Saturday, 14 December 2013

Update On Life In Florence

I am currently sitting in the the Biblioteca delle Oblate in Florence, just a couple of doors down from my flat, and I wanted to give an update on what the hell I have actually been doing for the last couple of months. I'm here because in all seriousness I am trying to work but in reality I am finding that very difficult so what better than procrastinate with a bit of writing. I know I have been pretty rubbish at the whole blogging on my escapades and I apologise for that but hopefully this post will make up for it all.

Now that I have been living in Florence since the beginning of September, about 3 and a bit months, I think I can say that I am pretty settled with most aspects of life in Italy. In truth it is not that hard to 'acclimatise' since Italy is a European country, it's not like I'm in Delhi or Beijing where I am sure the whole experience would have been much much more challenging. I mention Delhi because a friend of mine had the chance to go there for his year abroad but turned it down and I can't even begin to imagine how amusing it would have been if he had in fact gone.

The only aspect that I have probably really found difficult to get to grips with has been the work (or lack thereof). Since the start of the 1st semester in October through to Christmas I have only been taking one course, which has related to 6 hours of contact time a week. Not a lot, especially when you consider the fact that unlike all my friends back in Edinburgh, and indeed others on International exchanges, I have had no assessed work during the semester. No essays, no presentations, no readings, no seminars, zilch. 

Instead I have had to endure lecture after lecture on pots and pans from Ancient Rome and Greece. Endless slide after slide with a constant mumbling accompanied by my very Tuscan lecturer who makes it very difficult for the likes of myself to understand him. Although I have ascertained that I am quite possibly the only Erasmus, definitely English, student on my course, I have used a Dictaphone throughout the semester to record the lectures but even listening to them there are some areas which are just completely incomprehensible. Oh well, fingers crossed for the exam eh. Which, incidentally, I still do not know when, where or what it is. 'Apparently some time in January', 'some sort of oral', 'your Erasmus you will be fine' are a selection of comments I've heard over the past few weeks. In fact I finally received a reply from my lecturer this week and it seems he doesn't even know when this exam is either.

Always nice to have a good moan! On the plus side, since I have had so much free time I have been able to do a teeny bit of travelling around Tuscany and a couple of other places in Italy. Hopefully after Christmas I will be able to do a bit more with Turin, Genoa, Verona and Venice definitely a few places that I want to explore.

In early October I took a trip with two of my flatmates to the Island of Elba just of the Tuscan coast. It's a really nice place and I can obviously see the attraction of the island. Unfortunately, the timing of our trip was somewhat out of season and a combination of wet weather and very few holiday goers served for a quiet weekend away. But nonetheless good fun as we ate well and rented a car for the day to explore the Island where Napoleon was exiled to in 1814.

This trip was shortly followed by a day trip with ESN, an Erasmus group in Florence, to three places in Tuscany. ESN put on three coaches as we went to Volterra, San Gimignano (pronounded San Jimi-iano) and Monteriggioni. All three towns are very much archetypal of the Tuscan region. Situated amongst green rolling hills that stretch out as far as the eye can see from all angles. Picture scenes from the film Gladiator and you know what I mean. San Gimignano was particularly fascinating, a walled medieval town, it still boasts 14 towers of varying heights within its walls. An amazing feat since catastrophes,wars and the like all cause some sort of destruction of these old columns, certainly in Florence where many no longer exist.

I hopped on the train, with three friends, from stazione Santa Maria Novella in Florence last weekend and took the fast train to Rome. Only an hour and a half!! It was great weekend in the Italian capital. I've been to Rome before, I spent two weeks there in the summer of 2012, and so I took on the role of chief map reader, seeing as the other three were somewhat incapable of such things. Rome is a truly wonderful city and I take probably more of an interest than most since I study Ancient History at University alongside my Italian. What was equally as fascinating was being in the capital in December, something that I had not done before.

The high point of the weekend was seeing Pope Francesco up on his balcony from St Peter's square (sorry, Piazza) at midday on the Sunday. I've never seen a Pope in the flesh before and though I am not Catholic I still felt slightly touched and humbled to be in that Piazza at that time and hear him preach to the masses. Like what I did there...masses.... Anyway, I even understood some of what he was saying too which proves the last 3 months or so have not been a complete waste of time. Although we will give it another 5 months I think before we come to any conclusions.

I was incredibly fortunate to see Ludovico Einaudi live in concert in Florence this week. Truly one of the most amazing performances I have ever seen. I think the performance was all the more special since I watched him with Italians, in Italy and of course Einaudi himself is Italian, born in Turin. What made me so in awe of the whole spectacle was how one man had all this in his head.

I'm now looking forward to Christmas back home in East Anglia and New Year in Edinburgh. But I will endeavour to be much more informative about my time in Florence after Christmas for my 2nd semester in Italy!! 

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Three Gentlemen Of Verona

Unlike Shakespeare's title for his play, there are three gentlemen, not two, that are making waves in Serie A this season with high-flying Hellas Verona. Luca Toni, Juan Iturbe and Jorginho Frello.

To many, Verona are a small team that outside of Italy people know very little of. A perception probably adopted by many native Italians too. But to those true calcio lovers out there, whether Italian or foreign, we actually know a bit more about Hellas Verona than should be conceivably possible and that is all thanks to Tim Parks.

Parks' book A Season With Verona which was published in 2002 followed Verona's trials and tribulations in Serie A during the 2000-01 season. It is a fantastic piece of work by Parks and a must read for any lover of football. Consequently, I, possibly like many other Englishmen that follow Italian football, have always taken great satisfaction in seeing Verona pick up 3 points at the weekend after seeing the scores from Italy.

Unfortunately this became somewhat of a rare occurrence in the last decade with Verona experiencing mixed to negative fortunes. They were relegated from Serie A in 2002, the next season after Parks' novel. Thus began a decade of torture for the Gialloblu who suffered the indignation of a relegation to the 3rd level of Italian football and it nearly got worse as they narrowly avoided slipping through the trapdoor to Serie C/2. But the fight continued and the team hauled themselves out of the mess and got back into Serie B before gaining promotion to Serie A at the end of last season.

