#29: Atalanta and Italian football culture

Just like the bus, you wait ages for a Nostalgia Ultras podcast and two come along in quick succession. Well, quick for us anyway. 

This is a special edition of the podcast, as it signals the return of the original trio: Ste McGovern, Colm Boohig and the immaculate emigrant himself, Conor Clancy.

In celebration of the return of The Artist Formerly Known As Concalcio, we’ve decided to talk about his favourite team (other than the mighty Bray Wanderers, obviously) Atalanta and Italian football culture, his raison d’etre.

We ask Conor how he even began supporting this provincial club from Bergamo, what makes it so special, the reasons for their recent surge these past few seasons, what makes Italian football good (and bad), why it’s different from British and Irish football, and the worst type of fans in the country he now calls home.

Yeah, this basically turned into an AMA with Conor.

We also discuss the four players that mean something to us, Colm’s adoration of the “high octane Lee Trundle”, otherwise known as Ronaldinho, classic football boots, retro video games and Ludo.

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Intro theme by The Shaker Hymn

Cover artwork by Michael Raisch

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#19: Paul Gascoigne’s Adventure at Lazio, with Daniel Storey

Paul Gascoigne signed for Lazio in 1992 for a then-British record fee, despite having spent the previous year on the sidelines following a serious knee injury sustained in the 1991 FA Cup Final. During his three-year sojourn in Italy, Gascoigne played in a little over 40 games and scored just six goals; injury and fitness continually got the better of this mercurial number ten. Despite the constant layoffs, “Gazza” remains an icon to Lazio fans to this day, as seen in this triumphant return to the Stadio Olympico in 2012 before the Roman club’s Europa League game with Spurs. So why do supporters of the Biancocelesti love him so much?

Daniel Storey, author of Gazza In Italy, explains the allure of Gascoigne to Colm Boohig on the latest podcast:

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You can listen to a brief reading from the audio book by James Richardson here:

#13: The Football Transfers No One Saw Coming

Listen to episode 13 of the podcast, on the most unexpected and shocking transfers in living memory.

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Judging by the first transfer deadline day under the Premier League’s new rules, meaning clubs have to have their business sorted before the season begins, we can expect fewer last-minute, dramatic signings in the summer windows to come.

In our latest show we decided to look back on some of the more shocking and mental transfers down the years, the ones that few people could have ever envisaged.

Fabrizio Ravanelli to Middlesbrough

If it seems mad now to look back and recall the White Feather’s move to Boro, it must have been utterly surreal at the time. Not only was he a terrific striker in 1996, he had just won the Champions League with Juventus.

Despite joining up with Brazilians Emerson and Juninho at the north-eastern club and scoring a whopping 31 goals in one season, Ravanelli and Middlesbrough would end the season relegated to the second-tier.

Still, we’ll always have his incredible debut against Liverpool and the trademark celebration that kids reenacted on playgrounds all over the country.

Ravanelli would end up back in Italy via Marseilles, winning a Scudetto and Coppa Italia double with Lazio, before heading back to England where he joined Derby County. In another odd move, the penultimate club of his career was Dundee in Scotland, much like the next man on this list.

Claudio Caniggia to Dundee

For a club that haven’t broken their record transfer fee since 1995, Dundee somehow attracted the Argentine to join their club in 2000.

Caniggia — a World Cup runner-up in 1990 — moved to Scotland despite the fact he was fighting for a spot in the national team ahead of the tournament in 2002, making the move all the more surprising.

His talent was evident from day one, when he scored a gorgeous chipped finish on his debut.

Naturally, Rangers would end up signing him, where Caniggia won a league medal in 2003. He did make the World Cup squad after all, but in their last group game against Sweden, he was sent off after cursing at the ref from the sideline, becoming the first player to be sent off from the bench in the competition’s history.

Robinho to Man City

The transfer that changed it all. Or at least, the transfer that got the ball rolling on the change that was to follow.

While Robinho is unlikely to be hailed a City legend by the club’s fans, his arrival from Real Madrid on transfer deadline day made a statement that they were ready to upset the apple cart. Ten years on and they’ve won three Premier League titles.

The Brazillian has not had as good a time of it since, receiving a nine-year prison sentence for gang rape of a woman in Italy. His sentence is suspended while he appeals; in the meantime he plays his club football in Turkey.

David Beckham to LA Galaxy

Another game changer. Few people knew Galaxy was even a football team before Beckham left the Spanish capital for Los Angeles, but the profile of MLS has been changed ever since. The likes of Andrea Pirlo, Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry have played out their careers in the US. The former England international moved when he still plenty left to give in his career, as loan moves to AC Milan and PSG later proved.

Honourable Mentions:

Allon Simonsen to Charlton.

