Archive for the 'Italy' Category

Dec 01 2013

Profile Image of Colby Shanafelt

Territorial Discrimination in Italy

Filed under Italy

AS Roma v FC Internazionale Milano - TIM Cup

Remember that mom who always went back on her word?  The one whose kid would fail his classes, get suspended from school, and then be allowed to go out the next weekend after you thought he’d never see the light of day again.  The mom who threatened to ground her kid for the next two months but always caved and never held firm.  Well that mom is exactly like the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), an organization whose menacing threats are undermined by a severe lack of enforcement.  Specifically, as territorial discrimination by fans in Serie A continues to escalate, the FIGC’s lackadaisical approach hinders the hope of any indelible progress being made.

Despite the increased media attention it has gained over the past year, the issue of territorial discrimination in Italy is by no means a recent problem.  Rather, it was simply overshadowed by the racism and fan violence characteristic of Italian football fans.  Yet while this issue was placed on the backburner in regard to enforcement, the prevalence of this discrimination is almost immediately evident when one visits the Northern and Southern areas of the country.  Stemming from the time when Italy used to be made up of city-states, the North has always generally been more affluent and thriving, while the poorer South of Italy was often hindered by organized crime, such as the Costa Nostra in Sicily or the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria.  Consequently, Northerners have expressed contempt for Southerners in so far as the reputation the country has gained, and this has manifested itself in racist chants between fans of Northern and Southern football teams.  In fact, Umberto Bossi formed the Lega Nord federalist and regionalist political party in 1991, which has actually advocated secession of the North to form a country called Padania.  And while the North’s resentment of the South is often publicly demonstrated, many of the Southern people are actually loyal supporters of Northern teams.  Football teams from Northern Italy, including AC Milan, Inter Milan, and Juventus have been the most historically successful teams in Italy and throughout Europe, yet this Southern support does not merely stem from these teams’ reputations.  In 1899, Giovanni Agnelli formed the company FIAT which gave many jobs to poor Southern Italians.  In addition to controlling FIAT, numerous members of the Angelli family have served as president of the successful Juventus football club.  In fact, Andrea Agnelli, great grandson of Giovanni, is the current president of Juventus.  Thus, these FIAT jobs facilitated a mass immigration of Southerners to the more prosperous North while at the same time creating thousands of new Juventus FC fans.  Yet even this increased support has not assuaged Northerners, especially when it comes to football matches.  And there still exists an animosity of Northern teams by Southern clubs; for example, one of the famous chants at the Napoli matches is “Che non salta Juventino è! (Whoever doesn’t jump is a Juve fan)” – Juan Zuñiga, Napoli winger and member of the Colombian national team, actually jumped during the chant while on the pitch!

The most marked cases of territorial discrimination, however, have been directed at fans of the Napoli football team.  AC Milan was punished with a partial stadium ban for shouting anti-Neopolitan chants that “express[ed] discrimination based on territorial origin” during a home game against Napoli on September 22, yet since then, the FIGC has begun to impose more flexible sanctions on territorial discrimination.   Discipline is now decreed proportional to the number of supporters involved in racist or discriminatory chanting instead of issuing full closure of certain sections.  Moreover, in a home game against Genoa, Juventus supporters recited discriminatory chants against Napoli (who they weren’t even playing) and were handed a 2 game ban of the Curva Sud.  During a 2-0 domination of Genoa, Juve ultras could be heard chanting “Wash them [Napoli] with fire, Vesuvius wash them with fire!” and “What a smell, even the dogs run away when the Neopolitans arrive.  Oh victims of cholera and earthquakes, you never wash yourselves.”  Despite these offenses, however, the FIGC suspended this ban for an entire year as long as the Juventus faithful did not reoffend other territories.  In essence, the FIGC recognized its own weakness in enforcement and handed out an empty threat on the condition that Juventus fans simply pinky-swear to behave.

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Similar bluffs have already been handed to Inter Milan, Roma, Torino, and AC Milanwho also chanted about Neopolitans and Italian Southerners while playing a Northern club.  The FIGC’s sanctions have been too flexible, and fans have taken advantage of their abominable discriminatory freedoms.  In early October, Inter Milan Ultras in the Curva Nord began a campaign to break all the rules simultaneously just to have a weekend where all matches were behind closed doors.  Clearly the fans are not taking the rules seriously, but when the governing administration of Serie A does nothing to stop it, the situation will only continue to intensify.  Fans are not afraid to challenge something they do not believe in, and currently, collective transgression can overcome the FIGC’s lethargic “rules.”

On November 11, football giants Napoli and Juventus clashed in Juventus stadium for an all-important first meeting.  Yet the 3-0 rout of Napoli was hardly the subject of discussion the following day, as Juventus Ultras once again aimed discriminatory chants against Napoli, despite having their 2-game ban lifted for a year.  As the game proceeded, Juve fans neglected the FIGC rules more than the Napoli defense neglected the likes of Llorente, Pirlo, and Pogba.  A large banner of Mount Vesuvius was displayed with a cut-out through which a smoke bomb portrayed an eruption surrounded by pleas for the volcano to wash Napoli with fire.  Napoli fans have been no stranger to these harmful displays, as notable chants such as “It takes a bar of soap to wash a dirty Southerner” have echoed throughout the stadium since the time of Diego Maradona.  Yet while watching the game, these chants seemed different.  It was as though Juventus fans were actually calling out the FIGC rather than the Partenopei (Napoli supporters).  Chants continued almost in a protest of the absurdity of the need for “rules” against territorial discrimination, as it was something that had always existed and could never be truly expunged.  By asking Vesuvius to destroy their rivals, Juve Ultras were trying to show that we should “laugh at ourselves,” a plea to which even Southern fans applauded.

