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Relative radio silence

Apologies for the lack of posts in the past couple of weeks, I’ve been a bit busy and concentrating on a few other things. There will hopefully be a few posts in the next week or two. In the mean time I’d like to invite you to read a couple of pieces I’ve written for Football Italia.

My  debut for the wonderful Italian football site is The two tides that could, where I compare Napoli and Lazio to the little engine that could in Watty Piper’s children’s story.

A second offering for your eyes to consider is a resumé of Adriano’s stuttering time at Roma and his impending demise. It looks like Rome may be without an emperor once more. You can read the piece titled The Emperor’s demise here.

I hope you enjoy those.

Ronaldinho nets €630,000 a month in move to Flamengo

New writer, Guido Nunes joins The Football Express and takes a fine tooth comb through Ronaldinho’s move to Flamengo from European giants A.C. Milan. Will the partying be put on hold in hope of achieving a place in the Brazilian National team? Will it all end in tears?

Click here to read the rest of this article…

Chievo 2-2 Roma: lack of concentration allows Chievo to claw back a point

Two sides who had had completely opposite starts to the season marked the beginning of the Saturday schedule Serie A. After topping the table Chievo now lie 10th and Roma have long since overtaken them into 7th place and are looking to push on and trouble the sides at the top. The pitch at Bentegodi was in an awful condition, a huge bare strip down the centre left it looking somewhat reminiscent of the DW stadium in Wigan – the DW would’ve been embarrassed of this pitch though. The conditions meant that we were to see more than a few stray challenges flying in throughout the course of the game.

Chievo-Roma Formations

Roma play usual 4-3-1-2 and Chievo try to clog midfield with 4-5-1

We saw a rare start for Brazilian Adriano alongside Vucinic, and Roma decided to play their usual narrow 4-3-1-2 with Simplicio behind the two strikers. Chievo 4-3-3/4-5-1 asking the wide players to do lots of tracking back and very often leaving Sergio Pellissier all alone up front to try and get the better of Mexes and Burdisso. Long hopeful balls were a big feature in Chievo’s early play, sadly so was the offside flag with Pellissier often finding himself in an offside position.

Roma’s first goal came from a set piece, with a high ball delivered into the box and none of the Chievo players willing to put their head on it. Fabio Simplicio gambled at the back post, a bit of gangly juggling to get the ball under some control before lifting it over onrushing Sorrentino in the Chievo goal. Simplicio got a second goal by prodding at a ball across the face of the goal, it ballooned up of his foot and went into the net off the far post – Roma were leading 2-0 at the break.

Pioli made a positive change for Chievo on the hour mark bringing on forward Granoche for Marcolini in midfield and pushed 3 men up front, but they were allowed back into the game by way of a goalkeeping blunder. Moscardelli aimed a weak shot at Julio Sergio in goal and the keeper went down far too early, allowing the ball to bounce over his hands and into the net – at this point it seemed as though Chievo were going to have a go and were having a short spell in the ascendency. At least Pellissier had some company up front now though.

Lack of width

Paolo Castellini was in for the injured John Arne Riise and provided some attacking width from left back, this proved to be very important with the absence of any real threat on the wings from any of the attacking players. This meant Chievo had little work to do in order to defend their goal, they were able to stay within the lines of the 18 yard box and clear up any flicks that may have evaded the first man. When Roma did go wide they struck their second goal after movement on the right hand flank, but they failed to learn any lessons from this. As well as stretching the defence it was a matter of practicality, the pitch was bare and appeared water logged in the centre and playing the ball on the flanks would have been much easier for the players.

The width that Castellini provided was not reciprocated on the opposite flank, Cassetti is very reluctant to go forward and prefers to tuck in and help his centre backs instead. This gives the side a very lopsided formation and we see much of the attack going through the centre and left – accentuated when Vucinic plays because the Montenegrin perennially enjoys drifting  into the inside left channel and causes lots of problems from this position.