Julian Faubert to Real Madrid.

Gary McAllister to Liverpool.

Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano to West Ham.

Rob Green to Chelsea.

Diego Maradona to Napoli.

Roberto Mancini to Leicester City.

Bebe to Man United.

#7: The Beloved UEFA Cup Winning Parma Side Of 1999

There are many Serie A teams who gained cult status during the golden era of Italian club football in the nineties: Fiorentina and the free-scoring Batigol, Sampdoria with the marvelous Roberto Mancini, and Lazio during Gazzamania to name but a few. The most special and fondly remembered of them all however, is the Parma AC side that defied all expectations in the nineties and challenged for major honours in one of the most competitive eras in the league.

Listen To Our Podcast On The Iconic Parma Team Of 1999:

Between 1992 and 2002, Parma won eight trophies thanks to the financial backing of Calisto Tanzi, but the crowning glory of that period was the UEFA Cup win in 1999. It was a special season that also ended with a Coppa Italia triumph, but it didn’t necessarily look promising from the outset.

After finishing a disappointing fifth in the league table the season beforehand, Carlo Ancelotti was sacked. Alberto Malesani was brought in, while Carlo went to Juventus. The Old Lady ended the season in seventh position, a total underachievement for a team who had just been in three straight Champions League finals. The two managers would go on diverging paths during the rest of their careers however, as the incredible success of Ancelotti in four different countries illustrates.

Much like his Parma squad though, Malesani peaked in the 1998-99 season while employing a 3-5-2 formation. Lilian Thuram, Fabio Cannavaro and Roberto Sensini marshaled a stern back-line with Diego Fuser and Paolo Vanoli on either flank. They were normally shielded by the fearsome twosome of World Cup winner Alain Boghossian and Dino “The Other” Baggio. So far, so great, but it’s the front-line that really catches the eye. Juan Sebastian Veron was in his pomp as the number ten behind Enrico Chiesa and a young Hernan Crespo. Together they created some beautiful patterns of play that year.

Oh, and they had Faustino Asprilla in reserve too. Not bad, like.

In their run to the final, the Gialloblu defeated Fenerbahce, Wisla Krakow, Rangers and Bordeaux, the last of which featured a 6-0 drubbing of their French opponents. The toughest game of all was the semi-final against Atletico Madrid, who had won La Liga in 1996.  Even so, Parma won the tie by a three goal margin on aggregate. They could outscore just about anybody; indeed they did, scoring an astonishing 15 times in their final five games of the tournament.

This was a team who were always up for the big games, which made them perfect for the cup competitions. They did the double over Juventus that season, and beat eventual champions AC Milan 4-0 at home. It was also their undoing however, as consistency was a problem when playing teams they were entirely capable of beating. This is why they never won the ultimate, a Scudetto.

Nonetheless, Marseille would be no match for the Italians. The opening score came after 25 minutes and it was a gift, as if Parma needed one. Laurent Blanc completely misjudges a header back to the goalkeeper with the predatory Crespo waiting to pounce. There could not have been a worse player to intercept the pass at that moment, and the Argentine took full advantage with a lovely little lob over the goalkeeper.

Marseille were mortally wounded, conceding again soon after. This time it was Vanoli in the 36th minute, but the creme de la creme was to come in the second half. Just ten minutes after the interval, Lillian Thuram works the ball up the pitch with both power and grace at the same time. Beating two players, John Motson of the BBC nonchalantly comments, “Oh, knife through butter.” He lays it off to Veron on the right wing, who, instead of swinging one in like you might expect in the Premier League, chips a delightful ball into the path of Crespo. The striker’s intuitive relationship with his strike partner is such that, rather than have a go himself, he dummies it. Taking two defenders out in one go, Chiesa is in the perfect position to thwack it into the roof of the net. It is the perfect finish to the perfect move, exemplifying the best qualities of this Parma team.

The sheer delight on Crespo’s face at the final whistle encapsulates just what it meant for this small provincial side, who played in a stadium with a capacity of 29,000, to conquer one of Europe’s elite competitions. It’s the reason this underdog team has remained in the hearts of neutrals ever since and why so many football fans were so crestfallen to see the club demoted to Serie D following bankruptcy.

There is a counter-argument to the romanticism of this Parma team, however. The club was enriched by the money of Tanzi and his Parmalat company, who changed the kit colours from their classic white to the blue and yellow of the corporation. That money also happened to be somewhat of a myth, as a huge scandal was uncovered regarding the financial mismanagement of the company. It hit the club hard, although it managed to survive.

parma
Two future Balon d’Or winners.

