Saturday, 6 June 2015

1985: A Season With Bagnoli's Verona

May 12, 1985. It’s a date indelibly marked in the minds of all Hellas Verona fans. The tactical nous of coach Osvaldo Bagnoli coupled with the stewardship of president Celestino Guidotti and ex-player turned sporting director Emiliano Mascetti, had ensured Verona reached the pinnacle. May 12, 1985 – the day theGialloblu drew 1-1 in Bergamo and secured their only Serie A title to date.

The Veronesi have always been one of the most vocal, fiercely loyal and controversial set of supporters in Italy. Sitting in the Veneto, a region that traditionally garners support for the more powerful Milan clubs, they and their club revel in their outsider status. But Bagnoli's Verona side in the 1980s were the perfect fit. Players of varying ability, who had spent time on the fringes of larger clubs and had a point to prove, were brought together under a new collective spirit, fostered by Bagnoli through his affable man-management style. Suddenly they had a focus, a work ethic and a sense of belief.

Bagnoli joined Hellas in 1981 after several years managing in the lower leagues with Solbiatese, Como, Rimini, Fano and Cesena.  After leaving the Gialloblu in 1990 he went on to coach Genoa and Inter. He took Genoa to fourth in the standings in his first year in charge. It was the Rossoblu’s best finish for more than 50-years. This was a coach who knew how to get the very best out of players and it was his achievements with Verona that truly astounded. 

Osvaldo Bagnoli was born on 3 July 1935 in Milan. Raised in a working class neighbourhood he played football in the streets from an early age and made a career as a hard tackling midfielder for Milan, Verona and Udinese in the 1950s and 60s.

Bagnoli was a modest man, who never lost sight of his roots or his beliefs. This led to misunderstandings about his character and ideology. He was viewed as a Communist by none other than Silvio Berlusconi who, reportedly, refused to hire him as AC Milan head coach because of his 'communist beliefs'.

At Verona however, he accomplished the impossible and achieved something that will likely not happen again for a long, long time. He took the Scaligeri from Serie B to the Serie A title in four seasons and also guided them to UEFA Cup qualification in the 1983/84 season. His teams were primarily defensive minded but were capable of producing devastating counter-attacking football. They were often built upon a core of Italians - hardworking, selfless players such as winger Pietro Fanna, midfielder Antonio Di Gennaro and striker Giuseppe Galderisi, who scored 11 goals in Verona’s title winning season and epitomised Bagnoli’s tactical approach. But Bagnoli’s Verona was also supplemented with two exceptional foreign imports – Danish striker Preben Elkjær Larsen and the German defender Hans-Peter Briegel.

As the 1984/85 season began, thoughts of winning the league were far from the minds of all the Veronesi.But as the season wore on, the players responded to Bagnoli’s methods and the side produced some memorable results. A decisive 2-0 win against Juventus was one of the season highlights, in particular the legendary goal ‘without a boot’ scored by Elkjær.

Having embarked on one of his characteristic lung-busting runs down wing, the Dane stripped Juve’s defence for pace only to lose a boot as a result of a flailing last-ditch attempt to stop him from entering the penalty area. Untroubled, Elkjaer maintained his equilibrium – minus a boot – cut inside another floundering Juve defender and stroked the ball past a helpless Stefano Tacconi. If ever a goal encapsulated the ethos of a team and their coach, it was this one. The perfect mix of vigour, persistence and talent. 

Other memorable victories followed. A 5-3 away win over Udinese rejuvenated the side as speculation rose the team were losing their grip on the title at the midway point of the season. Then three straight wins, including a hard fought 1–0 victory against a strong Roma served as notice that the team had kept its focus during their rival's final surge. And of course the definitive 1–1 draw in Bergamo against Atalanta, which secured the title with a game in hand.

Bagnoli’s men finished the season with 15 wins, 13 draws and only two defeats. A mean defence conceded only 19 goals in 30 games. Their total of 43-points was enough for them to be crowned champions as they finished four points ahead of Torino with Inter and Sampdoria completing the top four. The European Cup was the prize the following season, but they were knocked out in the Second Round by holders Juventus.

