Sentiment was in short supply in Piedmont on Monday as coach Attilio Tesser was fired as coach of Novara despite two successive promotions. Two wins from twenty Serie A games has seen the tactician shoved through the door and veteran Emiliano Mondonico ushered into the fray. ‘I don’t want any regrets’ announced president Massimo De Salve.
The Tesser story had to come to end at some point, because as with most fairytales it was almost too good to be true. After arriving at the tiny Piedmont side back in June 2009, i Biancoazzurri stormed through Serie C in his first season at the club, losing just three games in 34 to clinch the title. Survival in Serie B would have been quite an achievement for such a small club the following year, but what followed wrote Tesser’s name into Piedmont folklore as he led them to Serie A for the first time in 55 seasons via the play-offs.
In the two successive promotion seasons, Novara lost just two home games in 38 league matches, turning their compact Stadio Silvio Piola into a fortress. A 3-1 victory over Inter in round three of their Serie A return the following season not only spelled the end of Gian Piero Gasperini at the Milan club, but it was Tesser’s first as a Serie A coach despite it being his third spell in the top flight (he lasted just one defeat at Cagliari and 11 winless games at Ascoli.) Sadly the feel good factor had transformed into a sterile, resigned demeanour by late January, leading to veteran Emiliano Mondonico arriving to lead a revival.
Mondonico himself is one of the most respected coaches in all of Calcio. He is the only man to ever achieve five promotions to Serie A, and Novara will be his 9th different club. The veteran tactician will perhaps be best remembered as the man who led Torino during four eventful years on and off the pitch. On the field, Toro finished 5th in the 1990-91 season, and as high as 3rd in 1991-92, a year which they reached the old UEFA Cup final, which they lost on away goals to Ajax. He also collected the Coppa Italia in 1993, beating Roma on away goals after a 5-5 draw over two legs.
Off the pitch, Mondonico was vocal in his wish for Torino to return to their fabled Filadelfia stadium, once home of il grande Torino. The coach said of the stadium ‘It is a home, a monument and a den. We must return home.’ Sadly, Toro never did and probably never will return as the space around the site of where the stadium used to stand is too restricting for a top class sporting venue.
Perhaps the most symbolic moment of his Granata reign was the bizarre sight of Mondonico holding aloft a chair in protest at the referee’s performance during the 1st leg of their UEFA Cup final appearance. The former Atalanta coach stood slowly rotating as he held the chair above his head due to a number of perceived errors during the game which finished 2-2. He received a one game European ban for his act, something he has yet had to serve.
Despite all of this, there was one symbolic victory during Mondonico’s career that will always be his most important. As coach of AlbinoLeffe during the 2010-11 season, the veteran temporarily stepped down due to health reasons. Two days later, the club announced Mondonico had undergone life-saving surgery to remove a tumour from his abdomen. After a couple of weeks out of the game, he returned and steered the tiny Bergamo-based side to safety via a play-out win over Piacenza, ensuring a ninth successive season of second tier football. For a club whose highest ever average attendance is 2,600, this is quite an achievement. At the end of the season, Mondonico sensibly decided to step down as coach of ‘Leffe to rest his body. On November 14th, he announced via the media that he had successfully beaten the cancer after a second round of surgery and was given the all clear to return to coaching, something he said he intended to do with the right club.
So when Novara came calling, the wily old tactician couldn’t resist. President De Salve, although sad to see his old coach leave, is clearly happy with his new ‘allenatore‘, announcing ‘This is no accident. Tesser served us well but now we have a good coach and a great man. I can’t regret anything at the end of the season, and I won’t regret choosing Mondonico. He has the experience for the fight and can save us from Serie B.’ After his most recent battles away from the pitch, Mondonico will view the challenge with excitement rather than trepidation.