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Nevertheless, the FIGC was not sharp enough to catch this, and Juventus fans were handed a ban and fined for their discriminatory actions.  A statement from Lega Serie A proclaimed “Juventus have been fined 50,000 euros and will have to play one game without any fans in the Curva Sud (south stand) and Curva Nord (north stand) section of the stadium for territorially discriminating chants…The Lega Serie A also revokes the suspended sentence and orders the execution of the ban handed on October 28, 2013 with respect to the game between Juventus and Genoa.”  Thus, the Curva Nord and Curva Sud will be closed for the December 1st game against Udinese, and the Curva Sud will be closed for the home game against Sassuolo.  However, Juventus fans were not the only ones at fault, as Napoli fans were observed throwing hazardous objects at Juventus supporters.  In addition, 74 seats were destroyed, and “Four Juventus supporters were injured as a result of said acts and required medical treatment.  Furthermore, a girl was hit in the head by a handle, probably torn off one of the doors in the visitors’ section.”

When asked about the chants during the Juventus match, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis shrugged off the implications, merely suggesting that “To see people insulting another group of people is not disgusting…When I hear that [Mount] Vesuvius should wash us away, then it just makes me laugh.  It’s satirical.  It’s just a provocation to a city which needs to wake up.”  Other Napoli and Juventus management, however, did not take this discrimination as lightly.  Angelo Pisani, president of the Italian consumer rights’ group and solicitor to Diego Maradona (who was a former Napoli player) issued the following statement:

“They were unjustifiable and shameful insults, chants, and banners of a discriminatory and racist nature, illegal actions, gratuitous and prejudicial violence toward Neopolitan citizens from parts of the Juventus Stadium; unsporting behavior with an objective responsibility of the Bianconero club…They are going to have to respond adequately in court to the unspeakable gestures and shameful actions of their supporters.  For this, the citizens of Naples are demanding compensation for all of the damage to persons, the image, the existence and the good name of Napoli fans, calculating in an equitable way 1000 euros for each Partenopeo offended and hurt by the unspeakable actions of the Bianconero fans.”

Yeah, keep dreaming Angelo.

Juventus coach Antonio Conte proclaimed these chants “self-harming,” and general manager Beppe Marotta said, “I would really like it if fans would chant in favor of their own side rather than offending the opposition…It is something that we have got to try to eliminate together.”  Yet even from this statement, the immediacy of the problem of territorial discrimination is not quite conveyed.  Rather, it seems that everyone is merely admitting the problem without doing anything about it.  Except the FIGC, which finally (FINALLY) followed through with their ban, right?  Not quite.

After hearing the ruling of the FIGC, president of the Italian National Olympic Committee, Giovanni Malago, had different ideas.  He proposed that the stadium (specifically the Curva Nord and Curva Sud) be filled with children, citing the success of the Turkish sports club Fenerbahçe when they let only women and children into a league game with Manisapor in 2011 after a pitch evasion.  In his proposal, Malago sought to ban only those that had actually caused the trouble and claimed that it would “…be like when we confiscated assets from the Mafia.”  Perhaps this was another unintentional blight at the Southern Italians, who once again fell short as the penalty for the injustice they incurred was again rescinded upon acceptance of Malago’s plan.  In fact, the game time for the Juventus-Udinese match has been moved up from 20:45 to 18:30 (2:45 to 12:30 Eastern time) to better accommodate the children.  Tickets were administered free of charge to schools, and children from football schools and academies will occupy Curva Sud, while elementary and secondary school pupils will occupy Curva Nord.

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While this is an exciting opportunity and a great way for Juventus FC to make lifelong memories for young fans, I still would not look at this as a victory for the FIGC.  Sure, they were able to boot the Ultras for one game, but I can hardly imagine that the fans are that angry at giving up their seats to children for a game against a team who is not competing for the Scudetto.  In fact, I would say this is a victory for the fans and for the persistence of territorial discrimination, as once again, the ruling of the FIGC has been undermined.  If the FIGC truly wants to take a firm stand against this problem, it needs to start taking itself seriously, which may mean looking for alternative solutions rather than simply banning fans and playing matches in deserted stadiums.  Such bans also do harm to innocent, non-violent fans that are punished at the expense of the masses.

Fans are a huge part of soccer games.  They are why scoring a goal in an opposing stadium is so difficult and thus counts more than a goal scored at home.  And in the case of territorial discrimination in Italy, the fans definitely have the upper hand.  After the ruling against the Juventus Ultras, they threatened to go on strike by sitting in silence for the Champions League fixture against FC Copenhagen this past Wednesday (which did not actually happen).  Such a statement shows that the fans would rather hurl discriminatory chants toward opposing teams, players, and regions of the country than enjoy themselves at a match.

To overcome this problem, the FIGC needs to be strict and firm in its rules and declarations and perhaps start to impose heavier monetary fines to supporters and their respective clubs.  It will be interesting to watch the Juventus match against Udinese on December 1st and to see what impact the children will have.  Yet, regardless of this spectacle, stringent disciplinary actions must be taken to ensure that these young children are not being groomed to turn into the radical Ultras the FIGC is trying to fight against.

3 responses so far

Oct 29 2013

Profile Image of Ale Barel Di Sant'Albano

The Racialisation of Football in Italy

The conversation in today’s class has spurned me to look into the racialization and politization of football in Italy. Both Italy and France share many similarities in that, football creates a huge platform for media attention. Football players in European countries often receive more media attention than politicians and for that reason they are often a representation of there countries. Like France, Italy is in an awkward position politically as there seems to be a power vacuum that has allowed a strong nationalistic right wing party to emerge. In Italy this is the Lega Nord.