Since returning to the promised land they have not looked back currently lying in 5th place in the standings with 22 points from the opening 11 games. It really has been an excellent start to the season and their form at home has gone some way to helping them as they notched up their sixth win out six at the Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi against Cagliari at the weekend. It matches the record set by the Verona side of 2001-02 when they too recorded the same feat between November through to February. Their start to the season is their best since their Scudetto-winning season way back in 1984-85 and it now means that they have gone 13 games unbeaten at home. 10 of which have been victories.

Fans at the Bentegodi have had reason to cheer in 2013
Many would have had reason to question the signing of Luca Toni over the summer. Let go on a free by Fiorentina and at the age of 36 he does not seem to be the kind of talisman a side is looking for to keep them in the top tier of Italian football. But those doubters have been well and truly pushed aside by Toni who has enjoyed a magical start to this campaign. The striker has already notched 5 goals this season proving to be a very tricky customer for opposing defenders from set-pieces (Verona have scored 9 of their 22 goals from set plays). Toni is Verona's joint top goal scorer alongside Jorginho who has slotted 4 of his from the penalty spot.

Toni hearing a recall to the Azzurri?

Such has been his form this season there have been some calls, very faint ones mind you, to Prandelli to keep his eyes open with regards to Brazil next summer. Toni seems to be following a line of other old timers who have been outperforming their younger compatriots so far this season. Alberto Gilardino has scored 5 goals for Genoa already this season and Francesco Totti has been instrumental in Roma's excellent start to the campaign. All the while Mario Balotelli has fired blanks in his last 3 matches for Milan and combined with his exceptional rate of bookings and tendency to go for a dive in the area, he has been more than underwhelming of late.

Jorginho: Verona's Brazilian magician

La Gazzetta dello Sport summed it up perfectly on Monday describing this seasons Verona side as 'solid, compact, they concede little and run loads'. The running is in no small part down to the midfield dynamos that are Juan Iturbe and Jorginho, the pair are only at the tender age of 20 and 21 respectively and have big careers ahead of them. Verona will be hoping that Iturbe may be able to join permanently next summer as he is on loan from Portuguese side Porto whilst they will want to tie Jorginho on a long term contract so as to evade the watching eyes from Europe's big teams who have certainly been taking notice. Jorginho has been outstanding this season having already created 15 chances for his teammates in only 11 fixtures. This, combined with his 5 goals from midfield, has been crucial to Verona's great start to the season. Iturbe has also made others sit up and take notice, especially after his fantastic solo effort against Bologna earlier in the season. Hopefully he can build on his promising start to the season by weighing in with more goals and assists as the season continues.

Toni is of the opinion that there is no secret to their success this season. Just the simple matter of a bunch of healthy players that are committed to give their very all for one another on the pitch. Something that he hopes, along with all Gialloblu fans, will not change in the coming months. Speaking as one admirer, neither do I.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Atalanta: Serie A's answer to Southampton?

Atalanta B.C are not the most spectacular team to have graced the fields of Serie A by any means but there is one distinct aspect of this somewhat provincial football club that makes it stand out from most others in Italy, and that is its youth academy.

Club's football academies and their youth systems have long been a fascination of mine. One cannot help but be in awe of teams that can produce footballers through their own system and couple it with being a successful team. Barcelona is obviously the modern day example of this with their La Masia system which has outproduced any other football club in the world with great talent for the last decade.

I myself am an Ipswich Town supporter and have also been delighted to see some great talent come through our youth system over the last few years, with the likes of Kieron Dyer, Richard Wright, Jordan Rhodes and Connor Wickham to name but a few.

Obviously this is not on the same scale as much bigger and better teams but the point is that as a fan it gives you an incredible feel good factor about your team. It is such a refreshing thing to see. The fans love it as they feel a true sense of pride towards the team and indeed the region and, of course, it is also admired by other teams, critics and fans from all around the world.

At a football club like Atalanta this is no different and over the past 20 years this football team has in many ways outproduced a lot of their fellow Italian rivals when it came to bringing through youngsters and molding together an incredibly successful system at grassroots level.

Montolivo: Currently captain of Milan and Italian international
To back this up here are a number of players who you would have heard of who have come through the ranks at the club from Bergamo: Roberto Donadoni, Alessio Tacchinardi, Ivan Pelizzoli and Samuele Dalla Bona, Giampaolo Pazzini, Manolo Gabbiadini and Ricardo Montolivo (currently captain of AC Milan). All of whom went on to play top flight football either in Serie A or else where to varying degrees of success. Other well known players who have played at Atalanta in their younger years and have then gone onto bigger and better things include Claudio Caniggia, Paolo Montero, Christian Vieri, Filippo Inzaghi, Christian Lucarelli and Cristiano Doni. Although Doni has actually spent the majority of his career at Atalanta and has had his most successful spells of his career there.

Pazzini: Scored the 1st goal + 1st hat-trick at the new Wembley stadium.
 This fantastic record of producing players has earned Atalanta somewhat of a reputation, sometimes even as a feeder team to the bigger sides in Serie A. In the current squad there is still reason to be optimistic too as the Nerazzuri (a nickname in reference to the club's colours) have a number of young guns in the team. Andrea Consigli (Gk), Giacomo Bonaventura and Guido Marilungo make up the spine of the team with the first two having come through the team's academy. All three are still relatively young and have their best years ahead of them, however, it is increasingly likely that these 3 footballers will be plying their trades at bigger, wealthier clubs in the near future.

Time now for a certain comparison with a football club that lies on the south coast of England, namely Southampton F.C. The Saints have without a doubt had the most productive and successful academy in England in recent times. With Bale having been priced as the most expensive player in the world this summer epitomising this. Joining Bale are the likes of Wayne Bridge, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and now in the current team left back Luke Shaw and midfielder James Ward-Prowse (with high hopes expected of the pair of them).

Bale being unveiled as the latest Madrid 'Galactico'

Southampton, like Atalanta, are not a big big club. Excuse me Saints fans but please don't take offense. However, they too play in the top flight of their respected countries and have done so for many years, before they were relegated in 2005 they had played 27 successive seasons in the Premier League. Atalanta similarly play in Italy's top flight, but other recent years have found little stability moving between the top two tiers of Italian football regularly in the last 10 seasons.