However, their triumph can also partly be attributed to the response of the Italian authorities to the 1980 match fixing scandal that saw Lazio and AC Milan relegated to Serie B. One of the major reforms recommended for Italian football in the wake of the betting scandal was for match officials to be randomly selected to officiate matches. The new way of selection came in to force for the start of the 1984/85 Serie A season.

Beforehand, the suspicion was that the selection process, carried out through an Italian FA committee, always paired the big clubs from Rome, Turin and Milan with favourable officials. In the two decades prior to Verona’s achievement, the title had only left those cities on one occasion.

But undoubtedly one of the most defining factors was BagnoliHe eHH was a terrific motivator of men, he knew how to get the best out of his players, both individually and as a team. The side had been gradually improving in the seasons leading up to 1984/85 and the signings of Briegel and Elkjær proved to be masterstrokes. In the summer of 1984, Diego Maradona landed in Italy and he joined other big name imports like Michel Platini (Juventus), Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (Inter), Falcao (Roma) and Zico (Udinese). But Briegel and Elkjær upstaged them all. Elkjær chipped in with eight league goals during the season and Briegel scored an incredible nine from defence.

Another remarkable stat about the title winning side was the use of only 17 players throughout the league campaign. Totally unthinkable in today’s modern game, winning the Scudetto with a squad of just 17 players is another reason why a success like Verona’s is unlikely to be repeated any time soon. While the players did the business on the field, Bagnoli prepared them both mentally and physically. He ensured they were always pulling in the same direction and for this he has to take immense credit.

Verona struggled to reach the same heights the following season, finishing a disappointing tenth. They also lost their talisman as Briegel departed for Sampdoria at the end of the 1985/86 season. Fanna headed off to Inter, with Galderisi, Di Gennaro and others all following over the next two years. A fourth place finish, and a return to European competition via the UEFA Cup in 1986/87 hinted at a return to former glories, but in truth, the side was slowly breaking up. Elkjær left at the end of the 1988 season and Verona struggled to finish above mid-table for a couple of years, with relegation inevitably following after a disastrous end to the 1989/90 season. Bagnoli also knew his time was up and left to coach Genoa.

His coaching career came to a close in 1994 after a short, unsuccessful stint at Inter where, as he later admitted, he earned a decent enough pension to allow him to retire at the age of 59. He still lives in the hills outside of Verona.

Referring to his coaching philosophy, Bagnoli once said "Football is a simple game. The important thing is to be lucky enough to find the right people to then put them in the right places; leaving them free to express themselves." 

30-years ago, he found exactly the right people and put them in exactly the right places at Verona.


Carpi FC 1909: Yes Claudio Lotito, they do exist

Football outside of the top flight is usually where you can find some real ‘diehard’ supporters, the supporters who follow their club through thick and thin, and more often than not, they rarely get anything back in return. Occasionally though, you find success stories, miracles even, and Italy has seen a few small clubs reach the top and gain promotion to Serie A. In this millennia Chievo, Siena and Sassuolo have all taken on Serie A’s elite and enjoyed success. This year another small club is on the verge of making history. That club is Carpi, and at the time of writing they sit 14 points clear at the top of Serie B, with one hand firmly on the title.

Carpi is a town which sits about 20km north of Modena in Emilia Romagna and has around 70,000 inhabitants. The club was founded in the summer of 1909 by local student Adolfo Fanconi as Jucunditas(Latin for "gaiety") before being renamed Associazione Calcio Carpi a few years later. Carpi played between Serie C and Serie D for much of their early history before folding in 2000 following relegation to Serie D and subsequent bankruptcy.

A new club, named Calcio Carpi, was formed and admitted to the non-professional category of Eccellenza Emilia–Romagna. In 2002, following promotion back to Serie D and a merger with the second team of the city, Dorando Pietri Carpi, the club were renamed Carpi FC 1909 and eventually worked their way up toLega Pro Prima Divisione in 2010-11. This rejuvenation showed no signs of slowing down and during the 2012/13 season, the team was promoted to Serie B for the first time in their history. It was the club's third promotion in just four seasons.

