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.

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