Hopefully now with betting scandals and off field distractions put to one side the Nerazzuri can concentrate upon cementing its place in Serie A this season and look to push on in the future with the help of its excellent youth programme and some exciting talents coming through the ranks.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Italy's North/South Divide and Its Effect on Italian Football

As a student studying in Italy I knew to some extent of how big a divide there is between the north of the country and the south. In fact, I found that almost everyone seemed to know about it as I prepared myself for a year in Florence, all the while being told repeated nuggets of information about the country's sorry state of affairs both financially and politically. Everyone knew about this dichotomy and everyone accepted it. That was just the way it was and the way it had always been. Well, at least for the last century or so. I wanted to take a closer look at this disparity within the country and also to see the effect that this might consequently have on football played in Italy, from club level right through to the national team.

Italy is with all respects in a pretty terrible situation and there are a number of reasons why Italy is still in this current state. For starters the country is in its longest economical slump since records began in 1970. The fact that there has been a failure of nearly every single Italian government to bridge the divide in the country is probably the No.1 catalyst for the poor climate Italy is currently experiencing. The economic disparity between the north and south is quite shocking and this does not look like narrowing any time soon what with the still very dominant presence of organised crime in regions such as Sicily, Calabria and Campania in the south.

In the last decade or so, 700,000 people have left from the 'mezzogiorno', (a commonly used name for the south of Italy, which literally means 'the middle of the day') in order to seek work in the northern regions of the country. They see opportunity and hope in more industrial and promising cities like Turin and Milan. There were 122,000 people who made this journey in 2008 alone. The fact of the matter is that economic crises hit the south much harder than the north, they are simply just not as well prepared and as secure in these areas as the north are. Quite astonishingly, only a 1/3 of the country live in the 'south' and yet half of Italy's 1.9 million unemployed come from there.

Italy may have been reunited since 1861 with the Risorgimento and the help of Garibaldi but it certainly doesn't feel like a reunification. The 'industrial' north cannot help but look down on the 'unclean, uneducated' south without a certain level of condescension. This fissure has evidently translated into all parts of Italian society and indeed football is no different. Since 1929 and the making of Serie A, Italy's top football division, has been dominated continuously by the north. The teams from Italy's industrial triangle: Torino, Juventus, Milan, Inter, Genoa and Sampdoria, have taken 81 out of the possible 108 scuddetti (titles) possible in the history of Italian football. This is in comparison with Roma (whilst Rome is the capital of Italy it is perceived by many as part of the south, indeed practically anything south of Tuscany is counted as fairly 'southern') who have won 3 titles, the most out of any southern Italian football team. A figure undoubtedly dwarfed by Juventus' 29, Milan and Inter's joint effort of 18 each and Genoa with a respectable 9 after they dominated Italian football in its early years.

No city south of Rome had won a scudetto until Maradona arrived on the peninsula in Naples in the late 1980's. But not even Maradona could really make much difference on the still ever present divide. If we look at Serie A, the top 20 teams with the most seasons in the league are predominantly northern with only 5 of that 20 coming from teams in the south. We count Cagliari as southern in this case even though they are from Sardinia because Sardinia, being an island that is separated from mainland Italy, like Sicily, therefore has its very own characteristics and also due to high levels of tourism has its very own southern feel to it.

Maradona transforming Napoli

Italy has the feel of two different countries, continents even. Only the name and the flag seem to be what's tying these two areas together. Though even then the flag is a very rare phenomenon seen in the Bel Paese. Even during events such as the World Cup. This territorial discrimination easily translates to the football pitch and to the many curvas around Italy where fans use any chance they have to rip into their team's rivals with slogans and chants.

Indeed a legal precedent has been made this season nearly a month ago when Milan played Napoli at the San Siro. Milan fans were charged after the game with racist abuse towards Napoli. But, of the 14 players that took part on the field for Napoli 13 were white whilst only 1, Zuniga, was of mixed race. To make matters even more bizarre, Zuniga was not even the player that was being targeted by Milan fans. The discrimination was a territorial one. Milanese supporters were abusing Neapolitans and the people of Naples and even then the only player out of the 14 that represented Napoli that day from Naples was Lorenzo Insigne.

The main Curva at the San Siro

Now I don't want to enter into any argument about whether this is racism or not or even whether it deserves punishment that the Italian authorities felt it did. This is not a solitary case and territorial rivalry and discrimination such as this has long graced the stadiums of Italy. It is not uncommon for teams from the south to travel for away games in the north and be greeted by slogans and messages in the crowd saying 'Welcome to Italy!' or 'Versuvius, make us dream!' (in reference to the volcano that overlooks the city of Naples and the hope that it will erupt to wipe out the city.) Of course the south too are just as keen to throw it back and their northern compatriots.

Moving away from actions taking place off the pitch and focusing once again to actions on it. Of the 20 teams playing in Serie A this season 15 are from what I will call the north and the other 5 are from the south (including the Sardinian outfit Cagliari). I described earlier what I deem to be the north and south divide in Italy. Serie B this year seems to be much more spread in contrast and of the 22 teams participating this season the make up of northern and southern teams is about 50/50. If we compare Serie A to the English Premier League and the geographical locations of its football clubs you will find a much bigger diversity, with English sides coming from all over the country. As is the same in the other big leagues in Europe where there is no real correlation between the teams' geographical location in either France, Spain or Germany.

Location of Serie A clubs 2013-14
Location of English Premiership clubs 2013-14

Location of German Bundesliga clubs 2013-14
Location of Ligue 1 clubs 2013-14

Italy’s 3rd tier of football is called the Lega Pro Prima divisione, or put simply: Serie C. Serie C is split into two levels with Girone A and Girone B. Girone A has the teams from the northern part of Italy whilst B has teams from the south. 2 teams are promoted to Serie B from each Girone each season. Thus, this is able to give us an excellent gauge between how teams from A or B fare when they make the jump to the higher division since they are directly being pitted against one another. I looked at the last 10 seasons in the hope of finding if there was some correlation as to whether teams from the south perform better or worse when mixed with the rest of the country and the results were pretty telling:

A table to show how the teams fared upon promotion to Serie B:

Girone A (North)                                                        Girone B (South)

Season 03/04                                                              

Treviso 15th                                                                  Avellino 23rd (Relegated)
Albinoleffe 18th                                                             Pescara 24th  (Relegated)

Out of 24 teams in Serie B, 12 from north + 12 from south.