Carpi FC is owned by three people, Stefano Bonacini and Claudio Caliumi (who both own a share of 35.83%), and the club's President Roberto Marani who holds a 28.33% share. Bonacini, a knitwear industrialist with the “Gaudi” brand, is the CEO. It was he who merged the two Serie D teams and started the Biancorossi’s (White and Red’s) resurgence. 

But the club has scant resources. According to Carpi’s most recent available financial statements taken from the season that ended on June 30th, 2013, the clubs turnover was recorded at €3.15 million while the cost of players was €1.82 million. This sum accounted mainly for the player’s salaries, though the budget closed with a loss of €516. Recently, head coach, Fabrizio Castori, claimed the budget had been cut further “The team's budget this year has gone down, we are at less than €3 million,”

These are derisory sums in footballing terms and this is mainly due to their stadium – the Stadio Sandro Cabassi. Although it is a multi-purpose arena the capacity is only 4,144. This season Carpi’s average attendance has been a paltry 2,600 and questions remain over whether the ground will be a viable home next season in Serie A. This won’t dissuade the clubs Ultras however, (the Irriducibili) who will follow the club no matter where they play.

This is a team with virtually no footballing tradition but their current fairy-tale has seen Carpi become the major force in the city, and one of the most successful in the region of Emilia Romagna. This season they have encountered their bigger city rivals Modena and regional giants Bologna, a former great of Serie A. In the head to heads, Carpi are unbeaten against their so called more prestigious rivals. In a region famous for its cuisine, the pecking order is being re-shuffled.

"There's something different in the air, we can smell it clearly," said Carpi defender Simone Romagnoli. Modena is the thriving capital of the eponymous province, a city of 185,000 inhabitants with a ceaseless engine rumble as background music in the home of Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini. The great Enzo Ferrari, founder of the most famous Italian brand in the world, was born in Modena -- as was the late opera singer Luciano Pavarotti.

But the Biancorossi are beginning to put the provinces small commune on people’s radars. The feel good factor is spreading throughout the town. "I'm very proud to have Carpi at the top of Serie B, the team from the city I manage," said 37-year-old local mayor Alberto Bellelli.

"Never forget that in 2012 we were struck by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake and all of us, 70,000 people together, have overcome it. Someone defined Carpi football club a miracle" he added. Belelli is right, considering their modest means, the rise of this club is nothing short of incredible. 

But it appears not everyone in Italian football is as enthusiastic about the Carpi story. Recently, a phone conversation involving Lazio president, Claudio Lotito, was leaked by Italian press in which Lotito claimed Carpi's promotion would hurt Serie A's TV revenue. The Carpi hierarchy quickly hit back, condemning such sentiments 

“Carpi F.C. 1909 read, with disbelief and indignation, the conversation which was reported this morning by the media, supported by a sound clip which is apparently original and authentic published on the homepage of the official website of one of the leading national newspapers [La Repubblica],” a statement from the club declared.

“If confirmed, the words of the legal representative of the top flight clubs appear, apart from anything else, totally inappropriate, out of place and offensive to the dignity and integrity of the club as well as the players, technical staff and coaches.”

“Perhaps it’s also true, as we read in the media, that some people 'don’t even know Carpi exists'. But like it or not, we do exist.” Those in charge need not worry, the Biancorossi look as though they will have ample time to introduce themselves to Serie A’s elite next season.

Against the odds this small-town team is on the verge of making history. Many will view their prospects in Serie A as bleak but they can draw inspiration from their regional rivals Sassuolo, who have rubbed shoulders with the best Italy has to offer for two seasons now. Given Parma’s financial malaise and their imminent slide into Serie B, next term Carpi and Sassuolo will be vying for supremacy in Emilia Romagna. And who knows, just like the Neroverdi, this time next year Carpi could be ruffling the feathers of a few Serie A giants themselves.


