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Those who have been (un)fortunate to have followed me for a while on Twitter may have noted an ever so slight increase of Italian football related tweets. The augmentation has not had any outward agenda, nor was I consciously turning it up. But recently, and for a few reasons, I have been falling in love with Calcio.
There, I said it.
As for the reasons, some of them are straightforward, like the fact that I purchased a subscription to ESPN (this is a great deal by the way, and ends in 9 days’ time)
Secondly, I have been following a whole host of calcio enthusiasts on Twitter. I have never seen such enthusiasm for another league, least of all the Premier League, where the cynicism, mindless ‘banter’ and fickle fans put me off it more and more every week. No, these calico fans have opened my eyes to the romance of the Italian game, which prevails despite its counterparts in other countries waning to the point of extinction. Where is the romance in the Premier League? In hateful fans with little to no reason to hate other than the fact that they are being priced out of watching their team? What about the Liga BBVA in Spain? Wasn’t it romantic when minnows Levante beat Real Madrid in a match that was less about football and more about who could be a bigger bunch of wailing, whining, dirty, underhand (insert profanity here)?
By romantic, I mean the way that the fans and writers of calcio idolise players in such a way as the current-day Premier League could never do. Pippo Inzaghi springs to mind; Baggio too. Even Gazza, whose spell at Lazio was hardly a triumph, elicits fond memories from Biancocelesti fans. It’s hard to imagine the same being the case if, say, Francesco Totti had played in England and been injured for a while, and how well can you imagine Cassano being received? Given the amount of people who have told me they ‘hate’ Balotelli for being a ‘****’, it’s hard to imagine some of the equally flavoursome characters in the Italian game being well received over here, though whether that is a comment on the Premier League or on the underlying soupçon of xenophobia is another question for another day.
So far in 2011/2012, Serie A matches have enjoyed 2.8 goals per match, a tiny bit more than the Premier League at 2.69. I don’t think this is a particularly important statistic, but I thought it interesting given that many English football fans (including a friend of mine who I shared a drink with today) condemn Seria A for being ‘boring’. For my eyes, it is more interesting in the following ways:
1) Tactics – Please comment if I am incorrect, but show me an English Premier League team that plays 3 in defence, either in a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-3. A high-profile case is the recently departed Inter manager Gian Piero Gasperini, who is fiercely loyal to his 3-4-3 formation and whose tactical stubbornness ultimately cost him his job. Since watching Serie A more, I’ve been enthralled by the different tactical approaches by various teams, from the devastating counter-attacking game of Napoli to Juventus’ use of wide-players and creative central-midfielders. Even Palermo’s 4-4-2 in their win against Inter seemed much more exciting than the stodgy, inflexible equivalents we see in the Premier League.
2) The Italian players – At the risk of this article sounding incredibly unpatriotic (and I fear that may have happened already), the Italian players themselves are, if I may use a sweeping generalisation, ‘better’. Look at the great players from England’s last generation. Steven Gerrard runs fast and for a long time and kicks the ball very hard. Wayne Rooney runs for a long time, plays good cross-field balls and kicks the ball very hard. Frank Lampard used to run for a long time, run forward a bit and kick the ball very hard. For more patriotic Englishmen and women, they are all so ‘passionate’ and with sleeves adorned with pumping hearts, that they become world-class. Perhaps I should have been born in a different country, but I would have preferred to have spent the last ten years watching Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta defend at such a high level and with such minimal fuss that it seems they never broke into a sweat. I would rather have watched Andrea Pirlo treat the ball like a childhood sweetheart while Rino Gattuso showed how to have three or four hearts on his sleeve while still proving fantastically effective as carrilero. Give me the Italian artists del Piero and Totti (over 500 goals between them) over Shearer and Sheringham.
3) Where else could you find this guy? Stelling, Merson, Thompson etc, take note.
I think my point has been made, possibly too many times now. I haven’t even touched about the fact that this season’s Serie A should be incredibly exciting and, most of all, unpredictable, with AC Milan, Juventus, Napoli, Inter, Roma, Lazio, Udinese, Palermo all fantastic teams with high ambitions, that’s all for another piece. I hope that this piece might encourage you to watch a little more Italian football and to change whatever negative perceptions you may have had.
And in case you have Twitter and would like to follow some Calcio experts/enthusiasts, following this lot would be a good place to start: