Saturday, January 10, 2009

Lastly, Italy. Cagliari won its only title in 1970. The club from Sardinia was known as ‘the prison’ among football players – living on rural and backward island was not exactly fun, and players were not eager to join Cagliari. A rather mediocre club, far behind the Italian giants Milan, Inter, Juventus. Far behind other Italian clubs of solid strength like Torino, Bologna, Fiorentina (in the 1960s, I mean). A club traditionally concerned mainly with avoiding relegation. Champions? Now, this was a surprise.
Second row, left to right: Vigano (masseur), Nene (Brazil), Albertosi, Niccolai, Domenghini, Tomasini, Poli, Nastasio, Riva, Duri (masseur).
First row: Zignoli, Martiradonna, Mancin, Cera, Gori, Brugnera, Greatti, Reginato.

Five players of this team went to Mexico’70: Enrico Albertosi, Pierluigi Cera, Comunardo Niccolai, Luigi Riva, Angelo Domenghini, and Sergio Gori. If the central defenseman Niccolai was disputable player – he was mostly reliable, but in the habit of making one fatal mistake per match, and even his Cagliari coach Manlio Scorpigno was more than reserved: ‘I expect everything from life, but not Niccolai playing for the Azzuri’ – the rest were not so. Cera and Gori were classy players, but Domenghini and Albertosi were stars. As for Gigi Riva – he was a superstar. Not for nothing fans nicknamed him ‘Rombo di Tuono’ (the Thunder). Albertosi was considered better keeper than his great rival Dino Zoff. Domenghini did not need much introduction either. And finally – Nene. Olinho Claudio de Carvalho is hardly known today. He transferred from Santos to Juventus in 1963 and the next year moved to Cagliari. There he played to the end of his career in 1976, and is the player with most appearances in Serie A for Cagliari – 311. A good attacker, he was somewhat overlooked: never a Brazilian national player and moving to Italy too young, he is hardly known in Brazil. Italy had the most famous stars during the 1960s – Nene was always behind the likes of Riva, Rivera, Mazzola, Sivori, Altafini, and so on. Because he was already playing in Italy, the ban on imported players, imposed in 1966 by the Italian Federation did not affect him and by the end of the 1960s he was among handful of foreign veterans playing for Italian clubs. Nene was good, but Gigi Riva was great… it is somewhat strange that the biggest Italian stars were attackers: the 1960s were the years of the ultra-defensive ‘catenaccio’ system. The Italian stars were either inflated, or… were really great: after all, to beat alone a wall of ten murderers and score a goal needs enormous skill and courage. No matter how good Cagliari were in 1969-70, they never repeated this season, thus, suggesting accidental victory. In a long run, ‘catenaccio’ stagnated Italian football – it was one thing to play against European clubs, but entirely different when facing same tactic week after week in Italy. Most games ending 0-0, even top teams relied mostly on few odd victories to stay on top. Perhaps the ban on foreign players had negative role too – by 1970 there were signs of decline. The stars were getting on years, but no new exciting players were coming. Italian clubs gradually lost their dominance in Europe. To a point, Cagliari’s title was similar to Atletico’s title – not that much great team, but weak opposition. Italy entered terrible years and almost to the end of the 1970s struggled.