Italian Football

A different outlook towards European transfers from 2011-12 season.

For football fans the season of 2011-12 has been nothing less than iconic. If enthralling finish to the season finale was an icing on the cake, then it was the transfer activity that helped to bake such a delightful cake. The gossips and speculations which were started during the preseason were more than enough to last till midseason window, also some of them are still going on. In terms of player transfers, this season has been record-breaking.

Never before football world has seen so much of money being spent on the players transfers. Not only cumulative expenditure by European clubs on sheer acquiring players was astonishing, the sheer volume of player movement was higher than before.

Most of the clubs in the various leagues haven’t been able to balance between expenditure and income through the transfers. Very few clubs have actually registered a profit purely through buying and selling their players (not considering profits through any other source)

Have a look at the staggering figures above. English Premier League which is considered as one of the best football leagues has become a major attractive product even for the players. 518 players arriving and 479 players leaving in 20 Premier League clubs (albeit players going/returning from Loans are included) give the perfect testimony of how much cut throat competition is amongst the players willing to succeed and how little margin available for the players to establish themselves in the league. English clubs have shelled more money than any other club in Europe or probably in the world as well.

Rapid globalization of the sport and incredible money there’s on the offer though ever improving television deals, sponsorship deals and corporate tie ups means clubs must strive hard to elevate their performance on the pitch and bag more and more success.

Success at any COST has become mantra in football as even Dutch sides, usually famous for exporting their talent have signed in 259 players and let go of the same number. Although their selling power isn’t what it used to be, as they could muster only 111m £ from their sales, they’ve signed the players for far less average value than of any other league.

Billionaire’s Clubs

Much credit for this frenzied activity across European football can be given to changes in clubs’ ownership. Oligarchs and Petroleum tycoons have set their eyes on football as their muse and have gone on acquiring stakes in various clubs across Europe and pouring in their money in order to make these clubs the European powerhouses.

Being acquired by Sheikh Mansoor from Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, Manchester City have not taken a break from their last season’s spending spree and continued to pour in money in the transfer window. Chelsea hasn’t stopped doing so since 2004 by grace of their Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. Well, both the clubs finally reaped some rewards though. Paris Saint-Germain in France, Málaga CF in Spain who have recently been acquired by Middle Eastern oil rich sheikhs, have started to flex their muscles and recent exploits of Russian “Goldmember” Suleyman Kerimov in war-torn town of Makhachkala meant all these went on to pour incredible money in the club and lure players by giving them ridiculously high salaries.

This money indeed opened the opportunity for minnow clubs to put their best players in the showcase and sell them to big clubs to earn a fortune and invest that money to improve their training facilities and youth setups. Not to say, money which has been earned by selling players isn’t always entirely poured into upgrades but sometimes that money can help club secure their survival and sometimes Chairman takes it in his pockets to pay is personal debts (Mr. Glazer)

Big Stats

Have a look at the clubs who topped the in their leagues in terms of spending money and earning money. Amongst all the big spenders, only Juventus could manage to win the league title where as in France it was PSG’s title to lose and they did exactly that. Chelsea’s spending did not buy them a league title but their old guard bought few years ago won them the Europe’s biggest trophy.

In Spain surprisingly Atlético de Madrid outspent traditional big spenders Real and Barça. Also they’ve been only club in Europe who topped their league in terms of spending and earning most money on transfers. Arsenal filled up their coffers by cashing in on Cesc Fàbregas and Samir Nasri. Lille topped in Ligue 1 last season by selling Cabaye, Rami, Gervinho and Moussa Sow, and it is certain that they’ll earn more money this season from only 1 player, Hazard.

FC Utrecht in Holland sold their starlet Ricky van Wolfswinkel to Sporting Lisbon, Strootman and Mertens to PSV and spent that money to buy Alexander Gerndt from Helsingborgs of Sweden which turned out to be Holland’s most expensive import of the season.

The table below shows European leagues’ top imports, exports and top inland transfers.

Balázs Dzsudzsák was transferred from PSV to Anzhi in August for 12.5m £ but played in only 8 games before breaking a collar-bone during a match against Rostov. Although the injury was supposed to keep him out for remainder of the season, he was transferred to Dinamo Moscow in January for 16.5m £. He made his début in March for Dinamo and played in 9 games.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic had already moved to AC Milan from Barcelona in 2010-11. But this move was on loan with an option to make a move permanent at the end of the season. Having scored 21 goals and 13 assists in total 41 appearances in his first season for Milan, they wasted no time and purchased Zlatan for 21m £.

Out of these expensive imports from each league Only Kun Agüero managed to win a League title and ironically it was Kun himself who dramatically scored a winner in dying seconds in final game to win the title on goal difference.

Falcao on the other hand did not win league title as Atlético Madrid finished 5th (44 points behind Real Madrid). But he played an instrumental part during Atlético Madrid’s Europa League win over Athletic Bilbao where he scored a cracking brace in the final.

Following table shows how many players from these 7 leagues were transferred to foreign clubs.

Although England have relied on their neighbours Scotland for fringe players, they turned to Spain for their marquee signings, spending more than 7 times money than they paid for players coming from Scotland.

English teams signing players on high wages mean the chances of quality players leaving England is very remote as they really can’t be afforded anywhere else. English clubs sold only 8 players to Russia and managed 41.5m £. Out of these 8, Yuri Zhirkov and Christopher Samba were sold to heavy spenders Anzhi for 13m £ and 12.5m £ respectively.

After Russia, English clubs sold 27 players to Spain for cumulative 31.5m £. Well, out of these 27, Cesc Fàbregas’ transfer to Barcelona fetched 30m £.

Bundesliga players don’t really move to English Premier League. Out of 22 players sold to English clubs, only 7 players were fetched money. Dissecting further, out of these 7 players, 3 were signed by Arsenal for their youth team. Only Papiss Demba Cissé, Per Mertersacker and Pavel Pogrebnyak have made their mark as regular first team players.

German clubs have shown faith on their neighbours Austria, Holland, Switzerland, Poland and Czech Republic as out of 339 players signed from foreign clubs, 137 were signed from these 5 leagues. Only 35 players have been signed from France (17), Italy (10) and Spain (8).

Let’s have a look below on the season’s top 20 transfers and see how they fared.

1) Falcao: Having seen Kun Agüero and Diego Forlan in the summer Atlético Madrid spent 41.5m £ Falcao and were repaid every penny of it. In his first season in Spain, Falcao scored 24 League goals and 9 Europa League goals. He continued his lethal scoring in European games as he helped Atlético to win their second Europa Leaue title in 3 years. By achieving this feat, Falcao won back to back Europa League titles.

His lethal scoring means Atlético Madrid went on 9 matches’ unbeaten streak out of which 7 were victories. During this streak he scored found the net 8 times and provided 2 assists. His heroics in the League and Europe mean he has successfully put himself on the radar of major buying powerhouses. Chelsea might launch a bid for him.

Score: 9/10

2) Kun Agüero: Manchester City’s 39.5m £ were paid in most sensational fashion as he scored a vital winner in the last seconds which ended City’s 44 year wait for the League title. Kun scored a brace on his début against Swansea and never looked back. Although initially taunted for scoring only at home games, his 9 out of 30 goals in the historic season have come away from home.

Somewhat failed to shine in Champions League, Agüero has a challenge in front of him to score against big guns playing away from home. 23 league goals, 8 assist and 5 MoM awards meant an incredible transfer hit.

Score: 9/10 

3) Javier Pastore: Initially linked with all the big European clubs, Pastore was sold to Nuevo (oil) rich PSG for 37m £. 22-year-old Javier Pastore scored 13 goals and provided 6 assists in the league.

Pastore’s performances have been inconsistent over the season but at least he seemed to have chosen the right club. Big money signing like him meant he got plenty of playing time in PSG. PSG’s ambition backed by Petro dollars from Sheikhs means more quality signings will be made over the summer.

Pastore too, hasn’t impressed in Europa League this season as PSG crashed out in the group stages. If Pastore manages to play in maximum games, he’ll continue to flourish.

Score: 8/10 

4) Cesc Fàbregas: Cesc’s transfer saga must’ve been like one of those never-ending daily soaps. When he put a pen to paper and officially wore Barça jersey, there were many doubts on how he will fit in Barca’s tiki taka system considering Iniesta – Xavi’s irreplaceable duo and emergence of Thiago Alacantara.