Pro Vercelli – One of Calcio’s First Giants

Vercelli is an Italian city in the northern region of Piedmont. With a population of only 47,000, it is one of Italy’s smaller cities and of the oldest urban sites in Northern Italy. Extending along the river Sesia from Monte Rosa to the River Po, like most towns in Italy, it is home to a football club - Pro Vercelli. If you are not studied in the history of Italian football, then you may not have come across the Leoni however they were one of Calcio’s first giants. You could say Italy’s first Juventus.
 Pro Vercelli have won seven Scudetti, all between the years of 1908 to 1922. To put this into context, that is four more than AS Roma (3) and 5 more than SS Lazio (2) and Napoli (2).
The story began in 1892, when a club was formed by a local P.E teacher called Domenico Luppi. This new venture went by the name of Società Ginnastica Pro Vercelli (Pro Vercelli Gymnastics Society), initially specialising in gymnastics and fencing. Eleven years later, in local fencer and high school student Marcello Bertinetti – himself a future double Olympic Gold medallist – returned to Vercelli after watching Juventus and formedU.S Pro Vercelli Calcio. The newly born club then embarked on an incredible journey.
 The team played their first official match on the 3rd August 1903 againstForza e Constanza but it wasn’t until the following year that they truly forged an identity. Originally, Pro Vercelli’s colours were black and white stripes, like Juventus. However the players soon grew weary of having to repaint the stripes on their shirts after they repeatedly faded in the wash, and thus, the simple solution was to play in all-white tops and black shorts.
 A month later, in a friendly game, Vercelli’s famous ‘Midfield Line of Wonders’ made its debut: Pietro Leone, Giuseppe Milano, and future team captain Guido Ara. They had arrived at the Leoni at the same time as Bertinetti and when asked by the club executives why they wanted to form a football team, Ara responded, “To become champions of Italy.” At the time this statement was mocked by the powers that be but nobody could have envisaged the golden era which lay ahead.
 Ara was considered by many as the first superstar of Italian football. Renowned for his dribbling and exquisite passing, he earned the nickname ‘L’elegante Guido (Guido the Elegant). He also spearheaded Vercelli’s physical approach and once claimed “Calcio is not for little girls”, a comment reflecting the archaic times.
 However Pro Vercelli were ahead of their time in terms of training and their sessions were unique. They were the first Italian team to set up modern coaching and conditioning regimes. The team was made up of young, middle class players and they were able to train more intensely and frequently than the older players at other clubs. Set pieces were practiced daily and a style of play based on possession was encouraged rather than long ball tactics. Their superior fitness and physicality made them close to indomitable and this earned them the nickname, the Leoni (Lions).
 The club rose through the Italian ‘subdivisions’, reaching the national league in 1907. Despite reaching the top division, Vercelli were still an amateur club and no players were paid. Playing for the joy of the game, they won the National title at their first attempt. Between 1908 and 1913 they won five titles until Inter spoiled that run with their first Scudetto in 1909-10. It was one of the great injustices in Italian footballing history.
