Monday, March 11, 2013

Retirees are known – and therefore lamented. New generation, however promising, is unknown quality. They are inevitably judged harshly, compared to former stars – 'if only we had Overath, and not this 18-years old idiot. Now, that was a player – and now? ' Rarely juniors become instant stars, capturing hearts right away. The beginning is more likely to be rough, becoming more difficult in the 1970s, when the stakes were high and coaches avoided wild innovations, preferring reliable experience. A young player had to be introduce to professional football with caution, slowly, stage by stage, so the wisdom goes to this very day. And most of the time this wisdom is right – fragile teenagers can be easily crushed by burly veterans. When winning is at stake, sentimentality of giving a chance and waiting for development hardly have place. Young players are big risk, but still have to be included. Sooner? Later? Actually, the best time for youngsters is the time of crisis.

Fulvio Collovati debuted in the 1976-77 season. He went through AC Milan's youth system, showing plenty of talent. So far – so good: talented young stopper. Good potential, but to play him in Serie A? And for Milan? Milan is always expected to win the championship, not to experiment – and Serie A is not a league with easy opponents. May be a smaller club would risk an experiment, largely for having nothing better, but in Milan – no way. In a way, Collovati debuted quite late – he was almost 20 years old when played his first official match.

Innocent looking and all smiles – not exactly a picture of typical Italian defender. And he was not: Collovati was one of the new breed Italian players, particularly defenders, who came at that time – modern players, skillful, tough, and uncompromising, as Italian defenders always were, but more adventurous, going often in attack, organizing attacks, and scoring goals. Partly following Fascetti, partly having Beckenbauer as a model. By 1977 it was clear to the Italians that they had to change fundamentally their understanding of the football, and adapt modern concepts. Besides, the grand-masters of catenaccio were retiring one after another. The 1970s were the time of crisis for Italian football – in the second-half of the decade finally changes were made: practically the whole defense of the 1982 World champions debuted between 1976 and 1979. They established themselves quickly, yet, not instantly: Collovati played 11 games in his first season. On one hand, his debut was average: potential talent tried now and then, mostly to see is he really up to the demands of professional football in top club. Most youngsters start like that – playing now and then, coming in for a bit in the second half, playing occasional 'easy' match, substituting an injured or out of form starter. Nothing much. On the other hand, 11 games in Serie A is quite a lot for a debutant – obviously, Collovati showed plenty of talent. Caution prevailed, although Collovati was part of the squad winning the Italian Cup. So far he was just a promise, still unknown. The fortunes of Milan were not so great and the young player had to experience worse in very near future – with one particular result: he was not making international news. Hard to imagine him a world champion in 1977.

But he became world champion – and famous. Rather quickly, even surprisingly quickly, given the circumstances. The dubious 'promising player' of 1976-77 debuted for the Italian national team in 1979. Mind that he played measly 7 matches for Under-21 Italian national team and Milan was expelled from Serie A for match-fixing and Collovati had to play in the Second division. Difficult beginning, but his talent prevailed.