Ranieri’s first change was to remove Leandro Greco for right winger Rodrigo Taddei, the formation did not change though and Taddei simply played out on the left and came inside. There were few wide options open to Ranieri, his squad is very much set up to play 4-3-1-2 and not a lot else which does raise worries about their adaptability to situations.

Lacking concentration

Roma spent most of the 90 minutes dominating territory and possession, they failed to make many real guilt edged chances though. The goals they conceded were born of very poor lapses of concentration, a real shame to see after going in 2-0 up at half time. As the game wore on they stopped trying to play the sort of football that had given them the lead and kept looking for the long ball option. As the game progressed the Roma back line became deeper and deeper and left the Roma looking particularly disjointed.

The Roma back line had looked very organised for the majority of the game, but when Chievo pumped a ball forward once more looking for the flick on Burdisso tried to step up but 3 other players played Granoche onside. Granoche was clear through on goal and on the edge of the 18 yard box, he didn’t have far to go before sliding the ball underneath Julio Sergio. It has to be handed to Stefano Pioli for throwing men forward, but Roma should not have conceded this goal and indeed they probably would not have if complacency hadn’t crept in.

It might be that they were told not to have the ball on the ground because of the conditions but that would be contradicted by the introduction of Jeremy Menez for Simplicio. Menez is known for his great dribbling rather than his passing and thus not the ideal solution, perhaps the introduction of David Pizarro would have made more sense. Pizarro may have been able to spray some passes to the Roma forwards to collect from a deeper position.

In the end it wasn’t any sort of tactical master stroke that proved the deciding factor. Chievo continued to play long balls up to Pellissier, something that they had been doing for the duration of the game. The Roma back line allowed this to prove successful by withdrawing from their original high line and losing concentration as well as organisation. By the time Roma had resorted to this tactic themselves in a state of panic, Adriano had left the field – he had previously been their best player in the air. A win would have taken the side from the capital into 3rd position and put pressure on Juventus and Napoli to match their accomplishment – the recovery will have to wait a little while longer.

Krasic takes a tumble, FIGC up in arms

Last Sunday afternoon Juventus went to Bologna and disappointingly took only a point away with them, Juventus had the chance to take all 3 points but Vincenzo Iaquinta failed to convert a penalty they were awarded. The only real piece of controversy in the game was the awarding of said penalty, and perhaps there was some justice in the miss. Milos Krasic burst into the box and, expecting the defender to make a clumsy challenge after the serb had knocked the ball out of his feet, went down with the Bologna defender almost a foot away from any contact. Naturally outrage followed from Bologna’s players and staff as well as many neutrals after the game. The FIGC took action against the winger by giving the Serbian winger a 2 match ban; he will miss Saturday’s big match away to Milan as well as the game against Cesena. The loss is a massive blow to a Juventus side still trying to get into gear and somewhat dependent on Krasic despite Del Neri claims.

Taking a dive

Taking a dive

The outrage and backlash has led to a wide range of people offering a particular varied set of opinions. Juventus general manager Jean-Claude Blanc echoed the views of manager Gigi Del Neri saying “Milos has a reputation as a clean player. Whomever makes the judgement should take this into account.” He’s not that kind of player then? England manager Fabio Capello has given his thoughts on the argument. “Simulation is a cultural problem. A player only dives because he knows he will be rewarded.” he also says that the problem won’t be solved in a few months, blaming a vicious circle in Italy of players who dive and referees who look to continually stop games.

Learning from the past

It isn’t the first time that the FIGC has meted out multiple game bans for simulation as well as the normal transgressions. In 2007 bans were given to Adriano (Inter) and Zalayeta (Napoli) and in 2005 Ivica Illiev of Messina suffered a similar fate. Illiev’s ban was even extended an extra game because he took the act of gamesmanship one step further by celebrating the decision. There was some speculation that Krasic may have received a similar dressing down after pulling a subdued Tim Henman style fist pump, he appears to have escaped though.

The Scottish FA have not been afraid to use video evidence to ban players who have tried to deceive the officials during games. Kyle Lafferty feigned what looked like a fatal wound during an SPL game against Aberdeen at the end of the 2008/09 season. This poor piece of acting was later used against him and he was found guilty of improper conduct by a disciplinary committee. He was forced to serve his ban at the start of the following season, leaving his team without his services until almost a month into the campaign.