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The Lega Nord, is a political party that believes in clamping down on immigration by closing the Italian borders to Muslim immigrants and limiting the amount of African immigrants in Italy. Most recently, the leader of the party, Roberto Calidroli said “I love animals, but when I see her, I can’t help but think of an orangutan” in reference to Cécile Kyenge, Italy’s minister of integration, at a recent festival organised by the Lega.  Kyenge is black, was appointed to the Cabinet in April, and Calderoli added that “maybe Kyenge should be a minister in her own country [sic] … she is only encouraging illegal immigrants to dream of success”.

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The article below demonstrates the recurring problem of racism in Italian football, it illustrates the racial history of Italy, where it began and how it has emerged into such a problem. But overall, it illustrates that the future of Italy revolves around figures such as Mario Balotelli and Cecile Kyenge. Balotelli with his exposure to the media could transform how the youth look at race in Italy, especially if he is to lead Italy far into the World Cup much like he did in Euro 2012.

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Must Read:  http://espn.go.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/9338962/when-beautiful-game-turns-ugly

3 responses so far

Oct 20 2013

Profile Image of Ale Barel Di Sant'Albano

The ignorance and naiveté surrounding the valuation of Football Players

As we the fans have seen over the past decade or so, the valuation of football stars has sky rocketed to new heights, heights that too many fans, can never be reached. Nonetheless there seems to be a large correlation to big money spending and the outcome of that given player at a club. How much can we actually value a player? Clubs seem to be always spending money on the wrong transfers. For instance, Liverpool’s 60 million pound splurge on Jordan Henderson, Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing or Chelsea’s 50 million spent on Fernando Torres or my personal favorite Ricardo Quaresma astounding 30 million pound move to Inter, however in the past three years economists such as Simon Kuper have been trying to argue that the net amount spent on transfers bears little relations to where they finish in the league. While, on the other hand, spending significant sums of money on wages generally helps the clubs success rate.

 

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Using the average league position in the Premier league compared to the relative wage spending there have been accurate results to Simon Kuper’s hypothesis over the past 15 years.

 

Club Average League Position Wage spending relative to the average spending of all clubs.
Man Utd                   2                 3.16
Arsenal                   2

2.63

Chelsea

3

3.50

Liverpool

4

2.68

Newcastle

9

1.93

Aston Villa

9

1.60

Tottenham

10

1.34

Everton

10

1.41

Middlesborough

12

1.32

Leeds

13

1.70

West Ham

14

1.31

Blackburn

14

1.41

Fulham

16

0.92

Southampton

16

1.24

Sunderland

18

0.92

Man City

18

1.24

Wigan

19

                      0.59
Wimbledon

19

0.94

Birmingham

20

                      0.74
Leicester

20

0.88

 

 

Let’s use a manager I despise as an example. Rafel Bentiez during his time at Liverpool encountered a “host of poor overpaid players” as Carragher wrote in his biography. He was charged with the blame of buying Ryan Babel for 15 million euros, Jermaine Pennant for 9 million,  Andrea Dossena for 10 million and my personal favorites Alberto Aquilani and Robbie keane for 25 million a piece. In 2008 Benitez signed Robbie Keane, at 28 years old (debatably his peak) for an astounding 25 million euros. Keane had never had a season where he scored over 20 goals. Six months after bringing him to Anfield, Benitez sold him back to Tottenham for 15 million euros. For all the spending Benitez did, many of his true stars were homegrown talents like Sami Hyypia, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.

In the six years Benitez spent at Anfield he spent a total of 164 million euros more than he received from transfers compared to Sir Alex Ferguson’s 40 million, yet in those years United won 3 titles compared to Benitez’s best 3rd place finish. The largest problem is that managers often pay for the name, not for the play, especially those that are new to a club and are desperate to make an impression.

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Over the past decade football has taken to stats through the evolution of stats in US sports, in particular Baseball. Billy Beane, the Oakland As general manager commemorated in Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, who subjugated the failings of baseball’s player-trading market to turn the Oakland As into a consistent powerhouse in the American League, has managed to do so by spending the least money on salary in the Major League.

 

Beane has been so successful that the world has adapted his methods to suit there sport. From this Kuper has created golden rules how to approach the transfer market.

  1. A new manager wastes money on transfers: don’t let him
    2. Stars of recent World Cups or European Championships are overvalued: ignore them
    3. Certain nationalities are overvalued (Brazilians and Dutch, for example)
    4. Older players are overvalued
    5. Centre-forwards are overvalued; goalkeepers are undervalued
    6. The best time to buy a player is when he is in his early twenties
    7. Sell any player when another club offers more than he is currently worth
    8. Replace your best players even before you sell them

 

From these 8 points there is one team that immediately come to mind, teams that make profits, win a lot of matches and produce great players right before they become superstars: Udinese

 

The line between playing a successful brand of football and running a profitable business is often a daunting task when anchoring a club, but in the case of Udinese, it has always been “bianconero”. Ever since taking over the reins of the Friulani over 25 years ago, Giampaolo Pozzo has maintained a clear vision on how the outfit would operate.

Their scouting system is vast and spreads over countless countries, but their focus has always been in both Africa and South America, continents with a vast number of unknown players such as the Kwadwo Asamoah, Mehdi Benatia, and Alexis Sanchez’s of the world. Pozzo has developed this connection buy hiring locals in foreign markets in order to tap into local talents. In addition, he has realized that a small market club like Udinese is never going to be able to bring the revenue of a European supergiant so he recently purchased Spanish club Granada in 2009 and more recently English side Watford to expand the system further. Players can now gain experience in vastly different footballing landscapes before moving back to Udinese a more matured prospect.  He can take the most well rounded players who have gained experience across the world and therefore will be more appealing to potential suitors.