But he proved his doubters wrong as he slotted in very well in Barca’s system. Till February, he had scored all of his 15 goals and was Barca’s 2nd leading goal scorer behind Messi. But since his last league goal has come on 9th January against Espanyol.

Towards end of the season Cesc had been extremely wasteful as he squandered a lot of importannt chances. He has a lot to prove to Barça faithful and repay their faith.

Score 6.5/10

5) Fábio Coentrão: When Coentrão arrived in Real Madrid with a 26.5m £ price tag, he was seen as a complete solution to left-sided defensive problems. But after initially featuring in Real’s all the matches and playing complete matches, Mourinho seemed to have lost faith in his abilities as Coentrão was overlooked in the favour of Marcelo.

Coentrão only started 12 league games and 7 Champions League games during his first year in Spain. Clearly a case of lost confidence, unless he shines in Euro 2012, his place in Mourinho’s starting line up will still be in a limbo.

Score: 5/10

6) Samir Nasri: He went to City for winning the titles and that’s what he did after moving from Arsenal for 24m £. He played a vital role in City’s first ever Premier League title.

He scored 5 goals and provided 9 assists and started 26 games for City in his first season. Although his goal scoring record in City has not been more prolific than in Arsenal, but in City goal scoring was primarily taken care by their forwards. Whenever Nasri got to play in City’s star studded line up, he made sure that his performances didn’t go in vain.

Score: 8.5/10 

7) Samuel Eto’o: Check The website basically a great humiliation tool which shows you by how much money he’s earned since your’ve entered the website. You may close the website for your pleasure but he’ll still keep on earning that money for his prowess.

When unknown Anzhi Makhachkala appeared in the news and their plans to lure Eto’o to Russia, the world maybe laughed on them. But before everyone could realise, Eto’o was off to Russia in a 24m £ deal which’ll offer him 350k £-a week salary.

Since scoring on his début to salvage a draw for Anzhi, Eto’o scored 13 goals in 22 League matches. Anzhi’s inconsistent league form prevented them from mounting a serious challenge for European competitions.

Only few months in Russia’ Eto’o was linked with a loan move to Inter and a move to MLS. Although nothing like that happened, but he’s now linked with PSG.

With Guus Hiddink in charge of Anzhi for the coming season, it is yet to be seen whether Eto’o sticks around for pure footballing reasons or answer’s PSG’s call.

Score: 6.5/10

8) Juan Mata: Undoubtedly Chelsea’s best signing since few years. He’s been an absolute catalyst and a perfect bridge between Chelsea’s slow defence and quick counter attacks. It’ll be wrong to judge Mata’s contribution just in terms of stats.

His all-round game surely brought much more to Chelsea than just 6 goals and 13 assists. His vision, passing, through balls and finishing certainly makes him one of the scintillating player to watch.

Mata has surely justified his 23.5m £ price tag by playing key role in Chelsea’s historic Champions League winning season.

Score: 9.5/10 

9) Alexis Sánchez: Like Pastore, Udinese’s versatile striker Alexis Sánchez was coveted by almost all the major clubs who were trying to lure him into big money signing. But he finally he answered Barcelona’s 23m £ call.

Even after his move, there were lot of doubts on how much playing time he’ll get in the presence of Villa – Messi – Pedro. Injuries too did not help his cause much as he was sidelined twice for lengthy spells.

Due to injury to David Villa, Sánchez got to play more games than he might’ve anticipated. Messi’s sensational form meant Alexis’ good performances often went unnoticed. In his injury marred first season for Barça, he managed to pay 31 games and score 15 goals and provide 5 assists.

He’s young and can play everywhere in attack. If he can keep himself away from injuries, he can surely be one of the great talenst to watch.

Score: 7.5/10 

10) Zlatan Ibrahimovic: What to say about him? Moody, Maniac but Maverick nonetheless. He spearheaded AC Milan on his own and launched a serious title bid for consecutive Scudetto with AC Milan. Prior to finishing second in this season he holds a unique record of wining 7 league titles in last 7 years with different teams.

Although not his first season in Milan as he’d spent a previous season on Loan, he technically became Milan player this season when his loan deal was made permanent by Milan. He scored 28 goals in the league and 35 in total and finished as Serie A’s top scorer.

There are still question marks over his temperament. But surely ranks as one of the best strikers in the world football at the moment.

Score: 8/10

11) Stewart Downing: In 36 League games only thing he’s got to show is 72 shots and 19 of them on target and No goals or assists. Even for him it must be difficult to remember what he actually did in Liverpool.

He was the most expensive English player to be transferred this season for 20m £. But under his presence Liverpool broke their barren trophy spell and won the Carling Cup. Probably this is his biggest contribution. He can be used as a lucky charm in the coming season.

There’s nothing more to say.

Score: 4/10 

12) Romelu Lukaku: Top scorer in Belgian league at the age of 16, Lukaku was a hot prospect and when Chelsea signed him for 19.5m £, it was certain that he would go on to lighten up the Premier League.

But he was completely overlooked by AVB till he was in charge of Chelsea. Even after Roberto Di Matteo took over, Lukaku could not knock the doors of the first team.

He’s still 19 and with a monstrous physic and power, the future is still bright for him, provided he gets the opportunities.

Score: Hate to do this, but an absolutely zero impact in his season, 4/10

13) Manuel Neuer: His first season in Bayern colors has been poor for Bayern in terms of results. Not to say Neuer has been fantastic in the season. At 19.5m £ transfer fee, he became world’s 2nd expensive goalkeeper behind Buffon.

After his mistake on 1st day cost Bayern a home defeat, he went on to keep clean sheets in next 12 consecutive games, beating Bayern’s record.

An excellent shot stopper and great distributor of the ball, Neuer’s vulnerabilities in coming off his line were exposed at times. Bayern’s penalty shoot out hero in the Semi Final, scored a penalty in Final’s shootout but he was let down by rest of his team mates who couldn’t convert their penalties.

By keeping 17 clean sheets in the league he ensured Bayern conceded least goals in the Bundesliga.

Score: 7.5/10

 14) Santi Cazorla: Has to be Málaga’s player of the season. Santi Cazorla sealed an 18.5m £ move from Villarreal in the summer. He figured in Málaga’s all 38 league games.

Santi being a versatile midfielder played in every position in the Málaga’s midfield. Having a squad built around him, Cazorla fulfilled the role of playmaker to the best.

He scored 9 goals and provided 5 assists and ensured Málaga finish 4th and qualifies for next season’s Champions League qualifiers. Week in- week out, he produced consistent performances on the pitch regardless of Málaga’s inconsistent form. Santi probably is an only Non Barca-Madrid player who can claim his place in La Liga’s team of the season.

Score: 9/10 

15) David de Gea: When Sir Alex Ferguson signed this lanky 20-year-old goalkeeper from Atlético Madrid for staggering 17.5m £, he was convinced that David de Gea will successfully replace Van Der Saar. But De Gea took a long time to adjust with physical style of English football and his vulnerability against long shots was exposed in his first ever game.

He made a lot of mistakes early in the season which resulted in letting in lot of goals and even United’s untimely exit from the Champions League. De Gea improved with every passing game. He showed tremendous shot stopping abilities and good concentration and helped United to mount a serious title challenge for the League.

But he still needs to improve tremendously to be considered as one of the best goal keepers in England and Spain.

Score: 7.5/10

16) Phil Jones: Jones is another youngster bought by United with a long-term vision to replace Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. United splashed 17m £ for this versatile 20-year-old player from Blackburn. Jones’ versatility might’ve counted against him as he played in Central defence, Right back and Centre midfield positions.

After showing scintillating form early in the season, Jones suffered recurrent injuries which hampered his growth in the 1st year at Old Trafford. Later on in the season, Jones showed the signs of lacking confidence in him own abilities.

Jones is very comfortable on the ball and is good likes to dribble in the opponent’s box every time he can. Although he’s one for the future, his first season has been of mixed performances

Score: 7/10

17) Balázs Dzsudzsák: Hungarian marksman Dzsudzsák  has been double transferred from PSV to Anzhi to Dinamo Moscow in the same season costing Anzhi a 12.5m £ and Dinamo a 16.5m £. Due to his injury he missed most of the season at Dinamo.

Despite getting 630 minutes in 9 matches after his injury, Dzsudzsák is yet to open his goal scoring account.

Unfortunate lad, but he’s got to justify his price tag in coming season.

Score: 4/10

18)   Ashley Young: 3rd of United’s summer signing, Young too suffered lot of injuries in his début season at Old Trafford. Young has been excellent on wings but at times he’s been very ordinary.

