Calcio in Heels – Conspiracies, Record-breakers and a Tactical Genius

The last time Calcio in Heels was on display for Goalden Times, it was soon after Inter’s Derby della Madonnina defeat over Milan. This time, Rossella Marrai continues to profile the Nerazzurri’s latest undefeated run with a stellar victory over Juventus and the man behind the empathic win. On top of it, the latest dilemma of referees and its continuous debate of whether it was ‘human error’ or a ‘bought referee’, also comes into play in November’s issue

Calcio’s conspiracies

Calcio is not just purely about football anymore. In Italy, it has become a fusion of both football and amalgamated conspiracy theories over years past to form a paradigm that certain fixtures have been bought over to procure a result.
No longer can two sets of players walk onto the field and see a goal given for straight ‘human error’. No, it’s a constantly growing force that has overshadowed the ‘Beautiful Game’.
Ever since the 2006 Calciopoli scandal erupted across the Italian peninsula, few fans, and even neutrals, can’t watch a game without the thought of ‘that must be fixed’ or ‘that team has bought the referee’ having crossed their mind.
It is a sad reality which needs to be stopped. Bad calls, offside goals, non-existent penalties don’t just happen in Italy but the conspiracies hit full throttle during Week Nine of Serie A.
The Stadio Angelo Massimino was the venue at question, Catania the victim and Juventus the one controlling the linesman’s flag – or so it was said by the cynics.
In that game, Gonzalo Bergessio had a perfectly good goal ruled out for offside in the first half, whilst Arturo Vidal’s 57th minute goal was allowed to stand – by the same linesman as the incident before – when he was handed the ball with Nicklas Bendtner in an illegal position.
The incident arguably caused up a stir in an already heated affair with Catania eventually being reduced to ten men following Giovanni Marchese’s second booking.
We need to delete what happened. We have accumulated a lot of anger. I tried to close the doors on it on Monday morning already when training returned. I am sorry our merits on the field have not been shown in a proper light but now it is a chapter closed,” Catania coach Ronaldo Maran told reporters a few days after the encounter.

Catania’s perfectly good goal ruled out for offside (l), Nicklas Bendtner offside in the build-up to Vidal’s goal for Juventus (r)

If there was ever a large gathering of anti-Juve followers, the group suddenly grew bigger. The incidents didn’t do the Bianconeri any favours in clearing the label of ‘Rubentus’ (‘Rubare’ means to steal in Italian) dubbed on them after they were relegated to Serie B in 2006 for match-fixing.
Cries of ‘Ladri, Ladri, Ladri’ (thieves, thieves, thieves) were echoed across the Massimino on that sunny Sunday afternoon, and it only further laid reason to claim truth behind the conspiracy theories – that Juve had ‘bought’ the game.
History may not favour the Bianconeri in convincing the cynics that the decisions made by Luca Maggiani were in fact ‘human error’ but when a team is on a 47-match unbeaten run, why would a club need to pay off an official when their quality is miles ahead of their rivals?
It seems nonsensical that it is the same Juventus team which saw penalties wavered away as frequently as Lionel Messi’s scoring ratio last season.
It was almost as if last season the referees were scared to hand any favours to Juventus in order to see their names dragged through media dust. Is this a sign of a team who has bought officials? No.
The Bianconeri strengthened their squad for the 2011-2012 campaign and managed to complete the season undefeated, whilst this transfer market, Director General and Sports Department CEO of Juventus, Beppe Marotta has only but further increased the quality and depth in the squad. It seems illogical that a team, which holds significantly better talent from their scudetto winning season, would pay the match officials especially when the gap of quality to the likes of Milan had substantially widened. Only Inter could really truly rival them, whilst Napoli and Roma lack the depth and consistency.
The same weekend of the match against Gli Elefanti were Manchester United and Chelsea and those games too were overshadowed by controversy in poor refereeing and officiating decisions. It only goes to show that not only does it happen in Italy but it happens in England too and that ‘human error’ is so often crossed over the to the fine line of judgmental and rash opinions.
Games are won on the field and not via Electronic Funds Transfer.
Saturday, 3 November, was a prime example of this when Inter beat the Vinovo outfit despite Arturo Vidal scoring a goal 21 seconds into the game from an offside Kwadwo Asamoah pass. It was here where determination by Inter bettered the conspiracy skeptics and went on to break their undefeated record.

