By Sean-Paul Reilly
I remember being 8 years old, and sitting in front of the telly: I remember looking at the crucifix on the wall, and my brother sitting next to me. I vaguely remember the game itself, but most of all, I remember my dad watching.
He was an Arsenal fan, which meant I was an Arsenal fan too, despite the best efforts of my aunt, a Spurs season ticket holder (Boo! hiss!). Arsenal were playing the 2nd leg of a cup winners cup semi-final against Sampdoria, and the tie was heading towards penalties – I had even been allowed to stay up late such was the importance of the occasion.
Forza ‘doria! Forza Sampdoria
Ogni partita una festa sarà.
Forza ‘doria! Forza Sampdoria
In ogni angolo della città.
Go ‘doria, go Sampdoria!
Every game will be a party.
Go ‘doria, go Sampdoria!
in every corner of the city.
The refrain of Sampdoria’s club anthem will have boomed, ironically, around the ground before the Genoa side’s home games. It was not a season that Sampdoria’s fans will care to remember with any fondness. On May 15 2011, in the penultimate game of the season, Sampdoria were relegated to Serie B. Their relegation came, rubbing salt in the wound, just 364 days after they had qualified for the Champions League playoff. To suggest they had sunk like a lead balloon would be a huge understatement, so what on earth went wrong in Genoa?
It is fitting that their relegation should have been sealed by Mauricio Pinilla’s goal in the 86th minute, after all, it has been late heart break that has epitomised their insipid season. Going back to the Champions League play off second leg, they were winded by Markus Rosenborg’s 93rd minute equaliser – almost the last kick of the game – and Claudio Pizarro dealt the killer blow in extra time.
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A roast chicken dinner can form the basis of a very good week. Sitting at the dinner table after having devoured your feast you will be surrounded by the remains – one or two perhaps slightly soggy roast potatoes, a smattering of cold peas and carrots, maybe even a Yorkshire pudding as well. But you will certainly have the chicken’s carcass still before you.
Any good cook will tell you that the carcass of the chicken can be put to use after the meal is over, perhaps producing a fine soup or juicy gravy. There are bound to be scraps of meat left on the bone that will provide adequate sustenance.
At the end of the season the thought of sifting through the wealth of experiences and emotions the campaign has provided can appear daunting and overwhelming. The carcasses of relegated sides sit temporarily on the bottom of the League table before being unceremoniously dumped in the waste bin of the Division below, but there may be a bargain available for the more prudent eye.
Easy decision really. This strike from Argentine Cristian Llama for Catania against a shell shocked Sampdoria is a beauty. Diego Simeone has had a turbulent start to his Serie A management career at the Sicilian side, so will be pleased to have taken all 3 points from this game.
Things I enjoy about this goal: -
- The wonderful delivery from Francesco Lodi
- The strike itself
- The defender on the line’s futile attempt to throw a hand in the way
- Catania boss Diego Simeone’s wild celebrations
The Stadio Luigi Ferraris, more commonly known as the Marassi, looks more like a factory than a football stadium. As you approach it you are faced by four towers at each of the ground’s four corners, you can quite easily envisage thin wisps smoke rising into the Ligurian air. This factory had churned out some wonderful football last season, with Antonio Cassano as the foreman and the Delneri-Marotta axis doing the paper work, they took Sampdoria to a Champions League qualifier.
That all feels so long ago now, this season has had fans dragging their heels to work on a Monday morning. Defeat to Cesena at home will not have helped matters. Since the turn of the new year alone they have lost 8 of the 12 games contested in the league, drawing 2 and winning 2. To compound their misery even further, they have failed to score in 9 of those games.
Antonio Cassano has had a career marred by controversy, however of late he appeared to had settled down and was finding a new maturity at Sampdoria. He was recently married and there is a child on the way, performing well for the club and then a moment of madness appears to have scuppered all of that. A move to Milan now looks very likely, but whether or not this is a good move for both parties is another question.
Riccardo Garrone, Sampdoria chairman, took Cassano to the arbitration courts over a 30 minute outburst in October where the striker allegedly threw countless obscenities at the chairman. Garrone asked the courts to rescind the player’s contract due to the indecent comments made towards him.
This week the case finally reached a conclusion, however the decision was a complete formality. It had been apparent for some time that Cassano would be leaving Sampdoria very soon, one way or another. He had stopped pleading with the Genova club to let play and had even begun to take legal action for damage done to his image and loss of national team status. The courts ruled in favour of Cassano, insisting that the player would be suspended without pay until 1 February and then see out the rest of his contract being paid 50% of his current wage. It seems very likely though that Cassano will not play for Sampdoria again.
Prior to the verdict, and indeed as soon as he was excluded from the squad, the press went wild publishing articles speculating over his next destination. Every owner and manager had been asked in press conferences in interviews whether or not they would be willing to take Cassano on board, and if they were planning to bid for the ‘soon to be homeless’ striker.
Numerous of those asked were very quick to distance themselves from the problematic Cassano. Even managers at clubs who had no chance of seeing Cassano grace them with his presence; Zdenek Zeman at Foggia was very forthright saying that he would “never want him [Cassano] in my squad”.
