Each week Tim mixes tales of his experiences of living in Italy with comments on the past week’s major talking points whilst also looking ahead to the coming weekend’s biggest games. Enjoy…
Italy President Silvio Berlusconi, and Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini have had an uncomfortable week after passing an unpopular law concerning funding of schooling and universities. Students and/or those on the Left feel that this law will result in a lessening of education funding, and also believe that il Cavaliere has taken Italy too far to the Right, especially regarding immigration. As a result, millions of protesters have lined the streets of Rome and Milan to protest peacefully, occupying Lambrate station in Milan for example, and organizing a sit-in in Duomo Square. Perhaps inevitably though, fighting has broken out between factions of the far-Right and far-Left students in both cities. Indeed there are few things that make you want to get back to the office after your lunch hour more than seeing up to 15 police vehicles speeding towards you in the direction of that cloud of smoke and noise. The majority of related protests have been peaceful and disruptive, as planned, but it was always going to fall on deaf ears.
Another protest that fell on deaf ears was that of Alberto Gilardino vs FIGC (Italian FA). One of the major talking points of the week has been the Gilardino debate, that has seen him banned for a couple of matches by a Serie A judge for his unsporting behavior in scoring with his hand last weekend against Palermo. The argument in his favour is of course that he was being brought down anyway, that this is what caused his arm to change direction, and in any case, a penalty would have been awarded anyway. This may well be true, but if the judges are going to discipline players for unsporting behavior, without the referee having seen the incident, then surely this opens up a whole variety of misdemeanors to punishment. How long before a shot crosses the line without the referee giving the goal, and then a judge deciding this is the time to punish a player or team? The first victims will be unlucky, and will shout corruption, just as Fiorentina and Gilardino have done, justifiably feeling hard done by. Rules need to be written down, or at least the game’s tough decisions should be based on precedence, not governed by a small group of historically erratic judges.
The weekend is set-up nicely after a busy midweek that saw most of the front-runners get good results. Milan won at home to a resilient Siena, Lazio and Juventus won away from home, whilst Napoli won impressively at home to Reggina 3-0. The big exception is of course, Inter, who are maybe one result away from featuring in SHSOSHG. The Inter crisis is not of course as bad as everyone will make out, but anything less than three points away to Reggina will change everything. Jose Mourinho has been his usual defensive self this week, after two consecutive draws, and being dropped to the UEFA Cup positions.
But let me also take this opportunity to highlight how well Udinese has done this term. Topping the league after recent impressive wins away to Catania and tearing Roma apart. They will look to consolidate their position with a home tie against Genoa – themselves currently nine points clear of Roma and level with Lazio who are one of the teams of the season so far.
One of two great games at the weekend will be the Saturday night contest between two teams whose coaches have been under pressure recently, Juventus at home to Roma. A defeat for Roma could quite conceivably signal the end of Luciano Spalletti’s reign in the Eternal City. With a Juve win, the Bianconeri would be back in the top section of the table, and the “Ranieri out brigade” will be silenced, at least for another week.
The last game of the weekend may well be the most enticing. Milan, full of confidence and suddenly realistic title challengers again, will face maybe the team of the season, Napoli, at San Siro. Filippo Inzaghi and Kaka helped the Rossoneri to victory over a stubborn Siena on Wednesday night, but it is German Denis who has become the danger man on Sunday night, after his hat-trick against Reggina. Both these teams are full of confidence, both would surely take a draw but that’s not how either side play – the game is set-up to be fascinating.
Serie A has continued its improvement this season, as can be seen by the quality of so many teams this year: it is not that the strong teams are weak enough to be beaten by anybody, but rather that the mid-table teams have strengthened and improved considerably. The success of Udinese, Napoli, Lazio, Genoa and even Fiorentina now, coupled with the obvious strengths of the “Big Four”, makes for an even stronger league, and even greater entertainment. If you don’t agree with me, protest!