IFD http://www.italianfootballdaily.com Your English Source For Everything Italian Football Wed, 07 Jun 2017 00:44:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 http://d5t4y6hm444bm.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/cropped-IFD-logo-e1462069992813-1-32x32.jpeg IFD http://www.italianfootballdaily.com 32 32 The End of IFD: A great experiment runs it’s course http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/end-ifd-great-experiment-runs-course/ Wed, 07 Jun 2017 00:44:59 +0000 http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/?p=80118 To all of our readers over the past several years, I can’t express my gratitude for your support. So, this is really it. A few days after Juventus’ utter capitulation in Cardiff, I am acting on my promise to formally cease operations at IFD. Over the past month or so, I hosted a handful of […]

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To all of our readers over the past several years, I can’t express my gratitude for your support.

So, this is really it. A few days after Juventus’ utter capitulation in Cardiff, I am acting on my promise to formally cease operations at IFD.

Over the past month or so, I hosted a handful of live Periscope sessions to announce the shutdown of the website and its social media accounts. All of this was planned and had been thought through for a long time. In order to understand my decision, we have to go back to the very beginning.

If I told you this whole thing started off as a gradeschool project, would you believe me? The truth is, I never thought in 2017 I would be writing a ‘signing-off’ article on a project that I was working on in order to just graduate high school. Life’s funny, isn’t it?

Fresh out of high school, life changed in more ways than I could possibly describe. Friends have come and gone, as have many writers and colleagues. Goals and ambitions have been both charted and accomplished, and of course, many failures have transpired. As a young man currently enrolled in college, I can say with confidence the trial and error I applied here at IFD has taught me more about the world and how it works than being in a classroom. I have the privilege to say that I have learned many things that would otherwise be impossible had I not taken that leap of faith several years ago. It was a journey without an end-goal, and I just went with it. In the end, closing down IFD is actually being used as a springboard to another massive project that will further advance myself and my writers who are coming with me to MLS. At the end of every dusk, a new dawn awaits.

I’ve said it many times, American soccer is growing to new heights and needs a fresh new set of voices and writers to help appeal to a largely forgotten audience – the youth.

Of course, my target audience isn’t exclusively millennials or to any demographic bracket at all. Soccer (football) in essence is a language that is not spoken by our voices, but by something else entirely. It’s a language that is understand by the young and the old, by those who transgress all walks of life, upper and lower class, no matter where you live.

Because of interacting with thousands and thousands of people, I’ve learned first hand what it means to be involved in the ‘world’s game’. I hope that the achievements and mistakes I’ve made help guide me to a better future both personally, and professionally. I and my writers begin a new chapter that will hopefully pay dividends in the near future. For those who have written for IFD in the past or present, I extend my utmost gratitude and respect.

I owed you, the readers, an explanation and full. I hope I did a good job of conveying my thoughts in a clear manner. This isn’t a goodbye, we’re just simply changing our focus to something new and fresh.

With all that said, I hope you all follow our work at FromTheTouchline.com, where we will delve into the world of American-Canadian soccer – the final frontier of football in the world.

Grazie a tutti

 

xx

Alex Mascitti

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How Juventus could revolutionise the squad should they win the Champions League http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/juventus-revolutionise-squad-win-champions-league/ Fri, 02 Jun 2017 13:14:52 +0000 http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/?p=80016 Since the 1990’s, Juventus have not been afraid to sell some of their most valuable players in order to revolutionise the squad. Probably the most famous examples of this practice was when Zidane was sold to Real Madrid in 2001 for a world record fee in order to fuel the spending on Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian […]

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Since the 1990’s, Juventus have not been afraid to sell some of their most valuable players in order to revolutionise the squad. Probably the most famous examples of this practice was when Zidane was sold to Real Madrid in 2001 for a world record fee in order to fuel the spending on Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram and Pavel Nedved. But there are other examples.

Two years after clinching the Ballon d’Or, Roberto Baggio was sold to AC Milan for a huge fee to make way for the young Alessandro Del Piero. Even last year, you could argue that Paul Pogba’s world-record transfer to Manchester United put the money in the purse of ‘the Old Lady’ to buy Miralem Pjanic and Gonzalo Higuain this season. You could say that they are the masters of squad evolution. Ruthlessly letting go of players satisfied with what they have, replacing them with talented young players to play alongside others who know what it takes to never be satisfied, and making sure that the squad is kept hungry to win more titles.

With a second Champions League Final in three seasons coming up, I looked at how Juventus’s last Champions League winning squad in 1996 was ditched of some of its most important players and replaced with younger, hungrier players who reached a further two finals in 1997 and 1998. That 1996 team was filled with great champions like captain Gianluca Vialli, Fabrizio Ravanelli – who scored 17 goals that season including 1 in the final against Ajax – 1982 World Cup winner Pietro Vierchowod and Paulo Sousa, a metronomic midfielder from Portugal who went on to win another Champions League title at the expense of Juventus a year later. All were sold in the summer Juve became European Champions for a second time. You may say age was the factor; Vierchowod was 37 and Vialli was 31 but Ravanelli was 28 and Sousa was 25, so why would Juve sell some of their influential players after such a great victory?

