Kicking off a new regular column on Football Italiano, John Baines lifts the lid on the biggest stories from the last seven days in News from the Peninsula.
This week’s Champions League action resulted in mixed fortunes for the Italian contingent. Despite Stevan Jovetic’s heroics earning Fiorentina a credible win and Juventus drawing away to Bayern, it was the poor results collected by the Milan clubs that stole the headlines. Inter scraped a point at tournament debutants Rubin Kazan, in a result – fortunately for them – only eclipsed by Milan’s shock home reverse to FC Zurich. With Inter and Jose Mourinho failing to win in Europe for the seventh consecutive game and Milan’s woeful early season form continuing, the bloodthirsty editors have chosen to overlook the delight in Florence, instead, focusing on the managerial melee in Milan.
After taking the reigns from three-time Scudetto winning Coach Roberto Mancini, the appointment of the Special One was supposed to herald a renewed assault at winning the European Cup – a trophy which has eluded the Nerazzuri since 1965. The prospect of Mourinho’s men coming vaguely close to ending this drought seemed a distant dream as once again an uncohesive display in Russia raised serious doubts as to the credentials of il Biscione to succeed at Europe’s top table.
The Portuguese Coach has won just two of 10 Champions League games in charge of Inter, a fact that has not been overlooked by the Italian media. Mourinho and his side frequently underwhelmed during his first season in charge in which he only replicated the domestic success enjoyed by Mancini, and it is apparent the Portuguese tactician must make advancements in Europe to fully justify his salary, reputation and expenditure.
Despite the loss of talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mourinho’s playing resources have been bolstered pre-season with the arrival of Samuel Eto’o, Lucio, Wesley Sneijder, Thiago Motta, Diego Milito and Marko Arnautovic. Inter may not contain some of the stellar names of Barcelona, Real Madrid or the English quartet, but they are certainly now very well stocked in terms of strength, depth and experience in their squad to be expected to significantly challenge for the Champions League crown. Should they fail, President Massimo Moratti may well have to decide just how special the Mourinho actually is.
With Mourinho for once seeking refuge from the front page, an unwilling replacement in the form of Milan counterpart Leonardo has taken centre stage. With his side loitering well adrift of the Serie A pace-setters after six games, having already suffered the indignity of a Derby della Madonnina demolishing to Inter – as well as scoring just once in their last five league games – further misery has been piled upon the Brazilian Coach with a dismal 1-0 reverse at the San Siro to FC Zurich, a side thumped 5-2 by Kaka’s Real Madrid on Matchday 1.
Rumours quickly surfaced that the Rossoneri hierarchy had lost patience with the man they had installed into Carlo Ancelotti’s old seat just months previous. Marco van Basten’s name immediately appeared as a potential replacement, before Vice-President Adriano Galliani returned with a less than resounding vote of confidence for the current incumbent: “I have little to say other than to confirm our faith in Leonardo. We had many wonderful years and things aren’t going well right now.”
Leonardo himself described the performance against the Swiss side as “unacceptable” with striker Pippo Inzaghi hardly lightening the mood: “It’s a moment where everything is going wrong, we must improve together.” If things couldn’t get any worse for Leonardo, Galliani then popped up on Milan’s TV channel, revealing how he’s proposed a four-point plan as to how the team could get out of their predicament, whilst also outlining some damningly frank expectations to his beleaguered squad: “Milan are a team that absolutely has to qualify for the Champions League and finish in the top three. It’s obligatory for the costs of the club.”
Galliani’s expectations resonate like an offer Leonardo cannot refuse, and to many, it represents a reasonable demand for a club of Milan’s size and stature. But should Leonardo fail, will il Divaolo’s top brass examine their own role in the plight? After all, it was they who entrusted the coaching duties of the club to someone with such little experience. True, Pep Guardiola didn’t do a bad job at Barca last season, and the prospect of a young, debonair ex-terrace idol, developing a stylish, successful side would appeal to any club board. However, replication is the road to ruin, and had President Silvio Berlusconi and Galliani decided to simply imitate Barca, the decision deserves to backfire.
From the outset there are similarities between the appointments of Leonardo and Guardiola, but in reality they differ greatly. Guardiola as a Coach came equipped with all the relevant FIFA coaching qualifications – Leonardo did not. Guardiola – albeit with Barca’s stable side – had previous managerial experience – Leonardo did not. Guardiola inherited a side packed with world class talent, which needed refreshing and reforming – Leonardo did not. As one of Calcio’s nice guys, it would be good to see Leonardo granted time and patience from his employers. Whether President Berlusconi knows the meaning of time and patience is another matter.
Also this week, former Azzurri hitman Christian Vieri lifted the lid on his deadly strike partnership with o Fenomeno Ronaldo. Despite playing only a handful of games together in three seasons at Inter, it seems the pair enjoyed a prolific scoring partnership…at least off the field. Bobo revealed: “We went back home at between five and six in the morning. We went clubbing, and then I used to sleep for a couple of hours and went on to the pitch to train.” It might not be a surprise to find out that Vieri is currently suing his former employers for allegedly hiring a private eye to follow him around and tap his phone calls. Do you really wonder why?
Spare a thought for young Stevan Jovetic. Tuesday evening and the Fiorentina ace is going about his day job, scoring two goals in the Champions League to beat Liverpool, and the next thing he’s subject to mass hysteria about how good he’s going to be. Straight away he was being linked with moves to Manchester United and Real Madrid and excitable comparisons were drawn to Roberto Baggio and Dejan Savicevic. The ‘Montenegrin Messi’ is undoubtedly a fine player, who showcased his abilities superbly against Liverpool, but it is against such kneejerk media attention that careers can be ended before they’ve started. Just think of Antonio Cassano and Nicola Ventola amongst a host of others. Aged just 19, let the boy play football.
News from the Peninsula
Week 6-7 –
Milanese managerial mess – September 27 – October 3