Juventus are beatable

The Juventini would tell you they won their ‘30thscudetto on the field last season, whilst – as per the norm – the Milanisti would beg to differ.  They would say the title was handed to Juve after an ‘unacceptable’ (as labelled by Milan themselves) offside decision wrongly went in favour of the Bianconeri when Sulley Muntari’s goal was cancelled out.
And while I don’t condone the fact that the decision to rule out the most evident goal by the Ghanaian was atrocious, it was not the reason for Juve’s title win. It was Milan’s inability to compete for the whole length of the season coupled with the injury crisis to have hit the squad which saw them give away the lead, whilst the Old Lady had done away with her walking stick and was running a full marathon.
Fans of the ‘anti-Juve’ academy were up in arms that scudetto number 30 or 28 – call it what you will – was only aided by several key refereeing moments, seeing them dubbed as ‘unbeatable’ due to the ‘favouritism’ handed to them. However, Inter and Andrea Stramaccioni put things straight.
Confident of his side’s ability from the off, Stramaccioni knew full well what his side was capable of: “They’re a bit more established, a bit more settled in terms of the way they play. It will be our biggest test yet to assess our progress.
I wouldn’t settle for a draw, though: we’re Inter and I’ve never gone out looking for anything less than victory. We’re not afraid,” the young coach told La Gazzetta dello Sport before the game.
Afraid they were not as they showed that the ‘unbeatables’ can, in fact, be beaten as Inter pulled off one of their most striking displays on the field this season.

Inter Milan ended Juventus’ 49-game unbeaten run

Even after conceding a goal so early on at the Juventus Stadium, Stramaccioni’s tenacity, instilled in his team to never give up, raised the bar of their performance and it was undoubtedly something few teams had in them in order to fight back.
Milan failed to overcome their anger after Muntari’s goal was disallowed and found more reasons to protest and argue than to fight back, while Catania’s Sicilian nature saw their hopes go void when they were reduced to ten men.
Inter, on the other hand, didn’t succumb to such emotions.
At half-time I was certain we’d get the game back on track and even win it, because I saw the way it was going. The whole team had belief and was fired up during the break. Inter are growing and that is the important thing,” Stramaccioni said after the game at the Juventus Stadium.
However, their determination and hunger to win wasn’t the only reason for Inter’s win; it was Stramaccioni’s astute tactical changes too.

Stramaccioni – Tactical Genius

Special Strama – From the victory in Torino to scudetto dreams.
The Inter coach has changed the squad and won everyone over in 40 days. The president and fans see Mourinho in him. And in the Serie A he has a 70% winning percentage: better than the legends…” read a headline from La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Labelled as a ‘tactical genius’ for his charismatic and clever way of reviving Inter, in the latter stages of last season, in which he helped move Inter up to sixth position and allowing them to qualify for the Europa League, Stramaccioni only further emphasized the reason behind the name.

At 36 years of age, ‘Strama’ is the youngest coach in Serie A and whilst his lack of experience may not reach the levels of some of today’s coaches in the league, the tactician hosts a world of enthusiasm to get him by.
Traditionally seen sporting his favoured formations of 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, where the combination of a compact defensive unit aided in having perfect balance of an attacking line-up.  The formations proved to provide a reportedly unhappy Wesley Sneijder with a rejuvenated form and he too praised the young tactician’s efforts.