A.C Arezzo 14th                                                           Cantanzaro 21st *
A.C Cesena 15th                                                          Crotone 16th

*Cantanzaro not relegated due to other teams falling into financial trouble and consequently being relegated.
22 teams, 13 from north + 9 from south.


Cremonense 21st (Relegated)                                        Rimini 17th
Mantova 4th (Play-offs)                                                 Avellino 19th (Relegated)

22 teams, 15 from north + 7 from south.


Spezia 19th (Relegation play-offs)                                 Napoli 2nd (Promoted)
Genoa 3rd (Promoted)                                                  Frosinone 12th

22 teams, 16 from north + 6 from south.


Grosseto 13th                                                               Ravenna 20th (Relegated)
Pisa 6th (Play-offs)                                                        Avellino 19th *

*Avellino originally relegated but were readmitted due to administration error by Messina.   
22 teams, 15 from north + 7 from south.


Sassuolo 7th                                                                 Salernitana 14th
Cittadella 17th                                                              Ancona 19th (Relegation play-off)

22 teams, 15 from north + 7 from south.


Cesena 2nd (Promoted)                                                Gallipoli 21st (Relegated)
Padova 19th (Relegation play-offs)                               Crotone 8th

22 teams, 13 from north + 9 from south.


Novara 3rd (Promoted)                                                 Portogruaro 21st (Relegated)
Varese 4th (Made play-offs)                                          Pescara 13th

22 teams, 16 from north + 6 from south.


Gubbio 21st (Relegated)                                               Nocerina 20th (Relegated)
Verona 4th (Made play-offs)                                         Juve Stabia 9th

22 teams, 15 from north + 7 from south.


Ternana 9th                                                                  Spezia 13th
Pro Vervelli 21st (Relegated)                                        Lanciano 18th

22 teams, 15 from north + 7 from south.

You can clearly see that by and large in each of the last 10 seasons the northern teams have outdone the southern ones. This is clearly shown by how over the course of the seasons the number of southern teams participating in Serie B gradually diminshed. There was not one season in the last ten where both teams from the south outdid their northern adversaries after promotion and barring 3 seasons out of the 10 a newly promoted side from the south went down. It would have been 2 was it not for the readmission of Cantanzaro in 04/05. This shows the north have outperformed their southern counterparts, or at least the majority of northern football teams in Italy fare better at club level than from the south. This has been proven by titles won, appearences made in the top flight and now this performance table in Serie B over the last 10 years. 

If we now change are point of interest to the national team and look at the make up of the Italian football squad. What clubs the players are called up from and the region they are in and also the birth places of those that have in the past been called up to Italian squads so that we can get an idea about the proportion of where Italy's footballers come from. 

Of the 28 footballers that were recently called up to represent the Azzurri in their final 2 qualifiers against Denmark and Armenia, 23 plied their trade within Italy. Furthermore, only 6 out of that 23 were called up from clubs that are situated in the south of the country. Two from Roma and Lazio, one from Napoli and one from Cagliari. Even then it is two big footballing cities, the capital of Italy and Naples which together are the 1st and 3rd biggest municipalities in the country. The rest of the southern teams evidently do not possess the quality that is required of an Italian footballer if he is to represent his country. 

Below is a list of the 23 man squad that played for Italy during the 2012 European Championships in Poland/Ukraine. 20 of that squad played for Italian football clubs and of that 20 only 5 were players at clubs from the south of Italy. But in this case I want to show where these footballers were born and therefore see if being born from the south of Italy is as damaging to your prospects in football as being a club that is situated in the south.

G Buffon  -  P.o.b  Carrara, North
C Maggio  -  P.o.b  Montecchio Maggiore, North
G Chiellini  -  P.o.b  Pisa, North
A Ogbonna  -  P.o.b  Cassino, South
Thiago Motta  -  Brazil
F Balzaretti  -  P.o.b  Turin, North
I Abate  -  P.o.b  Sant'Agata de' Goti, South
C Marchisio  -  P.o.b  Turin, North
M Balotelli  -  P.o.b  Palermo, South
A Cassano  -   P.o.b  Bari, South
A Di Natale  -  P.o.b  Naples, South
S Sirigu  -  P.o.b  Nuoro, Sardinia (i.e not north)
E Giaccherini  -  P.o.b  Bibbiena, North
M De Sanctis  -  P.o.b  Guardiagrele, South
A Barzagli  -  P.o.b Fiesole, North
D De Rossi  -  P.o.b  Rome, South
F Borini  -  P.o.b  Bentivoglio, North
R Montolivo  -  P.o.b  Caravaggio, North
L Bonucci  -  P.o.b  Viterbo, South
S Giovinco  -  P.o.b  Turin, North
A Pirlo  -  P.o.b  Flero, North
A Diamanti  -  P.o.b  Prato, North
A Nocerino  -  P.o.b  Naples, South

From this we can see that out of the 23 representatives of Italy in the Euros, 12 players were originally from the north, 10 from the south and one, Thiago Motta, was not born in the country. 

It says a great deal I think that clearly a players footballing ability is not determined from where he was born. You are not put at a disadvantage simply from being born in Reggina rather than from somewhere like Verona. Balotelli, who was born in Palermo in Sicily was arguably the best player for Italy in those championships and he hails from the south. However, it does show that a hefty number of those good footballers born in the south of the peninsula do eventually end up playing in the north. Just as those figures showed how many many southerners leave the south to seek work in the more industrial northern cities so do the footballers who seek the richer and more accomplished teams of Turin and Milan. 

It  may not be all doom and gloom for the south though. In the current Serie A season things are going extremely well for the likes of Napoli and Roma. Roma top the table this season with 8 wins from 8 games and Napoli trail behind them in second. It may well be the start of a sudden resurgence from the south but it won't be the sort of tide that can just swing in a year. This needs to be a series of dominance. If Napoli or Roma go on to win the title this season they cannot simply sit back next season and feel that the job is now done. They must replicate Inter's form of the last few years under Mourinho where between 2006-10 they won 5 successive league titles.  