Those players who had fought so hard at Juventus were shipped off, not exclusively because of age, but because Juve’s infamous Sporting Director Luciano Moggi, at the time, saw that in order to maintain success, he had to keep the squad hungry for it. By selling those players, his thoughts were satisfied as he replaced with young talent, hungrier players in the summer of 1996. Players like Zidane (a 24 year old midfield genius at the time), Christian Vieri (23 and a strong, powerful forward) and tough-tackling Paulo Montero at 25. This strategy paid off as the club sealed another scudetto and reached the Champions League final once again, this time losing against Borussia Dortmund.

In the three years between 1996 and 1998, the team reached three Champions League finals with almost three different teams. There was a core who were present throughout the three years; goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi, fullbacks Moreno Torricelli and Gianluca Pessotto, centre-back Ciro Ferrara, midfielders Didier Deschamps, Antonio Conte, Angelo Di Livio and forward Alessando Del Piero. All players who embody the spirt of Juventus and her insatiable hunger, but with other players coming and going, to keep that tension up.

So looking at the current Juventus squad, and should they win the Champions League, what should their transfer market strategy be? Bearing in mind how an historic achievement can affect the mentality of an individual. Should they look at offloading players with a value on the market who might be satisfied with what they have won? Then, using the money generated, replace them with young talent that can help the squad keep the hunger necessary to keep winning? If so who are these players? Who are the players that embody the Juventus spirt that the likes of Ferrara, Conte, Deschamps and Del Piero who should not be sold? Here we take a look at the current squad and go through who could be shown the door, who needs to stay at all costs and where opportunities may lie.

Let’s start from the back and work forwards. Gianluigi Buffon, club captain and legendary goalkeeper as everyone knows, has made it very clear in the past how much chasing the Champions League has kept him at the top of his game. Could he retire should Juventus lift the trophy, knowing he has nothing left to achieve? Sounds like the perfect ending, but I don’t think so. Despite mentioning his drive to win the Champions League keeping him sharp, he has one other goal: to be the first player to go to 6 World Cup finals.

TURIN, ITALY – MAY 21: Gianluigi Buffon of Juventus FC celebrates with the trophy after the beating FC Crotone 3-0 to win the Serie A Championships at the end of the Serie A match between Juventus FC and FC Crotone at Juventus Stadium on May 21, 2017 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)

Logically, he would stay at the club one more year at least and honour his contract. His leadership and mentality is perfect for this club to help the others understand what it takes to be a champion. Neto, who has played more this year, may leave for first team football and replaced by a promising Italian youngster like Alex Meret, who hopefully can learn a lot from Gigi before eventually retiring.

Andrea Barzagli also has a contract that ends in 2018 and like Buffon, may consider bowing out at the top. This seems a more likely scenario. Barzagli has seen fewer minutes this term, mainly due with the tactical change from a 3 man defence to 4 man setup. He has played some of the bigger matches at right back or when Juventus has used a 3 in the Champions league. Four solid performances against Barcelona and AS Monaco were down to his defensive work, limiting the likes of Mbappe and Neymar. However, the Fiesole native’s powers are appearing to wane and there is a very promising youngster by the way of Daniele Rugani ready to replace him. He may decide it’s not worth staying and fighting when there’s probably a role in the backroom staff for him should he want it.

Leonardo Bonucci‘s situation is a bit more complicated. He signed a deal this year to extend his contract until 2021 as one of the stalwarts of the team. The future leader, though courted by Manchester City last summer, declared his will to become a legend at Juventus. But, the fact remains that he does have a couple of clubs willing to pay €60 million for him. Coupled with that, this season a falling out with Allegri was made very public as was his punishment. Could this act of indiscipline and interest from Chelsea and Man City make the Juventus hierarchy think about cashing in? €60 million is a lot and could be reinvested elsewhere and not necessarily to replace Bonucci.

Mehdi Benatia‘s future was recently confirmed when the Turin club agreed to pay Bayern Munich to make his stay permanent. Not only this, Juventus could decide to bring Mattia Caldara to the club earlier than planned to make a contribution to the first team. The 22 year old has arguably been the best defender in Serie A this season, and I wouldn’t put it past the club to capitalise on a player who turns 30 this year whose value will only diminish from here.

Giorgio Chiellini and Claudio Marchisio have both been at the club for more than 10 years each. They are leaders in the dressing room and on the field. Under no circumstances should these two leave as they are the kind of players that can help new players adapt to the Juve mentality. Paulo Dybala, on joining Juventus on the eve of the 2015 Champions League final in Berlin, remarked that he understood immediately what it took to be at Juventus when, after the defeat, Il Principino said, ‘you better be ready to win them all next season‘. Any newcomers to Juventus will learn quickly from these two what’s expected from them.

Sami Khedira has been one of Juventus’s best players this season. He seems to have found his fitness, playing in the over 40 matches this season without a long term injury for the first time since the 2012-13 season. At 30 he still has a lot to offer the club and after this season, one year left on his contract. Rumours have been building up all season that the German international could be tempted by a move to MLS at the end of the season. Despite being an important player for Allegri’s team, and bearing in mind Khedira’s injury record and age, it could be best for all parties to say ‘thank you’ and let the former Real Madrid man leave. Juventus have been looking for a strong, box-to-box midfielder and Corentin Tolisso is the man that Juve have been tracking all season. He would be an excellent replacement and would find more space in Turin should Sami’s number 6 shirt be vacant on his arrival. Fabinho from Monaco and Paredes from Roma have also been touted as possible transfer targets.

