There are many column inches of newspapers across the Italian and indeed footballing world that seem to be dedicated to one word- legend. How many of the players who are branded using it, really worthy of the label? We’ve seen Bergami and Zanetti at Inter, Baresi and Maldini at Milan, Ferrara and Del Piero at Juve, Aldair and Totti at Roma, but it could be argued that if you look beyond the usual powerhouse of the traditional big four you can find players who are equally worthy, if not more so of the label?
The job they do for their clubs, the dreams they inspire for their faithful followers are of almighty heights, but because their clubs don’t regularly challenge for top honours, their role is seen as of less importance by the footballing media. This writer is prepared to put one such case forward, Sergio Pellissier.
Born in Aosta in 1979, the 31 year old Chievo striker has carried the hopes of ‘The Flying Donkeys’ on his shoulders for eight seasons now. In the process, the former Torino front man has amassed 267 league appearances (the vast majority being in Serie A) and racked up 83 goals. Injury permitting, it is feasible that he may pass the 300 mark for club appearances, and may even stretch to hitting the century mark of goals for ‘The Gialloblu’ during the 2010/11 season.
The importance of the 5’9 front man seems to grow with every passing season as he enters the prime of his career. His ability to hold the ball up when his side are under pressure and bring others into play are vitally important for his club when you are playing on an almost weekly basis in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the San Siro or the Stadio Olympico against sides who are challenging for the Scudetto. Add to these qualities, the uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time and knowing exactly where the net is, and you have an invaluable asset.
The value of Pellissier as a player and his intelligent reading of the game have been sculpted by the coaches he has played under and in particular two of them. Firstly, there was Gigi Del Neri, the man who became the clubs most successful manager of all-time when he led ‘The Gialloblu’ into Europe on two separate occasions. He saw fit to sign the young Pellissier in 2000 and loan him out to Lega Pro side SPAL for two seasons in order to gain more playing time. This decision was vindicated with a return of 17 goals over the two seasons. At the end of this two year period Pellissier was recalled by Del Neri with ‘The Flying Donkeys’ now sitting proudly in the top flight and having also qualified for their first ever season of European football in the UEFA cup. His first season of Serie A football saw a return of five goals from 25 games. A steady if unspectacular start.
The second Coach to really work their magic on the popular front man was Domenico Di Carlo, who arrived at the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi in 2008 with Chievo struggling against relegation straight back to Serie B. He led the team to two consecutive mid-table finishes with Pellissier now as captain and talisman. Di Carlo was seen as the man in power at the time of Pellissier hitting his peak and as such, would have a greater influence over his captain and inspire him. This was certainly the case when on June 6th 2009 Pellissier made his international debut for the ‘Azzurri’ at the Arena Garibaldi in Pisa for a friendly against Northern Ireland. Marcello Lippi introduced him as a second half substitute and Pellissier went on to score in the 3-0 win. He was subsequently left out of the 2009 Confederations Cup squad (a tournament the ‘Azzurri’ crashed out of at the group stage) and hasn’t made another international appearance since.
The key to getting the best out of this Chievo legend seems to be finding the right man to take the weight off of his shoulders. He was tried with three different partners during the 2009/10 season. The Albanian striker Erjon Bogdani (who has since moved onto Serie A new boys Cesena) on loan striker Elvis Abbruscato (who has returned to Turin with Torino) and Uruguayan front man Pablo Granoche who’s return of three goals from 30 appearances doesn’t bode well for a long career in Serie A. Add to that the new signing of Piacenza striker Davide Moscardelli (relatively untried at top flight level) and it looks as though the new Coach of ‘The Flying Donkey’s Stefano Pioli is going to have to find a way of motivating this legend once more.