First of all, may we offer you a warm (certainly warmer than the UK weather) welcome back from all at Football Italiano, we hope you’ve had a fantastic festive and New Year period.
It was also back to business this week for the Serie A club’s after their Christmas sabbatical, with a full midweek fixture schedule to kick off 2010. Week 18 concluded the first half of league fixtures, and it was Scudetto holders, league leaders and winter champions Internazionale who got the new decade underway, with a rare noon weekday kick-off away at Chievo. Inter acted quickly during the January sales to acquire Goran Pandev from Lazio, and the Macedonian striker thought he’d opened his account for his new employers after only 11 minutes at the Stadio Bentegodi. Unfortunately for Pandev, strike partner Mario Balotelli already had the ball over the line from the initial attack and was thus credited with the goal, the only goal of the game which sent Inter 11 points clear at the top of the table.
It wasn’t all roses though for the Nerazzurri, who saw defender Cristian Chivu whisked off to hospital after a sickening clash of heads with Chievo frontman Sergio Pellissier. Chivu fractured his skull and needed to be operated on by surgeons at Verona hospital, who described the operation as a ‘success’ although the full extent of the Romanian’s injuries, and how long he’ll be sidelined for, remains unclear. La Beneamata will also now be without the services of Patrick Vieira who was allowed to join former boss Roberto Mancini at Manchester City. Vieira joined David Suazo through the San Siro exit door, with Amantino Mancini also looking likely to follow. However, despite the departures, Chivu’s injury and Samuel Etoo’s involvement in the African Nations, President Massimo Moratti believes his club, “can go forward like this,” suggesting Pandev will be the only new face at Jose Mourinho’s disposal.
Usually either hero or villain, Balotelli combined both guises in this game, although one must feel for the young man having to put up with the constant torrent of abuse (racist and otherwise) he receives. Once again monkey noises and other racial slurs could be heard this time, yet it was Balotelli who was fined €7 000 for his unwise but understandable tirade at the Flying Donkey fans: “Every time I come to play in Verona, the city disgusts me even more,” blasted Super Mario. Chievo’s fine? Not a cent. Chievo’s punishment? Nothing. Inter are furious at the action and have appealed the decision. Balotelli’s fine – more for the sarcastic clapping of the fans when he was substituted – is more than or equal to some of the punishments dished out by UEFA and the Italian FA in the past to clubs whose fans have been misbehaving or dishing out racist abuse. Where is the focus? It is clear Italian football still has a problem with racism, and unless tougher sanctions are imposed, the only loser will be Italian football. But how many times have we written that?
Undoubtedly the most high profile arrival this January is of course David Beckham, and Goldenballs made his second Milan debut in their comprehensive thrashing of Genoa. Starting in an unfamiliar advanced wide-right role, Beckham adapted seamlessly, looking sharp and fit as well as demonstrating his undoubted quality with the ball. Beckham’s loan further strengthens Coach Leonardo’s hand with his versatility and experience, as does the resurrection of the once great Ronaldinho.
The Brazilian ace was up to his old tricks against Genoa, missing and scoring a penalty and generally being a menace, rolling back all the old flicks and feints. For once his performance was one of substance and his through ball for Milan’s third goal was a reminder of the sheer brilliance he does possess. But, one swallow doesn’t make a summer and Ronnie will need to replicate this form over a large portion of the second half of the season if Milan are to compete. It’s all ifs, buts and maybes, but with Ronaldinho’s resurgence, Beckham back in the fray, Gennaro Gattuso back from injury and Clarence Seedorf, Alexandre Pato and Gianluca Zambrotta all set to return, il Diavolo are very handily placed to launch an assault on Inter’s Scudetto stranglehold. Starting away at Juventus this weekend.
Juve returned to winning ways this week after a dismal end to 2009. The Guus Hiddink rumours may have subsided for now, but a narrow and unconvincing win at Parma will do little to alleviate the pressure on Ciro Ferrara. Ferrara’s rather taxing quandary is that he is failing to get either the team, or its influential players playing well. It’s a very ‘chicken or the egg’ dilemma, but one that needs addressing before President Jean-Claude Blanc stands on the egg, strangles the chicken and hires a new Coach. Felipe Melo has looked a shadow of the player they bought, Diego has been moved around without finding a niche and all of the strikers are on strike. The winter break came at a very opportune moment for Ferrara, but the goodwill tidings came down with the decorations, and a defeat to Milan on Sunday would see Ferrara joining his old mate Antonio Conte down the job office.
Conte stepped down from the Atalanta hot-seat this week after only four months in charge. The Bergamo club have struggled all year and following a 2-0 home reverse to Napoli – after which 500 fans staged a protest calling for his head – Conte decided to call time on his stint at la Dea.
In transfer news, Andrea Dossena has ended his Liverpool misery by signing for Napoli and Tiago has joined Atletico Madrid on a six-month loan from Juventus. Also, other transfers which may, but probably may not, happen, include Vincenzo Iaquinta to Chelsea, Rafinha to Juventus, Simon Kjaer to Manchester City, Alex to Genoa and Julio Baptista to Inter. Amongst many, many more.
New Year’s resolution for 2011: become a football agent.