The Italian Football Federation (Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio; F.I.G.C.) decided to change the rules to allow a play-off after the two teams had finished on equal points. Even though Vercelli had scored more goals, the FIGC were keen to organise this pioneering championship play-off.  A date was chosen in which several Vercelli players were committed to playing in the Queens Cup, a military tournament in Rome. Vercelli protested but their protestations fell on deaf ears. The match went ahead and Vercelli fielded their fourth team – a team of children and young teenagers, the eldest being 15-years-old. Incredibly the youngsters managed to score three goals however Inter ran out winners, 10-3.
 Following this, Vercelli were initially banned from football but this ruling was overturned after Ara and his brother cycled around the major clubs in Italy gathering signatures for a petition against the FIGC’s decision. This perceived injustice only served to motivate the Leoni and it didn’t take them long to regain their title. They remained undefeated for the next three seasons, capturing three titles in a row between the years of 1910 and 1913.
 After such a fruitful beginning, Pro Vercelli had to wait until 1920–21 to win another championship. In 1921–22, after a row over the structure of the Italian league competition, the FIGC split, with all the major teams forming the independent Italian Football Confederation (C.C.I.). Pro Vercelli joined the CCI league and it was within this league that the Piedmont club won their seventh and last title.
 As the game became more professional, Vercelli’s decline began. The small Piedmont town could not compete with their richer adversaries from the big cities. Ara left in 1926 to manage Como before briefly returning between 1932 and 1934. But he would soon be gone for good after he went to manage Fiorentina, Roma, AC Milan and Genoa. The Bianche Casacche (White Shirts) survived in the top flight until the 1934-35 season when they were eventually relegated to Serie B.
 It is worth mentioning some of other notable players who played significant roles in the Leoni’s success. These include goalkeeper Giuseppe Cavanna, who was in Italy’s triumphant 1934 World Cup squad, midfielder Teobaldo Depetrini, who was successful at Juventus and most famous of all, Silvio Piola. Between 1929 and 1934, Piola scored 51 goals in 127 appearances for Vercelli and eventually signed for SS Lazio for a record fee. A World Cup winner with Italy in 1938, he remains the all-time top scorer in Serie A with 274 goals. Louis Bozino was Vercelli’s owner during Piola’s heyday and recognising the importance of the World Cup winner he once stated “We will never sell Piola, not for all the gold in the world. Once we sell him, the decline of Pro Vercelli will begin.”
 No-one could have predicted the decline would be terminal. Relegations followed and the club continued to struggle, dropping as low as Serie Dduring a period in which the glory days became an increasingly distant memory.
In 2006, Pro Vercelli had a crosstown rival in the form of a new team, A.S. Pro Belvedere Vercelli (who played in yellow and green). This team was born due to a merger between A.S. Trino Calcio (who played in Serie D) and amateur league team P.G.S. Pro Belvedere. Pro Vercelli began to struggle financially and due to large debts, in 2010-11 they were unable to enter the Lega Pro Seconda Divisione. After over 100 years, Italy’s first giants disappeared.
Following the collapse of U.S. Pro Vercelli Calcio a new club has come to the fore. Football Club Pro Vercelli 1892 officially started in 2010 and with their birth, the traditions and honours of the great Pro Vercelli have been saved.