Special Strama

Fortunately now there is a coach who understands me, gives me a lot of energy and he has put things in order,” the Dutchman said after Stramaccioni’s appointment.
Although Sneijder’s new form – which saw him form part of an attacking trident of Antonio Cassano and Diego Milito – was often considered to be the puppet master in the way Inter’s results panned out, Stramaccioni was forced to adapt in his formation due to the playmaker’s absence from the Juve game.
Against the Bianconeri one could say the ‘element of surprise’ was used when Inter turned out in a 3-4-3 formation to counteract Juventus’ 3-5-1 structure.
I knew full well I’d play 3-4-3. I thought Juventus would have an advantage by knowing our tactics beforehand, so why should I make it easier for them? Our strength is that we are versatile and have a basic approach that can then be adjusted for each individual situation.
When I told the strikers I wanted to play this way, it perhaps surprised them too, but became an enormously motivating force and everyone stepped up,” said Stramaccioni, while revealing the thoughts behind his masterminding of such a result.
Inter’s attacking trio allowed was a force to be reckoned with as their constant overlapping runs and fluidity on movement allowed for Juventus’ backline to have little reference points to work off.
Another advantage to the new line-up saw the wide players in the Black and Blue shirts add extra pressure onto Juve’s wing-backs which required him to drop back whilst creating more space for Inter to utilize the open space. This was only emphasized when Fredy Guarin and Yuto Nagatomo contributed to the scoreline with their runs down the flanks.
The implementation of Guarin for Cassano provided Inter with more pace and versatility to their play. Guarin was at the heart of the Nerazzurro turnaround in the second half display as he continued to show the promise which saw him shipped to Italy for Portugal despite being injured.
A game is made of two halves and there was only one team who owned the second period of the match due to their initiative in not letting a wrong decision get the better of them. And in the words of Stramaccioni: “Juve keep talking about what happened on the pitch, on the pitch, on the pitch – well, Inter beat them on the pitch.”

Those three points added to the match accumulator of nine consecutive wins and the ‘unstitching’ of Juve’s pattern deservedly saw the revelatory coach named as a ‘Tactical Genius’.

Calcio in Heels: It’s a Milan Thing

Rossella Marrai continues her monthly blog on Serie A and looks at the two ailing giants of Italian football

As always, so much has happened across Serie A since my debut piece Calcio in Heels – The Annual Managerial Sack Race. My prediction in seeing Giovanni Stroppa being the first coach sacked was in fact handed to Giuseppe Sannino of Palermo – one of just eight managers who kept their positions on the bench throughout the whole of the 2011-2012 campaign. Maurizio Zamparini went into his artillery room and fired the gun just four weeks into the new league putting an end to the so called project he had envisaged.

On the field, plenty more has gone down. Napoli is hot on the heels of Juventus’ tail like a love-whipped teenager chasing the girl next door or rather the Old Lady. Luca Toni has undergone a Florentine renaissance whilst fellow companion, Alberto Gilardino, has got the whole orchestra of Bologna players conducting him in his violin solo.

Gilardino’s violin recital at Bologna

Although, the most atypical of scenarios which has occurred so far this season started and ended at the San Siro. This month’s Calcio in Heels takes a look at what really got the city of Milan ticking; with the San Siro curse putting a dent into the Milan clubs and the far from classic Derby della Madonnina which hit lucky number 10.

The San Siro Curse

Catapulted across every major sports newspaper in the peninsula was the crisis which had struck the giants of Milan. A crisis which saw neither of the calamitous cousins able to take a point off their opening three games at home… let alone win.

Headlines read after Siena’s shock 0-2 win over Inter: “Humiliated by Siena: San Siro is a hex with zero points in 2 matches.”

Whilst Milan’s goalless draw to Anderlecht in the Champions League drew responses of: “Milan, again zero. Only a 0-0 with the modest Anderlecht, third match at the San Siro without a goal.”

It was a maledizione like no other.

For the Rossoneri losses to the newly promoted Sampdoria – in the opening game of the season – was pursued with a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Atalanta, and to top it off, the lacklustre draw to Anderlecht in the Champions League. The cherry on top? It was Anderlecht’s first game back in the Champions League since putting an end to their six-year hiatus.

Three games, not one goal scored. It would be Milan’s worst start to a season since 1931.