ITALY SOCCER SERIE A

Over the past decade Udinese have netted close to €350m from players. In the last year alone the sales of stars such as Gokhan Inler (15mill) to Napoli, Alexis Sanchez (40 mill) to Barcelona, Cristian Zapata (13mill)  to Villarreal, Sulley Muntari (13 mill) to Portsmouth and other amounting to over 150 million. Despite the sale of all there key players, the Friulani still consistently qualify for the Champions League preliminary round again last season, leapfrogging the likes of Inter, Napoli, Lazio and Roma.

 

Udine is a city of 100,000 in the misty mountains near the border of Albania and Italy. With crowds at the Stadio Friuli typically no more than 17,000, and the majority of ticket sales going to the local commune, Udinese’s game day money making is non-existent. As the Swiss Ramble, a soccernomics blog clearly states Udinese’s 2009-10 wage bill of €31m cannot compare with €230m and €172m at Internazionale and Milan. Only the club’s savior, Di Natale, has an annual salary over €1m; Sanchez himself was only earning €700,000 (he now earns 4 million with Barcellona.) Internazionale, Milan and Juventus, all finish the year with revenues of over €200m. At €41m, Udinese did not match a single Premier League club. Income from television accounted for €26m; Internazionale’s  in there treble season was €138m.

 Transfer Success

Name Bought Sold
Pablo Armero From Palmeiras 2010
Fee: €1m

 

To Napoli  2013

Fee: 13 m

Gokhan Inler From FC Zurich 2007
Fee:c. €600,000

 

To Napoli 2012

Fee: 13 m

Kwadwo Asamoah From Bellinzona 2008
Fee: c. €400,000

 

To Juventus 2012

Fee: 15 m

Mehdi Benatia Free To Roma 2013

Fee: 13.5m

Samir Handanovic From AC Rimini 2008

Fee: 800,000k

To Inter 2011

Fee: 16m

Mauricio Isla From Universidad 2007

Fee: 550,000k

To Juventus 2012

Fee: 17mill

Fabio Quagliarella From Sampdoria 2007

Fee: 7.5 m

To Napoli 2009

Fee: 18m

Udinese has created the foundations for every club to follow. Never to they overspend on transfers. They always buy youth, build players and then sell them when they are worth more than there value. Although this is an incredible model teams such as Chelsea, Juventus and Barcelona have to adopt this model in order to create a winning model. Udinese will never be able to win with this team, but they sure are an entertaining team to watch when the Serie A season starts up each August.

3 responses so far

Oct 19 2013

Profile Image of Colby Shanafelt

The future of Mozart

Filed under Italy,Soccer Politics

Juventus v Parma FC - Serie A

 

To the Azzuri, Andrea Pirlo is known as “l’architetto” (the architect).  To Serie A fans, he is known as “il professore” (the professor).  To Milan, he was known as “no longer essential.”  And as Juventus fans set their sights on a third straight Scudetto, they hope for one thing: that in a few months, Pirlo simply won’t be known as “gone.”

Pirlo’s contract with Juventus expires this summer, and thus, the decision to offer Pirlo an extension is looming.  With his success at Juventus, fans were confident that Juve would structure a new deal for its most important player.  Yet general director Giuseppe Marotta and president Andrea Agnelli have made it clear that contract negotiations will be on hold until February or March of next year.  In the meantime, the reverberations of this neglect have echoed throughout Europe, as Milan, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and, most recently, Tottenham, have expressed interest in signing the Juve midfielder.  And while all of these clubs would greatly benefit from such a move, the impact of such a departure would be utterly disastrous for Juventus.

After spending ten seasons with AC Milan, Pirlo was signed by Juventus in 2011 on a free transfer of contract until 2014.  Pirlo explained that the real reason he left Milan “…was because [Massimiliano] Allegri wanted to use Ambrosini and Van Bommel in front of the defense.  So that meant I had to change position on the pitch.  So I said, ‘No, thanks’ to Milan and chose Juve.  Milan decided that I was no longer useful to them.”  Moreover, after winning the Scudetto with and without Pirlo on the pitch, Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani felt as though Pirlo was no longer the same dominating presence that had tormented opposing defenses for years, both on the national and international scale.

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Juventus, on the other hand, was a team still rebuilding after losing many of its star players upon demotion to Serie B following the Calciopoli scandal of 2006.  They believed that the 32-year-old’s career was far from over and that he was the last piece of the puzzle in restoring Juve’s dominance of Serie A.  Once again emerging as one of the best playmakers in football, Pirlo helped Juventus capture consecutive Scudetti during the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 campaigns.  Yet with the impending expiration of his contract, management has not made resigning the maestro a top priority, as Agnelli is happy to let Pirlo decide his own future at Juventus.

Unlike most of the recent transfers (yes, I’m looking at you Gareth), Pirlo’s predicament is particularly unique.  After a tremendous club and international career in which he amassed 4 Serie A titles, 2 Champions League titles, and a World Cup for Italy in 2006, Pirlo’s decision is simple: he just wants to find somewhere he can play.  He remarked, “My priority is Juve, but I don’t want to be a burden to anyone…The years go by and it’s not said that I should stay just because my name is Pirlo.  I want to feel important and the architect of the team’s success, otherwise I’ll leave.  Anyhow I’d like to underline that it will not be a financial problem or a choice between one team and another.”  The emergence of 20 year-old Paul Pogba has made Pirlo feel as though his presence is no longer fundamental to the team’s success.  Moreover, his frustrations have been magnified following his antics at the Hellas Verona game.  After being replaced in the 65th minute, he walked straight past the team bench and into the tunnel without remaining on the bench for the rest of the game.  Though there was no rule against this, head coach Antonio Conte explained that if a player leaves the pitch, unless it is for medical treatment, that player will be fined.  Yet Conte declared that he has no ill will towards Pirlo and insists that there is no bad blood between the two.  I’ll leave it up to you about whether Pirlo’s exit from the field is a foreshadowing of a future departure from Juventus or simply something that the media made too much of.  Regardless, Pirlo’s attitude eerily resembles that after his tenth season at Milan, and with Tottenham “lining up to make a bold move for Italy playmaker Andrea Pirlo,” l’architetto’s future at Juventus does not seem optimistic, which does not bode well for Juve.