From miracle to disappearance, what happened to Castel di Sangro?

Castel di Sangro is a tiny town situated in the Abruzzo region of Italy, and has a population of around 6,000 people. In the mid 1990’s, the townsfolk and supporters of A.S.D Castel di Sangro Calcio experienced a journey which saw them come within touching distance of what was – during that period – the greatest league in the world, Serie A. To put it into perspective, a team whose stadium capacity (7,000) was bigger than their population were just one promotion away from brushing shoulders with legends such as Roberto Baggio and Gabriel Batistuta.

Castel di Sangro’s incredible rise from obscurity even prompted an American writer, Joe McGinniss, to spend an entire season with the club in 1996. While living and eating with the squad on a daily basis he penned his book, The Miracle of Castel di Sangro.
From humble beginnings, the club was founded in 1953 and battled in the regional amateur leagues before reaching the professional ranks of Serie C2 in 1989. This rise was funded by owner Pietro Rezza and club president Gabriele Gravina. 
 The Giallorossi continued to defy the odds in Serie C2 but it wasn’t until the appointment of experienced manager Osvaldo Jaconi that the ‘miracle’ happened.  Jaconi steadied the ship and in the 1994/95 season, he led his side to promotion to Serie C1. Expectations were low given the jump in class from C1 to C2, but Il Giallorossi took the division by storm and finished second. 
This secured the Sangrini a spot in the play-offs and after squeezing past Gualdo in the semi-finals, Jaconi’s men found former Serie A side, Ascoli, between them and a place in Serie B. The game was a tedious affair and after 120 minutes passed without a goal, a penalty shoot-out was beckoning. However, Jaconi had a trick up his sleeve. As extra-time ebbed towards its conclusion, he brought on substitute goalkeeper Pietro Spinosa. Spinosa went onto to save the decisive spot kick and promotion was secured in the most dramatic of circumstances. The substitution proved to be a Jaconi masterstroke, although at the time it was considered a moment of madness, especially given Spinosa had not seen one minute of playing time all season.
 This amazing story continued throughout their debut season in Serie B. Events off the field, however, threatened to conspire against them. For the first-half of the season they had to play their home games in Chieti (a mere 64 km away) while their ground, Lo Stadio Teofilo Patini underwent major work to bring it up to Serie B standards. Then tragedy struck as two players, Danilo di Vincenzo and Pippo Biondi, died in a car crash. The saying goes ‘bad luck come in threes’ and shortly afterwards defender Gigi Prete was arrested in connection with a drug smuggling ring. The defender was later cleared however it goes without saying these tribulations made Castel di Sangro’s survival mission that much harder.
 Thankfully, amidst all this, some football was played and it was on the field that the Giallorossi excelled.  Against the odds, they won 12 games that season, beating some established and historic teams like Torino and Genoa.  A 2-1 victory in the penultimate game of the season guaranteed the unlikeliest of survivals and the 'miracle’ was complete.
 For anyone who has read the book, Joe McGinniss, is left scandalised by the controversial fashion in which the season ends. During the team’s trip to Bari for the last game of the season, the American author overhears players discussing the logistics of letting the opposition win 3-1, with Castel scoring a penalty. Low and behold the final score was 3-1 to Bari, and Castel did indeed score from the penalty spot.
 After the accomplishment of staying in Serie B, the following season sawCastello come crashing back down to reality.  Players were sold, Jaconi was sacked and the team inevitably failed to live up to the highs of their magical debut in Serie B. Second season syndrome hit the club hard and they were relegated back to Serie C1. Although it was short lived, their return to Serie C1 wasn’t all doom and gloom after the club defeated Serie A sides Perugia and Salernitana in the Coppa Italia, earning them a glamorous quarter-final against Inter. But that was as good as it got for the Giallorossi and after dropping back into Serie C2, Castel di Sangro Calcio eventually folded in 2005 due to financial problems.
That same year, the club reformed as Pro Castel di Sangro and started life in the Promozione level of Italian football, or the sixth tier of the league system. The club endured promotion and relegation under its new guise but once again their story had an unhappy ending after they failed to register a team for the forthcoming season in 2012. Over sixty years of history and tradition had gone and it appeared no football club would be associated with this picturesque town, encircled by the Apennine Mountains.
Luckily though, as one club perished a new one rose from the ashes. Castello 2000 were formed during the same year Pro Castel folded and they currently ply their trade in Girone Abruzzese B. It’s a long way from the dizzy heights of Serie B and the 'miracle’ that was Castel di Sangro but the footballing tradition lives on in this remote town. That can perhaps be considered a mini ‘miracle’ in itself.


Where are the members of the Azurri Italia 90 squad? Roberto Mancini

Roberto Mancini was born on 27 November 1964 in the small town of Lesi, in the Marche region of central Italy. Like most Italians, he was raised a Roman Catholic and his life revolved around religion and football, passions which remain today.