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Totti, Gervinho and African gazelles

What a start to the season Roma are having!! It might be a bit early to start mentioning the possibility of a scudetto, but as Gabriele Marcotti pointed out in his column for the 'Wall Street Journal': 'Nobody wants to get too excited, but of the seven teams that have won their first seven matches to start a Serie A season, just one, Inter in 1966-1967, failed to win the title' and this is exactly what Roma have done so far. 7 wins from 7, a +19 goal difference having scored 20 and only let in 1. This gives them the joint best defence alongside Olympiakos in the whole of Europe so far this season. It is also worth pointing out that Premier League side Southampton are joint second with Atletico Madrid having only let in 2! 

If there is one man who has been an integral part of Roma so far this season, as he has been for the last decade or so and more, then it is that man Francesco Totti. Totti, bearing in mind that he is 37 years of age, is still starting games up top for his beloved Giallorossi and is still putting in the performances that made him into such a successful footballer all those years ago.
 At the weekend Roma travelled to Inter, no easy game despite Inter's poor finish of 9th last season. Yet they made light work of it and walked away from the San Siro with a 3-0 win and Totti bagged himself 2 goals in the process. After the match Totti had this to say: "Winning seven straight matches isn't easy. I don't think anyone expected this start to the season."

Still Roma's go to man?

This sensational form shown from Totti has seen him create 27 goal scoring opportunities for his fellow teammates, more than any other player in Serie A this season. The performances he has been putting in have even led to calls for him to be selected for the national team and possibly even a place on the plane to Brazil next summer. I don't see how that could be a bad thing for Italy at this stage, especially if Totti keeps on putting in performances like this for the remainder of the season. Italy boss Prandelli also seems to agree saying that 'If the tournament was in 2 months time then Totti would be on the plane.' 

But it would be unfair on a few others if all the credit was directed at Totti for Roma's astonishing start to the season. Praise must be given to new manager Rudi Garcia, formerly of Lille, and who many thought was somewhat of a daring acquisition this summer. Certainly because he has not achieved all that much in France after winning the title there with Lille 3 years ago. But he has definitely made an impact upon this Roma side so far this season and his arrival is no coincidence in the correlation with the results on the pitch.

Nor may I add is it a coincidence with the arrival of former Arsenal player Gervinho. The African footballer had a torrid time in North London for 2 years but has been outstanding since his move to the Italian capital and he has relished joining up with Garcia, his former coach when he played at Lille. In fact, his performance after Saturday's game in Milan led an Italian journalist to write in Sunday's Gazzetta dello Sport that: 'Every day in Africa there is a gazelle that wakes up and wishes that he could run as fast as Gervinho so that he can blow raspberries at lions.' It is such a hilarious and brilliant description and is also typical of the different style of writing that is found in the sports papers of this country compared to those in England. This is also coupled with the comment I found on Totti's man of the match performance: 'The years pass for everyone, but not for Totti... If he was poetry, Totti would be ‘L’infinito’ by Giacomo Leopardi.’ Another wonderful example of the romantic style that is ever present in Italian journalism.

The African gazelle in action

One other surprise package of Serie A this season has been Hellas Verona. A team that I have always looked out for having read Tim Parks’ wonderful book ‘A Season with Verona’. They are currently 5th in the table after they thumped a meagre Bologna side 4-1 at the weekend.

In other news, I went to a bar on Sunday night to watch what I thought would be a very good game in Lazio – Fiorentina. Sadly it finished 0-0 and both sides never really looked like inning it from the word go. The result could be explained by the fact that both teams featured away from home in Europe on Thursday night and were just too tired come Sunday. The game certainly lacked energy and any sort of spark that could have resulted in victory for one side.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Mind The Sack

We are only 6 and 7 games into Serie A and B respectively this season and already we have seen FOUR managers dismissed in Italy's top two divisions. It is a very short period of time for the upper echelons of a club to decide that a change is needed for their team to better themselves during the rest of the season. Yet, it is a decision that we have seen taken all too often in Italian football over the last decade or so and even beyond. Two of the men in question are ex-Milan star Gennaro Gattuso who was given the chop by recently relegated Sicilian side Palermo and another fairly well known ex-Italian footballer, Fabio Liverani, who also was given his marching orders. In this case, however, it was by Serie A outfit Genoa.

Some may point out that in the last week or so the same has happened in the top two tiers of English football, where we have seen managers Di Canio (Italian) and Nigel Clough both removed from their posts. Whilst this is a similar length of time into the new season there is no comparison between them. It is true that Di Canio was only in charge for 13 games on Wearside after he took over the club in March of the previous season. But Di Canio seems to be an exception to most cases. It could be argued that his methods did not go down too well with the players, the fans and ultimately even the board. Results and off the field antics seemed to force their hand in letting the enigmatic Italian go. Clough is almost an entirely opposite case since he spent nearly a healthy 5 years with the Rams and in the end the club must have decided that he was not going to be the right man to get them up this season. He may have left Derby in better shape than Sunderland since they lie 14th in the Championship, however, the board obviously felt that no signs of progress were being made.

Gattuso finding life in management tricky 

These two cases are in stark contrast to the sackings of Gattuso and Liverani in Italy. Let us start with Gattuso and his now former club, Palermo. Gattuso lasted only 6 competitive games in Sicily before he was let go by club owner Maurizio Zamparini, a.k.a 'The manager eater'. Gattuso had only been in charge of the side from the beginning of July after their relegation from Serie A last season. He left the club with them only in 9th position and whilst that is not the best start to a campaign for the league's promotion hopefuls it is also most certainly not the worst with still a hefty 35 games or so to go in the season. Yet, it still comes as little surprise to those in the know.

The facts that follow Zamparini are quite astounding. It is also hard to determine whether they are all completely correct or not because of his liberal use of the term 'manager' and the fact that he has sacked some coaches more than once. It is possible that during his time in football, Gattuso, who won 73 caps for Italy, has become the 43rd manager to be sacked by the 72 year old. He also becomes the 20th manager to be dismissed since Zamparini took charge of Palermo 11 years ago and also the 32nd manager to leave the club since the year 2000. Breathe.

Zamparini plotting his next managerial move

Even in last years fateful season he sacked 3 managers, 2 of which were re-hired at some point later in the year making the figure actually 5. One of those managers was a man called Gasperini who was hired in February of this year, promptly sacked and then rehired 20 days later only to be sacked again. It all sounds like stuff of legend and one begs to think of what the English media would make of it all if this habit came much closer to Britain's shores. Gattuso went off the back of two home defeats in a row and rumour has it that that is all it takes in Italy now. Two home losses on the trot and you are out of there. Next manager please.

