2008/09 – The 2008/09 season was tough for the Rossazzurri. The some what risky appointment of Walter Zenga, Inter’s legendary goalkeeper in April 2008, had most of the Catania faithful wondering what to expect from the 2008/09 campaign. The Serie A season was a hard lesson for Zenga who helped Catania finish 15th, nine points off the relegation zone. This however, could be seen as a success as Catania had been a pre-season favourite for the drop. They were eliminated 3-0 away at Juventus in the Coppa Italia and had two epic encounters with Roma winning 3-2 at home and loosing 4-3 away.
2009/10 – The 2009/10 season sees changes at the helm. Zenga has departed for Sicilian rivals Palermo and much is expected from his inexperienced replacement, 38-year-old Gianluca Atzori. He will be expected if nothing else, to keep gli Elefanti in the top flight. Catania has strengthened and as usual with an Argentinean influx meaning the squad once again should have an attacking mentality. Coupled with the experience in the squad from last season and this campaign could promise more. The season’s aim must be to avoid the drop although the more optimistic of the Catania faithful will be hoping for a mid-table finished and a successful Coppa Italia campaign.
Transfer campaign -The club has seen no notable departures, dependable custodian Albano Bizzarri has moved on to ply his trade in Rome for Lazio and Giacomo Tedesco has moved on to pastures new at Bologna. Transfers in have been a mix of youth and experience – most notable is the Argentinean midfielder Pablo Barrientos from FC Moscow for £3.7m who should give some added flair in the middle and at 25 with his best years ahead of him. Also from Argentinean club Estudiantes is goalkeeper Mario Andujar who will be the new No 1, costing £2.25m. A shrewd purchase of Italian U-21 international Giuseppe Bellusci from Ascoli also sees Catania snap up a hot prospect. The Rossazzurri’s second most expensive summer transfer was wanted by bigger clubs and the 19-year-old is touted for big things. Veteran Gennaro Delvecchio has been signed from Sampdoria, giving Catania a character in the dressing room and a leader on the field.
Pablo Barrientos – FC Moscow – £3.7m
Andrea Campagnolo – (Reggiana – free transfer
Blazej Augustyn – l.Varsavia – £445 000
Mario Andujar – Estudiantes – £2.25m
Giuseppe Bellusci – Ascoli £2.6m
Gianvito Plasmati – Atalanta – loan
Gennaro Delvecchio – Sampdoria – £1.7m
Gennaro Sardo – Chievo – loan
Adrian Ricchiuti – Rimini – £250 000
Albano Bizzarri – Lazio – free transfer
Nicolae Dica – Iraklis Thessaloniki – £225 000
Giacomo Tedesco – Bologna – free transfer
Ciro Polito – Salernitana – free transfer
Raffaele Ioime – Spal – co-ownership
Milan Bortel – Spal – co-ownership
Cristian Silvestri – released
Lorenzo Stovini – released
Goinatha Spinesi – released
First XI – The 2009/10 staring line up will feature four main changes. This starts with the goalkeeper. The Argentinean shot stopper is highly rated and at only 26 big things are expected from him after he was Estudiantes Copa Libertadores winning goalkeeper not conceding a goal for a record breaking 800 minutes in the competition. In the middle of the field the two new arrivals are bound to have a crucial impact. Delvecchio will be asked to use all his experience and hold the midfield allowing Argentinean starlet Barrientos to play a more creative role. Bellusci could also play a key role in the shaping of the back four.
2 Potenza – 14 Bellusci – 6 Silvestre – 33 Capuano
8 P. Ledesma – 4 Delvecchio – 27 Biagianti – 10 Barrientos
15 Morimoto – 7 Mascara
The Coach – Gianluca Atzori has had history with Catania before his return to manage the club for the 2009/10 campaign. He had followed ex-Coach Silvio Baldini from Lecce to Catania as his assistant in 2007/08, when Baldini was dismissed halfway through the season Atzori decided that he would stay and work with the highly talented Walter Zenga. However, at the end of the season he thought he would try management for himself and departed to take on the vacant role at Ravenna. An impressive season saw Ravenna reach the play-off finals and just fall short of achieving more than expected. This was enough for Catania who brought him back to the Stadio Angelo Massimino, the objective now is surly to keep the club in the division, but after his achievements with Ravenna it would not be absurd to consider the ironic joy of mid-table mediocrity.
Team/reliable player – Pablo Ledesma was one of Catania’s most consistent players last season, his performances last term resulted in Walter Zenga having him first on the team sheet knowing he had a player who played for the shirt. A tireless midfielder with incredible fitness, Ledesma can also boast an impressively powerful strike that netted him three goals last season. His effort goes so often unnoticed but could be highlighted more if his goal-scoring improves. However, it is his constant work-rate down the right that provides chances for the frontmen and at only 25 he still has many miles of the Stadio Angelo Massimino to cover.
Creative force – Pablo Barrientos is a highly rated creative midfielder signed this summer for £3.7m from FC Moscow. He spent last season on loan at his former club San Lorenzo scoring eight goals in 21 appearances. Catania will be hoping these additional goals will help them steal points in key games that will help then avoid the drop to Serie B this term. Barrientos was tracked by Boca Juniors and Napoli this summer evidently showing that he is a player of great ability, and it was predicted that his long term friendship with Ezequiel Lavezzi may see him join the Neapolitans.
Youth prospect – Giuseppe Bellusci may not be a product of the Catania youth system but he is talent they will have to nurture all the same. At 19-years-old, his £2.6m transfer from Ascoli was one of Catania’s biggest acquisitions of the summer. He has appeared for the Italian U-21 squad against Austria and his move to Sicily should do well to place him firmly in Pierluigi Casiraghi’s set-up. This 6ft1 defender had attracted a lot of interest from Italy’s top clubs before Catania snapped up this hot prospect, providing the player with a regular first team spot.
The fixtures – Catania’s fixtures this term see them start with a tricky opening fixture hosting Sampdoria. This could set the tone for the whole campaign as it is a game they are capable of winning but will need a faultless performance. The month of November could also shape their season as they face Fiorentina away followed by two local derbies – home to Napoli and then away at Palermo. This is topped off by the visit of Milan. It is fair to say by December Catania’s season will have taken shape, with success or failure on view for all to see.
Home grown players – In a World Cup year, national team Coach Marcelo Lippi could be seen at the Stadio Angelo Massimino more than once and not just to watch the Azzurri stars of Inter, Milan and Juve with 50% of Catania’s first team squad Italian. Whether any of the Italians in the first XI break through is yet to be seen. A good season for Giuseppe Bellusci may see him sneak into the squad through the back door via the U-21s whilst Giuseppe Mascara got his first start alongside Marco Biagianti against Northern Ireland in June.
Predictions – In conclusion it is fair to allow the Catania faithful to be mildly optimistic this season. Walter Zenga in previous years had managed to keep them in the top flight and why should they not expect the same from new man Gianluca Atzori. They have seen the side spend around £10m acquiring a top-class goalkeeper, a promising Italian U-21 defender, a charismatic veteran midfielder and a skilful and deadly Argentinean creative midfielder. They do have some tricky months during the season and if they do not show the character they did under Zenga then they could implode. However, with a bright fresh young Coach and the experienced players they have, it is not impossible to see Catania finish mid-table. Prediction -12th