On the Blue and Black half of Milan, Inter was subjected to a humiliating 1-3 loss to Roma in their opening home match of the season; which was followed by the shocking crumbling to Serie A minnows, Siena, and a disappointing 2-2 draw to Rubin Kazan in the Europa League.

There was clearly something wrong and the scapegoat was obvious.

Reasons for the struggle were directed at the new semi-artificial surface which was laid before the start of the new season. Blame was shunned on the new buoyancy of the field, a faster movement of the ball and a denser field to work with, which was all too different from the uneven, dried up and loose field they had been used to.

La Repubblica’s headline on September 18 read: “The grass at San Siro has already won.”

Typical old San Siro pitch (l). The brand new pitch which is still holding up (r)

It suggested that the field had failed to show any signs of the deterioration despite Inter’s early start to the league due to their Europa League qualifiers.

Yet the unsolved mystery was how had Rubin Kazan and Siena managed to pull off impressive results? They too were playing on the same field.

Refreshingly, Andrea Stramaccioni, the Inter manager, did well not to concede to the Spanish (or Arsene Wenger) way of thinking and blame the field but admitted it was rather a psychological factor which was holding his team back. “Something has not gone right on a psychological level tonight,” he expressed after the loss to Zdenek Zeman’s  Roma side.

In contrast to the opening two games, Milan did eventually get their first home win of the season in a 2-0 victory over Cagliari, which saw the rise of Stephan El Shaarawy.

That same week, Inter went on to secure a win over Chievo and sparked headlines suggestive that the wins were a miracle.

Miracle in Milano. Rossoneri and Nerazzurri return to winning in the midweek fixtures. The Faraone and Fantantonio wake up Milan and Inter,” read La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Whilst Tuttosport wrote: “Milan and Inter start again. El Shaarawy beats Cagliari, the Nerazzurri win with Chievo: Milano breathes.”

A sigh of relief was echoed throughout the surrounds of the Scala del Calcio and Piazza del Duomo but the ultimate test to see whether the curse was lifted was to come on October 7, when Milan and Inter would meet at the historical perch of the San Siro for the 192nd edition of the Derby della Madonnina.

Derby della Madonnina – The Unique Classic

With all the troubles the two teams had been through to get to the derby, many were expecting it to be an open-ended and free-flowing game with plenty of goals, but it was far from the classics that had been put on displays in previous seasons.

Players who had made history in their club’s colours  – recent legends like Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf to Júlio César, Douglas Maicon and Lúcio had all bid their farewells in the summer. Along with the Rossoneri icons, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva also departed to help balance Milan’s struggling books.
It was a new look side for both teams but moreover for Milan who suffered the slings and arrows of the summer’s mass exodus in which only two standing members of the 2007 Champions League winning team remained: Daniele Bonera and captain Massimo Ambrosini.

The evergreen Javier Zanetti added one more derby notch on his 17-year-old belt at Inter whilst one familiar foe continued his treasured trove of luck against the Diavoli. Walter Samuel – ten derbies played in his seven-year career at Inter and phenomenally not a single one lost.

Samuel – the strength of 10,” read La Gazzetta dello Sport’s headline. “The Argentine who played in his tenth derby in Serie A (won all of them) decides it. Nerazzurri with a man down for a half. Moratti: ‘Strama is like Mou.’”

Traditionally a heated affair between the two antagonists, the temperature bar was raised further when Milan fans laid eyes on Antonio Cassano. Formerly of Milan, the controversial Barese-born striker crossed over the great divide during the summer transfer window under controversial circumstances.

Cassano, renowned for his inability to stick to one place for too long, was one of the fans’ favourite, and a player who had the sympathy of the whole world of Italian football when he was hit with a career-threatening stroke in October 2011.

As the fans have failed to let him forget it was Milan who nurtured him back to health and gave him a second chance at life. They felt betrayed, and quite rightly so, with his sudden departure, and especially, to archrivals, Inter.
Cassano embraced the move as a dream come true and if that wound wasn’t searing enough with pain for Milanisti,it was from his foul in which Samuel scored off a diving header in the third minute of a derby.
Yuto Nagatomo was sent off straight after the start of the second half, providing Milan the perfect platform to draw a goal back and go on to win the match.