Although he could play in only 25 matches (19 starts), Young scored 6 league goals and provided 7 assists.

With Valencia cementing his spot on the right-wing, Young has to fight Nani for the permanent berth on the left-wing. To succeed at United, Young has to show consistency in his performances.

Score: 6/10

19) Jordan Henderson: Liverpool spent 16m £ for this youngster from Sunderland. Although it appeared that he’s been played out of position far too often, he actually has started 20 out of 31 games in his favoured Central midfield position.

Another failed signing from Liverpool’s “Moneyball” experiment, Henderson can compete with Downing for ‘Wasted Resources of the Year’ award.

Henderson’s previous season in Sunderland was really good and he successfully orchestrated their midfield.  He couldn’t find any rhythm what so ever in Liverpool jersey.

Score: 5/10

20) Gökhan Inler: Inler’s acquisition for 15.5m £ from Udinese was final piece in Napoli’s jigsaw. They needed a midfield dynamo to back their attacking trio of Cavani, Lavezzi and Hamsik. Inler provided just that.

From Centre Midfield position, Inler averaged 2.8 tackles and 2 interceptions per game. He also averaged about 50 passes per game with 86.5% success rate. Considering Napoli’s counter attacking style these stats shows Inler has proven to be good initiator of attacks.

His both goals came in the Champions League and at the crucial moments. Inler gave consistent performances despite Napoli’s mixed results.

Score: 7/10

Real Madrid finally won League title after 4 years, Manchester City won it after 44 years. Montpellier won their first ever Ligue 1 title and Borussia Dortmund won League and Cup double. In Holland Ajax won their 30th League title.

All these teams will be looking to freshen up their squads by bringing in few new faces where as Barcelona, Manchester United, PSG, Bayern will be looking to avenge their league defeats by revamping their squads.

New season is certain to break more transfer records. We just have to see how many of them rise up to the occasion and deliver; else we’ll still be singing “Oh Caroll!”.


A look at Hellas Verona’s miraculous maiden and only Scudetto season and woes

Ever since William Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet somewhere between 1591 and 1595, City of Verona was put on the world map. Yearly thousands of tourists and lovers visited Via Cappello 23 which is supposedly known as Juliet’s house and her famous balcony.

Sports lovers did not care about it much. It took approximately 392 years when city of Verona gave buzz to the citizens as another pair Hans-Peter and Preben who made the Italy bow in front of Verona and certainly shook up the world.

Italian football needed something special in that season of 1984-85.

If not qualifying for summer’s European Championship came as a shock, finishing in the group behind Romania, Sweden and Czechoslovakia served as a salt in the wounds. Also in the European Cup, Italy’s only contestant AS Roma suffered penalty shootout defeat against Liverpool’s Bruce “WOBBELAAR”.

This season was supposed to be the one in which Serie A cleaned its wounds inflicted by the infamous ‘Calcioscommesse’ scandal. It was the only season when referees were assigned to matches by way of a random draw instead of being assigned to a specific match by a special commission of referees (‘designatori arbitrali’)

‘Hellas’, a small club in the city of Verona stunned the world by winning its first and only Scudetto.

Calcio had called for a Spark and they got a Bolt in return.

History of Hellas

Gialloblu or Mastini as they were called, were founded in 1903 and spent 52 years in lower divisions till they were promoted to Serie A for the first time in 1956-57 season only to go down immediately. Their next promotion to Serie A came in 1967-68 and although they had finished 13th in 1973-74, they were demoted to Serie B due to rigging a match against Napoli. Hellas straightaway bounced back in Serie A after 1 season in Serie B, but went down again in 1978-89.

After escaping relegation from Serie B on the last day in 1980-81 season, Hellas quickly appointed 46 year old ex-Hellas midfielder Osvaldo Bagnoli as their coach who did not have any top flight management experience.

It was a great risk but it proved to be the totally worth.

Bagnoli completely reversed their performances on the pitch. In his first season at the helm, Hellas finished Serie B as Champions and earned their promotion to Serie A.

If this 180 degree turnaround from last to 1st was a mammoth task, something impossible was to take place in the next season.

Hellas’ first season back in Serie A under Bagnoli was no less than sensational. By working with close knit players, Bagnoli’s Mastiffs finished 4th in the league and were beaten in Coppa Italia by Juventus (Hellas did take 2-0 lead from the 1st leg to Turin in which they lost 3-0). In 1982-83, The Mastini did repeat their first season miracles by finishing 6th in Serie A and again finished Runner up in Coppa Italia.

According to the experts, by large and far Hellas had overachieved and according to Bela Guttmann’s theory of three seasons, it was time for crash landing to the ground. Little they knew what was to happen in Hellas’ third Serie A season.

Serie A 1984-85

Pre Season

Italian clubs got busy in the transfer market and saw influx of foreign players. In fact this was one of the most frantic transfer seasons for the clubs in terms of buying superstars.

AC Milan Signed Mark Hateley and Ray “MY WORD” Wilkins, Fiorentina bought Socrates from Corinthians, Inter signed Liam Brady and superstar Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Sampdoria brought in Souness from Liverpool whereas Hellas brought in defender Hans-Peter Briegel from Kaiserslauern and striker Preben Elkjær Larsen came in from Lokeren.

And biggest of them all, Diego Armando Maradona arrived in Naples after a long saga of complicated negotiations. Stadio San Paolo was packed with more than 70000 fans to see Maradona arriving in the helicopter.

Compared to Napoli’s Maradona and Bertoni, Milan’s Hateley and My Word Wilkins, the duo of Briegel and Elkjær was less fashionable but they certainly appeared to be the final pieces of the jigsaw of Bagnoli’s Hellas which was assembled of hard working team players rather than individuals.

Hellas Squad:

Osvaldo Bagnoli’s squad had already made their mark as an extremely cohesive and competitive unit. Results in the last three years were a great testimony to the unity and talents of the squad.

Four of the 84-85 squad were part of the squad who had earned promotion four years earlier. Bagnoli’s philosophy was to keep their starling line up consistent for as much as possible. He only worked with 18 players in the squad out of which 3 players did not even play 4 games in total. 11 players out of remaining 15 played in more than 75% of their matches in the season.

Bagnoli usually played 3-5-2 with two markers and a libero behind and wide midfielders dropping back while not in possession to start the attacks, Verona’s defence was as fast, versatile and adaptable. Hellas’ used Preben Elkjaer as a focal point in attack with fast box-to-box midfielders and a playmaker behind him.

Certainly the additions of Hans-Peter Briegel in midfield and of Danish striker Preben Elkjær Larsen to an attack that already featured the wing play of Pietro Fanna, the creative abilities of Antonio Di Gennaro and the scoring touch of Giuseppe Galderisi were to prove crucial.

Season’s unfolding:

Matchday 1

Not just a sparring Bot:

Season opener created lot of buzz in the town and the country. All eyes were on Bagnoli’s Hellas who were playing their first home game. Supporters and Media flocked in Stadio Bentegodi not to watch Hellas but travelling Napoli as Maradona was making his debut in Italian football.

Everybody was expecting Hellas to just be a sparring partner to magical El Diego and surrender to his skill and trickery. Script was written and everybody but Hellas’ squad had read it.

Briegel kept Maradona quiet during the game by marking him extremely tight. In the battle of the foreigners, it was Briegel who popped up to open the scoring early on before Galderisi scored a quickfire second. Napoli’s another Argentine new signing Daniel Bertoni pulled one back in the second half before Di Gennaro who had helped Hellas to win promotion, completed the goal scoring rout and put the Hellas Verona top of the table, the position they did not surrender for the rest of the season.

Matchday 2-4

Hellas travelled to Ascoli next where Di Gennaro and Briegel were joined by the new boy Preben Elkjær as they completed another 1-3 victory. Next, Galderisi’s 33rd minute penalty was enough to beat Udinese 1-0 at home. Hellas then drew 0-0 against Inter at San Siro.

After 4 matches, Mastini were still undefeated and on top of the league.

Matchday 5

Man with the single shoe:

Champions Juventus visited Gialloblu in the Matchday 5. This was by far Hellas’ sterner test and they passed it in a most remarkable fashion too.

The deadlock was broken in 62nd minute when Juve goalkeeper Tacconi misjudged a cross by Fanna, leaving Galderisi a simple header.