Amidst these transfer rumors, Juventus legend Gigi Buffon has spoken out by saying, “Not holding on to Pirlo should not even be an option.  If Pirlo were to leave, we might as well dismantle the stadium bit by bit and stop playing football altogether.”

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And though these comments seem extreme, Buffon could not be any more accurate in his assessment of Pirlo’s value.  He is the most experienced player in Europe and represents a composure that targeted successors of Vidal, Pogba, and Marchisio cannot match.  Tactically, he is the heart of this team, one whose passing and ball control is one of the best in the history of the game.  Moreover, Juventus is simply not ready for life without Pirlo.

Paul Pogba is arguably Juve’s most skillful player, yet his playing style is nearly opposite that of Pirlo.  While Pirlo is steady and patient, Pogba is fast and pressing.  With Pirlo at midfield, it is a slower game of precision, and with Pogba, it is a game of full-on attack, which has often left a defense prone to quick counterattacks.  And while Pogba strives to emulate the playing style of Pirlo, Pogba has shown that he is not quite there yet.  In the Inter Milan and Chievo matches, Pogba was off his game, as he tried to slow things down a la Pirlo, yet his hesitancy nearly proved costly in both occasions.  Moreover, with soccer in Italy becoming more of a transient, developmental experience, the future of Paul Pogba is even more ambiguous, as he has reportedly been linked to transfer rumors throughout Europe.  Thus, by investing in Pogba at the expense of Pirlo, Juventus may wind up losing both players, which would prove calamitous for a team still searching for an identity.

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Nearly two weeks ago, Pirlo tormented his former Milan club, scoring from a free kick (nearly twice) in a 3-2 victory for Juve.  Juventus cannot make the same mistake that Milan made, as Pirlo has shown that even at 34, he is still one of the top players in the world.

The best-case scenario would be to offer Pirlo a 2 year contract and  let him retire contently to his vineyard in Brescia where he can continue making his cherished wine.

5 responses so far

Oct 18 2013

Profile Image of Ale Barel Di Sant'Albano

My Favorite Player of All time: An Italian icon, the Ultimate Bianconeri , a gentleman and a player the will always be missed in Turin – Alessandro Del Piero

Filed under Italy

Growing up a Juventino in the city of Turin there was only one name you needed to know Alessandro Del Piero. You entered the stadium every Sunday hearing  40,000 fans screaming “ C’e un capitano, C’e solo un capitano, Alex Del Piero,” (there is a captain, only one captain), it was riveting, exciting and a joy to behold for a player that only represented one club for 19 years of competitive football. It wasn’t just his ability to pass through defenders like a magician with an invisible ball at his feet, or his ability to score when his team needed him, it was also the class he represented off the field. Unlike the Totti’s, or Cassano’s or Balotelli’s of our generation, Del Piero lived a simple life of an man who exhibits the characteristics the game needs today. He was a fighter, a leader and an incredible player to watch.

Alessandro Del Piero -833954

He was signed by Juventus at the age of 16 in 1993. He was brought into the team to replace the legendary Roberto Baggio who was slowly creeping towards his peak. He was a champion of every competition available to him in Italy- the champions league, Coppa Italia(2 times), Supercoppa (4 times), Serie A (9 times),  the FIFA World Cup and the most prestigious competition in the world, the 2006 World Cup.

For all the 19 seasons that Ale would spend with the Bianconeri, he set records in all aspects of the game. He leaves Juventus as the all time leading top scorer with 289 goals, a record that was once held by the former Juventus President Giampiero Boniperti. Alessadndro Del Piero is the all time leading scorer for Juventus in all other important competitions as well, such as Champions League (45 goals), UEFA Competitions (53 goals), add to this, the most capped player in the history of Juventus (704 matches played), a record that was once written in the name of another Juventus legend – Gaetano Scirea (552 matches played).

He had the ability the change the course of a game with the snap of his fingers, the precious Serie A winning goal against Fiorentina in 1994, the lovely back-heel goal against Borussia Dortmund in the finals of the Champions League, the only goal against River Plate that would secure Juventus the Intercontinental Cup and the many of his trademark freekick goals.

There’s no end to the happiness he gave as an obsessed teenage fan. There are moments that I will never forget being in the stands to witness history. My three great memories of Del Piero are moments that I couldn’t replicate even if I tried.

  1. The first moment is the one most dear to me at the Santiago Bernabau. Juventus were travelling to Real Madrid to play the Galacticos without our star winger Pavel Nedved. It was a game that looked like a crushing in the making against a team that had Zidane, Robinho, Sneijder, Robben, Ramos, Casillas, Van Nistelrooy, the list was endless but when he played that night, they stood no chance. It was Del Piero’s night, after a stunning goal with his left foot and a free kick perfectly placed in the bottom left corner Madrid stood no chance coming back, and Del Piero received a standing ovation in front of a crowd of 80,000 people. It was something I had never witnessed before, incredible.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FcJE3h1he6k

 

2.  The second moment was during the semi-final of the 2006 World Cup, Italy was playing in a match against Germany that the Germans were convinced was in the bag. Germany was playing incredible football while also having home field advantage. In addition, Beckenbauer before the game described it as “a walk in the park.” I managed to go to the match, and the stands were covered in German Pride, screaming at the top of their lungs. The game went to extra time until Italy scored in the 118 minute through a goal by Fabio Grosso. It was a common Italian match, constantly on there back foot, waiting for the counter attack, so even after Italy scored it still seemed like Germany would be able to crawl its way back, but then this happened…….