However, common to the cause of Milan at late, the Rossoneri lacked the finesse in front of goal and the composure and ability to make any significant threat at goal. The ball was placed into the back of the net by a sublime Riccardo Montolivo long range effort but it was wrongly disallowed due to Urby Emanuelson’s foul on Samir Handanović inside the box.

The referee, Paolo Valeri, was the focal point of banter and Massimiliano Allegri made no withdrawals in holding back his opinion on the matter.

I never talk about referees. But, I have to now. The referee got it wrong in this game…It’s a shame we are running into some decisions that go against us, but we can’t do anything about that. Maybe the referees are on as bad form as we are,” Allegri hit out after the game before recalling several controversial incidents.

As a Milan fan myself, I will admit I was upset in Montolivo’s sublime strike being denied but I cannot look at the game and feel the referee is the only one to blame.

A poor summer transfer market left little to Milan’s squad strength and it clearly showed on the field when Milan couldn’t get past a ten-man Inter team. Yes, Inter may have parked the bus but what about the games against Sampdoria, Atalanta, Udinese, Anderlecht and Parma, before that?

There is a problem in the way the refereeing took place on the night. And yes Mr. Allegri, your never complaining about the referees is just as believable as Joey Barton having never sworn on the field.

Can he read his future?

Three successive derby wins for Inter have allowed the Nerazzurri to maintain bragging rights stretching for nearly two years, summing up a tale of Red and Black disappointment which has been orchestrated by the transitional period the Milanello club has gone through.

One thing which has remained in the back of my mind is, if there really is a Curse of the San Siro, has it truly been lifted for Milan? Only one win in four home games (across all competitions) is no record to be proud of and with the way the ball just wouldn’t fall into the back of Handanović’s net, it certainly seemed that the jinx is still alive in the Diavoli’s share of Milan.

Marrai’s prediction panel:

Who will top the Charts come end of October?

League table: Juventus’ dominating run seems almost near impossible to put an end to. Although they may hit one or two snags along the way, it seems the season is destined to be a two-horse race between the Bianconeri and Napoli. Also keep an eye out on Lazio who have been highly impressive under Vladimir Petković’s guidance but Sampdoria’s run will surely come to an end. Juve and Napoli top, followed by Lazio and Inter.

Goalscorers: Edinson Cavani is a man on fire. He is simply oozing with confidence this season and is a huge factor in Napoli’s chase after Juventus.

Alberto Gilardino, at the time of writing, is sitting joint second with five goals, and he is a man who the team is playing for. Every ball is directed towards him and with constant service at his feet, there is little wonder as to why the Biella star has been reborn.

An eye must be kept on Stephan El Shaarawy, Miroslav Klose and Fabrizio Miccoli – three players brimming with confidence and managing to sneak in goals under the radar. If they can maintain the consistency, they could be leapfrogging Cavani in the standings.

Football Italia – The Way Ahead

Italians need to change their game plan. In his continuing analysis of Football Italia, Gino de Blasio shows the path ahead by listing ways in which they can begin to execute it

In my first piece I looked at what I saw as fundamental issues with the Italian game, or rather, “where Calcio’s getting it wrong.” I finished that piece with the promise of “where the Italian game can change and how it should be done, in my eyes.”

So here it is.

1) Stadiums

The current stadiums are fine for a World Cup; in fact they were indeed fine probably until the year 2000. But now, new stadiums have taken the mantle of the biggest, the best and the most technologically advanced.

The thought of having to rip apart the Meazza, or the San Paolo is tear-inducing. These are iconic bits of landscape that resonate with the local communities. However, they seriously need some looking at.

Giuseppe Meazza, San Siro

Take The Allianz or Wembley or even… well, something closer to home, Juventus Arena. They have something in common. Realistic Attendance Seating or RAS, as I like to call it. Put it this way. You open a coffee shop. You know that coffee shop can manage the demand over the year of 10,000 people, so why make it try and accommodate more than that?