As for the rest of the midfielders, it is a bit of mixed bag. Miralem Pjanic had a slow start but has grown into a key figure, With Allegri’s guidance and formation change as integral to the success of the team, I believe he’s just getting started here. Stefano Sturaro signed a new deal during the season to prolong his stay at the club, despite not being universally popular with fans and a clear lack of talent. However, he never seems to complain of a lack of game time and is an Italian trained player (which helps for the Champions League). Unless he can be used as a make-weight in a transfer, I think he will stay at Juventus. Mario Lemina on the other hand, despite showing more quality than Sturaro, arguably, is likely to be moved on. Clubs are willing to invest more than Juventus spent on the Gabon international.

The situation at right back has been well documented. Stephan Lichtsteiner looks like he is on his way out. He was originally left out of the Champions League after supposedly asking to leave the club. He worked hard to get back in the team and was rewarded with extended period of first-team action, while last year’s signing Dani Alves was out with a broken foot. With his contract expiring at the end of this season, he signed a new deal last December. But I’m sure the club will allow him to leave – if he wants to go. Dani Alves, with some spectacular performances this season, looks set to stay another year as per his contract, but you never know, he may feel his work his done and look for a new challenge. He has clubs interested in him.

Whether just one of Alves or Lichsteiner leaves, or both, Juve will need to find another right-back. AC Milan full-back Mattia De Sciglio has been rumoured to be joining in the summer transfer window, with his current contract ending next season. Given that Kwadwo Asamoah is likely to leave in summer, De Sciglio can cover both left and right flanks. A specialist right back that would be a shrewd acquisition is Atalanta right-back Andrea Conti, one of the stars of the Serie A this season and a self-confessed Juventus fan. If club aren’t following him, they should. Alex Sandro has admirers, but Juventus are keen to offer him an improved contract and an extension. He’s hugely important to the team and won’t be sold at any price.

TURIN, ITALY – APRIL 11: Paulo Dybala of Juventus celebrates with Miralem Pjanic, Mario Mandzukic and Alex Sandro of Juventus after scoring his team’s second goal during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final first leg match between Juventus and FC Barcelona at Juventus Stadium on April 11, 2017 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

The future of Paulo Dybala isn’t worth mentioning. He’s the heartbeat of team from a technical stand point and the club want him to be a future leader recently signing a deal to keep him at the club until 2022. And on monster wages, it’s hard to see the Juventus management cashing in before he reaches his full potential. Mario Mandzukic I thought would be one of the older players to move on, satisfied with a victory. Plenty of suitors, Besiktas in particular who are prepared to offer him a huge contract. But in the last week, he signed a new deal. The Juventus management see his all round benefit to the squad and believe he won’t lose his hunger in the event of a Champions League victory.

Juan Cuadrado has been influential this season and a clause was triggered in his contract to make his elaborate loan move from Chelsea permanent. So it’s difficult to see him leave and the same goes for Marko Pjaca. Despite not having much game time, extenuating circumstances and two long term injuries – one just as the 4-2-3-1 system started being used – surely prevented him from making an impact as a Serie A debutant this year. Anyway, it looks like these players will be competing with one, if not two players in their roles, one being Patrik Schick and possibly Keita Balde – if rumours are to believed.

Turn the clock back to last transfer window. Until it happened, it seemed unlikely that Juventus would activate Gonzalo Higuain‘s €90m release clause. But as we all know, the Argentine moved to La Vecchia Signora last summer and has been brilliant this season scoring 32 goals in all competitions. So it would be very unlikely for him to leave. However, as unlikely as it was that Juventus would sign him, it’s a possibility Juve could cash in. Premier League teams are rumoured to be willing to pay €100 million, and Marotta may decide it would be worth selling a player who, like Bonucci will be 30 this year and not accumulating any more value. Assuming they decide to do that, why not go all in for Andrea Belotti? Clause or not, city rivals Torino would be mad to turn down an offer from Juventus over €100 million. And, at 24, the Rooster could score the goals Juventus need for up to six years. The chance to rekindle the exciting working relationship honed at Palermo between Belotti and Dybala could yield goals for Juventus for years to come.

As with the change in their logo, Juventus is not a club that stands still and constantly evolves and innovates, especially with their squad. A Champions League win to cap of this era of success could allow the board to push through a new wave of evolution. So, should Juve lift the cup Saturday in Cardiff, don’t expect Juventus to rest on their laurels, it could be a busy summer for football journalists.

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Editors’ Choice: Serie A Team of the Year 2016-17 http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/editors-choice-serie-team-year-2016-17/ Thu, 01 Jun 2017 18:06:02 +0000 http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/?p=80078 Sadly, we have to wait until August for our next fix of Italian calcio as the 2016-17 Serie A campaign came to a close last weekend in rather thrilling – and emotional – fashion. With that being said, it is now time to reveal which standout performers from the recent campaign did enough to crack […]

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Sadly, we have to wait until August for our next fix of Italian calcio as the 2016-17 Serie A campaign came to a close last weekend in rather thrilling – and emotional – fashion. With that being said, it is now time to reveal which standout performers from the recent campaign did enough to crack each Italian Football Daily editors’ Team of the Year, along with the ‘allenatore‘ that will lead them. Let’s dive in shall we?