As a player Mancini was best known for his time at Sampdoria, where he played more than 550 matches and helped them win the Serie A title along with four Coppa Italia trophies and the European Cup Winners’ Cup. 
He was capped 36 times by Italy, making his last appearance in 1994.  Mancini started his career at Bologna, making his debut back in 1981 before a big money move to Sampdoria in 1982 followed.  He also played for Lazio, where he won another Scudetto, Cup Winners’ Cup and two more Coppa Italia’s. He finished his playing career in England with a brief stint at Leicester City
Towards the end of his playing career, he showed signs that he would end up in management when he started giving team talks at half-time. Coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, was a huge influence on ‘Mancio’, playing under him at both Samp and Lazio and he became the Swedes assistant at theBiancocelesti near the end of his playing career.
Mancio joined Leicester City on loan in January 2001, but by early February he was given leave of absence, citing personal reasons. He telephoned the club and informed them he would not be returning to England as he had been offered the head coach position at Fiorentina.  Despite his brief stay in the Premier League he cites his time at Leicester City as the period during which he fell in love with the English game, and which later prompted him to accept the job at Manchester City.
Sadly for Mancini, he never truly replicated his club form at international level and he struggled to cement a regular starting spot for the Azzurri. He won 36 caps for his country, but only scored four goals in return. He made his senior international debut in 1984 against Canada and he would continue to represent Italy for ten years. Despite being an influential figure for Samp at the time, Mancini was a non-playing member of the Azzurri squad at Italia 90, kept out of the side by the striking prowess of his Blucerchiatistrike partner, Gianluca Vialli, as well as Salvatore Schillaci and new kid on the block Roberto Baggio.
His failure to play any part in Italia ‘90’ has lingered with ‘Mancio’ throughout his career. Even now as a coach he still struggles to understand Azeglio Vicini’s decision. ‘I didn’t even play for ten minutes” fumed Mancini. “Not even in the third place game. I still don’t understand the decision.”
Mancini’s international career ended after a dispute with national team coach Arrigo Sacchi, his assertive personality leading him to become frustrated with not being guaranteed a first team place at the 1994 World Cup. In truth it was a similar story to Italia ’90’ for the assertive Italian, the fierce competition for places hindering his opportunities with players like Gianfranco Zola, Giuseppe Signori, Roberto Baggio and later Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero hastening his self-imposed exile from the Azzurri.
An elegant and skilful player, Mancini was also renowned for his flair, outstanding technique, ball control, and dribbling ability, as well as his tactical intelligence. He frequently stood out because of these attributes. But he wasn’t just a talented forward; he also possessed impressive leadership skills.
Mancini’s first head coaching role was at Fiorentina, aged only 35-years-old. Despite his inexperience he won the Coppa Italia with the Viola but left soon afterwards with the club facing bankruptcy. He took over as head coach at Lazio, where again he inherited financial constraints and was forced to lose a number of key players. Despite limited resources during his two season tenure, he still managed to guide the club to Coppa Italia success, a competition of which he was quickly growing fond.
In 2004, Mancini was given the chance to manage Inter, a major club with no shortage in financial resources. During his first spell at the Nerazzurri, the club won three consecutive Serie A titles. It was a record that meant Mancini became Inter’s most successful coach in 30 years.
Mancini left the Benemata in 2008, replaced by Jose Mourinho as the Inter board continued their chase of the Holy Grail – the Champions League. After taking a year out of football, Mancini was appointed as Manchester City manager in December 2009. He quickly instilled a winning culture and guided the club to Champions League football and the FA Cup in his first full season in charge. The following campaign he led City to their first league title in 44 years, a success secured in one of the most dramatic final days in Premier League history, Mancini’s men scoring two goals in injury time to complete an enthralling 3-2 comeback against Queens Park Rangers.
Credit for this victory, however, is apparently due to divine intervention.  As the season was reaching a tense finish, Mancini took time out to visit the religious pilgrimage site, Medjugorie, in Bosnia Herzegovina. ‘Mancio’ stated that it was this pilgrimage that turned the title in his favour.
The following season was turbulent for the former Samp man, as City failed to retain the title, losing out to rivals Manchester United, and also losing the FA Cup final to Wigan Athletic. He was sacked the following week however the man showed his class after paying for a full-page advert spread in the Manchester Evening News to say farewell and to thank the club’s fans. The act was reciprocated in the Gazzetta dello Sport by Manchester City supporters.
In September 2013, Mancini signed a three-year contract with Galatasaray taking over from the previous coach Fatih Terim. However, the stylish coach barely lasted a year in Turkey despite winning the Turkish Cup. Mancini returned to Inter for a second spell in November 2014, replacing Walter Mazzarri at the helm and it seems he is slowly turning the Nerazzuri’sfortunes around.

Mancini has won a total of 25 trophies; 13 as a player and 12 as a coach. Incredibly, every season he has coached between 2002 and 2013, the Italian has reached a semi-final of a major cup competition. He holds a number of records including reaching the most consecutive Coppa Italia finals from 2004 to 2008, the first with Lazio and the rest with Inter.
Mancini may not have seen a minute of playing time at Italia ‘90’ however he has since carved out an extremely successful career and the story of ‘Mancio’ is far from over…


Zico: Udinese's Little Brazilian

Zico, or Arthur Antunes Coimbra, was born on 3 March 1953 in Rio. He became known throughout the footballing world as the "White Pelé" for his exploits with Brazil in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Gifted with excellent technical ability and vision, he excelled in the Brazil side of that era, alongside superstars like Socrates and Falcao. He is still revered around the world today for his ability to score spectacular free kicks before it became 'hip'.

But did you know he graced Serie A for two years in the mid-1980s? Zico was a wanted man in Europe, especially in Italy where household names such as AS Roma and AC Milan were competing for his coveted signature. Thus, it came as somewhat of a surprise when he signed for the relatively unknown Udinese in the summer of 1983. 