A cultural variance

Italian football has often been described, stereotypically, as being all about the results. In such an atmosphere coaches lose their jobs on the back of a few poor results, a penalty won here or there by hook or by crook can be all it takes to ensure a coach maintains his position.

Diving is a topic which has divided opinion with differing views being taken by fans from all over the globe either despising or tolerating the acts, sometimes hypocritically. Tim Vickery describes the attitude taken by the South American football fans is that a player who dives and is able to trick the referee into giving the infringement has done his club a service, giving them a chance to possibly win the game.

“I believe there is more tolerance of this type of behaviour in South America, where showing the cunning necessary to get away with something is widely praised. In Brazil it is often said that beating a big rival with an illegal goal adds extra pleasure to the victory.”

The view held by many fans I have spoken to in the UK is that it should not be tolerated in any form. They would like to see any deceitful acts struck out from the game, meting out bans to any players who ‘cheat’ or even bend the rules to gain an advantage. In the past the English FA had avoided the issue by wheeling out a FIFA regulation that discouraged the use of video evidence for retrospective actions with regard to non-violence related foul play. However FIFA recently released a statement stating that “they will no longer stand in the way of national associations using video evidence for retrospective punishment”. This has put some pressure back on the FA to act when players so violate the spirit of the game in England where diving appears to be so vehemently detested.

In defence of divers

However there are only a few cases, in my mind, where the player commits a clearly intentional dive. It is one of the beauties of such a subjective sport that events such as these can rarely be viewed as black or white case studies. Then there are also cases where players have intentionally avoided a challenge to evade the possibility of being injured. If a player does take such action their path changes significantly and they will often lose control of the ball or go to ground following a loss of balance, is this still a dive? Many would say so. In these situations a certain amount of benefit of the doubt must be given to the ‘felled’ striker.

The subject was at the very forefront of the news when Eduardo went down rather easily in a Champions League play off in August 2009 following a challenge from the oncoming Artur Boruc, the tie was still poised on a knife edge at the time and Arsenal held only a slender lead. Celtic, their fans and the SFA all pleaded with UEFA to ban the player, which the governing body did. The ban was later revoked following an appeal which was reviewed by a different disciplinary panel to the one which gave the Croat the initial ban, further highlighting the subjective nature which makes the topic a grey area. While it is far from ideal for a player to be sheepish about going into a challenge in such an important game, the brutal nature of his injury provides some mitigating circumstances.

Personally, I have few problems with a player going down easily when contact is made but if there is clear daylight between players it becomes a complete and utter joke. Capello’s comments are particularly poignant when we consider that a player will happily take the risk of a yellow card if there is the possibility of gaining advantages in tight games where the team has struggled to break through and have become devoid of ideas. It bears a similar resemblance to players committing cynical challenges to spoil counter attacks at the opposite end of the field.

Patrick Barclay wrote in The Times at the time of the Eduardo incident that the issue is one which cannot be policed with efficient consistency. If this is the case then any controversy that follow the dive itself will be magnified in cases where the diver is not punished. Another question that warrants consideration is how the result of a game should be affected by retrospective punishment? If a player dives and is awarded a penalty which ultimately decides a playoff or relegation, is the result reversed? Will the goal be taken out of the result and the table adjusted accordingly? A multiple game ban is a worthwhile punishment for any player to take when the possibility of relegation or winning a trophy is at stake! The matter is even further complicated by cup matches, if expunging the goal means the game was a draw do the teams replay? There don’t appear to be any easy answers that satisfy all parties involved. The worry for persons such as myself are summed up quite succintly by John Ley in the Telegraph.

“If the retrospective manner of their charge and suspension continues, what next? Every club who feels aggrieved over a costly defeat in Europe will be scanning every video recording, TV show – even fans’ phone video shots – to find a sly foul, dive or even illegal throw-in.”