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQhfWwf7yp0

Never have I been to a 60,000 seat stadium and been able to hear nothing but the away team screaming in rejoice. The silence was incredible. Alex had done it again. The head coach of Italy, Marcello Lippi once said of him “Del Piero is a champion, when he is selected he never disappoints. He is an example to us all. He has great skills and intuitions that few other players have. He is a captain in the real sense of the word”.

 

3. The third moment was his magnificent double against Lazio in Torino, it capped a crucial must win, and while Del Piero only had two shots in the entire game he managed to score on both of them. He scored a stunning free kick that ultimately led to us winning our first title since 2005. After the game, I managed to speak to him, he came up to me and said “ don’t ever stop dreaming, growing up in Padova I never thought I would have the chance the score a game winner in front of 40,000 people, always go for it!!” He took off his shirt and signed it “devi sempre provare”  – you must always go for it.

 

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_bh_9Za8rI

 

 

 

 

 

 

alex

(His trademark celebration)

 

Still, after all that’s said and done, nothing of his contribution to make Juventus the most prestigious club in Europe today, matches his devotion to the “Old Lady” when relegated in Serie B, by the infamous scandal of Calciopoli.

            It was in 2006, that he made his mark as the greatest Juventino ever. As Juventus were entering the purgatory of Serie B,  many of the key players left Torino, while Del Piero announced that he would stay and captain them in Serie B and help the team regain promotion, explaining how important this was for “the Agnelli family and the fans who truly deserve it”. He said “Un cavaliere non lascia mai una Signora” which means a soldier never leaves it Miss’s.  He was a player that always put the team ahead of him and he will be greatly missed forever because of it.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VD-tfeMxzQM

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Aug 12 2012

Profile Image of Andrew Wenger

What is Soccer’s Business?

The business of a soccer club is to produce a winning team. At the end of the day sports are a form of entertainment. Too often, though, actions taken place in the board room or at the negotiating table take away from the entertainment displayed on the field. At times, the aggressiveness and sometimes greediness of clubs leads to failure on the field. Specifically, the mountains of debt some European clubs have amassed in recent years often do more harm than good for a club. Last year, players in La Liga — one of the world’s richest leagues — nearly went on strike when one club failed to pay wagesEarlier this year, Rangers FC entered administration after they could not pay some $77 million the club owed in taxes. I visited Rangers when I was younger on a European tour and since that time have considered it one of the oldest and most notorious club in Europe. The same has happened to F.C. Portsmouth for the second time in as many years. In both cases, the financial problems were the result of poor management decisions. When clubs with such great histories are suffering in this way, we have to ask ourselves whether there are fundamental problems with the way the business of soccer is being managed in many places.

In 2005, Malcom Glazer used the financial tool of a leveraged buyout (LBO) to purchase Manchester United for $1.5 billion and make the company private. In the end, I would argue, this action ultimately hampered the team’s ability to keep or purchase new star players. A leveraged buyout is where the takeover artist will borrow the majority of the cost to purchase the new company against the company’s future cash flows and current assets. More often than not in a LBO the new owners will have to sell key parts of the new business to pay down the debt. In the case of a soccer club their assets are their stadium and training grounds as well as their players. Manchester United, for instance, sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid for a record transfer fee of  $132 million. Even with the sale of Ronaldo, United has been unable to manage their mountainous debt payments and recently reissued shares of the club on the New York Stock Exchange for public purchase. Glazer raised $300 million dollars in the IPO, half will be used to pay down the $663 million in remaining debt. NYT blogger Graham Ruthven claims Sir Alex Ferguson may even benefit financially from the IPO. The IPO took place on Friday August 10th, with a $14 price. A price that was significantly supported by the underwriters of the IPO throughout the day.  But what if the $800 million spent on interest payments and banking fees could have instead been spent on increasing the player and fan experience at Manchester United? Even with the new issuance, control of the club will be retained by the Glazer family as they will retain 67% of B shares which have voting power, so little will likely change in the general approach taken to the finances of the club.

As you can see from the photograph below, the actions by Glazer have outraged many fans of Manchester United, who consider that he has in some ways taken the club from them. They have a point. After all, as a “brand” a club is not only made up of it’s players and managers, but also of the fans and the tradition they carry with them.

Another instance of over spending and debt damaging a club is Leeds United, formally of the Premier League. Rather than piling on debt through a LBO , the club borrowed to purchase players. Leeds were a big club in the 1980s and 1990s, culminating in a Champions League semi-final place in 2001. But the club was ultimately undone by their Chairman Peter Ridsdale’s idea to go for it. He proceeded to use shady financial products to purchase players with borrowed money using future ticket sales as collateral. Essentially the fans loyalty. Ultimately it failed and the club had to sell assets at a blistering pace as the club entered administration: the stadium Elland Road (pictured below), training ground at Thorp Arch, and any player that was worth a nickel, including some considered to be part of England’s golden generation. Great players were sold at a severe discount due to the team’s financial troubles. The club also suffered demotion to England’s third tier and have since had to claw themselves back from the brink of extinction.