The match will forever be remembered for the second goal (Why always 2nd goals stand out in the memory? Maradona’s 2nd, Solskjaer’s 2nd, Ronaldo’s 2nd). The Danish striker Elkjær picked up the ball outside the box and, while running at the Juve defence, he lost his boot in a tackle but stormed ahead before slotting the ball in the far bottom corner with his foot without the boot.

Watch it here

This defeat gave Hellas one more week at the summit, one point behind another undefeated team Souness’ Sampdoria.

Matchday 6-9

Hellas travelled to Stadio Olimpico in Rome to face AS Roma and came home unscathed with a 0-0 draw. Galderisi was again on the score sheet as Fiorentina were defeated 2-1 at Stadio Bentegodi. In the next match Galderisi slotted a penalty in 74th minute before Claudio Garella saved a penalty at the other end. Then it was left to Hans-Peter Briegel to score a wonderful solo goal to complete 0-2 away win against Cremonese.

Hellas played out another 0-0 draw against Sampdoria at home. Hellas were had to travel to Turin for the match against Torino as League leaders with a single point lead.

Matchday 10

Torino was breathing down the neck of Hellas and victory at home would have put Torino at the summit. Breigel lashed a thunder shot from outside the box and outside of his left foot to put Hellas ahead and Luciano Marangon finished a wonderful move which he had started to give Hellas an important 1-2 victory.

After Matchday 10, Hellas had established a small but important 3 point lead over Torino.

Matchday 11-15

Hellas drew 0-0 against Milan and Torino defeated Avellino to reduce the gap to 2 points. But Hellas and Torino matched each other’s results in the next 4 rounds as Torino failed to gain any advantage from Mastini’s slip up.

When Hellas beat Lazio, Torino beat Como. In the next match Hellas were held 0-0 by Como whereas Atalanta too drew 0-0 against Torino. Next Hellas were held 1-1 by Atalanta and Torino drew 2-2 against Fiorentina.

In the last game before the reverse fixtures started, Hellas travelled to Avellino without injured Elkjær and suspended Galderisi, Hellas went down to a 2-1 defeat courtesy of Angelo Colombo’s late goal. This was their 1st defeat of the season but Torino also suffered the same fate by the hands of AS Roma. Meanwhile Inter drew with Ascoli and were breathing down the neck of Hellas, who were ahead by just 1 point.

Hellas had conceded just 7 goals which were lesser than anyone in the league and had kept incredible 9 clean sheets. Suddenly Hellas’ defence made up of Caludio Garella in the goal and Roberto Tircella, Domenico Volpati, Luciano Marangon and Mauro Ferroni was looking impregnable. And it turned out to be exactly like that.

Matchday 16-17

Swapping Crown:

Hellas drew their next game 0-0 against Napoli and Inter saw off Atalanta by a solitary goal. Inter were tied at the top with Hellas on the points and goal difference, but had scored 3 goals more than Hellas.

In the next fixture, Inter travelled to the season’s banana skin team Avellino as League leaders with all the confidence but were held to 0-0. On the other hand two first half goals by Galderisi and Sacchetti saw Hellas beating Ascoli and regain the top spot.

Matchday 18

Game of the Season:

Having taken a 1 point lead at the top, Hellas travelled to Udinese in Matchday 18. Trio of Briegel, Galderisi and Elkjær put them 0-3 ahead within 20 minutes before conceding a goal on the stroke of half time. Udinese scored two quick fire goals in the 2nd half to make it 3-3 with 30 minutes to go. But immediately within 2 minutes Briegel and Elkjær scored two goals to take 3-5 lead and see off any Udinese challenge.

Unfazed Inter, won their game against Lazio 1-0 to maintain the gap of 1 point. Torino were beaten by Napoli which put them 4 points behind Hellas.

Watch it here.

Matchday 19

Hellas hosted Inter in this top of the table clash. A defeat would definitely dent their title aspirations as Inter could’ve been 2 points ahead.

Inter took the lead through Alessandro Altobelli on 39th minute and were looking comfortable. But Briegel headed the ball home from the corner to draw level.

Matchday 20

Hellas travelled to Turin for the huge game against Juventus as Inter hosted Torino. Defeat to any of them would have had serious implication on the table. But Hellas drew level against Juventus, by courtesy of Di Gennaro’s 76th minute equaliser.

At San Siro, Altobelli missed a penalty but Inter managed to salvage 1-1 draw to maintain slender deficit with Hellas.

Matchday 21-25

On the 75th minute Elkjær Larsen pounced on the ball spilled by Roma’s goalkeeper from a powerful shot by Fanna to give Hellas 1-0 victory.

In the next game, Silvano Fontolan’s goal and brace by Gladerisi helped Hellas come from going behind against The Viola. Cremonese too, was seen off 3-0 by the trio of Di Gennaro, Elkjær Larsen and Briegel.

Sampdoria held Hellas to a 1-1 draw with Gladerisi on the scoring sheet.

Inter had drawn their two and lost two games. This Inter’s slump meant Hellas had now opened up 6 point lead with 6 games to go. Below Hellas, there was a incredible pile up of Juve, Torino, Sampdoria, Inter and Milan on 30 points.

In Matchday 25 Hellas hosted Torino but went down 1-2, which was their 2nd loss of the season in 25 matches. Simultaneously Juve, Inter and Sampdoria all won their fixtures to bring down the gap to 4 points.

Matchday 26-28

Crawling towards the line:

Hellas drew 0-0 against Milan at San Siro but Torino and Sampdoria won their games against Avellino and Lazio respectively. Thus gap to the summit was again reduced to 3 points.

Next up was Lazio at home. In a cagey game the deadlock was broken by trickery in the box by Pietro Fanna on 78th minute. Torino drew and Sampdoria lost their game expanding the gap to 4 points between summit and the 2nd place.

Only 3 games to go after the Lazio victory, Citizens of Verona had kept their fingers crossed and started to believe in their dream.

Hellas drew the next home game against Como but Torino’s draw meant the gap was maintained at 4 points with just 2 games to go.

Matchday 29

Nervous Mastini:

Needing only a draw in their penultimate game against Atalanta to clinch their maiden Scudetto, Hellas started nervously and were duly punished by Perico’s opener but just 6 minutes after the restart Elkjær scored an all-important equaliser. The Hellas fans had to endure an agonising second half after that but eventually the referee blew for full time and finally city of Romeo and Juliet had their moment of ecstasy.

Matchday 30

Coronation Day

Having already been declared as winners, Hellas’ final game of the season was a home game at Stadio Bentegodi which had become a giant party place.

In front of a full house, thousands of flags and flares, Hellas emphatically crushed Avellino 4-2 to clinch their maiden Scudetto.

For the first time in 15 years the Italian championship had gone outside the cities Turin, Milan and Rome. It was an amazing achievement from the side from Verona made all the more impressive by the fact that they had been promoted to Serie A just 3 years before.

Also a league which featured the stars like Platini, Zico, Maradona, Sócrates, Rummenigge and Falcão, Hellas’ 15 minnows had clearly stunned the world.

It seemed a perfect present to the City of Eternal lovers.

Curse after the Miracle.

Bagnoli’s perfect man management, heroics by Briegel and Elkjær surely gave hope to Verona citizens of a new horizon. But what followed was rather a cruel heart break. The moment they lifted Scudetto, was the moment they’d embarked on a deadly Spinal Tap.

Hellas finished 10th in the next season and were knocked out early in the European Cup by compatriot Juventus. Many of their important players began to leave the club after that. Hellas recovered to finish a respectable 4th in 86-87.

Garella joined Napoli and went on to win the title with them as did Pietro Fanna at Inter. Briegel left to join Sampdoria in 1986 and Elkjaer left two years after that. Gialloblu’s slump continued as they finished 10th and 11th in next seasons and 1990 they were relegated to Serie B.

Although they were promoted to Serie A in 1990-91 season, troubled finances meant Hellas were declared bankrupt and finally ceased to exist in 1991 and were refounded as Verona FC. Verona’s couldn’t stay up in the top flight and got relegated to Serie B again.

In 1994-95 Verona FC changed their name to Hellas Verona and got promoted to Serie A in 96-97 season but got relegated again. Eventually after getting one more promotion in 1998-99, Hellas lasted in top flight for 3 more years before going down in 2001-02 season. Hellas slipped further down and were dropped to Serie C1 in 2006-07.

Hellas Verona were promoted to Serie B in 2010-11 season and have finished in 4th position in the current season. They will play in the promotion playoff semi final against Varese and winner of this game will play the winner of Sassuolo and Sampdoria.