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Atlanta United is building a model for the world, not just MLS http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/atlanta-united-building-model-world-not-just-mls/ Mon, 29 May 2017 15:12:03 +0000 http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/?p=80068 A foundation built with passion, Major League Soccer’s newest franchise has plenty to boast. Atlanta United, in their debut season are building something special inside of Major League Soccer. A league unfairly brandished as a ‘retirement home’ for many who make the move from Europe. But the Red and Blacks of the South took a very […]

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A foundation built with passion, Major League Soccer’s newest franchise has plenty to boast.

Atlanta United, in their debut season are building something special inside of Major League Soccer. A league unfairly brandished as a ‘retirement home’ for many who make the move from Europe. But the Red and Blacks of the South took a very different approach when filling their roster during the 2017 off-season.

Located in the heart of midtown Atlanta, in the middle of Georgia Tech, a sprawling, decorated university grows a very different kind of soccer club. While playing in a college-town is just a temporary home, the ambiance surrounding the young club is remarkable.

While recent rookie franchises like NYCFC or Orlando City brought in veteran legends of the game, like David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard and Ricardo Kaka’, Atlanta opted to build in a much more audacious fashion.

Firstly, the signing of ex-Barcelona head coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino. By bringing in such a widely well known and respected tactician, it immediately engaged Atlantans to pay more attention to the franchise coming to town. While enthusiasm has always been high (mostly given to the fact of how long the city had to wait for an MLS team to get here), this sounded off the ambitions of the club and how they wanted to quickly put together a winning product.

Then came the players.

President Darren Eales and Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra cannot be praised enough for their work, especially for how risky of a strategy they played. Miguel Almiron, a Paraguay international was the marquee signing for the club. In a time where it would have been easy to bring in a player at the end-days of their career to sell shirts and merchandise, the brass signed an exciting player who’s future is as hot as a day in the city. Atlanta’s nickname isn’t ‘Hotlanta’ for nothing, the sweltering heat during the mid months of the year can be brutal.

Hector Villalba from San Lorenzo has also been a success. The 22-year old has jetted off to a sensational start in Atlanta, quickly racking up five goals and assisting four others in 12 matches. Villalba’s potential is limitless and many clubs even from Europe had their eye on him while he was at San Lorenzo in Argentina. Fiorentina and Inter were two sides in 2015 who closely monitored his progress in his homeland.

The third Designated Player came from Torino in the form of Josef Martinez. The Venezuelan suffered an injury in the third game of the season that has kept him out until now, but he quickly rose to prominence by scoring five goals before getting hurt.

Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

But the impressive work done by ATL’s front office staff doesn’t end there. Signing Brad Guzan, Kenwyne Jones, Carlos Carmona, Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez, Yamil Asad and captain Michael Parkhurst has given the club a mix of teeming youth and hardened veterans. Couple this with Tata Martino’s presence, and you have a nicely blended side who is exceeding expectations in their inaugural season. In fact, no other team has scored more goals than Atlanta United in MLS, finding the back of the net 27 times.

Branding and Marketing

While attending the match against New York City on May 28th, a few things in particular struck me about the fans. Besides the fact each home match has been a sellout at Georgia Tech’s historic Bobby Dodd Stadium, the vast majority of fans are indeed millennials. These aren’t leftover fans from when the Atlanta Chiefs were playing at Fulton County Stadium back in the 70s, this is new generation of fans who are incredibly passionate about soccer in general.

The chants are natural and free-flowing, they don’t sound forced like at other grounds either in America or abroad. I believe the fact that most fans are young, college age or slightly older, didn’t happen by accident. The city and surrounding suburbs have a large, young, Hispanic population. That ‘base’ of people are all crazy about futbol, especially regarding either Real Madrid or Barcelona. Remember the point I brought up about Tata Martino? His arrival was music to the ears of a fanatical portion of Atlantans. Even for non-Barcelona fans, everybody knows who Martino is.

What about the three designated players who are all Hispanic themselves? It’s creating a bond between fans and players that is seldom seen elsewhere. If you’re going to spend the money to bring in quality players and coaches, the extra bond with the fans is in short – brilliant.

The model the club has constructed has launched in a way that brings promise and hope. Many of the players are far off from their primes and have a lot of room to develop. It’s another signal that MLS is transforming from a league filled with mediocre leftovers and hasbeens to a much more competitive and exciting organization.

Teams in Italy should look at Atlanta United and take the more bold, audacious approach. They should engage heavily to the fans, and be accessible with them. There’s a reason MLS has a higher average attendance than Serie A, and it’s not just about the stadiums.

Bobby Dodd Stadium is ancient and is far from beautiful. The stands are 90% bleachers and is barely a comfortable venue, but it works. The pre-game festivals and tailgates provide an atmosphere that makes you forget you’re at an old arena, and makes you focus on what’s important: having fun.

For Atlanta United, it’s only the beginning of a long and challenging journey, but there are certainly lessons that can be applied elsewhere, even for clubs that are over one hundred years old.