It’s a business fallacy. If you can guarantee an 85% attendance rate every match, in a suitable sized arena – say a 40,000 seater with an average ticket price of €35 – that ensures a €1.19 million turnover per game. Yes, admittedly, you could achieve that with a 65% attendance for the same price in a 90,000 seater; however, that would mean attracting 58,500 attendees – that’s 24,000 more people.

And it’s not just an attendance calculation, there has to be a  focus on marshalling and policing as well. It has to be a way to better secure matches from the violent ultras, and embracing new technologies.

2) Keep the Ultras

Everyone talks about the Ultras. The thing is, when you spend time in an ultra curva, you realise that the biggest denominator is actually football. Yes, there are political affiliations with some, there also are elements to the intimidation; but you can’t just chastise a group of extremely loyal fans.

Napoli Ultras

What clubs need to do is better identify and understand the attitude and mentality of the ultra. Fight the problem from within than from outside; educate and address rather than throw into jail and point the finger.

The ultras gave the Italian game flare years ago, now they are more likely to throw them at an official. The issue needs to be looked at more carefully.

3) The grassroots are the grassroots


We need to drill home the importance of ‘grassroots football’ — how home-bred talent can develop and flourish within the league, and actually I think Italy is one of the better positioned nations right now to do this.

The clubs are financially struggling, and they will continue to do so without the mega oil-rich nations taking over. So they need a plan to generate interest, get better coaches, staff and equipment to analyse and focus on overall player development.

At the last Euro, we saw that the average age of the Italy squad had been reduced; we also saw the second week game of Milan introducing 10 Italian players – something which hadn’t happened since Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan of ‘87.

The game needs more accessibility. In southern Italy, where my family is from, ‘a kickaround in the street’, is still literally the street; needless to say I did get a reputation for smashing more than my fair share of car windows. So there needs to be a look at facilities and opportunities to develop football players and coaches at the same time.

4) Destroy the analysis

Italy has a massive problem. Everyone is a football manager,” said my old coach, Mr. Simone. He isn’t wrong. You will find people analysing the tactical and physical attributes of the game played. This, however, isn’t the real problem.

The real problem lies in the Sunday night analysis, by four major TV stations with guests etc. The over-analysis seeps into the early hours and everyone ends up reiterating what was already said the night before rather than what they saw, if indeed they saw anything to begin with.

Analysis should be left to the football managers and referees; I’m probably asking too much but I can always dream.

5) Open up to new ideas from ‘distant’ neighbours

Ok, by now you must be all wondering what I have been smoking.

I, in all conscience, believe that we can learn in football from other nations too. We can all see what we can do better and what we can avoid doing in the future.

I think these lessons can be learnt from the neighbours in Germany, who have club ownership ideas like no other; England, where TV revenues and sponsorship are masterfully done; Spain, where academies are flourishing with the best and brightest; Switzerland, in how it develops business practices, and the list could go on and on.

I think there needs to be a permanent committee in place which all clubs can approach and make use of each other’s know–how to drastically reduce risk to them and the fans.

Italian football fan

We neither want clubs closing down because of financial mismanagement, nor do we want any more security issues. We need fans to be interacting, supporting and supplying the enthusiasm within the stadium and when they leave, so a new generation can always grow with their team rather than fear its future.

So, those were just a few points, I have a thousand more but I think these first five are ones which need a little more attention now than the others.

Scouting Network: Lorenzo Crisetig

Goalden Times brings you the stars of tomorrow – 20 years or under, promising players from across the world

Date of Birth:  January 20, 1993

Height: 1.83m

Weight: 80kg

Position: Midfielder

Nationality: Italian

Club: Internazionale Milan

Market Value: €1mn


Lorenzo Crisetig has been long identified as a prodigy. He has created a couple of youngest player records in various levels of the Italian age group teams. A midfielder who plays in front of the defence, protecting it and creating opportunities, he has been marked out for great things from quite a young age.