If anybody has to take only one shot at Scudetto, Hellas had certainly taken theirs.

Maybe we’ll see Hellas in Serie A again and hope that against all odds they can bring the Scudetto to the City of eternal lovers.

The land of Romeo and Juliet can’t find the eternal happiness just yet.

A decade back world was a different place. A year of 2001 has been an iconic year and it will be remembered for demise of George Harrison, Sir Don Bradman, Robert Ludlum, horrors of 9/11 and Afghan war which was brought upon us. But it also gave us something to remember.

It happened in Italy. The season of 2001-02 gave us a thrilling chase for The Scudetto. It has been by far one of the best Serie A season in my memory. Of course there have been seasons all over the world where the titles have been decided on the last day. But this season was like no other. After so many twists and turns throughout the season, three teams headed into the final day with a chance to win the title.

With the fate in their own hands Inter, Juventus and AS Roma entered into final day all with a chance to clinch the title. But it was Juve who snatched the title as Inter suffered a dramatic meltdown in Rome.

The world also saw return of El Fenómeno, Ronaldo on the pitch after a lengthy absence of one and half year due to horrific injury. Ronaldo again got injured but regained full fitness just in time to return in last 4 matches for Inter.

Juventus having lost previous two titles to Roma and Lazio by 2 and 1 point were eager to shake up nervousness in the final run in and claim their 26th title. Roma were defending champions and were looking solid under Fabio Capello.

Crazy Transfer Season

With the World Cup looming large in the summer of 2002, Italian teams got super busy in the 2001 summer transfer window. Among 18 teams, staggering 230 players were signed and 198 were transferred out. With an average of 12 players per team signed in and 11 signed out, it surely must’ve been a craziest transfer season.

Juventus sold Zinédine Zidane to Real Madrid for a record fee of €86.5M and paid exuberant €54M to Parma for Gianluigi Buffon, making him world’s most expensive Goalkeeper. Juve also paid Parma €36.5M for Lilian Thuram and also bought Pavel Nedved from Lazio for €41M. Inter certainly had been a busiest team in the League. They actually bought an entire additional squad as an addition to their current players. Have a look at Inter’s second XI below.

Subs: GK Fontana, DF Padalino, MF Guly, Brncic, FW Adriano, Ventola

Lazio bought Manchester United defender Jaap Stam, Valencia midfielder Gaizka Mendieta and the promising Stefano Fiore and Parma bought Japanese superstar Hidetoshi Nakata and goalkeeper Sébastien Frey. AC Milan They bought young Italy U-21 superstar Andrea Pirlo from Inter, and executed a very strange deal with Juventus. Milan had bought youngsters Cristian Zenoni and Massimo Donati from Atalanta, but within hours had sent Cristian Zenoni and cash to Juventus in exchange for Filippo Inzaghi. One of the big sagas of the summer was the destination of new superstar Antonio Cassano, who had Juventus and Roma fighting for his signature. Cassano chose Roma, defending champions.

This merry go round was for the managers as well. After 2 disappointing seasons, Juventus sacked Carlo Ancelotti in the summer and brought back Marcello Lippi from Inter. Inter signed Héctor Cúper from Valencia as their manager. Milan was hoping to not repeat last season’s disappointment, and hired Turkish manager Fatih Terim. He was sacked in midseason and was replaced by Ancelotti. Lazio had fired Dino Zoff in the summer and signed Alberto Zaccheroni.

Fiorentina confirmed Roberto Mancini as their coach but after a run of poor results, sacked him and appointed Ottavio Bianchi. Bianchi too was sacked within 2 months and then was replaced by Luciano Chiarugi. Venezia, Udinese, Leece and Fiorentina all changed coaches during the season. Renzo Ulivieri at Parma was sacked in November and was replaced by Daniel Passarella, but he too was sacked within a month and replaced by Pietro Carmignani.

Season Unfolding

Above four components made the season very interesting. Newly promoted Chievo Verona under Luigi Delneri, stole the hearts of the football lovers and heartbeats of the opponents by their incredible performances. They not only finished 5th in the league, they actually led the league for 5 weeks and were one of the strong contenders for the title.

In the wake of World Cup starting in June 2002, Serie A started in August than usual September.

Juventus’s blistering start

Matchday 1-2

In the season opener Mohammed Kallon and Christian Vieri scored twice to give Inter a 4-1 thrashing of Perugia at Home. In Turin David Trezeguet’s 2 goals in 2 minutes and 2 by Il Capitano Alessandro Del Piero helped Juventus to score 4 unanswered goals against Venezia while Chievo travelled to Florence for their first even top flight game, shocked the world by beating Fiorentina 0-2. Defending champions Roma threw away lead against Chievo’s city rivals Hellas Verona and could only draw 1-1.

Corradi and Cassato scored for Chievo against Bologna at home in Matchday 2. Del Piero and Trezeguet ensured an easy 0-2 away win at Alatanta. Inter conceded an 85th minute equaliser against Parma and salvaged 2-2 draw. Roma’s bad luck continued as they too conceded 90th minute goal against Udinese at home and posted a 2nd consecutive draw.

Matchday 3

In the top of the table clash Juventus hosted Chievo at Stadio delle Alpi and produced a thrilling spectacle. Del Piero had 2 chances within 8 minutes from the start. The deadlock was broken by Chievo through a mistake from Buffon when he spilled the ball from the corner in front of Marazinna and he just slotted the ball in the net. Chievo shocked the Old Lady by taking 0-2 lead within 20 minutes. Tacchinardi’s volley a minute later brought one goal back. Juve then created host of chances and scored an equaliser through Tudor’s header on 40th minute. On the 83rd minute, Marcelo Salas’s chip hit the crossbar and hit the defender’s hand on the rebound. Referee awarded the penalty to Juve which Salas coolly converted. The match ended in 3-2 score line although there could’ve been many more goals.

Inter’s match against Venezia too provided thrilling finish. Inter took a lead through Kallon’s penalty and conceded an 89th minute equaliser. It was Adriano (remember him? Yes, he was signed in the summer from Flamengo for €7M before being loaned out in January) in the injury time pounced on a loose ball when his header was saved and scored a dramatic winner.

Roma slumped to a 2-0 defeat against Piacenza.


Flight of “The Flying Donkeys”

Next 6 games were no less than miraculous for Chievo. The Flying Donkeys grabbed 14 points out of 18 available by winning 4 games and drawing 2.

In Matchday 4 they beat Piacenza 4-2, 1-2 victory against Udinese in Matchday 5. In Matchday 7, Chievo could’ve made a history by winning 3 games in a row but they conceded 80th Minute equaliser against Brescia and earned a 2-2 draw. In Matchday 8 Parma was beaten 1-0, In Matchday 9 Chievo put 3 goals past Torino and in Matchday 10 they played out 0-0 draw at Venezia.

AS Roma quietly got on with their business and started a voyage of 24 unbeaten games. Roma too picked up 14 points from maximum 18 available in 6 games.

In Matchday 4, Roma came back from behind to beat Fiorentina 2-1 at home, thanks to Panucci’s 87th minute goal. Matchday 5 was an emphatic 0-2 win against Juventus at Stadio Delle Alpi. After playing a boring 0-0 draw against Perugia, Roma thrashed Leece 5-1 in Matchday 8 at Home. Matchday 9 was a “Derby della Capitale” against Lazio which was won 2-0 by Roma. In Matchday 10 Roma drew 1-1 against Atalanta.

Matchday 4 saw Ronaldo making comeback for the 1st time after a lengthy absence of one and half year due to Injury and 2 operations on his knee. Ronaldo was an unused sub in a 0-1 victory against Torino. He did not feature in 1-0 victory against Bologna and in a 1-1 Draw against Udinese. Matchday 8 was a “Derby della Madonnina” and Inter suffered a humiliating 2-4 defeat in the hands of AC Milan which was their 1st of the season. Next up was a trip to Juventus which ended in a 0-0 draw. Inter recovered from this mini slump and beat Leece 2-0 at home. Ronaldo didn’t feature in any of these 3 games as well.

Juventus however had a miserable run of 6 games in which they could manage to pick up only 5 points. Juve drew with Leece (0-0), Torino (3-3), Bologna (0-0), Inter (0-0), Hellas Verona (2-2) and lost to Roma in the Matchday 5.


AS Roma tightened the screws

Matchday 11-15 and 6.

Matchday 6 was played between Matchday 15 and 16.