The front runners to pick up the Bari born striker’s signature were Genoa, Milan and Inter. Cassano had professed his desire to remain in Genova, which would have made the city’s other club a good fit but this move didn’t even get off the ground. It now appears that Milan CEO Adriano Galliani has pushed the right buttons and will be signing the player for ‘free’ until 2014. Galliani hopes to have Cassano at Milan before the turn of the year.
Galliani has pulled some fine deals out of the hat in the last few months and it looks like yesterday evening’s dinner with Cassano’s agent will produce yet another fine acquisition, or will it? There are a number of issues which still need to be cleared up before the transfer can go through.
First of all, it won’t be a free transfer. Even if Riccardo Garrone is prepared to let his star striker go for free as a matter of principle – he may be cutting his nose to spite his face – there is a sell on clause in the contract with Real Madrid. The Spanish side have asked for a fee in the region of €4-5 million euros, though Milan may be able to do a deal and knock the payment off of the instalments Real are paying for Kaka. Milan may even argue that the clause is null and void because the player’s contract was rescinded.
It also looks like this is the end of the road at Milan for one of Pippo Inzaghi or Ronaldinho. This would have almost certainly been Inzaghi’s final season had he not finished his season by injuring himself, it appears that Milan will give him one more season to say his good byes and possibly break Raul’s European goal record. Ronaldinho has been out of favour since Allegri decided on his new system with 3 mediani and 2 strikers. The Brazilian has been very heavily linked with a move to either the MLS or back to Palmeiras in Brazil, but Milan continue to deny that he will be leaving soon.
It is difficult to see where in Allegri’s formation Cassano will be able to slot in seamlessly at the moment. Allegri started the season pandering to the wants of Berlusconi and tried to play a 4-3-3 with Ibrahimovic, Pato and one of Ronaldinho or Robinho. The experiment failed and he has been able to implement a more robust 4-3-1-2 with 3 box-to-box players behind a trequartista providing the energy that Milan had lacked previously. A front 2 of Ibrahimovic and Robinho have been able to take Milan 6 points clear at the top of the table and they look like the strongest contenders for this season’s scudetto.
The most logical place for Cassano to play would be as a direct replacement for Robinho, but the Brazilian is in a fine vein of form and it seems very unlikely that he will start ahead of him. Thus with a change of system out of the picture and a better player ahead of you in the starting line up, it would appear that Antonio will have to make himself happy with a place on the bench. I hope he’s still got his gameboy.
There may be the possibility of a rotation policy allowing the player to get some time on the pitch in Serie A and the Coppa Italia. Cassano is cup-tied for the latter stages of the Champions League owing to the fact that he played in the play off round against Werder Bremen.
Many suspected that his career may have followed a path similar to Roberto Baggio, whom after his glory years at Fiorentina and Juventus signed for the smaller provincial sides of Bologna and Brescia. While it may turn out to be a magic partnership between 2 of the game’s most precotious and ostentatious players, it looks like next time we do see Cassano he’ll be rooted to the bench of the San Siro in mid-January with a blanket over his knees and huddled up close to the grizzly Gennaro Gattuso trying to keep warm. Perhaps Cassano would be happier at a club where he was the star attraction, somewhere where he would inspire the fans to dream rather than a club that has little need for him allowing him to regress into a past where he was the butt of many cake based jokes, and where people spoke more often about the number of women he’d bedded than the goals he’d banged in. I hope I’m wrong.
In January Goran Pandev set a precedent when he was released from his contract by the Italian league and was allowed to move for free to a club that would take him in, make use of him and nurture his abilities. He moved to Inter after months of exclusion from the Lazio first team squad because of a squabble between player and chairman after the Macedonian forward asked to leave the club, hoping to move to a bigger club. Lazio paid at least €4m (this figure for the 2nd half of his co-ownership) for the player from Inter, but received nothing when he left.
The move from Lega Calcio was seen as a punishment for Lazio and their Chairman – Claudio Lotito – but also a warning to other clubs who had frozen players out of their squads because of back room squabbles. Lotito, notorious for poor relations with his players, had also frozen out midfielder Cristian Ledesma at the same time for asking for a wage increase due to his important contribution in the team’s run to the Coppa Italia in the 2008/09 season. Ledesma was later freed by the arrival of new boss Edy Reja, who demanded full control over the playing staff.
It would appear that despite the repercussions dealt out by the governing body, some chairmen still refuse to comply with the wishes of the league to protect the interests of the players playing in Italy. Last January, Antonio Cassano was briefly frozen out of the squad after moaning that he didn’t want to be deployed as a second striker by, the then boss, Gigi Del Neri. Cassano organised a move to Fiorentina late in the January transfer window, the deal had been practically agreed before Garrone convinced Antonio to stay in Genoa. Fantantonio – as he is commonly known in the Italian press – is one of two players who are currently in the spot light because they have been excluded from first team activities by their chairmen. The other is Italian goalkeeper Federico Marchetti, more about him later though.