The idea of corporate borrowing is nothing new. Most companies must borrow to fund future growth. But there is a line between intelligent borrowing and getting caught in a credit crunch. Just like the many U.S. home owners who over-extended themselves between 2003 and 2008, soccer clubs may soon find themselves unable to pay their debts. In Europe, several countries — Spain, Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Italy — are desperately trying to reorganize its debt in order to make payments. Fiorentino Perez, the Chairman of Real Madrid and creator of the “Galacticos” is in the midst of de-leveraging in his real business, A.C.S., or Actividades de Construcción y Servicios. The company is one of the largest building services companies in the world. As he has done with Real Madrid, Perez has orchestrated huge loans, creating $12 billion in debt that the company has since had to sell assets to cover. Real Madrid, meanwhile, is currently $500 million in debt because of the money it has spent creating the “Galacticos” (pictured below). Many in business have believed that  borrowing to fund instant success is the winning formula.But the formula only works as long as growth outpaces debt obligations.

The authors of the book “Soccernomics,” Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, make a compelling argument that the outlandish transfer costs that have become the norm in professional soccer are not the way to success. “We studied the spending of forty English clubs between 1978 and 1997, and found that their outlay on transfers explained only 16 percent of their total variation in league position. By contrast, their spending on salaries explained a massive 92 percent of the variation” (48). They conclude that the market for player wages is efficient while the transfer market is well not efficient. You can see this inefficiency at work in many cases. Tottenham Hotspurs, for instance, transferred Jermaine Defore to Portsmouth and Robbie Keane to Liverpool for a combined $52 million only to bring them back a year later under new manager Harry Redknapp. Soccernomics provides the ultimate example of transfer market inefficiency. “In 1983 AC Milan spotted a talented young black forward playing for Watford. The word is that the player Milan liked was John Barnes, and that it then confused him with his fellow black teammate Luther Blisett.” Milan bought Blisett. This type of almost comical folly may be why, down the road, Milan has had to sell two of their most valuable players this summer to pay down debt — Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva (below), both to now super-wealthy club Paris Saint-Germain. AC Milan has run a total deficit of  245.4 million euros in the last 5 years. The spending of some of the biggest football clubs in the world is out of control.

Many clubs feel that they must take on such debt to keep up with the “Jones’s” — clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea, whose  billionaire owners are not worried about the bottom line of the clubs they own. Sheik Mansour from Qatar bought Man City for a measly $330 million but then proceeded to spend close to double that on stocking his team with talented players. He was only following the lead of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich (pictured below). UEFA reported that more than a quarter of the 650 soccer teams in Europe are spending $16.50 for every $13.50  of revenue. Running a deficit is fine for the super rich owners who care about nothing else than winning. Unfortunately not every team is owned by an owner with bottomless pockets. The massive television contracts in Europe are giving clubs increasing revenue. In June 2012 the English Premier League signed a record $4.7 billion/3 year television deal and the German Bundesliga signed a $3.2 billion/4 year deal. The deals were a 72% and 52% increase over the previous deals respectively. Compare those numbers with the $115 million Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. paid for the television rights to the Premier League in 1992. But even with the rising revenue teams are still forced to borrow to compete with the billionaire owners of the world. European teams currently run a collective $1.5 billion deficit.

Some are trying to stop the process. Michel Platini (pictured below) has launched the Financial Fair Play (FFP) plan, which is meant to force European clubs to balance their books by the 2013/14 season. If clubs fail to balance their books they will be excluded from UEFA competitions.But what if Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Manchester United, Chelsea, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City refuse to follow the rule and are kicked out of the Champions League. Mr. Platini, what happens then? Riddle me that?

Perhaps clubs will have to start running teams like my namesake, Arsene Wenger. Are we related? I  guess we will never know. He is a fantastic manager though. It is said Wenger uses statistics to judge a players future output on the field compared rather than over-evaluating a player’s past performances. He has a degree in Economic Sciences from the University of Strasburg in France: from an economic perspective, this player evaluation model makes much more sense than the approach taken by other clubs. It is similar to judging a blue chip stock. You don’t make your decision to invest on the stock’s previous performance but attempt to judge its future performance by looking at the fundamentals of the company presented in their financial reports. As players, our statistics are our financial reports.

Perhaps the Financial Fair Play plan will alter a shift in professional soccer in Europe. Barbara Berlusconi has underlined the need for change: “Soccer teams will have to transform into proper companies. If you can only spend what you get, then you have to keep costs in check and increase revenue. It’s a challenge that can become an opportunity.” This change in soccer will be a positive one if it improves what is produced on the field, or simply forces owners to be smarter with how they spend their money. The thing is soccer clubs are not like regular companies. The authors of Soccernomics say it best: “The business of soccer is soccer,” they note, and clubs “are more like musems: public-spirited organizations that aim to serve the community while remaining reasonably solvent.” The irony of what is happening today in so many clubs is that running a soccer club with pressure to make money may ultimately contradict its stated goal of winning on the field!

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Oct 23 2011

Profile Image of Laurent Dubois

“Why Always Me?”

Filed under Balotelli,Italy

Of all the moments in the surreal Manchester City vs. Manchester United game today, there is one that will probably stay rooted in our imaginations for at least a little while: Balotelli’s cheeky question: “Why Always Me?” after his first goal. Like many of the most fascinating moments in football, this one was at once funny and irritating, appropriate and trangressive.

As soon as I saw this, my head began to spin as I tried to imagine Balotelli’s thought process. Going into a game against Manchester United, of course he badly wanted to score.  And he had his reasons for thinking he might: if he’s a little arrogant, he has his reasons, and self-confidence no doubt helps him play the way he does. Other players also have t-shirts concocted in preparation for scoring, sometimes with political or social messages: “Sympathize with Gaza,” in one famous case in Egypt, or “Paz in Villa Kennedy,” as Edouardo once requested to those in his violence-torn neighborhood back in Brazil.