There are also the accusations of doping. In 2005, a video was shown on Italian TV of Cannavaro getting injected with a performance-enhancing substance the night before the 1999 UEFA Cup final. The sequence was shot in a Moscow hotel room and the substance turned out to be Neoton, a creatine phosphate, that was not on any banned lists in Italy at the time.

Nonetheless, these are black marks that barely register for many a football aficionado. Thankfully Parma, under the new guise of Parma Calcio 1913, have risen from the ashes after many tumultuous years as a phoenix club. They return to their rightful place in Serie A once more, but will it ever be the same again?

Gigi Buffon: When Greatness Ends

In the aftermath of Gianluigi Buffon’s  likely final ever appearance in the UEFA Champions League, no superlative is too excessive to describe the Juventus legend, the greatest goalkeeper of all time, writes Ste McGovern.

In football lexicon, the word ‘genius’ might just be the most overused phrase of all. We often hear “that was a piece of genius skill” or “that goal was genius”, when such a term should be used as little as possible, reserved for only the finest moments from the finest players.

End Of An Era is another term that gets overplayed. Someone retires, “we’ll never see his like again, it’s an end of era.” A team loses a knockout tie, and it’s “that’s it, thanks for everything, bye forever”, even though it’s not always so clear cut. Eulogies were delivered on behalf of the Spain team after both the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016, and yet they look like one of the top contenders at Russia next summer. Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and others from that glorious team are still present. So is the old era dead or is it still ongoing?

Listen to Episode 4 of Nostalgia Ultras podcast: The Milan Derby

For one man though it is less overstatement and more absolute. Buffon has been a staple of the sport, making it almost impossible to separate the position from the man. Strike up a conversation about goalkeeping with a mate and see how long it takes for the Italian shot-stopper’s name to come up. Not since Lev Yashin has someone come to define the position so comprehensively; he is the goalkeeper.

That much was evident last November when Italy drew 0-0 with Sweden at the San Siro in a playoff for the World Cup. Out of the 359 clean sheets he has amassed thus far, this must have been the worst one he has ever kept. There was the 0-0 versus AC Milan in the 2003 Champions League final that Juventus lost on penalties, but this loss cut deeper than perhaps any. The realisation that there would not only be no World Cup, but no more appearances for the Azzurri must have dawned on him at that moment.

Afterwards there was a lot of talk about how bad this team had been over two legs and the poor decision making of their manager, Giampiero Ventura. But most of the conversation centred around Gigi and the tragic end to a glorious international career that included the greatest prize of all in 2006. He won’t get one last shot at winning it again, for which everyone mourned at full-time.

It was typical of the man that in such a painful moment Buffon’s first action after the match ended was to console his teammates, many of whom will get more opportunities at major tournaments, before congratulating the Swedes one by one. He embraced Martin Olsen, his opposite number, as he fought a losing battle to hold back the tears. It’s easy to be happy for the opposition when it’s, say, Ireland who has beaten you and it has no effect on your progression to the next round of the competition, but he’s shown grace and humility in the face of bad times too.

His reaction to the penalty awarded to Real Madrid in injury time, with the score delicately poised at 3-3 on aggregate, might say otherwise. The physical nature of his confrontation with Michael Oliver was over the top, but let’s not forget his clapping of the Swedish national anthem as Italian fans unceremoniously booed it. He exuded immense character on the night, an aspect of his personality that isn’t mentioned nearly enough.

Gianluigi Buffon (via Sportsfile)

Buffon commands respect from everyone on the pitch without demanding it. That much was evident in the Sweden game when even the referee gave him a hug. That level of respect has been well earned too; it’s hard to think of anyone who has matched their longevity with such incredibly consistency. The World Cup in Brazil appeared to be a nadir for the Italian legend, a poor overall performance that indicated a career finally on the slide. But the slide never arrived, and he seemed to be better than ever at times these past few seasons as he and his beloved Juve chased European glory.

Heading into the final stretch of the season, and thus the twilight of the great man’s club career, the spotlight refocused on Gigi’s mission to finally get his hands on the famous mouse ears. It would have been a fitting end, but instead it all finished in even more ignominious circumstances at the Bernabeu Stadium tonight. Possibly the greatest player to never lift the trophy, failing to win it should not define him as a player. If there was one footballer whose career was far greater than the contents of his trophy cabinet, then it’s Gianluigi Buffon.

In many ways, the past 12 or so months has been edging closer to the end of a very special era. Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Barzagli have retired from international duty. Giorgio Chiellini might not be far behind. Last May Francesco Totti played his last match. Andrea Pirlo did so too later that year. After giving us a lifetime of memories these incredible talents will be gone in a flash.

The era is ending, but there’s still just enough time to appreciate it.

@TheNoveltyAct

This is an updated version of an article written in 2017.