The Bari born striker has made the headlines for the wrong reasons once more recently, laid into his chairman – Riccardo Garrone – after a request to go and collect a prize. The conversation went something like this: -
Garrone: “Come with me to collect this prize from Sestri Levante. Just stay until they give it to you, then you can leave”
Cassano: “No, I won’t come to Sestri Levante”
Cassano: “Because, no. I won’t go and receive a prize from that shit-house of a hotel”
Garrone: “Who do you think you are?”
Cassano: “Why are you raising your voice?”
Garrone: “Don’t tell me I’m raising my voice, you know full well that I’ve never raised my voice with you”
Cassano then stormed off and was heard throwing a tantrum and insulting Garrone in the dressing room, some rather unsavoury stuff was reported. His chairman immediately sought out the possibility of having Cassano’s contract rescinded by the league, making a public statement saying that he was not happy for Antonio to return to the Sampdoria playing staff. Antonio made a public apology and placed much of the blame for the outburst on a particular moment of personal difficulty he was enduring with his pregnant wife but Garrone refuted it, threw it back in his face. Paolo Bandini provides a more in-depth look at the spat for The Score, if you’re interested in what went on.
The damage had been done. Cassano, together with the fire power of his agent Beppe Bozzo, has launched an offensive against the club. He is taking Sampdoria to arbitration for compensation and damages for loss of fitness, losing his place in the National squad and damage to his image.
While Cassano would like to stay in Genoa, preferably at Sampdoria, if Garrone refuses to have him back then he will hope that he can find a place in the Genoa squad so he can be as close as possible to his wife with a child on the way. Otherwise a number of other clubs have come out and said they’d find a place in their squads for Cassano, most notably Palermo chairman (and Serie A’s resident loon) Maurizio Zamparini. Barring this freak outburst, he appears to have matured tremendously over the pasts few seasons and the side have been struggling in his absence – scoring just once in the past 5 games.
Financially, Sampdoria wouldn’t be too displeased if he were to leave. He is likely to be one of their highest earners on the wage bill and if he was released for free it would void a clause in his transfer contract from Real Madrid meaning that Sampdoria would not owe Real Madrid €5 million. Enough cash saved to be able to replace the striker.
The boy who dared to dream
Lurking in the shadows of Cassano’s mess stands Federico Marchetti, also the victim of an angered chairman. His tale is a different one to Cassano’s though. Marchetti went to the World Cup as Italy’s number 2 choice between the posts and had been held up by Buffon as his favourite young keeper, making him heir apparent. At half time during Italy’s first group game against Paraguay he was given the chance to accomplish what many young boys can only dream of – representing your country at the World Cup Finals™.
He left South Africa on a high despite the failure to defend Italy’s World crown, he was interviewed and asked questions about rumours linking the Cagliari keeper with a move to Sampdoria. Naturally, he stated his willingness to take his game to the next level and that a move to Sampdoria could facilitate the possibility of Champions League football which would be a dream come true.
The reporter slyly filed the interview away for a few weeks until Cagliari went on a training retreat during which time a media ban was imposed. The reporter released the interview on July 23rd and Cagliari owner Massimo Cellino hit the roof, however Marchetti explained his way out of a fine by explaining the situation to sporting director Francesco Marroccu. He was heckled by fans in the 45 minutes he played against a local side the next day, the only minutes that Marchetti has played this season.
Seeking a move away from the club following the incident, he was linked with moves to some big names in European football (Arsenal & Bayern Munich to name a couple). His agent, coincidentally also Beppe Bozzo, issued complaints that the club had asked for too much in order to force deals to fall through. The club simply retorted that it was the agent’s fee that had been the issue in negotiations.
Marchetti has since been allowed to train with the first team, though this appears to be a measure aimed purely to disguise what is really going on behind the scenes to avoid any kind of contract rescission by Lega. Marchetti has spoken out publicly in the past few weeks, calling his treatment by the club a sort of bullying. He will be taking his case to Lega for arbitration on Thursday 18th November, hoping to be freed from his contract as well as compensation.
Cagliari president Massimo Cellino has reacted angrily, saying: “If anyone deserves money in damages then it is me, as I had to buy another goalkeeper. Cagliari cannot be accused of bullying, as we are allowing him to train regularly and giving him the chance to fight for his place.” Player and club will both await the verdict of the court on Thursday, to think that all the boy did was dare to dream. If he is able to attain freedom, he is perceived as a well behaved professional young player who should have little trouble finding a club to call home in any of Europe’s top leagues.
Tip-toeing around the strike
What makes these cases even more interesting is the impending possibility of a players strike. In September the strike was postponed after agreement was reached over 6 of the 8 points of disagreement while drawing up a collective contract for all league players. One of the 2 outstanding points regards players being frozen out from squads and being forced to train in isolation, the other is to do with clubs forcing their players to accept transfers when an agreement has been made with a club at a similar level and there is no loss of earnings.
The league and chairmen representatives will have an incredibly difficult set of negotiations ahead of them should they appear to come down unreasonably in favour of Cellino and Garrone when the cases are heard. The strike is widely recognised as being of detriment to every party involved with the sport but the players representatives have made it clear that they are determined to follow through with their threats.