Zico arrived in Udine as an established name, having played over 200 games for Brazilian side Flamengo. It was a major signing for the Bianconeri and remains one of the biggest in their history, both for the transfer and the coverage that followed. Headlines were written before the Brazilian even arrived in Italy, as the debate over the legality of his transfer and his fee were brought into the public domain.

Despite the controversy, the prospect of capturing a Brazilian superstar brought a buzz to Udine and their supporters. When the transfer was finally completed and Zico signed on the dotted line, the club saw over 26,000 new season tickets purchased over the summer. The deal was done and the Friulian’s could finally dream of success with Zico as their talisman.

During his first season in Serie A, Zico delivered exactly what he had promised. He played flamboyantly, captivating the supporters of his new club. His partnership with World Cup winner, Franco Causio, threatened to take Udinese to the next level yet the team failed to truly deliver. Despite Zico’s excellent performances, the Bianconeri’s season ended in disappointment as they could only manage a ninth place finish in Serie A.

Zico scored 19 goals that season, one fewer than top scorer Michael Platini of Juventus and his performances saw him voted as the 1983 ‘Player of the Year’ by World Soccer Magazine. Zico had taken to playing for the Zebrette (little Zebra’s) and the supporters had immediately adopted him as one of their own.

The following season consisted of injuries and suspensions for Zico, the latter for openly attacking referees. His frustration also boiled over off the pitch and he openly criticised the Udinese board for their lack of ambition. In his eyes the owners were parsimonious, reluctant to sign high quality players which made the team overly reliant on Zico’s performances. 

On May 12, 1985, thousands of fans flocked to the Stadio Friulli with a sense of anticipation. Udinese’s final home game of the 1984/85 season brought with it inevitable attention for two reasons. One because the game had been billed as the ultimate showdown between arch-rivals Brazil and Argentina, Zico’s Udinese versus Diego Maradona’s Napoli. And two because it was Zico’s last match in the black and white of Udinese before he returned to Brazil and his beloved Flamengo. 

Fans were hopeful of a spectacle from the duo, who at the time, were two of the best no.10’s in the world. While the 32-year-old Zico was about to depart Serie A, the 24-year-old Maradona was in his debut season at Napoli. The diminutive maestros did not disappoint. Maradona opened the scoring after just four minutes with a free kick from 20-plus yards out. Not to be outdone, Zico responded for the home side almost immediately with one of his trademark free kicks – the ball was eventually turned home in the resulting pinball scramble to make it 1-1.

The game was living up to its billing, the Zico vs. Maradona show, just as many had hoped. Zico was desperate for a final victory, a departing present to leave the Friuli faithful. In the second-half the, the Brazilian lined up another free kick but instead of shooting, he rolled the ball to Luigi De Agostini who smashed the ball past a the flummoxed Napoli keeper, Luciano Castellini.

But controversy lay just around the corner. With the clock ticking down towards a Zico-inspired win for Udinese, Maradona produced the most memorable moment in the match and one that proved to be a dress rehearsal for one of the most infamous in footballing history…the Hand of God.

In the 88th minute, Maradona appeared to out-jump the Udinese goalkeeper to head home the equaliser after the ball had rebounded off the crossbar. The protests were instantaneous. The replays confirmed that the Argentinian had used his hand to guide the ball into the net. Maradona’s instant reaction, running and jumping for joy in celebration, caused doubts of any wrongdoing prompting Zico to allegedly confront him saying: “If you’re an honest man, confess to the referee that you used your hand!” 

The match finished 2-2 and the fallout was instantaneous. Zico was furious and after protesting with the referee, Giancarlo Pirandola, after the game he went onto to say: “I have seen wrong things like that in football before. Against Napoli [we] deserved to win , however in the last minute the referee allowed Maradona to equalise with a goal spoiled by handball.”

To add to Zico's disappointment and woes, he was also having legal problems during his time in Italy. He was charged with tax evasion, which included a hefty fine and jail time.  Unsurprisingly instead of serving his prison sentence, Zico decided to leave Italy and return to Brazil.

It was a sour end to a magical stay on the peninsula. However, to this day Udinese fans still fly Zico banners as a tribute to one of the most beloved Little Zebra’s in the clubs history.