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Three key things learned about Napoli from its win vs Sampdoria on Sunday http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/three-key-things-learned-about-napoli-from-its-win-vs-sampdoria-on-sunday/ Mon, 29 May 2017 01:08:27 +0000 http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/?p=80058 Napoli defeated Sampdoria 4-2 at the Stadio Ferraris on Sunday evening in the final round of the Serie A season. The Partenopei came into the game seeking a victory in order to set themselves up for a second place finish. However, Roma commanded that automatic UEFA Champions League Spot and the Giallorossi’s 3-2 win against […]

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Napoli defeated Sampdoria 4-2 at the Stadio Ferraris on Sunday evening in the final round of the Serie A season.

The Partenopei came into the game seeking a victory in order to set themselves up for a second place finish. However, Roma commanded that automatic UEFA Champions League Spot and the Giallorossi’s 3-2 win against Genoa meant Napoli’s victory meant nothing.

Even with the third place finish, Napoli completed an incredible season on Sunday. The Azzurri finished with 86 points, which are the most in club history. The club also finished as the top-scoring team in the league with 94 goals. Dries Mertens scored 28 league goals and finished second in the ‘capocannoniere‘ race. Mertens, captain Marek Hamsik, Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon all scored to end their great season.

The third place side will now look to Champions League qualifying as it attempts to reach the group stage. However, for the time being, let’s look at three key things we learned after Napoli’s win against Sampdoria.

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5 Keepers Napoli Must Look At This Summer Transfer Window http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/5-keepers-napoli-must-look-summer-transfer-window/ Sun, 28 May 2017 20:45:20 +0000 http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/?p=80039 Despite a stellar 2016-17 campaign, Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli are still left with some holes to fill for the off-season. The main area of the squad that needs improvement has to be goalie, and it seems as though the mainstay Pepe Reina will not return to Sarri’s squad for next season. His departure seems imminent, and that […]

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Despite a stellar 2016-17 campaign, Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli are still left with some holes to fill for the off-season.

The main area of the squad that needs improvement has to be goalie, and it seems as though the mainstay Pepe Reina will not return to Sarri’s squad for next season. His departure seems imminent, and that was made all but clear this past week when president Aurelio De Laurentiis commented on the Spaniard’s performance during a team dinner. Apparently, De Laurentiis got up during dinner and said that Reina “has to give up something to become stronger.” (In regards to the alleged distractions of his wife, Yolanda Ruiz)

With Reina turning 35 in August and the recent fall out between him and De Laurentiis, here are five goalies that the Partenopei should target during the summer transfer window.

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Mertens’ Napoli extension brings plenty of relief and optimism http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/mertens-given-contract-extension-2020/ Sun, 28 May 2017 19:53:20 +0000 http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/?p=80031 Dries Mertens, the Manchester United and Chelsea transfer hopeful, was given a contract extension until 2020 Saturday morning by the Partenopei. The Belgian forward proved to be a hot commodity on the market as he exploded onto the scene this year for Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli squad, and he served to be a great replacement amidst the […]

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Dries Mertens, the Manchester United and Chelsea transfer hopeful, was given a contract extension until 2020 Saturday morning by the Partenopei.

The Belgian forward proved to be a hot commodity on the market as he exploded onto the scene this year for Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli squad, and he served to be a great replacement amidst the departure of Gonzalo Higuain. Aurelio De Laurentiis, the Napoli President, had a bitter taste in his mouth after the highly controversial departure of Higuain to rival squad Juventus and wanted to ensure that the situation would never again repeat itself.

During an interview with Kiss Radio, De Laurentiis explained the parameters of the contract and how the negotiations unfolded. He told Kiss Radio that from 2:30 in the afternoon (Italian Time) to 1:40 am, he was on the phone with Mertens lawyers and counselors structuring a new contract for the star striker. To avoid another Higuain situation, the contract has in place a release clause that only allows China to exercise it, not any other European league, most notably Serie A and Premier League.

When asked about the recent signing of Mertens, De Laurentis told the radio station:

“We are setting up a war machine, we can no longer lose points to smaller teams.”

Throughout the season, Napoli proved to be one of the highest scoring teams in Europe. Sarri’s passing efficient offense proved the most stable in all of Serie A, with his squad leading in possession, accurate passes per match, shots on target per match, and goals per match. With Mertens and Insigne leading the attack, De Laurentis found it necessary to retain both those players.

Mertens enjoyed the breakout season of his career in the striker role for Napoli, playing out of his normal position. For Napoli’s 2016-17 Serie A campaign, Sarri threw Mertens, originally a winger, into a makeshift striker role for the majority of the campaign – and he smashed all expectations. Sarri’s offensive genius enabled Mertens to thrive in this current offence with a breakout season, which can be attributed to two main factors: the dramatic departure of Gonzalo Higuain and the injury of striker Arek Milik during international duty back in the Fall.

De Laurentis’ primary solution for Higuain was Polish froward Milik, who broke out for Napoli during the first weeks of the campaign. Braces against Milan and Dynamo Kiev – and a goal against Benfica – meant the Naples side had found their man in Milik, however, his ACL tear allowed Mertens to make the striker role his own. With the offense centered around Mertens, he was able to excel. Insigne and Mertens proved to be an unstoppable dynamic duo, with both players setting each other up with beautiful goals. While Mertens wasn’t netting goals for the Partenopei, he was setting his teammates up, adding an 11 total assists during the campaign.