Crisetig was born in the province of Udine of Slovenian parentage and by the age of 14 had signed for Internazionale, even though hometown club Udinese and Inter’s crosstown rivals Milan had their eyes on him. Inter, at that time were in the middle of a wonderful run in the league (four Serie A titles on the trot). They had upgraded their academy and were in the process of promoting a fresh crop of talented young players. Talents like Mario Balotelli and Davide Santon formed a part of this bunch. Crisetig had this to say about the other two prodigal talents of that team: “I know Mario very little. But Davide was in boarding school with me. He’s right now just like himself (in the past) even now that he is playing for the National team.”

As a 14-year-old, Crisetig though did not merit much attention but while Balotelli exploded in and out of the field and Santon sparkled and then fizzled off, Crisetig grew on to be the pillar of the Inter Primavera team that has always been in the forefront of Primavera competitions.

That growth was noticed when Jose Mourinho became the manager of Inter. Mourinho had ushered in the careers of aforementioned Santon and Balotelli at the senior level, and in 2009 he gave Crisetig his first break in the senior team in a friendly match. But with a star-studded Inter team that was winning both in Italy and Europe, regular chances were hard to come by. Mourinho gave him exposure by including him in the Champions League team. And even though he would not make his debut for the senior team, these stints would help him grow his game.

Crisetig grew through the ranks in the Italian team appearing in the U-16, U-17, U-18, U-19 and U-21 youth teams, all within a stretch of two years. So fast was this progress that he became the youngest ever player to be picked for the Italian U-21 team. On August 11, 2010, Crisetig broke the record of Federico Macheda (18 years 10 days) when he made his debut at the Azzurrini‘s 2-2 European Championship qualifying draw against Denmark at the age of 17. The Azzurini boss Pierluigi Casiraghi praised his composure saying, “Crisetig is a player with important attributes” and in a match in which Italy U-21 team came back from 0-2 to level things, Crisetig had covered himself with glory. Casiraghi would subsequently be replaced as the Azzurini boss by Ciro Ferrara, but praises for Crisetig would be a common thread. After a particularly important 3-1 win over Sweden, Ferrara gushed, “Lorenzo has great personality and responded to the task at hand.”

Crisetig finally made his senior Inter debut in the 2011-12 Champions League away to CSKA, but would require some more time to be a regular as he is only 19. But even at this age, his physical presence, enthusiasm on the ball and a deft left foot, bodes well for the future. With Inter at crossroads, and in need of a new cycle at the club, it would be players like Crisetig who could shine the light.

The Nowhere Man

Carlos Tevez was the name on everyone’s lips for the entire January winter transfer window. Here Gino de Blasio takes the slide rule to the issue to find out what the hoopla is all about. Catch Gino on twitter @ginodb

All dressed up, nowhere to go

Remember high school? The social awkwardness, the struggle to make friends, the isolation that can encapsulate your dreams being burnt like a second year science class before a bunsen burner? Just like the ugly child who no one wants to take to the end of year dance, Carlos Tevez must have been feeling the same, come January 31st.

So how did one of football’s greatest talents get himself into the social exclusion award of the year category, and will he ever make it out in time for his career to fully shine?

Munich – 27th September 2011

Tevez Ignored Mancini

It was a cold autumn night and Manchester City were playing Bayern Munich in the Champions League group stage. Away from home and under the spotlight of Europe’s footballing elite, Carlos Tevez was going to commit a cardinal football sin – disobey the manager.

In a sideline dispute with City boss Roberto Mancini, Tevez refused to enter the pitch for a substitution prompting an expletive-charged tantrum for the world to see. The Tevez camp had later claimed that it was all due to some miscommunication – Tevez’s English speaking skills apparently to blame for the fiasco, however, that did not stand a chance. The cold Munich night lay witness to a calm Tevez while Mancini gesticulated wilder than any Italian since Nero saw Rome burning.

