Once upon a time, there was a club in the Serie A, who no one knew about or cared for on a large scale.
They did not boast world class players nor did they even play in a revolutionizing way. In laymen’s terms it was a bunch of journeymen applying their trade. The year was 2001/02 and while they may not have had international or for that matter national stars. They did the unthinkable and showed they belonged amongst the elite of Italian football.
A year in which saw newly promoted Chievo Verona, finish an astonishing 5th place at the end of the league table. Thus qualifing themselves for a UEFA Cup spot in the next season. Even more shocking was the 6 weeks spent atop the league within their maiden year of the Serie A. Within the surprise package squad, were men that did not seem to fit in anywhere else besides the Veneto outfit. The likes of Eugenio Corini, Massimo Marazzina, Bernardo Corradi and Thomas Manfredini. All of whom showed they were significant, not only for their respective club but for the idea that miracles can happen.
Looking deeper into the history of the club, even their nickname suggested that they should not be taken seriously. “Le Mussi Volanti”, or better yet if you do not speak the Venetian dialect, “The Flying Donkeys.” A nickname that began as a joke by their crosstown and more successful rival Hellas Verona. Implying that the day donkeys fly, will be the day Chievo Verona will be promoted. In those days, some 25 years ago Chievo was toiling in the lower divisions of Italian football. Now in the present day, Chievo can be considered a mainstay in the top flight, with only one year being spent in the second division amongst the last 15 years. While their cousins Hellas Verona are spending their days in the Serie B.
What can be said of the present day Chievo? Only that they share 3rd place with four other clubs. Understandably it’s only seven games into a young season. With the obvious thought that matters, the situation and placing can change very quickly. What is unfair is seeing a team that demands no attention nor respect, only because their not intriguing enough. While it might be true that their squad is not glamorous or flamboyant. They are staying true to what their abilities allow them to be.
What do they have going for them? Organization and lots of it. Oh and maybe quite a bit of business know how. Resources and funds are scarce, that is not in doubt. Where the president /owner Luca Campedelli accepted or even understood from the get go, is that his business plan needed to be built on being real, instead of fantasy. Which can be very alluring but not as structurally sound.
Being real begins with the idea of a solid foundation of : familiarity the players have towards roles/ responsibilities ; not much turnover in players being bought or sold. The Majority of the squad have been with Chievo for a minimum of 2 years with the odd exception here and there. With that, the fight and mental strength to be able to endure salvation after salvation from relegation, year in and year out.
From top to bottom, experience and blue collar types are trickled into every single department. At the forefront it starts between the goal posts. Stefano Sorrentino is the crafty, always present and willing keeper that fits this organization perfectly.
As humans go, so does Chievo. With a rigid and sturdy spine, their center backs are as tough as nails. Beginning with Dario Dainelli, Fabrizio Cacciatore, Alessandro Gamberini to Bostjan Cesar all of which have determination and devotion as characteristics.
As the formation creeps further forward, hard workers the likes of Perparim Hetemaj, Ivan Radovanovic and Nicola Rigoni sacrifice body and mind for the greater good of their team. Creativity that is not in abundance, but is available within the depth charts. Coming from none other then Valter Birsa and Lucas Castro. Who were dispensable and unneeded from many teams within Italy, but fit the bill for what was needed for the “Flying Donkeys”.
Up front goals are hard to come by with the quartet of Roberto Inglese, Riccardo Meggiorini, Sergio Pellissier and Antonio Floro Flores. While goals are in big demand, how they make up for it is in their work ethic and sacrifice. A statistic that shows and proves their workmen like tendencies are the leagues top kilometres ran as a team. Just under 110,000 km have been done as a unit. Goalkeeping, defenders, midfielders and strikers combined.
Some may see this as a negative statistic. Considering when talent as a collective is lacking. Though, credit should be given when credit is due. They work at the rate that most fans wish their respective clubs could and sometimes should. That being said sharing 3rd place makes a little more sense after 7 weeks of play.
As respect goes, the one who should not be forgotten is the “mister” who makes the decisions, Rolando Maran. He managed and did wonders at Catania long before being placed at the helm of the club he once played for. Dreams do come true, if those dreams are made of leading the team you once aided as a player. He is a miracle worker that demands very little from his management but a great deal from his personnel that is at his disposition. Expectations are low, but if Walt Disney is any inspiration, empires can be built on the unexpected and wildest imaginations with hard work and belief.
If the fairy-tale did come true, Chievo would be an ideal choice with very little competition in that department. The reality of the matter and how grounded Chievo is as a club shows, they would not expect it in the least. If Dr. Seuss taught us anything, a quote that could be applied to the Flying Donkeys is: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” So while the actual suburb of Chievo may only have 4,500 inhabitants, that should not limit the amount of coverage or respect that they receive. So cheer on the underdog that is the size of a chihuahua but has the bite of a pitbull.