His most beautiful assist came against Milan, and went to none other but his partner in crime, Lorenzo Insigne. This dynamic duo has proved to be hard to stop for Serie A teams, and these two players are the main reason why Napoli has excelled all season.

To say Mertens had stepped up is an understatement. Called upon by Sarri at a time where the club needed one of their key men to go above and beyond expectations, the 30 year old did just that as his 28 goals finished second in the ‘capocannoniere‘ race, trailing only AS Roma’s Edin Dzeko who bagged a whopping 29.

On the final matchday of the season, Napoli’s 4-2 win over Sampdoria wasn’t enough to secure second as a Roma slip up at the Olimpico versus Genoa was needed on Totti Day, which did not arrive. Yet, the third place finish for the Naples club means they clinch a spot in the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League Qualifiers. And, regardless of which players come and go this summer, Mertens will be called upon to pick up where he left off. That is, score at will and ensure a Group Stage birth is secured.

Sorry potential suitors far and wide, the Belgian magician is here to stay.

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An ode to Francesco Totti’s false nine role http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/ode-francesco-tottis-false-nine-role/ Fri, 26 May 2017 15:42:05 +0000 http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/?p=79793 The world of football is full of fantastic little memories. What I always find incredible about football is that a football related memory acts as a time stamp and you can figure where you were in your life just by looking back at a memory from say, the 2007/08 season. As Francesco Totti plays his […]

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The world of football is full of fantastic little memories. What I always find incredible about football is that a football related memory acts as a time stamp and you can figure where you were in your life just by looking back at a memory from say, the 2007/08 season.

As Francesco Totti plays his final game for Roma, everyone will have time stamp memories of Serie A’s second highest all-time goal scorer. For me, it’s Francesco Totti’s stint as a false nine under Luciano Spalletti.

Setting the scene

Roma’s core that won the 2000/01 Scudetto had been decimated by the time 2005/06 season rolled around. Of the stars, only Francesco Totti remained, Vincenzo Montella also remained, but his body was failing him and that season, he’d play in just 16 games in all competitions. Luciano Spalletti’s striking options make for some pretty bleak reviewing when you look back at that season.

Leading the line at the Stadio Olimpico was Francesco Totti, the corpse of Vincenzo Montella, Shabani Nonda, a 16 year old Stefano Okaka and a trouble making Antonio Cassano. The former Italian international was left to rot on the bench until January, as his feud with Totti reached scolding levels, Roma had a transfer ban and couldn’t sell him until the winter. Classic.

So what do you do when you have a corpse, a kid, a trouble maker, a not very good striker, and one of the best players in Serie A? You build around one of the best players in Serie A.

The issue with building around Totti was that he was trequartista and had only scored more than 15 goals in one season before 05/06. If you were going to have him as your striker, goals were going to have to come from elsewhere.

This is most likely where the false nine idea originated for Spalletti. Totti could resume his position as a trequartista and continue to facilitate to his teammates. However, they’d have to assume far more goalscoring responsibility.

How Spalletti’s system worked

Rome’s King would operate up front alone, however it wouldn’t be an archetypal striker’s role. Totti would occupy the space in between the defense and midfield. He was essentially operating in the role of a #10 in a 4-2-3-1, making Roma’s formation play out like a 4-1-5, 4-6-0 or 4-3-3-0, however precise you want to be.

With Totti dropping a few metres in front of the CBs, instead of occupying space a few yards in front of them, the CBs didn’t know whether to follow him into MF and play a higher defensive line, or let him drop into the vacated space. Balls would then be played into Totti, and he’d ideally be unmarked, then, the wingers and midfielders make runs forward and into the box to support him.

Pretty simple, eh? I think the big plus for Roma side was how the false nine role affected progression of the ball. Roma could maintain three players in midfield whilst still having a player advanced in a #10 role (4-2-3-1 can’t achieve this). Of course, from there the problem is that you’ve sacrificed a striker. You may be in a great position with the ball, but there’s no one ahead of you.

This is where runs off the ball come from. Once Totti had received the ball, runs from his teammates were imperative, they would all have to vacate the space left but the absence of a striker. Mancini/Taddei would make diagonal runs from the wings, often interchanging, FBs were able to provide width and Perotta and De Rossi were both able to chip in with goals.

The limitations of Spalletti’s system

Not enough goal scoring is the obvious answer. During this short lived period, Roma never boasted a truly elite goalscoring winger (in fairness, Mancini scored 12 goals in 05/06) or an elite goalscoring midfielder. Goalscoring numbers can be forgiven when a player is operating as a false nine, but Totti’s 15 goals (six penalties) in 05/06 was never going to lead Roma to the Scudetto.

The 2005/06 season ended with Roma originally in fifth place, Calciopoli of course changed this, propelling Roma up to 2nd. However, the season could still arguably be labelled as a failure. The false nine role is often associated with free flowing football and boatloads of goals, however Roma scored the third most goals in the league.

The decision to utilise Totti as a false nine was more papering over the cracks than a move that had long-term potential, which is mostly how the false nine works out.