Liverani is another manager to have been given his marching orders this month. The first and only sacking in Serie A so far this season I believe, unless someone goes whilst I am writing. He has been replaced by that man Gasperini again who has funnily enough already managed Genoa a few years ago when he was at the helm for a mammoth 3 years. Liverani, like Gattuso, was only hired this very summer and lasted less than 2 months into the season before he was shown the door. In this case though Genoa really have had a poor start to the season with only a solitary win in their opening 7 games. This includes a shock Coppa Italia defeat but is also strangely coupled with the fact that Liverani did lead the team to a 3-0 thumping of fellow city rivals Sampdoria less than 2 weeks ago. However, a 2-0 loss to Napoli at the weekend proved to be the tipping point and the merry-go-round of managers continues.

Fabio Liverani on his way out at Genoa

This is not an issue which is solely concerned with Palermo or even Genoa. Every Italian club and owner is at it. Since the beginning of last season in Serie A to the start of this season there were 27 managerial changes. 27! Baring in mind that there are only 20 clubs in Serie A. This is also compared with the comparatively small number of 10 changes that have taken place in the Premier League in the same amount of time. And even many of those changes have been not because of sackings but of managers like Martinez and Moyes choosing to take their talents to a better club.

What is also quite noticeable in Italy is how many of the well known managers have by and large each managed a number of the 'Big 4/5' clubs in the country. Or some who have managed more clubs than they could probably care to remember. By no means is it their own fault. More often than not they are sacked after a single season at a club with very little chance of proving their real worth. Here is a list of a select few managers and their credentials.

Massimiliano Allegri: 46 years old. Current club AC Milan. He has managed 7 clubs in 13 years of management.

Fabio Capello: Has managed Milan x2, Roma and Juventus.

Franco Colomba: Not a famous manager but I wanted to include him for the sake of his managerial career. I honestly don't understand how he keeps on being hired. He is currently 58 and out of a job. He has managed 19 clubs in 23 years.

Antonio Conte: Regarded as a very good manager and doing a great job at Juventus now. But has managed 7 clubs in the 8 years since he turned coach.

Luigi Delneri: Has managed 9 clubs in the last 9 years.

Claudio Ranieri: The tinker man is a well known and respected manager. He is now doing very well with Monaco although the resources available to him are incredible. In Italy he has managed Napoli, Fiorentina, Parma, Juventus, Roma and Inter. Nearly every big club there is in Serie A. That is like an English manager coaching in his career Liverpool, Tottenham, Everton, Chelsea, Arsenal and Newcastle.

Delio Rossi: Currently at my favourite side Sampdoria. He has coached 16 clubs in 23 years of management.

Giovanni Trapattoni: Milan x2, Juventus x2, Inter and Fiorentina. Again another lovely range of top Italia clubs.

This sacking culture does not look like stopping anytime soon and I can only hope that in the future this does not spread to England. It will be a sad sad day if it does. Let us only hope that Sir Alex Ferguson is not the last man to spend nearly three decades at one club.    

Monday, 30 September 2013

Dio Aiutami!

Today was the day that University began in Firenze. It was also the day that I attended my first class. Archeologia e Storia Dell'Arte Greca e Romana. Come again? I walked in to the lecture hall at 12.55 for the 13.00 start, initially glad to see that there were at least over 50 people already in their seats. This was a promising sign. Now, whilst the lecture took place I began a transcript underneath my notes, a blow by blow account of what took place in the following 2 hours. Here we go.

More people coming into the room. Actually, a lot more. Probably double the amount that was originally in here.
More people still coming into the room. It's 13.10, the lecture still has not begun. I think there are about 200 people in here now.
This lecture theatre is pretty interesting. It has got like frescoes all over the walls. It feels a bit like a church. It's very Florence.
Can't get over the boy to girl ratio in this room. I'm pretty sure that there is 1 guy for every 9 girls.
Lecture has finally started. At last, its 13.20.
No idea what's going on.
A lot of people seem to be writing stuff down, the girl on my right is not however. This is making things difficult.
There has been a break down in communication. Lecturer thought that the projector above his head was working. It is not. He has started fiddling with his computer. Everyone is talking again. Time is 13.35.
Lecturer has now walked out the room. He's gone.
Now he is back with what seems to be the technician.
It's. 13.55. I think he is going to do it ad lib. Oh god, everyone is writing again. Girl on my right is still not writing. In fact, she seems to be packing her stuff up.
Please don't go! Don't leave me. The girl who was sitting on my right, whom I had hoped would be of some help so I could at least get an idea of what she was writing down, has apparently come to the wrong lecture. She has written anything for the first hour, has got up and walked out.
Lecturer continues talking. I am making out words. 'erodoto del 'elicarnaso. Yes I recognise that one.
Lecturer is sitting on a stage behind a vast desk with 4 computers on it. In fact he is almost completely covered by one so that we can only see his head. He is speaking into a mic. The Italians like speaking into mics.
Italian girl on my left asks me what the title of the book was that he just mentioned. I look at her. And in my best Italian reply: 'Sorry, if you do not know, then I do not know.'..... What book?!?!
Lecturer's mic has stopped working. He is still going, I don't think he has realised. No one from the tenth row back can now hear.
This goes on for 10 minutes. One guy has finally shouted out to notify him. Everyone leaughs. I look around.
He is going to have to do without the mic. Prof. De Tommaso Giandomenico, that is his name, is now leaving the stage and working his way up the ailses. He is still holding his mic to his mouth. I'm not entirely sure why, when we have just told him that it is not working.
14.45, coming into the home straight now. Lots of moving has started. People are getting up and strolling out. Lecturer is apparently ignoring them and continuing.
They're flocking out now. Nearly half the lecture hall has left and he's still talking. There are still 5 minutes to go. I'm still very confused
He's waving a book around. What's the title?! I doubt I will ever find out.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Zoomie Zoomayyy

So here is an update on events of the last week or so in Florence. The first thing I want to mention actually took place a couple of weeks ago, however, it was not till recently that I managed to get my hands on some footage (thank you Catriona) of our flat supper and more importantly a game of ‘Zoomie Zoomay’. I couldn’t not include this video clip, firstly because this game is a bit of a big deal in certain circles up in Edinburgh and secondly because it is quite amusing seeing a foreigner try and play this game when even we English find it a bit difficult after a few drinks!