Roma continued their resurgence and posted 4 wins in a row (1-3 vs. Bologna, 1-0 vs. Vicenza, 1-2 vs. Parma and 1-0 vs. AC Milan), sandwiched between 2 draws (0-0 draw against Inter in Matchday 11 and 0-0 draw in Matchday 6). They picked up 14 out of 18 points and surged up to 3rd place.

Inter too, posted 3 wins in a row in Matchday 12, 13 and 14 against Fiorentina (2-0), Atalanta (2-4) and Brescia (1-3) respectively. In the match against Brescia, Ronaldo played for 66 minutes and opened the scoring for Inter. In Matchday 6 against Hellas Verona, Ronaldo again scored a brace in 3-0 win.

Chievo maintaining their impressive form won 2-0 vs. Perugia and a hat trick of wins in Matchday 14, 15 and 6 against Leece (2-0), Inter (1-2) and Lazio (3-1). They however lost to first ever Verona derby against Hellas Verona 3-2, after squandering a 0-2 lead. Chievo squandered 1-2 lead against AC Milan in Matchday 13 and lost 3-2.

Juventus too, had a series of mixed results. Apart from winning against Parma (3-1), Perugia (2-0) and Piacenza (2-0), Juve drew against Milan and Fiorentina and lost to Lazio (1-0).

Chievo’s 2 defeats saw their lead at the summit reduced to only 1 point and Inter ready to pounce on any slip up. Steady performances by Inter and Roma, Juventus’s erratic form saw them in the 4th place, 7 points adrift of the leaders Chievo.

Old Lady joins the party

Matchday 16-21

Although Juventus were 7 points behind, they were unbeaten in their last 4 games and were firing all cylinders. Juve now had turned the tide. They extended their unbeaten streak to 10 games and posted 6 wins in a row, picking 18 out of 18 points.

In Matchday 16 Juve thumped Brescia 0-4, and Inter defeated Piacenza 2-3. Chievo met Roma at home and were hoping to maintain the lead at the summit. Roma got a corner on the 25th minute and Emerson’s header was heroically saved by the goalkeeper but resulted in another corner. This time Emerson rose again and headed the ball in the net. But in the 53rd minute Roma’s goalkeeper Antonioli got sent off for stupidly bringing down Marazzina on the edge of the box. This sending off galvanised Roma and they scored 2 more goals without a reply. Chievo were comprehensively beaten by the defending champions.

In the next game, Juve put 3 goals past Udinese while Roma and Chievo too got 1-0 and 1-2 victories respectively. Inter’s 0-0 draw at home against Lazio meant Roma take the lead at the top of the table for the first time in the season.

Chievo threw away 2-1 lead against Fiorentina when Adriano (on loan from Inter) scored another 90th minute goal to salvage 2-2 draw for the Violas. Roma hosting Hellas Verona went down 0-2 within 53 minutes through Adrian Mutu’s brace. But an incredible fight back saw Roma equalising through Assunção and Cassano by 63rd minute. Fabio Capello had brought on Gabriel Batistuta for Zebina in the 46th minute. Batigol scored a winner in the 89th minute to maintain Roma’s lead at the top.

Juventus now in top gear, went on to comfortably beat Atalanta (3-0), Chievo (1-3) and Leece (3-0). Roma and Inter could only win once and draw twice while Chievo’s slump had started. They lost twice in a row and drew against Piacenza saw them losing ground to leaders by 7 points.

Matchday 16 saw Ronaldo getting injured again and faced another lengthy term on the sidelines.

Relentless Inter at the Summit

Matchday 22-29

Roma and Juve both hit some sort of mini slump and lost the ground on Inter. In the next 8 games, Inter lost against Bologna (2-1), and then won their next 3 games in a row against Hellas Verona (0-3), Udinese (3-2) and a derby victory against AC Milan (0-1).

Juve meanwhile played a goal less draw against Roma, defeated Fiorentina (2-1), drew 2-2 in the Turin derby against Torino and had beaten Bologna (2-1).

Matchday 26 was between Inter and Juve at San Siro. Clarence Seedorf hit a 30 yard bullet shot in the 6th minute to put Inter ahead. David Trezeguet scored a headed goal in the 13th minute to bring parity. In 81st minute, unmarked Igor Tudor scored a header to put Juventus ahead. But Seedorf had another plans. In the injury time he unleashed another missile in the top left corner, this time from 40 yards. Match ended in a pulsating 2-2 draw.

Roma meanwhile had managed 3 win and 3 draws in their 6 games. After drawing to Juve in the matchday 22, they drew blank again against Brescia. Roma managed to beat Perugia by a solitary goal and drew again to Leece (1-1).

While Inter and Juve were locked in an epic battle at San Siro, Roma played “Derby della Capitale” at Stadio Olimpico against Lazio. Roma annihilated their eternal arch rivals 1-5 in which Vicenzo Montella scored incredible 4 goals.

Blessed by Seedorf’s lifeline, Inter won their next game against Leece (1-2).

Matchday 28 was a top of the table clash between Inter and Roma. Both teams went in the match on same points. Inter mercilessly thumped Roma 3-1 and on the same day Juventus too, lost to Parma after conceding 87th minute goal.

Juve came from behind to draw their next game against Lazio (1-1). While Inter and Roma both posted wins against Fiorentina and Bologna respectively.

This Juventus’ slump pushed them down to the third spot and opened up 6 point gap to the leaders Inter. With 5 games to go in the season and 3 point lead over Roma, it was surely Inter’s title to lose. And it turned out to be exactly that way.

Old Lady’s heat starts a meltdown

Matchday 30-33

What happened next is some sort of miracle.

Old Lady of Turin suddenly woke up from her cocoon and posted 4 wins in a row. First Juve beat Perugia (4-0) and then a lucky own goal by José Antonio Chamot helped them to nick a 1-0 victory against Milan. Juve held on to their nerves and through Pavel Nedved’s 88th minute goal, beat Piacenza (1-0). In the penultimate game against Brescia, a Trezeguet hatrick and Del Piero brace helped them to thump Brescia 5-0. Juve sneaked past Roma into the 2nd spot with this win.

Sluggish Inter lost to Atalanta at home (1-2) but the next game against Brescia saw the return of El Fenómeno to the full fitness. Ronaldo inspired Inter and scored a brace in defeating Brescia 2-1. In the next match against Chievo, Dalmat and Ronaldo put Inter in the lead (1-2) but they went off to sleep in the injury time when unmarked Cossato coolly slotted the ball past Toldo to make it 2-2. Inter woke up by this alarm and then thrashed Piacenza 3-1 in the penultimate game and maintained the lead in the table.

On the other hand, AS Roma recovered from being 2-0 down to draw 2-2 against Venezia, defeated Parma (3-1), drew a crucial game against AC Milan 0-0 and in the penultimate game thrashed Chievo (5-0) in which Montella again scored a hat trick. Roma lost a ground on Inter and traded the place with Juve because of these draws.

Capital Meltdown

So after so many twists and turns, on 5th May 2002, all teams entered into the final Matchday for a simultaneous kick off.

The points table and head to head results meant all three teams had an opportunity to win the Scudetto.

Inter had the title in their own hands. A win or same results by all teams would be insuring the title for Inter. But Inter’s draw and Win by Juventus would take the title to Turin. A draw by Inter and Juve but a Roma win would mean Roma will be the Champions. Juventus would have had to better Inter’s result and Roma would have had to better Juventus AND Inter’s result for the championship.

Interestingly all the three teams travelled away from home for the last game. Inter travelled to Lazio (AS Roma’s Rivals), Roma travelled to Torino (Juventus’ Rivals) and Juventus travelled to Udinese. All the three stadiums were packed by Away fans, hoping for their team to clinch the title. All eyes on the ground and ears on their radios, fans sat nervously watching the game.

An interesting factor was developing between Lazio and Inter game. Lazio ultras ‘Irriducibili’ have a strongest friendship with the ultras of Inter. So on the last day many fans of Lazio were supporting Inter, their opposition, hoping they would claim the Scudetto instead of hated rival Juventus and Roma.

What happened on the Matchday can be termed as a Meltdown in Rome.

Juventus’ David Trezeguet opened the scoring with a simple header in the 2nd minute.

Trezeguet’s cross from the left side of the half line on 11th minute, released Alessandro Del Piero in space on the right. Del Piero gave a perfect first touch to the ball and let it roll perfectly in front before unleashing a fierce right foot shot in the bottom corner of the net. 0-2 up.