Milan, ITALY: AS Roma capitain Francesco Totti (C) lifts up the Tim Cup flanked by teamates after winning Italian Coppa Italia second leg final football match against Inter Milan at Milan’s San Siro Stadium , 17 May 2007. Roma lost the match 2-1 but won the trophy strong of a 6-2 home win last week. AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Totti’s transition to actual striker

The 2006/07 season was supposed to be different. 50% of Mirko Vučinić was signed from Leece for €3.25m, the Montenegrin striker had scored 27 goals in two seasons for a side who had only just been promoted a few seasons before. With Vučinić ahead of Totti, Spalletti could return to his 4-2-3-1 and Totti could assume his best position. Fantastic.

Except that’s not what happened. Vučinić had two knee operations during the season and only started five games, Montella was still a corpse, Francesco Tavano would arrive on loan in January but wasn’t much help, it was up to Totti to save the day.

Spalletti wasn’t as loyal to the false nine system as he was in the previous season, Roma lined up similar to how they did in 05/06, DDR, Perotta, Pizarro midfield, Taddei and Mancini on the wings, with Vučinić chipping in when he was off the surgery table.

Totti reeled off his best ever season, scoring 26 goals and claiming his only ever Capocannoniere. Hindsight is 20/20, but why didn’t Spalletti opt for Totti has an out-and-out striker in 05/06? I think the most logical reasoning is that Totti had to be mentored to play that role, first operating as a false nine and then as a striker the season after.

The legacy of Totti’s false nine role

Football is about enjoyment. Finding enjoyment in football is up to you, it can be through entertaining football, through seeing the immense bond between Roma and Totti, it can be little quirky tidbits like Totti’s stint as a false nine.

The false nine role in itself has little to no longevity, it can be used during a striking crisis or when it’ll gain a tactical advantage in a match like Barcelona v Real Madrid in 2011.

2005/06 boasted no silverware for Roma, however the 2006/07 season did, and it goes to show just how beautiful football can be when you put an emphasis on aesthetics. The 6-2 victory over Inter is the crown jewel of Totti’s stint as a striker. The third goal is an excellent example of Perotta’s off the ball running ability.

No doubt this weekend your timelines and news feeds will be flooded with Totti tributes, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be. Careers like Totti’s are rare in football, it’s criminal he’ll retire with only one Scudetto but I hope memories like the ones included in this article live on forever.

Words – @Bilbertosilva

 

 

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Why all of Italy should be proud of Agnelli’s Juventus http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/italy-proud-agnellis-juventus/ Mon, 22 May 2017 16:00:50 +0000 http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/?p=80003 The truth is, in Italy you either love Juventus or hate Juventus. Therefore many of you will completely ignore any article celebrating Juventus. However it would be beneficial to understand what the Bianconeri, behind Andrea Angelli have been able to accomplish. They’re moving smarter and faster than virtually every football club in Europe, and even […]

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The truth is, in Italy you either love Juventus or hate Juventus.

Therefore many of you will completely ignore any article celebrating Juventus. However it would be beneficial to understand what the Bianconeri, behind Andrea Angelli have been able to accomplish. They’re moving smarter and faster than virtually every football club in Europe, and even more so when compared to their Italian counterparts. All of Serie A should emulate their strategy.

Six straight Serie A titles and two Champions League Finals in 3 years, is worth a closer look. You have to give Andrea Angelli credit, as he might be the best and most innovative operator in all of sports. Here’s six ways Juve are winning on and off the pitch.

They built an amazing stadium. They have lost one match at home in the last four seasons. It’s the best home field advantage in not only Italy but all of Europe. The stadium has been the key asset in their title runs. It greatly increased their averaged attendance, and increased their revenue. It also has given the Juventus fans a much better experience. Until someone else of note in Serie A, can build a comparable stadium, they’re spotting  Juventus points and revenue.

They turned Pirlo into a world legend.  When it looked like things were headed south for the passmaster, they rejuvenated his career.  So many teams mess-up when handling ageing stars. How they’ve handled the end of Del Piero’s career was also graceful.

Scouting – They simply sign great players, they sign great older players, (Dani Alves), and great young players. (Paul Pogba) Another great example is the signing of Alex Sandro, he wasn’t even playing in Italy, but they realized the potential, and it has paid off.  They rarely make a bad signing, especially when signing players over $10m. It’s a track record that embarrasses many other clubs.

The Old Lady have been able to develop talent. Young players come to Juventus, and get better. Chiellini, Pobga, Coman, Rugani, are all young players who’ve greatly improved their value at Juventus. Even Dybala has grown so much at Juventus, you can argue they currently have the 2nd valuable team in the world, only trailing Real Madrid.

They brand, I know a lot of people hate the logo, who cares it’s brilliant, and years ahead of the rest of Europe. The Juventus brand and merchandising is far beyond of the rest of the peninsula. If you want to admit it or not, they are simply smarter and more innovative than rest of Serie A.

They’ve built a winning mentality, everyone who comes into the Juventus locker room, understands the standard.

The simple truth Angelli excels in all three key components of modern football.

  1. Infrastructure
  2. Player Personal & Acquisition
  3. Branding

They’ve built a team un-matched in Italy, and team that brings news fans into the Italian game. They single handily are keeping Italy competitive on co-efficients, and are the model to embrace.