There’s still a lot of work to be done but I am optimistic that come the end of my time in Florence I will have all fellow flatmates coming through ‘Zoomie Zoomay’ and even ‘Slaps’ with as little damage as possible.
Last weekend I received a nice surprise as my Aunt and Uncle happened to be on holiday down near Cortona on the border of Tuscany and Umbria. Since they were flying out of Pisa on Saturday evening they thought it would be a good idea to get me to come out and see them for lunch at VillaMangiacane just outside of Florence before they went on to the airport. It was incredibly kind and generous of them and gave me the chance to relax by a pool and enjoy a wonderful lunch whilst getting away from the thousands of tourists and general humdrum that is Florence at the moment. We enjoyed a lovely lunch and the hotel itself was in a fantastic setting looking out onto the rolling hills of Tuscany with Florence tucked into the hills not too far off in the distance.

One reason in particular as to why Florence is so busy this week is because it is currently the host of the World Cycling Championships of 2013.

Now most locals have found this an absolute nightmare because it has completely ballsed up their day to day routine. Roads have been closed, buses have been cancelled and cyclists and tourists have flocked from far and wide to follow this event. I for one have not been too perturbed by the whole thing as it has done very little to affect me. On the contrary it’s been quite exciting and my flat is also ideally placed for part of the course. Indeed I just have to leave my front door, turn right and then again and instantly I find myself up against the barrier of the track with only a mile or two until the home straight.

I have a few video clips of the event and even managed to see Bradley Wiggins race past on his way to a silver medal on Wednesday. Alas, my recording ability was not quite up to scratch as I manage to almost completely miss Wiggins as he goes past since I was much more interested in watching him myself. But I do assure you that it is him!  I'm really sorry also for the fact that I have not rotated the videos either. 

Watching all this cycling has got me all eager to get back on a bike again. You may or may not know but I along with two other friends cycled from Kent to Cannes earlier this year and I am very keen to conquer Italy as my next challenge at some point during my Erasmus year. Hopefully with the help from my trusty two companions from the last adventure!

I went to The Old Stove (Check) last night, an Irish pub, to watch the football. It was Inter v Fiorentina, so a big game for all the locals. The bar was absolutely rammed for the game and I luckily got there early and grabbed myself a seat. They have a good little set up with a TV set up outside the bar with lots of tables and chairs so people can watch the game outside. I was quickly joined at my table by a trio of Italian guys probably around my age with whom I had a few chats throughout the game. I even managed to follow quite a lot of their conversations with each other, even when one was absolutely incredulous that Neto, the Fiorentina goalkeeper, was only a 73 on the new FIFA 14 player ratings! I found this quite amusing.

Fiorentina sadly lost the game 2-1 despite taking the lead. It was a shame but it was still good fun watching the match, especially when surrounded by so many passionate fans. One man would shout, without exception, every ten minutes or so the word ‘VIOLA!!’ at the top of his voice twice when he felt the mood in the bar was getting too settled! Crazy.

In other news I am battling my way through the first Harry Potter in Italian. It’s actually more difficult than I thought it would be since I know the story line pretty well. But that is good I suppose and hopefully it is doing some good for my language. Uni starts on Monday which is also pretty exciting as after three weeks out here I am definitely ready to get stuck into more stuff and hopefully meet a lot more people.

My phrase of the day, I say day, it’s more like post, is: ‘Chi se ne frega?!’ ‘Who gives a damn?!’ Very nice.


Saturday, 21 September 2013

News from around the Peninsula

It has been an ever eventful week in Serie A and it is time to look back at some talking points from the previous days in Italy.

One thing that has really shocked me since moving out to Italy and getting a closer look at each individual club is Juventus' decision to not start new Spanish striker Fernando Llorente. So much talk and hype followed Llorente in the time surrounding his Bosman move to Juve and even I got excited at the thought of him playing up front for the 'Old Lady'. Yet so far he has hardly made an appearence. I can't see how a pairing of Tevez and Llorente up top for Juve isn't the best option for them. They would complement one another perfectly, one big, one small and even Llorente, brought up near the Basque region of Spain, isn't your simple 6ft odd lumbering centre forward. He's got great feet and fantastic instinct when in the box, I just do not see at this stage how Conte can put Quagliarella or Vucinic ahead of him.

It is the Rome derby tomorrow between Roma and Lazio and what better news for Romanista fans around Italy then to hear that club legend Francesco Totti has signed a new 2 year deal for the club. This deal will amazingly take Totti's playing career to the verge of 40 and is credit to his desire to win more games and his love of Calcio and of his boyhood club. Totti is currently second on the list of all time Serie A scorers and although it is unlikely he is going to get close to Silvio Piola's record it would be fascinating to see how many more goals he can bang in. Roma have had a fantastic start to the season too, with an 100% record so far in Serie A after 3 games and this will give them great confidence heading into this weekend's fixture with their arch rivals. It is sure to be a fiery affair as it is every year between these two teams.

The only other team this season still to maintain an 100% record is Rafael Benitez's Napoli. In all honesty the Neapolitan side have been nothing short of spectacular so far this season playing fantastic football and getting good results. This was epitomised by a 2-1 victory over last year's Champions League finalists Dortmund earlier this week. Anyone who thought a hangover was probable from last year's 2nd position finish has been proven wrong so far. As have those who felt that Napoli would not have a hope in equaling that feat because of the loss of star striker Edison Cavani to PSG over the summer. Instead Benitez has gone about his business in his usual no nonsense manner and has signed some very useful players with the money he got in return for the Uruguayan. Higuain,Callejon and Albiol have all joined from Real Madrid whilst goalkeeper Pepe Reina has quite unbelievably come on loan for the season. One of the deals of the summer in Serie A. Napoli also managed to keep hold of star midfielder Marek Hamsik which is vital for the club knowing that Cavani was already going to be leaving.

