Liverpool. The city of The Beatles, two cathedrals and thousands of stereotypical jokes about stealing stuff, but not it seems, of successful Italian footballers.
On the blue side of the city, Everton have never been shy of experimenting with Italian imports. Back in 1998 a wet-behind-the-ears Marco Materazzi pitched up at Goodison Park on loan from Perugia. All sweetness and light, the young Marco left his mark on English football and largely on his opponent’s legs as he was sent off four times in 27 games. There was also the ex-Vicenza and Inter man Alessandro Pistone – a full-back who spent at least five of his seven years on Merseyside getting frequented with the treatment room. There was also more recently Matteo Ferrari, whose Everton career largely consisted of puns on his surname and his frequent ‘failure to start.’
Meanwhile in the red corner there was only Daniele Padelli – the young goalkeeper loaned by Liverpool from Sampdoria two years ago – who was promptly shipped back to the peninsula six months later after playing just once.
All that changed last summer though, when Rafael Benitez shelled out around £7m for the services of Andrea Dossena, the marauding Italian international left-back who had been a star of the Udinese team who qualified for the UEFA Cup in the previous campaign.
Replacing Roma-bound John Arne Riise, Dossena didn’t have much to live up to when it came to his compatriots, but the price tag and position in a Liverpool team challenging for their first league title in 19 years generated a certain level of expectation, and it didn’t exactly start well for him, as ten minutes into his debut in a Champions League qualifier in Liege he handled a cross gifting Standard a penalty. Admittedly the decision was harsh and Pepe Reina subsequently saved the spot kick, but it was hardly the most auspicious of beginnings for the new left-back.
In the weeks that followed it became painfully clear to all who watched Dossena that he was struggling to adapt to life in the Premier League. The 27-year-old had been replaced in the team by Brazilian Fabio Aurelio by the time of the 2-1 win over Manchester United in the fourth week of the season.
“At the start of the season I found it very difficult because never before had I played so many games in such a short space of time,” he said recently.
“The thing that I have discovered is that the game is much, much quicker here than it is in Italy. In Serie A, you get more time on the ball, there is more time to play and the game is more tactical, but in the Premier League as soon as you get the ball there is a player trying to take it from you.”
All things we’ve heard before, but teams are taking the ball from Liverpool less and less these days. They currently sit on top of the Premier League and have breezed into the second round of the Champions League. A good team to be a part of then, but it means that Dossena’s every touch is analyzed and the pressure on the new signing is increased.
Liverpool’s fans are so anxious for success that their nervousness has recently transmitted on to the pitch, with Dossena one of the targets of their frustration.
Aurelio has often been preferred on the left side of defence, with perhaps the biggest sign of Dossena’s problems coming when Benitez selected relatively untried youngster Emiliano Insua ahead of him for the recent game at Blackburn, but the Italian is a determined man.
“There are different demands on me here than I have ever had anywhere else,” he says. “At Udinese, my place in the team was secure but at Liverpool there is so much quality in the squad that this cannot be the case. But I remain happy here and I will fight for my place.
“I am very happy at Liverpool. I like football in England and I believe that I can adapt to the Premier League.”
Encouraging words then, and Dossena has shown the talent lurking within in recent displays against both Marseille and PSV in the Champions League, and this is Italy’s first choice left-back we’re talking about here remember.
An injury to Aurelio has now given Dossena the opportunity to nail down a regular place in the team. His attacking qualities have been well received by the Anfield faithful, he is an excellent crosser of the ball, and if he can improve on the defensive side of his game then he could find himself an integral part of a team that looks on the verge of achieving great things.
If an Italian is to be successful on Merseyside, Andrea Dossena has a better chance than most. Now he just has to seize the opportunity.