In life, age can do some incredible things. Whiskey or wine can improve the longer it remains in its casket whilst an antique vase increases in value as it becomes evermore rare.
Age can also have some very harsh affects – it can make a once solid oak door brittle and rotten or turn an exotic super car into nothing more than a rusty wreck. What, I hear you cry, has this to do with Christian Panucci? Well, strangely enough nothing. Christian Panucci, at the ripe old age of 36, has experienced neither of the above (in the professional sporting sense). Age has seemingly had no effect on him, he has neither improved nor degraded. Think of him as a fern tree, an evergreen. Christian Panucci is still the Christian Panucci we have always known – harder than a jack hammer, a defender that is no stranger to both penalty areas, is as effective at centre-back as he is at full-back and even now with Parma (his eighth club), is still playing for a team vying for a Champions League place. In all these years, nothing has changed for Panucci.
Panucci’s career has spanned four countries and he has played at some of Europe’s finest clubs. He has at times, been dogged by controversy, fallings out with managers and he has never been afraid to earn himself more than his fair share of red and yellow cards. He is one of those rare breed of defenders who is not just a threat from set-pieces but actually delivers goals, and some very crucial ones. None more so than last weekend when he helped keep Parma’s European ambitions on track, with a header against Bologna.
The ex-Roma defender began his career at Genoa, but quickly moved on to giants Milan in 1993, where he established himself as an attacking full-back and won various honours including Europe’s premier cup competition with the Rossoneri. He did the same at Real Madrid, also becoming the first ever Italian to play for the Spanish giants. Three years with los Merengues ended with a move back to the peninsula at Milan rivals Inter. Then a loan move to London, playing briefly for Chelsea (also a short stint at AS Monaco) before really earning his stripes by enjoying an extensive period with the Giallorossi, from 2001 to 2009.
For many of his fans and critics (and indeed for the player himself), Christian’s career is genuinely defined by his time at the Italian capital. In a recent interview, leading up to this weekend’s match against Roma, he said: “I love Rome and Roma….and this weekend’s game is one I never would have wanted to play in.” He often captained the team in Francesco Totti’s absence and was a true gladiator in every sense of the word. He was never blessed with pace but was monumentally strong (especially in the air) and rarely made a mistake. His Roman trophy cabinet may not have been as illustrious as some of his others (limited to two Coppa Italias and a Supercoppa) but his 29 goals for i Lupi is a record for a defender at the club.
His international career mirrored his slightly more difficult nature and it rarely had much to do with his unquestionable ability. Because of this, his time with the Nazionale was disjointed, an irreplaceable figure to some Coaches, but wholly ignored by others. Roberto Donadoni found him hugely vital to his team in its ill-fated 2008 Euro campaign, when the evergreen Panucci, more than adequately filled in for the woeful World Champions Andrea Barzagli and Marco Materazzi. He scored a vital goal against Romania and helped novice Giorgio Chiellini shine at centre-back. However, Marcello Lippi was never interested in picking him, regardless of form – after their differences of opinion at Inter, he was most certainly persona non grata for the cigar-smoking Coach from Viareggio.
His relationship with Roma and Spalletti fell apart in 2009, when he was asked to sit on the bench against Napoli and duly refused. For this act of insubordination, Christian was dropped from the team and the Champions League squad. Despite an apology and his eventual reinstatement to the team, his contract was not renewed and he moved on to Serie A new boys Parma for the start of the new 2009/10 season. Not that the move to Parma was a step down or a way of unwinding his long career and keep the bank balance healthy for an impending retirement. The boy from Savona is sitting fourth in Serie A right now, looking down on the likes of Fiorentina, Udinese, Lazio, Genoa and of course his old teammates from the Stadio Olimpico. He is here to win something, not least of all the game at weekend against the team closest to his heart.
Not many would bet against a Roma home win, they are in good form right now and even their second string played impressively on Wednesday to defeat CSKA Sofia in the Europa League. They may again have to do without Philippe Mexes, but apart from that the capital club should have a fully fit squad. Parma will be looking for a good performance from its mix of seasoned veterans (Panucci, Alessandro Lucarelli, Massimo Paci, Stefano Morrone) and its sprinkling of junior stars in the form of Alberto Paloschi, Davide Lanzafame and ex Roman Daniele Galloppa, who has recently earned his first national team cap. The game is most interestingly balanced and may go a long way to showing what real credentials Francesco Guidolin’s team have in earning that coveted final Champions League spot.
Parma is probably most famous for its delicate cold meat appetiser. However, we fully expect the Giallorossi forwards to get more than just some prosciutto for starters, if Christian Panucci has anything to do with it, come the weekend.