Tevez sat calmly as Mancini gesticulated wilder than any Italian since Nero saw Rome burning

Tevez didn’t get up. Mancini sat down.

The team talk, the flight home, the interviews with the press – all of these constitute modern day football, a tasteful reminder that not only the player has some explaining to do, but the coach too. But it was to be a sombre Mancini, a man who looked destroyed by the whole episode; the stress taking its toll on his verbal capacity to talk, he nonetheless exclaimed, “Tevez will never play for this club again”. To which a nonchalant Tevez expressed his desire to leave anyway as he is not happy to stay away from his family.

Like all great crimes since 1974, this became known as “Tevez-Gate”.

A two-week ban, loss of wages, exclusion from followed by forced inclusion into training. Carlitos needed a new home; Manchester City had made it as much clear.

And so Began the Rat Race…

Who was going to take in “the Apache”? More known for his petulance than a history teacher’s velvet elbow padding and more disliked by his manager than the school snitch, Tevez’s saving grace is that when he plays, you forget all of the above.

His work rate is exceptional, his physical diminutiveness compensated by the terrier-like aggression he uses to win and protect the ball; blessed with a hawk-esque vision he can pick out passes from all over the pitch. Any club would find a position for him, even if it meant selling their prized possession to have him.

A Tale of One City, Two Clubs

Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport ran the story of how Tevez was a step away from Milan

Like an after-school detention featuring the misfortune of sitting and watching your teacher’s marks, Tevez was totally powerless. It was to be the red and black half of Milan to make the first move, a proposition that would give Milan arguably the best attack in the world and bolster their domestic efforts by resting Zlatan Ibrahimovic for Champions League appearances. Milan agreed on personal terms with the player and the move seemed imminent, till City put the brakes on it by not allowing a free move on loan, preferring an outright sale.

When Milan failed on their first proposal to capture the Argentinian ace, it was set to start an inadvertent bidding war with local rivals Inter Milan. A move seen by many as one-upmanship due to the technical abilities which Tevez would bring, rather than the cure to the cold Inter had acquired; Tevez was a solution for Milan, not for Inter.

This was all taking place the week of the Milan derby; no longer was Tevez the ugly duckling, he was the one everyone wanted to take to the ball.

Cometh the Sacrificial Lamb

When Milan’s original proposal was rebuked by Manchester City, they knew the only thing that could win over the North West club was going to be an offer that they couldn’t turn their nose at. Adriano Galliani played out a move worthy of “hell hath no fury like a Brazilian scorned”. Using the media, and relations with the new Paris Saint-Germain coach (former Milan manager Carlo Ancelotti) and sporting director (former Milan scout and manager Leonardo), a series of open contacts were made to Milan regarding the sale of

Alexander Pato to PSG, a move that would bring in the capital required to purchase Tevez outright.

This seemed like the gamble of a century – selling the young, talented but injury-prone Brazilian for an older, temperamental and non-tested-in-Serie A Argentine. Add to that, Tevez hadn’t played since September – whatever form he was in, it wasn’t going to be match-ready.

Young, Injury-prone, Loyal, Promising or Mature, Proven, Disharmonious; which one to pick?

It wasn’t to be.

Pato’s sale was blocked at the last moment making Galliani come out of negotiations with Manchester City surrounding Tevez. So neither did Milan sell their star Brazilian nor did they buy the sidelined Argentinian. Nothing had changed, much to the dismay of the Twitter audiences around the globe proclaiming the sale of one, the purchase of another. Tevez was stranded. He was, yet again, the one the cool kids didn’t want in their group.

And Then…

There were flutters, both from PSG and Inter (again) but nothing concrete. The media circle that had encapsulated the story and run wild across Europe never came to fruition. Milan were without their preferred striker from the market (a last ditch effort to get Maxi Lopez from Catania did happen), Inter and PSG re-enforced and sold in different departments.

The sad truth is, however, Tevez only has himself to blame for the debacle. And who knows if time will teach him a lesson in player-manager protocol; he won’t be joining the diplomatic mission, that’s a certainty.