5 Stories That Caught My Eye This Month
Freelance writer/broadcaster specialising in Serie A, Premier League and NFL. The Guardian, The Score, NFL UK, Astro SuperSport, @blzzrd and Talksport among others
Catania continue their impressive form. Siena make possibly the smartest transfer move of January. And John Carew gets invited for a trial with Inter? Today on the blog Paolo Bandini shares with us five stories that caught his eye this month.
Catania continue to rise
This Sunday will witness a rematch of one of Italian football’s iconic fixtures. On 4 June 1961, Scudetto-chasing Inter were beaten 2-0 by a Catania side locked into mid-table with nothing left to play for. The result handed the title to Juventus. “Clamoroso al Cibali,” exclaimed the radio commentator Sandro Ciotti – “Sensation at the Cibali [Stadium]”.
When Catania and Inter meet at the same venue (albeit the Cibali has since been re-christened as the Stadio Angelo Massimino) this weekend, the picture will be rather different. The Sicilian club sit just two points and two places behind the Nerazzurri. As Gazzetta dello Sport noted this week, “the only sensation at the Cibali [these days] is if Catania don’t win.”
At time of writing, Catania are favoured by the bookies to beat Inter and it’s not hard to see why. Rolando Maran’s team have lost twice all season at home, whereas Inter – after winning their first 10 away games in all competitions, have picked up just a single point on the road since beating Juventus in Turin on 3rd November.
Catania achieved a club record top-flight points tally – 48 – last season, but are already just six shy of that mark with 12 games left to play. Where the press had assigned much of the credit for their 2011-12 campaign to the then manager Vincenzo Montella, it is clear now that the club’s strengths run much deeper.
The club’s president Antonino Pulvirenti has overseen the construction of one of the most advanced training centres in the country, while the former general manager Pietro Lo Monaco did an exceptional job of recruiting young talent from South America. After a falling-out with Pulvirenti, he was replaced by Sergio Gasparin last spring, but so far the evidence suggests that the successful buy low, sell high business model remains unaltered.
It is one thing to run a successful business, though, and another to put a strong team on the field. With a mix of Argentinian flair from the likes of Pablo Barrientos and Gonzalo Bergessio, and veteran Italian leadership from such players as Nicola Legrottaglie and Francesco Lodi, Catania have found the right balance. Gasparin sought to portray the match against Inter this week as the classic battle of David against Goliath. But his team no longer look like the underdog he would like to portray.
Allegri, not Balotelli, steers Milan back into contention
Milan are back in the public eye these days. Signing Mario Balotelli and then beating Barcelona – with the cup-tied Mario confined to the stands, no less – will do that for you. But while the events of the past month have been eye-catching, the truth is that the story of Milan’s resurgence had been set in motion long before the turn of the year.
The Rossoneri sat as low as 13th – with just 14 points – after 12 games. Since then, though, they have collected 31 from last 14. That’s more than Juventus (27), Napoli (26), Lazio (25) or anyone else in the division over the same period. While Balotelli’s impact has certainly been a positive one – the strikers scoring four goals in as many games – he could hardly be considered the chief architect of their revival.
Instead the man who deserves a little more credit is Massimiliano Allegri. The manager’s aloof and occasionally arrogant demeanour has not always endeared him to the club’s fans, while the team’s owner, Silvio Berlusconi, has oft undermined Allegri with statements along the lines of that made a political rally earlier this month, when he told reporters the manager “doesn’t know shit”.
Yet Allegri has had the courage to repeatedly ignore Berlusconi’s tactical advice – declining to man-mark Lionel Messi last week just as he declined to keep Ronaldinho in the team during his first season in charge. Such defiance can only be tolerated if accompanied by sufficiently positive results. Allegri is achieving them.
Siena’s shrewd move
On 12 January Siena loaned their starting centre-forward, Emanuele Calaiò, to Napoli, receiving a reported €500,000 up front, and giving the Partenopei an option to buy the player for a further €1.7m in the summer. Ten days later, Siena took Innocent Emeghara on loan from Lorient in France. They have an option to buy the player for €3m at the end of the season.
In 18 games for Siena this season, Calaiò had scored four goals. In four games for the same team, Emeghara has already matched that number. At 23, he is also eight years younger than the man he replaced. Whichever way you spin it, his signing already looks like one of the smartest pieces of transfer business done anywhere in Italy this January.
Inter play with fire, get burnt
News that Inter had invited John Carew in for a trial left fans speechless. The Norwegian striker had not played a competitive game since April 2012 – when he made a 28-minute cameo for West Ham against Bristol City in the Championship. He had been without a club since the end of last season, and seemingly focused his energies on making movies in the interim. How far must the Nerazzurri have sunk to consider such a move?
The truth is, though, that this story was not shocking at all. Instead it was entirely predictable. The club’s failure to add another out-and-out striker following the departure of Giampaolo Pazzini last summer had left them with only one – the 33-year-old Diego Milito – on their books. Neither Antonio Cassano nor Rodrigo Palacio is at all suited to leading the line.
In January the club added Tommaso Rocchi – a 35-year-old forward who had scored 14 goals in his last 73 games for Lazio. That the manager Andrea Stramaccioni declined to start Rocchi even after Milito picked up a minor injury in January spoke volumes. This was not an adequate replacement.
Days after the transfer window shut, Milito suffered an altogether more significant injury – tearing the ligaments in his left knee. With the transfer window now shut, the only option left to Inter was to seek out a free agent replacement. Players who find themselves without a club in February will inevitably carry their flaws.
Inter quickly discovered as much when Carew arrived in Milan. Out-of-practice and overweight, the team quickly realised the player wasn’t worth their trouble. Carew was sent home without completing his trial. And Inter were left to ponder what on earth they were thinking when they failed to sign another striker this January.
Brady puts success before salary
Tom Brady is not exactly living on the breadline. Last year the New England Patriots quarterback moved into a new $20m home with his wife Gisele Bundchen, and Forbes listed him in June 2012 as the 28th-best paid athlete in the world, with combined earnings – between salary and endorsements – of $27.1m. His net worth has been estimated at over $100m.
Nobody is suggesting, then, that his decision to accept a new three-year contract extension worth ‘just’ $27m represents an act of great personal sacrifice. Brady is not exactly about to lose the roof over his head, and the deal was also structured in such a way as to ensure that he gets more money sooner than he would have under his previous deal.
The gesture, though, is still an impressive one. Brady is hardly the first professional athlete to earn more money than he could possibly have use for. Very few of those settle for a penny less than they think they are worth. Given that Mark Sanchez signed a three-year, $40m contract with the New York Jets just last May, there is no question that Brady’s market value should have been higher.
That is not to say he is acting selflessly, though. Brady is not accepting less money out of the goodness of his heart, but because it will allow the Patriots more cap room to spend elsewhere. If used wisely, that should make the team stronger, and in doing so increase Brady’s chance of getting another Super Bowl ring. Brady has simply taken the view that at this stage of his career, money means less to him than glory.
The Odds: New England are (once again) off-season favourites to win the Super Bowl, currently best priced at odds of 8.00 with William Hill and best priced at odds of 4.00 with Bet Victor to win the AFC.
Follow Paolo on Twitter: @Paolo_Bandini
And read more of his work at The Guardian
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