But how did Balotelli decide on that particular message? It can be seen, after all, as fairly obnoxious. Having a shirt printed up in preparation of scoring is already a sign of arrogance, of course, but the usual tactic is to balance that out by having a message that isn’t about how awesome you are. Like Messi wishing his mom happy birthday, sweet wonderful son that he is. He got a yellow card too, but the gesture was unimpeachable.

Not Balotelli’s style, though. This was all about Balotelli, performing being Balotelli, at the ultimately moment of Balotelliness. And though probably his teammates didn’t really mind — hopefully they have a sense of humor — it’s a bit of rib towards them. Like, how come I’m always the one who scores, instead of the rest of all y’all? What’s up Kun, Nasri? Don’t have any goals in you? Why Always Me?

That Balotelli might think this, quietly to himself as he hugs his teammates and thanks them for assisting him in scoring, is not that surprising. You can imagine it crossing Rooney’s mind, or Messi’s mind: dude, why am I the awesomest out here, always? But that you would plan, in advance, to publicly make the point is pretty striking. So, too, is the fact that, although he knew you would get a yellow card, he clearly didn’t care. What’s a little card, waved in the air by an impotent referee, compared to the memorable glory of that celebration, of trying to make it just a little bit eternal, rather than just one more goal in the stream of club play? He was, at that moment, just a little Maradonesque — charmingly so.

It’s striking, too, because while in retrospect the showing of the t-shirt can fit firmly into one of the more remarkable drubbings in recent football history, at the time Balotelli could not have known that this would happen. Even if he was convinced that his team would win, I doubt that in his wildest dreams he would have predicted a 6-1 victory. And in fact instead Chicharito and Rooney could well instead have combined to come back and defeat Manchester City, in which case his  t-shirt would have ended up seeming a little off. Instead, of course, we were able to watch two groups — the Manchester City fans in the stands of Old Trafford, and the players on their team — express some of the most pugnacious self-satisfaction I’ve seen on display in a long time. The t-shirt was just the beginning of a long, long game at Old Trafford.

There’s a moment in Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait when, as we watching him on the field, Zidane tells us that once in his life — and only once — he was playing and suddenly knew, in advance, precisely what would happen: that he would score a goal. He knew how he would do it, and then he did it. Balotelli’s t-shirt somehow makes us think the he had a similar certainty. That he was so well prepared for the moment is both alarming and delightful.

The thing is, there’s something rather universal about the sentiment expressed on the shirt — except that most of the time we (like Charlie Brown) repeat those words not because we’ve just had something wonderful happen to us, but the opposite. You might imagine the same t-shirt worn by some particularly beleaguered goalie: he could pull up his shirt every time some terrible defending, or worse, sent the ball streaming into his net. But the fact Balotelli took perhaps the most profound and universal of human questions “Why Me?” and turned it into a festival of self-celebration, is perhaps what makes this so memorable.

Of all the answers to Balotelli’s question I saw, perhaps the best came from Supriya Nair in Mumbai: “oh, darling. if not you, then whom?” Here’s to the strange  certainty that convinced Balotelli that he would print up and wear that t-shirt. Here’s to a gesture that made us pause, for a second, this Sunday: that made us wonder, for a second, about his sanity — and therefore our own.

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Nov 21 2010

Profile Image of Laurent Dubois

Kicking the Silence

A few days ago, before the U.S. Women’s Team’s first game against Italy in World Cup qualifying, Abby Wambach told the New York Times that the (obviously slightly bitter) joke on the team was that they had to do badly this year in order to get media attention. “The irony of the whole thing is that when the U.S. men win, they get the coverage, but when the U.S. women lose, we get the coverage. . . The joke among us is that we planned it this way and that we knew this was the only way to get the coverage that we think we deserve.”

Now the team has squeaked a little closer to making it to the World Cup with a true last-minute goal against Italy in Padua. Next week’s game in Illinois will determine whether this becomes the first Women’s World Cup not to include the U.S., long one of the dominant teams in the competition.

The last weeks have represented one of the most interesting and important transformations in the history of global women’s football, suggesting an expansion and a shift in the dynamics of the game. Mexico’s victory over the U.S., and the prominence of U.S.-born women’s players on foreign teams, have highlighted the rise of the women’s game in other country’s and the attendant pressures put on the U.S. within this larger competition. It’s exciting, dramatic, and certainly worth following. The latest game had some remarkable drama to it, since in fact the game probably should have stopped before Alex Morgan scored the bold winning goal. Still, with U.S. qualification hanging by a thread it’s a frightening, perhaps decisive, moment, as Jennifer Pel noted.

Alex Morgan at U-20 World Cup This Past Summer

But, as Jennifer Doyle has pointed out in an appropriately furious blog post, it has been very difficult to follow all of this except via twitter. As she wrote about yesterday’s game: “Most of us fans didn’t see today’s game. We couldn’t. ESPN exiled the match to the dark corner of the internet known as “ESPN3.com” – accessible only to some cable television subscribers.” The ESPN reporter assigned to the game wasn’t actually there. Worse, about the next, decisive match to be played next Saturday: “Right now there is no plan to show the match on television. SHAME ON ESPN, the sexist bastards.”

She’s urging, via twitter, that we call ESPN to urge them to actually show the crucial game.

A decade after 1999, it’s amazing that this is still where we’re at. The usual booster stories about soccer in the U.S., in classic American fashion, make it sounds like a story of inevitable progress and expansion, a manifest destiny of sorts. Increasingly, though, especially for women’s soccer, it seems like we might be caught instead in some sort of nightmarish labyrinth, where moments of triumph and seemingly irrefutable progress just lead us back into silent alleys again. After decades of institutional investment, the development of tremendous talent, the incredible devotion of millions of players and fans, it’s still impossible to see a crucial international game on TV.

What will make a change? A march on ESPN? A million players, in their uniforms, on the mall, demanding to be heard, and seen?

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