Title was going to Turin.

Stadio Friuli full of Juventus supporters held on to their breath and switched their ears towards Rome.

Switch to Rome.

12th Minute in Rome. Inter got a corner and the ball was swung in. Lazio keeper Peruzzi rose to claim it but very conveniently spilled the ball in the feet of Christian Vieri, who put the ball in the net and immediately took his shirt off and ran emphatically. 0-1 at Rome.

Title was going to Milan.

19th Minute in Rome. Lazio’s Karel Poborsky pounced on a loose ball in the box and scored for Lazio against the run of play, the plan and mainly the fans. 1-1. Pin drop silence in the stadium. Both sets of fans became unhappy.

Title was again heading towards Turin.

23rd minute in Rome. Inter got a corner after Fernando Couto needlessly put the ball behind. Diego Simeone failed to mark Luigi Di Biagio at the near post and he flicked a header in for a goal. 1-2. Stadio Olimpico erupted.

Title again made a U-turn towards Milan.

45th Minute in Rome. Inter’s Vratislav Greško’s header towards his own keeper fell short and in the feet of charging Karel Poborsky. Poborsky could do nothing but slot the ball into the net. 2-2.

Half Time in the Capital, and the Title was heading towards Turin.

55th Minute in Rome. A free kick to Lazio. Critiano Zanetti failed to mark Diego Simeone and he scored an easy header. 3-2.

Meanwhile Alessando Nesta of Lazio made a goal like clearance. Inter’s hopes were quickly fading into obscurity.

73rd Minute in Rome. Unmarked Simone Inzaghi scored a header past Toldo to make it 4-2. Ronaldo had given his all and was clearly spent. He was substituted in the 77th Minute. Ronaldo had barely made it to the bench and couldn’t keep his emotions and started sobbing.

Inter had blown it up.

News of Inzaghi’s header sent Juve’s supporters in Stadio Friuli into hysteria. Lazio’s ultras were getting unhappy to see their team win.

Meanwhile Antonio Cassano scored for Roma against Turin and that rubbed further salt in Inter’s wounds.

Full time whistle brought happiness in Turin, sorrow in Milan and anger in Rome. Juventus grabbed their 26th Scudetto.

Incredible thing about Juve’s win was they led the table for only 5 weeks. After leading the table for initial 4 weeks, Juve returned to the top only after Matchday 23 before getting knocked down to 3rd place again.

Have a look at their standings after each match day.

Juventus kept their cool while Roma and Inter simply choked up at crucial stages.

This act of betrayal by Lazio players was taken seriously by ‘Irriducibili’ Ultras and they demanded Lazio manager Alberto Zaccheroni to be sacked.

Not only Lazio sacked Alberto Zaccheroni but also transferred two goals scorer Karel Poborsky to Sparta Prague.

After all those wrong things in 2001, the season finale will always be remembered.

Stanley Rous, ex FIFA president had correctly said,

“If this can be termed the century of the common man, then soccer, of all sports, is surely his game…. In a world haunted by the hydrogen and napalm bomb, the football field is a place where sanity and hope are still left unmolested.”

A look at “Il Perugia dei miracoli” (The Miracle of Perugia) and their unbeaten Serie A season.

Perugia, a province in region Umbria (Central Italy) has given the mankind its greatest gift, Monica Bellucci. It was 1978 when 14- year old Monica began her glamorous career by accepting modeling offers from local enthusiasts; it was also the same year when non glamorous football club from the same province A.C. Perugia Calcio embarked on amazing journey in the club’s history.

Perugia came into limelight during 2002 FIFA World Cup, when Chairman Luciano Gaucci cancelled the contract of South Korean player Ahn Jung-Hwan after he scored a golden goal against Italy to knock them out. He was quoted as saying, “I have no intention of paying a salary to someone who has ruined Italian football.” He also tried to sign Hanna Ljungberg and Birgit Prinz, two female footballers in his squad.

1978, A year when Franco Baresi made his début for AC Milan at the age of 17 and Paolo Rossi had worked wonders for Vicenza; Perugia became the first team in Serie A to finish the league season undefeated. But it was mighty AC Milan under the legendary captaincy of Gianni Rivera in the final year of his career, that lifted the Scudetto after 11 years.


Having spent all the years in lower divisions of Italian football, Perugia got promoted to Serie B in 1967-68, when Monica Bellucci turned 3. She turned 10 and they won Serie B title and earned a promotion to Serie A.

Perugia appointed Ilario Castanger, a former Perugia player as their manager in 1974. Under his tactics, Perugia adopted 1-3-2-3-1 formation. They quickly established themselves in the league. In a tragedy in a match against Juventus in 1977, saw midfield dynamo and 24-year old star Renato Curi collapsed due to heart attack and passed away. In the beginning of the season, they sold their forward Walter Novellino to Milan who went on to play in all the Milan’s matches and scoring 4 goals. It was in the 4th year of club’s history in the top flight football, “Perugia dei miracoli” happened.

The Squad:

Perugia used a extremely small squad, using only 16 players throughout the season. Everyone except the 2nd goalkeeper featured in more than 12 matches. In the days of only 1 substitution per game, this is an incredible testimonial to the fitness levels at the club.


Nello Malizia (28 games): He had joined Perugia in their historic Serie A promotion campaign in 1974 and stayed till 1982, making 133 appearances.


Antonio Ceccarini (29 games): Nicknamed ‘The Tiger’ for his determination and aggression, played on the left side of defence. Ceccarini joined Perugia in 1976 and played till end of his career in 1983.

Mauro Della Martira (29 games): He had joined from Fiorentina in the 1978 season. He made 51 appearances in 2 seasons. He was convicted in Totonero scandal (betting and fixing scandal) in 1980 and got 5 year ban which was reduced to 3 years.

Pierluigi Frosio (24 games): Captain of the team, joined Perugia in 1974 and ended his career with them after 11 years, making 323 appearances. He played as a sweeper.

Michele Nappi (21 games): A rightback joined in 1974 and made 213 appearances for Perugia till his move to AS Roma in 1982. He returned to Perugia after spending 2 seasons in the capital.


Salvatore Bagni (28 games): A right midfielder joined Perugia in 1977. He left for Inter in 1981, having played in 109 matches and scoring 24 goals for Perugia. He played for Italian U-21 while at Perugia.

Cesare Butti (26 games): A central midfielder arrived from Torino in 1978 season and played till 1982, making 114 appearances for the club.

Paolo Dal Fiume (28 games): He formed a strong defensive central midfield partnership with Butti. He was signed from Pergocrema in 1977, remained with Perugia till 1982, making 108 appearances.

Franco Vannini (17 games): Without a doubt a star of the team. He was the fulcrum of Perugia. Signed from Como in 1974, he played in only 17 games in 1978 season. An injury against Inter ended his career. He’d scored 29 goals in 128 matches.


Gianfranco Casarsa (28 games): Signed from Fiorentina in 1978 season, he scored 6 times in 60 appearances for Perugia in 3 years.

Walter Speggiorin (26 games): He joined from Napoli in 1977 and rejoined them after 1978-79 season. In his 2 years stay at the club, he scored 17 times n 44 matches. From Serie A’s standards in that era, you can call it as a prolific goal scorer.

The Season unfolding:

* Please note 2 points were awarded for win, 1 for a draw and 0 for a loss.

Perugia and AC Milan ran neck to neck for much of the season. It was AC Milan’s grit and determination to convert losses into draws and draws into wins helped them to clinch their 10th league title. Although Milan lost 3 games in the season compared to Perugia’s 0, they also won 6 more games than Perugia.

Match day 1-10: The season started with Perugia at Home, beating Vicenza 2-0 in which Bagni and Dal Fiume got on the score sheet. In the next game vs. Inter at San Siro, Perugia came back from behind to score an equalizer in the 87th Minute through Marco Cacciatori. In the next two games, Perugia beat Fiorentina 1-0 at home and Juventus 1-2 away. Perugia drew 0-0 against Avellino at home in the next game and in the next two games; they beat Atalanta 0-2 away and 2-0 Ascoli at Home. Match day 8 and 9 ended with 0-0 draws against AS Roma at Stadio Olimpico and Torino at home.

Match day 10 was against AC Milan at San Siro. Franco Vannini hit the post in the 1st minute of the game before opening the scoring in the 3rd minute. But Roberto Antonelli equalized in 62nd minute through 25 yard drive by latching on a beautiful reverse pass by Gianni Rivera.