The view held by many fans I have spoken to in the UK is that it should not be tolerated in any form. They would like to see any deceitful acts struck out from the game, meting out bans to any players who ‘cheat’ or even bend the rules to gain an advantage. In the past the English FA had avoided the issue by wheeling out a FIFA regulation that discouraged the use of video evidence for retrospective actions with regard to non-violence related foul play. However FIFA recently released a statement stating that “they will no longer stand in the way of national associations using video evidence for retrospective punishment”. This has put some pressure back on the FA to act when players so violate the spirit of the game in England where diving appears to be so vehemently detested.

The Emperor is looking for a move back to Europe

Anyone who has followed Italian or Brazilian football with any sort of vague interest over the last five or so years will have hopefully comeacross Adriano, Adriano Leite Ribeiro. The once prolific and nearing untouchable target man with a left foot that could break wrists has had his fair share of controversy over the past couple of years. He has been left out of Dunga’s Brazil squad for the World Cup next month and may now be looking for a move back to Europe to find a better standard of football.

Adriano against CanadaAdriano signed for Inter in 2001 following a good breakthrough year at Flamengo in Rio de Janeiro at the tender age of 19. He worked his way into the first team by going on loan and producing the goods for Fiorentina and Parma (Parma actually co-owned Adriano for 2 years). From the 2004-05 season onwards he was a huge part of Inter’s first team. However the death of his father in August 2004 and the split with his long term girlfriend shortly afterward sent the front man into a spiral of depression. He was able to hide this from Inter for some considerable period of time but soon the demons began to catch up with him and he was disciplined by the Milanese club for late nights on the town and missed training sessions. This it would seem, was the beginning of the end.

In 2007 Massimo Moratti, the Inter chairman, sent Adriano back to Brazil to recuperate and to seek counselling for the problems he had been facing. He was loaned out to Sao Paolo so that he could continue to maintain some form of physical shape while at home. Despite scoring a brace on debut he continued to prove difficult to handle, he was sent off soon afterward for headbutting another player and began turning up late and missing training sessions again. Half way through the 2007 campaign Sao Paolo decided they had had enough and terminated the loan early sending Adriano back to Italy because ‘they couldn’t count on him

In April 2009 he called his own career into question by stating that “I don’t care about the money,” he said. “I care about being happy. And in Italy I’m unhappy. Everybody should have the right to pursue happiness.” This followed his disappearing act following a short International break. The striker didn’t turn up for the flight back to Milan and could not be found for 3 days, it later turned out he was chilling out in the Favela where he grew up. Later that month he terminated his contract with Inter and went back to Brazil, seemingly for good. Serie A mourned the loss of a potential legend.

He joined his first club Flamengo a few weeks later and has been playing for them for the past year, he has linked well with Vagner Love and Kleberson (once of Manchester United). Last season they came from nowhere to win the Brazilian national championship. However his psychological problems have not yet been dealt with properly, at least his behaviour suggests that the deeply rooted issues are still there.

He as been late multiple times for training, occasionally not turning up at all. The first of these incidents was just a matter of days after his debut for his new club. It appears to have cost him his place at this summer’s World Cup. Dunga has a soft spot for Adriano, but he has made it clear that he is all about ‘the group’ as it were, and as Tim Vickery describes it. For Dunga it is no use having sensational talent if you are going to undermine the work your team mates by playing away. Even though he seems to like Adriano, he cannot take him to the World Cup because of the disruption it may cause to his squad. The problem for Adriano is that in Brazil his club are happy to allow him these indiscretions and will make excuses for him to placate him. The club have even gone as far as to ‘falsify’ doctor’s reports to explain away his absenses from training sessions, even blaming the absense on hot dogs.

Over the last few days rumours emerged linking Adriano with a move back to Europe and specifically to Roma, these were followed by reports that he had already informed his team mates of his intention to leave next month in order to return to Italy. If this move goes through it will be intriguing to see how Claudio Ranieri handles the fiery and unpredictable temperament of Adriano. It will also be interesting to see if Adriano is finally ready to knuckle down and get on with his football so that he can show us exactly what it is he can do.