Sadly, James Richardson was too busy for us at The Football Express. So we’ve got the next best thing, Lega Pro expert, Steve Mitchell to provide us with a round-up of the season so far in the Italian third and fourth tiers. If you’ve missed it so far, this will get you right back up to speed in no time at all.
After 1412 games, 1676 goals and 23 managerial changes, Italy’s third and fourth tiers went into their winter break. Congratulations go out to Ternana, Siracusa, Casale and Perugia who were crowned winter champions of their respective divisions.
The season got under way in early September with a new look to the structure of the championship . The make up of the C1 division remained as it had done from the previous season consisting of two divisions with 18 clubs assigned to each of them. It was in C2 (the fourth tier) that the financial crisis that annually effects clubs in the lower echelons of the Italian game hit harder than ever as a whole division was lost reducing the championship to two divisions totaling 41 clubs.
By the end of the first month of action trigger happy bosses had already started to lose their nerve and, before a single leaf had fallen from the trees, five managers already found themselves out of work culminating in a crazy seven days at the end of September which saw three dismissals in as many days. The early season crisis that enveloped some clubs could not have been further from the minds of Taranto’s players as they displayed scintillating form to hit the summit of C1A in the early weeks of the campaign.
The reason for their remarkable start to the campaign was attributed to the clubs president, Vincenzo D’Addario, allowing the players to enjoy the luxuries on board his personal yacht prior to matches but as the winter sabbatical approached, there was mutiny in the ranks as the players threatened strike action due to non-payment of wages. D’Addario has since coughed up the monies owed to his staff and the club sit nicely in second spot just a point off the summit. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for a three point penalty inflicted on the side at the start of the current campaign (in respect of financial irregularities from the previous campaign) they would now be top of the table.
C1 A is beautifully poised going into the 2nd half of the season with Carpi in third spot and Foggia in 12th position only being separated by eight points which is close but not as close as the B section of the championship, which sees Trapani in second and Frosinone in 12th again only divided by eight points. Everyone in C1B is looking up enviously at Siracusa who have turned around a minus-three point deficit at the start of the season (again for financial misdemeanour’s from the previous campaign) to lead the chasing pack by three points at the break. The Sicilians have been riding the crest of a wave since the end of October and look like the team to beat going into 2012.
The goalscoring charts in C1 have been dominated by two old stager’s. Ciro Ginestra, Sorrento’s big summer signing from Crotone and Denis Godeas, Triestina’s seasoned campaigner both head the hot shot list of their respective divisions. Godeas’s form in front of goal for the Unione is the only piece of positive news to come out of the club after they announced this week that they are bankrupt with debts totaling six million euros and club president Sergio Aletti facing a possible prison sentence.
Casale, the club with the star on their shirts, have been playing like superstars in the first half of the season and head up the C2A championship by four points going into the winter break. Staying in division A, many congratulations must go to young San Marino striker Gianluca Lapadula. The 21-year-old hit-man on loan from Parma heads the goalscoring table having found the net on 13 occasions so far this campaign.
It is in C2B where the real fairytale story is beginning to develop with former Serie A representatives Perugia leading the rest by five points. Less than two years ago the club was declared bankrupt and had to start all over again in Serie D, Italy’s fifth division. But, under the tutelage of coach Pier Francesco Battistini, the club has undergone a road to Damascus style recovery and are now facing the very real prospect of back to back promotions as the good times return to the Stadio Renato Curi.
Another success story coming out of division B involves the club that were the last to be allowed to compete in the C2 championship. Catanzaro, who were staring into oblivion last summer have had a memorable four months since the start of the new campaign to consolidate third place in the winter standings. It was only in late August that the club secured their place in the division thanks mainly to the financial clout of club president Giuseppe Cosentino who salvaged the Calabrians from financial meltdown.
Looking ahead to 2012
With over 400 players in Lega Pro under the age of 21 promoting youth development has never been more important, so it was a major coup for Lega president Mario Macalli to secure the services of Marcello Lippi as an ambassador for the championship to help the controlling powers attempt to encourage more clubs to invest in younger players. At the end of January, the best young talent in Lega Pro will be showcased at the 32nd Quadrangular tournament taking place in Normanna and Avellino. The competition is made up of four representative teams from C1 A and B and C2 A and B consisting of teams featuring the best players under the age of 21. The two semi-finals will see C1A take on C2A and C1B go head to head with C2B with the two winners progressing to the final in Avellino in late January.
In February, Spezia, Viareggio, Poggibonsi, Arzanese and Virtus Entella will be Lega Pro’s representatives at the 64th Viareggio Cup, the most important youth tournament in world football. Off the field, a new television deal with Italian sports broadcaster Sportitalia along with the current agreement with Rai Sport, ensures that two games are now shown live each week giving more exposure to clubs in the lower reaches.
The most controversial topic of conversation going into the New Year centres around the possibility of making Lega Pro a more condensed championship by having just three divisions (North, Central and South)consisting of 20 teams in each. Reports coming out of the peninsula suggest that president Macalli is in favour of restructuring the league but such a move would be sure to face stiff opposition from certain quarters.
Keep up to date with all the Lega Pro news at The Football Express and on Twitter with the ever-excellent Steve Mitchell (@barafundler).