 

Mike Rizzo, is brand marketer and owner of Ispirare Coffee, follow him @RizzoMB

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Europa League qualification first step in the right direction for AC Milan http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/europa-league-qualification-first-step-right-direction-ac-milan/ Mon, 22 May 2017 09:00:18 +0000 http://www.italianfootballdaily.com/?p=79982 Sunday afternoon saw AC Milan come away victorious at home, downing visitors Bologna 3-0 thanks to a trio of second half goals from Gerard Deulofeu, substitute Keisuke Honda and Gianluca Lapadula. More importantly, this feat meant that, for the first time since 2014, the Rossoneri faithful around the globe could celebrate the return to UEFA European […]

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Sunday afternoon saw AC Milan come away victorious at home, downing visitors Bologna 3-0 thanks to a trio of second half goals from Gerard Deulofeu, substitute Keisuke Honda and Gianluca Lapadula. More importantly, this feat meant that, for the first time since 2014, the Rossoneri faithful around the globe could celebrate the return to UEFA European competition next season after clinching 6th place.

Since their last European fixture on 11 March 2014 in the Round of 16 versus eventual runner-up Atletico Madrid, it’s been anything but roses for the red and black club. Finishing 8th, 10th and 7th respectively since their last European night, this three year funk has proven to be one of the more difficult in recent memory for Milanisti.

At the post, stability has been hard to come by. After the sacking of Massimiliano Allegri in January 2014, its been a revolving door with Clarence Seedorf, Pippo Inzaghi, Sinisa Mihajlović and Cristian Brocchi all failing to make their convincing case to former club President Silvio Berlusconi. Such shortcomings, partnered with abysmal seasonal performances, ultimately led plenty of supporters to turn their backs on club legends – turned managers – who were thrusted into the role at the most inopportune times. Looking back, perhaps it was more out of frustration than anything else. Milan, still to this day, are one of world football’s most prestigious and successful clubs who – for many – could only associate with winning. To see a dysfunctionally-managed club collapse to such extraordinary levels brought the worst out of many.

Yet, it seemed that after such a courageous effort last May in Rome at the Stadio Olimpico in the Coppa Italia final versus eventual winners Juventus, a crease of optimism for the upcoming season opened up, inviting Milan to exploit. And it wasn’t in the form of a massive summer spending spree. Rather, in the appointment of a manager who was hellbent on bringing a fallen giant back to the promised land that is Europe.

On 28 June 2016, AC Milan officially announced ‘L’Aeroplanino’ as manager, signing a two-year deal with the club.

Assets were limited, and a big summer mercato was simply not in the budget, but Montella made no excuses with regards to bringing in reinforcements. Essentially, Montella was handed the keys and told to drive.

Early on in the campaign, the Rossoneri flirted with a top three finish as they were well within striking distance entering the winter break. For the first time in five years, Milan lifted a piece of hardware as they triumphed over Juventus to win the Italian SuperCup in penalties on 23 December 2016 in Doha.

DOHA, QATAR – DECEMBER 23 :Head coach Vincenzo Montella of AC Milan poses with the trophy after winning the Supercoppa TIM Doha 2016 match between Juventus FC and AC Milan at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium on December 23, 2016 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by AK BijuRaj/Getty Images)

At the time, the Milanese giant were one of the only clubs in Italy who stood toe to toe with the Bianconeri in spite of their projected sixth straight Scudetto crown, beating them twice in the span of two months. These achievements, along with a very profound confidence that contagiously spread around the club, actually made Milan fans believe again. Although the sale of the club – and its many postponements – continued to dominate headlines and social media, Montella maintained a level of calmness that projected onto the entire club as through sixteen rounds, Milan occupied third. But, it would soon be short lived.

With every passing week, Juventus’ stranglehold on a first place finish gripped firmer. In the rearview mirror, Roma and Napoli jockeyed for second and third. This meant that Europa League became the more realistic objective. At times, specifically when key playmaker Giacomo Bonaventura was ruled out for the remainder of the year, supporters began losing hope. Reverting between fifth, sixth and seventh place for the better part of Spring, doubts were raised over whether or not Montella could pull this off. Rising the occasion, Montella steadied the ship.

Despite collecting two points from a possible nine against relegation-destined sides Pescara, Empoli and Crotone, Montella skippered Milan to a sixth place finish, good for Europa League football next season. Relief filled the inner means of the young and old as a club with great European pedigree, were back.

Speaking after the victory Sunday to Milan TV, the gaffer explained his satisfaction with the season, saying “I think it has been a positive season. I am really happy for this group and I am really proud of being their coach: it was not easy to create a group that gives everything they have, every game.” 

Next Sunday, Milan put the bow on their season as they travel to Cagliari. Luckily for the health of many around Lombardy, the club has nothing to play for. We will likely see plenty changes to the starting XI as Montella looks to reward those seldom used pitch time.

MILAN, ITALY – MAY 21: Gianluigi Donnarumma (R) of AC Milan salutes the fans at the end of the Serie A match between AC Milan and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 21, 2017 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

2016-17, for some, will come off as a disappointment. And, if it is your stance, then that is your prerogative. Yet, in a season where Milan defeated a legitimate treble contender twice, lifted a Cup trophy, finished above their hated rival Inter and qualified for Europe, please reconsider your position. Europa League is a step in the right direction; the first hurdle cleared by a former powerhouse to restore past glory. And, when you consider the strong young nucleus intact, increased off-season spending and a new vision, perhaps renewed glory is not all that far off.

You can follow my football ramblings and various workings over on Twitter @Matt_Santangelo.

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