Milan meanwhile picked up 6 wins, 3 draws and had lost to Juve, scoring 17 goals on the go. Perugia and Milan entered the round 11 with same points, but Milan leading on Goal difference.

Matchday 11-16: Perugia’s early season thrust faded in this period. They drew to Napoli 1-1 at Stadio San Paolo which was their 4th draw in a row. In the next game they beat US Catanzaro 1-0, thanks to Walter Speggiorin’s 62nd minute goal. Perugia squandered one goal lead to Verona in the 88th minute and drew 1-1. Next match against Lazio at Stadio Olimpico ended 0-0. In the next game Perugia, playing at home, posted their biggest win of the season beating Bologna 3-1. It was the first time and only time when they scored 3 goals in a league match. By this time first round of league fixtures got over and reverse fixtures had started. Perugia again drew against Vicenza 1-1.

While Perugia could pick up only 8 points from 6 matches, Milan had collected 10 points by winning 5 matches in a row before surprisingly going down to Avellino on the matchday 16.

Matchday 17: It wouldn’t be wrong to say that this game was a definitive turning point in the way season went on to shape up. Perugia was playing against Inter at Home and Milan was at Home to Roma. Milan having lost the earlier game, Perugia were hoping to close the gap and praying for Roma to inflict another defeat on Milan. Inter were just 2 points adrift of Perugia and were hoping to beat them and swap the positions. Inter had scored 2 goals in the first half through Altobelli and Muraro. Franco Vannini pulled one back in 53rd minute. But later on Adrian Fedele of Inter launched himself into Vannini for a horrific tackle which ended his career. Perugia having to play with 10 men dramatically scored in 92nd minute through Antonio ‘The Tiger’ Ceccarini. This was the only goal of his career of 365 matches.

The injury to Vannini proved pivotal in Perugia’s league campaign as well as history. The club lost its star midfield dynamo and most creative player.

In the other game at San Siro, Milan beat Roma 1-0 with the help of 80th Minute penalty by Roberto Antonelli.

The impact of the Matchday 17 on the standings was like this,

Matchday 18-25: Now it was AC Milan’s turn to slip up. In the next 6 games, Milan and Perugia could pick up only 8 points by winning twice and drew 4 games. Perugia’s run in was certainly tougher than Milan’s. After snatching dramatic draw against Inter, they travelled to Florence and drew 1-1 against Fiorentina before hosting Juventus for another 0-0 draw. In the next 2 games Perugia saw off Avellino 1-0 and Atalanta 2-0, Salvatore Bagni scoring two of those 3 goals. The matchday 24 saw Milan getting beaten by Napoli at San Siro by Valerio Majo’s goal on 40th Minute. But Perugia couldn’t take any advantage of this slip up and only drew 0-0 at Torino. Had Perugia won this game, it would’ve been only 1 point difference rather than existing 2.

Matchday 25 was a reverse fixture between Perugia and Milan at home. Milan took a lead through Stefano Chiodi’s 15th minute penalty. But as soon as the game restarted, referee awarded a penalty to Perugia in the 17th minute which was converted by Gianfranco Casarsa. The game ended in 1-1 draw, which was Perugia’s 4th in a row.

Perugia’s inability to score another goal turned out to be greatest escape for Milan who maintained their 2 point lead going into last 5 games of the season.

Matchday 26-30:

Perugia won the next game 2-0 against Napoli at home and Milan thrashed Torino 0-3 away. Ironically Perugia and Milan’s next two games were against the same teams. Perugia played against Catanzaro and Verona. In both the games they threw away the lead and could only draw the games 1-1. But Milan showed the grit and determination to beat Verona 2-1 and in the next game beat Catanzaro 1-3.

These two consecutive wins by Milan in Matchday 27 and 28 decided the title as they took unassailable 4 points lead over Perugia with 2 fixtures to go. The inferior goal difference and less goals scored had washed away any mathematical chances as well.

That’s it. Perugia had blown it off.

In the next round’s meaningless match against Lazio, Perugia won 2-0 and drew the final game against Bologna 2-2. Milan having already secured the title mathematically played out boring 0-0 and 1-1 draws against Bologna and Lazio.

Matchday 30 saw AC Milan winning the title for the 10th time and acquiring the ‘Star’ above their crest. The Final standing read like this.

There’s an interesting story about Perugia’s last week draw against Bologna.

Italian clubs over the years had maintained the unspoken football rule that you just don’t score near the end of a late-season game which has no meaning for your own side but carries a lot of significance for the other team, which has led to series of dodgy draws and losses in last couple of weeks. Perugia had already lost the title to Milan and had cemented the 2nd spot. They travelled to Bologna, themselves desperate for at least a draw in order to avoid the drop to Serie B.

Most of the fans believed a draw was definitely on the cards, but lack of awareness about such rule led Salvatore Bagni to score twice in the first half and a cloud of despair and disbelief descended on the Stadio Dall’Ara. Before the half had ended, a Bologna defender elbowed Bagni in the face, sending him the message he had gone too far, and when Perugia took the field for the second half Bagni was nowhere to be seen, having been taken off. Inevitably, Bologna scored twice and avoided the drop on goal difference.

Points Tally and League Position after each matchday:

AC Milan had acquired the top spot in the league after the Matchday 2 by 1 point and never surrendered it. Perugia on the other hand, never gave up their 2nd spot in the whole season.

Statistically let’s see how the season actually went.

The ratio of 1.90 goals per game had been lowest in past 5 seasons.

19 draws by Perugia is a record for most draws in a season for any 2nd placed team. They were involved in all the possible scores from the permutation combination of the numbers 0 to 2. Of course since they were undefeated, for the home games the score lines of 0-1, 0-2, 1-2 and for away games 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 are not possible. Take a look at all the scores by Perugia in the season.

10 out of 30 games ended in 1-1 score line and 7 out of those 10 games were played away from home. Also only 3 wins out of 15 away matches speak a great volume about the away form.

Perugia deserves a special mention to have gone through a season without collecting a single card, whether it is yellow or red. This exceptional disciplinary record is a rarity in football, especially in Italian football.

Perugia’s tally of 34 goals in 30 games has been a lowest for any 2nd placed team in the past decade. There’s no doubt that Perugia’s goal shyness was a chief architect for their inability to win the title. Only 9 players contributed to the goal tally of 34.

The goal scoring distribution according to position is gives the real picture of Perugia’s set up and style of play. The Modus operandi had been Possession football. They relied heavily on their Midfielders to surge ahead and get in the box and pounce on the opportunity after a slow build up play.

Perugia only conceded 16 goals in 30 games. Theirs was the meanest defence in the league that season. Next best was AC Milan with 3 more goals conceded. Their defence was so tight that they conceded more than one goal only twice in the season. This is Perugia’s best ever defensive performance in Italian top flight football.

It is true that if you don’t leak goals if you don’t lose matches and you don’t win the matches if you don’t score more goals than other team. But it is also true that if you don’t win championships if you don’t win more matches than the other team.

The comparison is in between Perugia’s performance in last 4 years vs Serie A Champions. We can see in terms of goals scored, on an average of 47 goals per season would’ve won them the League title. Perugia fell short of that mark by 15 goals. Their goal scoring performance was consistent throughout 4 years.

But how AC Milan and Perugia did fared against each other in terms of showing the grit and grinding down the results. I have considered the following type of results for this type of comparison.

  1. Drawing the game from losing position
  2. Coming from behind to win the game
  3. Winning the game from scoring draw situation. I.e. winning 2-1 after 1-0, 1-1.
  4. Throwing the leads and earning only a draw
  5. Outright wins
  6. Losses

Perugia came back in the game and managed a draw more than AC Milan but Rossoneri’s sheer experience and quality all around the park enabled them to convert more wins from draws than Perugia could manage. Milan not only secured 3 more outright wins, they also threw away matches from winning position less often than Perugia.

Maybe because the final point difference between AC Milan and Perugia was only 3 points, it might not show the difference between them. But according to the current system of 3 points per win, the difference would become 61 – 52 = 9; that equals 3 wins.

Just take a look at the difference between the matches in which Perugia and Milan threw away the lead only to salvage the draws. It is exactly of 3 wins.

If Perugia had kept more concentration in 2 matches against Verona when they let the equalizer after 80 minutes and one game against Roma when they gave away the equalizer in injury time, the small provincial team too could have taken a first step on the big stage just like their icon did. Monica Bellucci.

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