’ll lose to the Yankees out there”. I guess Beane had never heard of Cagliari.

Italy needs a makeover

“In England, they identify the players coming in and, if they are professional, they are allowed to play. Here instead we get Opti Pobà, who previously ate bananas and then suddenly becomes a first-team player with Lazio.”

This is not how a potential Federation President should chair one of his meetings. Not in Italy. Ever since Carlo Tavecchio, the heavily favoured candidate to take over the FIGC, uttered these words, the international footballing community has reacted with disgust. Not the Italian one, where Tavecchio still has a chance to take over, provided Italy’s major clubs don’t attempt a sudden volte-face.

This incident will, like many others before it, plunge Italy into infamy, and says a lot not merely about the inverted pyramid of power in the old boot, but also about how race and immigration are perceived there; about how plenty of revulsion hasn’t provided the necessary storm to hound Tavecchio from office, nor indeed necessarily helped Italians perceive racial questions in the same way as some of their European neighbours.

The emphasis in this piece will always be on the word some– there are plenty of kind-hearted people among my countrymen who treat other nationalities and creeds with the respect they warrant, though percentages regarding a subtle, widespread and multifaceted phenomenon are tough to quantify.

Yet the national debate on race in Italy can be incredibly skewed, and what’s even more worrying is that those either at the top or in a position to shape public opinion can be some of the worst transgressors.

Whether it is the Gazzetta dello Sport publishing a cartoon of Balotelli as King Kong or Tuttosport trying some suggestive double entendre (“Li abbiamo fatti neri”, meaning “we have beaten them black and blue”), it is worrying that certain mainstream newspapers are trying to go for the cheeky joke (and refusing to acknowledge the racist nature of their gags) even after the Ghanaian-born Mario Balotelli, (who else?) had buried Germany with an impressive double to send Italy through to the European Championship Final. Why a damn gorilla? Why always remind him he’s black? Shouldn’t he just be an Italian by now?

It’s a bit of a déjà vu in Italy, that of the higher ups embarrassing a country it does not represent and caring little for the public backlash, something akin to when Silvio Berlusconi called Barack Obama “tanned” upon the latter’s inauguration. This is probably why a critical mass sufficient to topple Tavecchio has yet to form. This may also explain why Joseph Minala came out in his defence: Minala plays for Lazio, whose president is backing Tavecchio to the hilt.

But it is frankly too easy to just blame it on the politicians and pretend that Italy is as tolerant as the Western European democracies it so desperately wants to emulate. Truth is that for all the upstanding people we have here, there are others who cross the line in all walks of life- and it happens all too often.

What can you say when someone claims that a council house has been “filthy since Albanians have been living in it”, or refusing to sleep with black girls because “they smell”? The first quote comes from an otherwise sensitive, articulate and moderate person, the second from a hip-hop enthusiast who repeatedly boasted of his ethnic friends. Both acquaintances, both Italian.

Admittedly there are times when ignorance, or rather the lack of an African component in modern Italian culture, could be an excuse, like when a local baseball team hit the ol’ blackface routine to lampoon Wesley Snipes from comedy film Major League. As Italy had never had a history of blackface comedy, or indeed of recent slavery, who would be offended? And how could the perpetrators know they were in the wrong?

On the flipside, such naivety could have something to do with a selective national memory (they all are), one that has conveniently left Faccetta Nera (little black face) behind in the post-war Italiani Brava Gente trend, when a rebuilding Italy pointed the finger at Germany and tried to forget its own sins. Faccetta Nera was a popular sing celebrating Italy’s African conquests in the 1930’s, achieved thanks to gas attacks and exploding-and outlawed- dumdum bullets.

Maybe the problem goes deeper than John Foot’s contention that your typical immigrant can never truly be “one of us”. Maybe we never even think about him to begin with, or rather not what he might feel when we cast the umpteenth stone. He isn’t even a part of the culture, of the local mindset, and is there to be made to made fun of.

Even then, when the anti-racial indignation hits the fan, it is dismissed with incredulity: “We’re not racist! Can’t you take a joke? DELIVER US FROM THE PC POLICE!”. Ironically, Italians are (rightly) never far from the war path when the boot is on the other foot, whether an English journalist makes a lazy crack about Neapolitans, international websites immediately cry racism as a reason for Mario Balotelli acting up in a Serie A game or when Das Bild goes full pelt on the anti-Italian propaganda. For a people whose history is synonymous with immigration, Italy could surely do unto the newer generations what its forefathers would have liked to have done unto themselves?

The country’s take on Ghanaian- born striker Mario Balotelli is particularly infuriating, and shows that even those who are well versed in racial sensitivity don’t quite grasp many of its niceties. For example. when Super Mario was the target of a Juventus ultras banner proclaiming that “there are no black Italians”, some threw it back at him, his provocative posturing blamed as the catalyst for the incident. Just to rub salt in the wound, there are those who have rushed to the offending ultras’ defence: they weren’t racist, but just used those terms because they knew it would hit him where it hurt most. It is telling that some would be willing to defend a group of ultras when it comes to race – when they would draw instant condemnation in many other fields. For a start, it’s a racist attack. Secondly, why give a bunch of fans not known for their moderate views the benefit of the doubt? Even taking this argument at face value, it may not be racist, but it’s racially insensitive. Is that something to feel proud of?

Tavecchio’s behaviour after the scandal broke has been nothing short of shocking, declaring that “Few have done what I have for the Third World”, plugging the work he claims to have done to bring more immigrants into the amateur footballing fold. Whilst I am no expert on such matters, even taking him at face value doesn’t absolve him: “I helped a black guy play football, so it’s fine if I don’t treat him as an equal. What a fabulous master I am!”. Worse, his use of “negro banana-eater” and “handicapped women” is essentially pre-empting post-scandal classics like “I have plenty of black friends!”. His delivery smacks of a racist doing everything he can to crudely prove that he isn’t- but he’s so out-of-touch that he can barely keep it under the surface.

It is frankly depressing that a country that places so much importance on manners should seem ready to flout them when it comes it to immigration and race. It’s not just about a supposed lack of awareness, but about treading carefully when dealing with certain subjects. Just because you don’t understand how insulting a particular word can be, doesn’t mean you should bulldoze through the situation with all the subtlety of resident Northern League lunatic Mario Borghezio spraying DDT over African prostitutes on an early morning train.

What does it say of Tavecchio, and Italy, that a 70-year-old should use racially charged language in what was effectively the run-up to the most important job interview of his life? Maybe that is the most depressing thing of all.