Monday, November 25, 2013

Serie A was a copy of Serie B – one clear outsider and one outstanding leader. Was the Italian football improving or deepening its crisis was a question open for interpretations. It was still defensive football, scoring was low as ever. Not a single team came close to 2 goals per game average. Only sic clubs finished with 10 or more wins. One club ended with 50% wins and it is not difficult to guess where this club finished. Just two clubs had fewer than 10 ties and both were relegated. On the other hand the number of ties slightly diminished: only two clubs, Atalanta and Genoa, tied 50% of their total games. Positive changes were very few... Milan and Inter were clearly in crisis, yet finished high. Ten clubs were engaged in the bitter fight for survival, not concerned with medals at all – the difference between 6th and 15th placed was only 5 points. The signs of change came from the very top two clubs and the national team – not much, but somewhat more than the previous few years.

Pescara finished last – they were obviously below everybody else, finishing with 17 points, 8 less than the 15th placed.

Pescara was one of the lowly clubs, there was nothing surprising in their relegation. Hardly anything to say of them: lovely kit and exotic looking goalkeeper. Who was perhaps the best known player of the team and also sharp example of why Pescara was dead last: Massimo Piloni played 8 years for Juventus . If 'played' is the right word... Piloni amassed a total of 12 matches for Juve – for 8 seasons he wormed the bench. Yet, he was three times champion of Italy... just because he was a member of the team. His three years with Pescara were by far the best in his career – as far as actual playing was concerned. With relegation, his career plummeted further – he went to Rimini in the summer of 1978 and eventually finished his playing days with even smaller club in 1981. Since Piloni was the best known player of Pescara, is there any wondering why they finished last?

Above them were the bulk of 10 clubs trying nothing more but escaping relegation. Three clubs ended with 25 points and goal-difference decided their fate. Fiorentina was lucky – strange to see the club of already one of the best European midfielders – Giancarlo Antognoni – at 13th place and lucky to end there, but the squad was really nothing much.

Foggia had the worst goal-difference among those with 25 points and took the 15th place.

Contrary to their log, Foggia were no devils, but one of the usual candidates for bottom places. Nothing surprising about their relegation – they had no strong team. Franco Bergamaschi was perhaps the best known player in the squad, but he was getting old and declining already for years. The other recognizable name is familiar now, but not at all in the 1970s: Nevio Scala. If anything, one more example of the strange development in football – lousy players tend to become great coaches. Perhaps playing often in second division builds character and teaches how to make a team, but Scala, as a player, was not much of a help. Genoa's goal-difference was bad – 28:43 – so it was more than bad luck for them.

Bad luck was the fate of Genoa – they were just one goal short of survival. Fiorentina finished with -9; Genoa with -10. One goal difference between life and death... the lesson was to score more, really.

Once upon a time Genoa was strong, winning club. Once upon a time... so many years ago, that it was questionable there were still living witnesses of the glory years. In the 1970s Genoa were firmly... weak. Of course, nothing great about the team, but scoring was mentioned for a reason: Genoa scored a total of 23 goals this season – only two clubs scored less then them. Strange, for Genoa had Roberto Pruzzo and Giuseppe Damiani. True, they were the only noticeable players, but with them more goals should have been scored. Damiani was already declining – his best years were between 1972 and 1975, when Juventus noticed him, wanted him, and got him from Vicenza. Damiani played relatively well for Juventus, but not as great as hoped, and in 1976 he was sold to Genoa. He was 27-years old and perhaps able of more than he did, especially when having a bright, younger, and rapidly rising partner to play along with – Roberto Pruzzo. Only 22-years old and already captain of the team, Pruzzo was even considered for the national team, but evidently he was unable to save Genoa. And his big fame came later and with another club – Roma was quick to get him after the end of the disastrous year. Genoa was painfully close to safety – but went down. Yes, Pruzzo and Damiani did not score enough... but was it possible at all, since scoring depends on opportunities created by midfielders. There was no one to do that in Genoa and as a result the city was left without first division team for the next year – the local derby between Genoa and Sampdoria was to be played again, but in Serie B.

Genoa and Foggia joined Pescara, going down, and half of the league finally breathed easier. Among the bulk of threatened with relegation Napoli finished highest – at 6th place.

A prime example of the ills most Italian clubs were suffering – three aging stars, fading away – Juliano, Savoldi, and Chiarugi - supported by... nobody. It all depended on them and as far they managed relatively well, the club was able to edge the small fry. Napoli finished with almost perfect 50-50 reacord: 30 points, acquired from 8 wins, 14 ties, and 8 losses. 35:31 goal-difference. At home they won 5 matches, lost 3, and tied 7. Away they lost 5, won 3, and tied 7. Only Perugia, a place below them had 'better rounded' record: also 30 points, 10 wins, 10 ties, 10 losses, 36:35 goal-difference. At home – 8 wins, 5 ties, 2 losses; the reverse away – 2 wins, 5 ties, 8 losses. Napoli and Perugia were the triumph of the stingy, point-oriented, defensive, scheming Italian football. If everybody was able to achieve their dreams, all teams were to end with exactly the same records and no one would have been relegated. Of course, in a perfect Italian world, there was not be any champion either... In the imperfect world most of league fought for survival... Napoli and Perugia were 6 points behind Inter.

Inter finished 5th, a point below Milan. Both clubs suffered greatly – aging, late to start building new squads, perhaps not even knowing how to start. Facchetti and Rivera were the untouchable leaders, although it was clear for years that they were the past, not the future. Then again, how to replace gods? Fading gods, but gods.. the only way was to wait for their retirement... and no wonder neither Inter, nor Milan were much of a factor. Both clubs were followed a curve going steadily down – relatively strong at the beginning of the season, gradually dropping out of the race for the title and finishing relatively high only because of the good start. Milan led the league until the 13th round – after that it was over for them. Inter did not last even that long... yes, both teams were difficult to beat, but both were not really capable of winning. Defense was their strongest lines. Teeth they had only for the small clubs. And no wonder Torino edged them and finished with bronze medals.

Well balanced squad, full of players in their prime. Torino was in its best years still, perhaps the only thing lacking was really outstanding leader, a mega-star. Won the title few years back and continuing to be among the best. Alas, no more than competing for second place... once again, the defense got the upper hand and no wonder they lost even the second place. Bronze medals were not bad after all, but unfortunately Torino was not becoming really great team.