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Milan-Juventus: What on Earth have you done now?

Here we are, almost a week after the fact, still scratching our heads and trying to work out what on Earth went wrong during Milan-Juventus. Commenting now is like turning up at half-past seven in the morning to a house party. The whole place smells of vodka, the living room is covered in empty bottles, there is vomit all over the stairs – Estigarribia, probably, he’s only small bless him – the upstairs bathroom door has been smashed in – I’m looking at you Mark Van Bommel – and some poor soul has had their head drawn on with permanent marker – Antonio Conte, eh?

Serie A recoils from its own form of vandalism

Serie A recoils from its own form of vandalism

Milan versus Juventus was supposed to be a title decider, in February. It would be the game from which the winner would march boldly towards another league title. Instead it was a phoney war, the presenting of arms in the week leading up to it racked up the tension and the shots fired from both sides after the match turned a good game into an irrelevant chain of disgraceful events.
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As you were in Serie A – the imminent return of the natural order

Serie A is boring, again. Last season saw an end of season run-in where four sides were potential candidates for the Scudetto. Post-World Cup seasons can often throw up surprises, perhaps because players in the top sides will have exaggerated schedules.

Alessandro Del Piero: a reminder of how things were

Alessandro Del Piero: a reminder of how things were

The league enthralled neutrals worldwide as Napoli, Udinese and Lazio chased Milan all the way to the title. This season, though, we are seeing a return to the normality of the pre-Calciopoli era – at one point Inter even threatened to re-assume the position of perennial losers.

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Could Juventus’ 18-game unbeaten streak be holding them back?

Juventus currently hold the longest unbeaten streak in Europe’s top 5 leagues. The bianconeri have gone 18 games without losing now and have made some dramatic comebacks along the way. Questions still remain though regarding whether or not they have what it takes to win the league.

Alessandro Matri: desperate for release

Alessandro Matri: desperate for release

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Serie A 2011-12: Preview

Serie A was due to kick off two weeks ago, but because those poor, disenfranchised players couldn’t agree a deal for a standard contract with those mean, horrid, nasty chairmen there was a strike and they will now be kicking balls into goals starting from this Friday. The only positive to have emerged from this scenario is that it has given us time to collate our thoughts for a Serie A preview which will be judged upon when the season ends, making us look like ridiculous court jesters.

On the panel will be: -

Rocco Cammisola (@rcammisola) – Editor and writer for this fair site, you’ll also find him tweeting about Serie A-D. Searching out obscure stories from deep in the Italian leagues, trying too hard to be a hipster.

Matthew Campbell (@mattc236) – Writes for The Football Express, focusing mainly on English football – the Championship to be a little more precise.
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Edgar Davids – A tribute

Today – Monday 8th November 2010 – the career of a very good player came to what appears to all to be a very quiet end, for now at least. At the age of 37, Edgar Davids announced that he would be leaving Championship side Crystal Palace after 6 league appearances and an outing in the League Cup for the club playing as an auxiliary left back.

Edgar Davids

Dreaded Edgar

Davids began his career at Ajax in 1991 like most of the stars Ajax has given to the world he graduated from De Toekomst and was thrust into an Ajax side entering into the autumn of it’s years at the top of the European game. What followed however was an incredibly successful 4 season spell at the Amsterdam club winning a UEFA cup, 3 successive Eredivisie titles and a Champions League by beating defending champions, the club he would soon join, A.C. Milan.

In 1996, his first big chance to shine on the International stage at the European Championships being held in England and going into the tournament it looked like they would truly entertain. Sadly, incidents of political in-fighting and accusations of racism within the Dutch camp led to coach Guus Hiddink sending Davids home and into the International wilderness.

“In what was intended as a piece of firm leadership, Hiddink kicked Davids out of the squad, a move that didn’t address the black players’ grievances and left the team even more divided than before.”

Brilliant Orange, David Winner

A year after the Bosman ruling came into effect, this Champions League winning Ajax side was ripped to shreds and with it Ajax’s hopes of success. Davids was one of the first players to take advantage of the ruling, securing a move to A.C. Milan. His first taste of Italian football was to leave a taste of indifference in Davids’ mouth, failing to make an impact at A.C. Milan, he didn’t stick around for long.

The following summer he would join Juventus, this was to commence 6 successful season in Italy that saw Davids return to his form before his move to Italy. At Juventus he would win 3 titles, all under the stewardship of Marcello Lippi, and we would also see the fruition of his most recognisable features – his long dreadlocks and his tinted goggles (which he needs because he has glaucoma). Nicknamed “The Pitbull” early on in his career by Louis Van Gaal at Ajax, he showed exactly why when he played for Juve. Davids would charge about the centre of the pitch making sure that every other midfielder knew that the centre circle was his, they would have to go the long way round!