Looking ahead to Sunday's fixtures and my predictions:

Sassuolo 0-2 Inter
Atalanta 1-2 Fiorentina
Bologna 1-0 Torino
Catania 0-0 Parma
Juventus 3-0 Verona
Roma 1-1 Lazio
Milan 2-2 Napoli

Matches played today: Cagliari 2-2 Sampdoria, Chievo 2-1 Udinese and Genoa L-L Livorno

Tuesday, 17 September 2013


It has been an eventful couple of weeks since I moved to Florence. It would also be fair to say that a lot of things are done very differently out here than back home. Although, I am absolutely relishing this new found love for 'Aperitivo'. It's the 'done thing' in Italy and involves buying a drink/cocktail in a bar around supper time and then being allowed access to what appears to me an all you can eat buffet. It's great and sorts you out for the rest of the night. I was wondering why this isn't done in Britain and then realised that every person would be like me and go back for 3rds with the food disappearing in no time at all.

Aperitivi has replaced the normal so called 'pre-ing', which is commonly done before heading on out at British universities. This is then followed by a stroll over the Arno before ending up in Santo Spirito. A huge Piazza on the south side of the river which seems to be full every night of the week by 12, with no exception. It is a great hub of energy and people, mostly Italians, who gather with their mates wherever they can; on the church steps, around the fountain that marks the centre of the square, on benches and if that's all taken, then you park yourself on the floor. The only down side of 'Pre's' being thrown out the window is that drinking becomes that bit more expensive.

I had quite a surreal moment last week when strolling through the back streets of Florence in the San Ambrogio region at 3 in the morning with a couple of friends. The 3 of us were somewhat worse for wear after heading back from San Spirito. We came across this restaurant which was still open and before I knew what was happening we were inside with a table for 3. Including a multitude of bottles of wine being brought to the table . Now I don't have any idea what was said before we sat down, during the sitting down, and possibly after. But everyone was talking in Italian, the waiter's were talking Italian (shock) and wine was being sent back and forth with great shouting and hand waving before we settled on a bottle of...errr... white. A panino was placed before me. I tucked in. All the while talking continued around me in this deserted restaurant. It started to become apparent that the 2 guys running the place were turning people away at the door. Who turns up at a place like this at 3 in the morning beats me..... Yet they needed no encouragement to join us and they too cracked open a bottle themselves and sat themselves down at our table. This apparently is all very normal in Italy.

It was not until we stumbled out an hour later that I was filled in on what exactly had just taken place. I completely had got the wrong end of the stick thinking that these 2 waiters were chatting up my friends and for all they cared I could p*ss off. But, as was explained to me, one of them was gay and had in fact found a liking in yours truly. This too is apparently all very normal in Italy... This was all quite a lot to take on board, needless to say we have been encouraged to return the next time we happen to be passing in the middle of the night.

Anyway. I have had a fantastic time so far and with 10 days or so till University starts it will hopefully stay that way for now. Lunch today was hilarious too, taken in the San Lorenzo food market. A huge building filled with stalls and stalls of food sellers. We found a tiny cafe in the corner and proceeded to witness the most bizarre way to run a family food business. It seemed that Dad was in charge and also head of the pork baps. He had 2 daughters, one behind the counter with him. One front of house taking orders. And last but definitely by no means least was Nonna. The mum/grandmother. She made Manuel from Fawlty Towers look like 5* service. She too was front of house and whoever made that decision should be given the sack. Nonna was hopeless. Food was sent to the wrong table, cutlery was forgotten, coke was spilt, food was spilt. All the while the 2 daughters were screaming at 'Nonna' in front of all and sundry. Quite the experience.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Rossi Rossi Rossi!

The future's bright. The future's purple. So I thought it was high time to give an update on Fiorentina. I have now been out in Florence for nearly 2 weeks and I finally got to see the Viola in action on Sunday lunchtime whilst eating in a cafe with a friend. It was Fiorentina V Cagliari (a smallish team from the island of Sardinia just off the peninsula of Italy). The game ended 1-1 in the end and whilst it was not the most exciting result there was still much to talk about come the full time whistle. I decided not to go to the game because I want to save up for when the big boys come to town like Juventus, Milan, Roma and also for a night of European football.

Fiorentina had a fairly successful time in the transfer window bringing in some real quality like Mario Gomez from Bayern and also Joaquin from Malaga. This is combined with the long awaited recovery of star striker Giuseppe Rossi (the fella referred to in the title). Rossi almost comes as a new signing because although he was bought back in January he has been sidelined for a long period of time due to a knee injury. Rossi is a class act and a natural goalscorer. Big things are expected of him this season in Tuscany and paired alongside Gomez up front could make Fiorentina a force to be reckoned with in Serie A.

Now Rossi is one of those many players that Manchester United have let go without really giving them a chance. Joining this list are players such as Forlan (arguably given a good chance yet deemed expendable and the Uruguayan went on to fulfill his talent in Spain at Villareal and Atletico Madrid), Gerard Pique (let go by United very young after hardly any playing time and is now one of the best defenders in the World) and now Paul Pogba. Pogba left United for Juventus last year on a free and almost instantly became a prominent fixture in midfield alongside Pirlo with some outstanding ball play, dynamic runs and a lethal long range shot. Now hopefully Rossi can prove his full potential shown at a young age if he can just avoid injury.

Gomez and Rossi have both already scored 2 goals each this season for the Viola and it means that after 3 games this season they lie in 3rd place with 7 points. It certainly felt as 2 points dropped on Sunday when the Sardinians popped up in the 89th minute to level the score and take a share of the points. It felt like all the more of a kick in the teeth for Fiorentina as they lost Colombian Cuadrado to a shoulder injury in the first half before Gomez too was taken off with a knee injury in the 2nd half. Gomez's injury looks more serious and he could well be out for a month, maybe that exciting partnership between him and Rossi will have to be put on hold. Not only this but Pizarro was dismissed late on for talking back to the Ref and all in all this left a very bitter taste in the mouth of the Viola fans, not least manager Vincenzo Montella.

Anyway, it is still early on in the season and Fiorentina remain unbeaten. The bigger tests are to come with Napoli and Juventus visiting the Stadio Artemio Franchi in October where hopefully I will be looking on from the Curva Fiesole surrounded by a sea of purple. Until then I thought I would leave you all with a motto becoming increasingly popular among the Florentines. It is aimed at Spanish midfielder Borja Valero. The architect of all things sublime and beautiful in the Viola midfield and Fiorentina's goalscorer on Sunday.