Edgar Davids' Goggles and Dreadlocks

Unforgettable set of goggles and dreadlocks

He would play in a grand total of 243 games in League, Cup and Champions League for La Vecchia Signora during some of the most important years of his career, the only great shame is that he could not crown them with a Champions League – Juventus were runners up twice during his stay. His years at Juventus were not to pass entirely trouble-free off the field though, in 2001 Davids (together with Fernando Couto) was suspended from football by the FIGC as well as FIFA after testing positive for Nandrolone would land him with a 2 year suspension causing him to miss the World Cup in Japan and S. Korea.

After leaving Juventus he was never to bed down as well as he had in Turin; he had spells at Barcelona (on-loan), Inter and Tottenham before moving back to Ajax, presumably to see out his playing career. Sadly, he broke his leg in a pre-season friendly before his 2nd season in Amsterdam and failed to get into the first team, he left the club at the end of the 2007-08 season. Since that point in time he has been involved in an exhibition match as part of an Oceania XI, some fairly bland TV punditry for ITV’s World Cup panel and his main area of interest has been travelling around the world skilling up kids as part of his street soccer tour.

Davids brought a bit of sparkle to the Championship this season when he joined financial strugglers Crystal Palace in August on a pay as you play deal but today decided that his time with the South London club had come to an end. He hasn’t made it clear if he is hanging up his boots, but whatever he does next.. good luck Edgar!

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.

Derby d’Italia – Inter v Juventus

The TV schedule this weekend is jam packed full of sporting events, there is absolutely far too much going on! Take your pick from the Ryder Cup, Chelsea-Arsenal, Barcelona-Mallorca and Real Madrid-Deportivo and that’s just on Sunday! That line-up also ignores Il Derby del Sole (The Sun derby) between an exciting Napoli side and a Roma side lacking confidence.

With all of that on offer, why would you want to settle down on a Sunday evening to a bit of nitty gritty niggly Serie A? Il Derby d’Italia is one of the most anticipated games in the Serie A calendar, contested between Juventus and Inter, perhaps not the title-clincher it once was but still carries the sentimental importance that Manchester Utd vs Liverpool does in the English Premier League.

The name for the tie was coined by Italian journalist Gianni Brera in 1967 as a tie between the ‘Girlfriends’ of Italian football as the clubs are occasionaly referred to. For a significant portion of the last half century it had been a tie between the two most successful sides in Serie A, this was breifly ended by Milan who overtook Inter for most Scudetti. The balance has been restored in the last 6 years however with Inter’s relatively easy run to 5 consecutive titles. The rivalry has its roots in April of the 1960-61 season, the game in Turin abandoned due to crowd trouble and a pitch invasion was initially awarded to Inter but then reversed and a replay was ordered after the final round of games. By the time the replay came around the title had already been sealed by Juventus and Inter boss Helenio Herrera fielded his youth side who were duly given a 9-1 spanking by the now champions of Italy. Let the games begin.

Despite stuttering to a 0-0 draw against Bologna, mainly thanks to Bologna goalkeeper Emiliano Vivano, Inter are now back at the top of an incredibly competitive Serie A. Rafa Benitez is struggling to shake of the spectre of ‘the special one’. His hands have been tied by the lack of transfer activity during the summer and the achievements of a season past that will be nigh on impossible to re-achieve never mind better.

Benitez has too many options available to him after Samuel Eto’o put a hat trick past Werder Bremen in a 4-0 demolition on Wednesday evening. Notably the exclusion of Diego Milito from that midweek game allowed Eto’o to play in his favoured position as the central striker. The Argentine will return at the weekend and this could force Eto’o back onto the wide right channel we have become accustomed to seeing him in, a position he has been openly reluctant to play for extended periods.

Meanwhile Juventus are a side who are still very much in transition with Gigi Del Neri still looking for consistency from his new signings. Centre back pairing Bonucci and Chiellini, Italian National team pairing also, will need a little more time to gel after having let 3 goals in against Lech Poznan, Sampdoria and Palermo already this season.

Del Neri has been rolling out the sound bites today after being questioned over his famous 4-4-2 he stated that with his flying wingers it bore a better resemblance to a 4-2-4. It will be an interesting battle in the middle of the pitch against Inter’s established 4-2-3-1 shape, a formation that is unlikely to change under Benitez. Whichever central midfield pairing Del Neri decides to go with they will have an enormous amount of work to do if they are hoping to keep hold of the ball.

Inter are certainly favourites for the but with so many unpredictable results already this season in Italy’s top flight I’m hoping we’ll be served up a cracking fixture. It has been a great tie over the last few years, Chris Nee of Two Footed Tackle has provided a lovely round-up of the last 5 games.

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