Maurizio Sarri’s story isn’t one of chance. He isn’t just another coach working at a club. Sarri is a man who followed a dream and today is living it. Sarri’s story is of a little boy that grew up in Tuscany but who was teased for supporting Napoli. Napoli…that mystic city far off but where his heart had first begun to beat. The city where his father had worked and where he happened to be born. He found it natural to root for them even though he had left there at the age of three. They say one does not choose to support Napoli but one is born a supporter. For Sarri it was no different. Despite what the other kids may say, Sarri’s heart was blue inside.
As an adult, Sarri followed his professional life into the world of banking. He was successful and his career took him to Switzerland, Luxembourg and England. However, Sarri was not satisfied by his work alone. At night he would coach football. Mornings in the office and nights on the pitch. That was his routine for years and he continued to gain success in both aspects of his life.
About ten years later, in 2002, and after many successes in the world of coaching he found himself coaching Serie D. He soon realized that nightly practice sessions would no longer cut it. There was only one thing to do; follow his heart and to pursue coaching full time. So he gave up his life as a banker and dove headfirst into coaching.
Sarri brought his hardwork and attention to detail from the world of banking to the world of football. Unlike many coaches today, he rose through the ranks step by step by his own merit. He earned the nickname “Mister 33” in honor of the many different set pieces his team prepared for matches and drew praise for his abilities even as he coached in the lower divisions.
It has been a long and arduous road but today Sarri finds himself coaching Napoli. That city, that team, that has commanded his heart since he was just a little boy. Last year Sarri was asked by a reporter if he was upset by the fact that his contract was far inferior to some other Serie A coaches. His reply? “Are you kidding? I’m the son of laborers. What I earn is more than enough. I get paid to do something that I would do for free at night after work.” Dreams don’t always come true but for Sarri they have. Napoli fans are now hoping Sarri’s destiny takes him to fulfilling their own dreams as well.
Blog Written by Alessandro Pugliese (@sandro_pugliese):
Disclaimer: I did not get to catch as much Serie A action this weekend as I normally do but followed along via Twitter.
Higuain scored the winning-goal on his debut. Bacca had a hat trick and Donnarumma saved a 95th minute penalty to save the three points for Milan. A Birsa brace propelled Chievo Verona over Inter. Napoli came back from two goals down to draw Pescara. Genoa scored three unanswered goals. Lazio prevailed in a seven-goal thriller. Serie A is NOT boring.
The new season started off with Roma hosting Udinese on Saturday. Although the first half was somewhat lethargic, Roma came out flying in the second half and ended up scoring four goals. Substitute Diego Perotti scored two penalties along with late goals from Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah got Roma a nice result ahead of their vital Champions League Qualifier against Porto on Tuesday. A good showing from the Giallorossi gives them the best goal differential after the weekend. Hopefully, they will become the third club to represent Italy in this year’s Champions League.
Fiorentina traveled to Turin to face off against Juventus. With new signings Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic on the bench, the Bianconeri looked quite good in the first half dominating the match and took the lead through a Khedira header. Juve didn’t look as sharp in the second half and eventually La Viola found an equalizer through Nikola Kalinic in the 70th minute. But only five minutes later the €90 million man, Higuain, found the back of the net to propel the Old Lady to victory. Quick shoutout for Kwadwo Asamoah who played a very good match in midfield after recovering from long-term injuries.
Sunday came and the action picked up a notch! The first match was Milan vs. Torino at San Siro as Sinsa Mihajlovic faced his former team and Vincenzo Montella made his competitive debut. A hat trick from striker Carlos Bacca had the Rossoneri up 3-1 in the 62nd minute. Daniele Baselli’s finish in the 91th minute pulled the Granata within one goal. There was some exciting late drama as Gabriel Paletta conceded a 94th minute penalty was issued a red card. Torino striker Andrea Belotti stepped up to the spot only for teenager Gianluigi Donnarumma to make a fantastic save to ensure Milan earned the three points.
Then later on, there were seven simultaneously matches. The most surprising result was Chievo Verona’s 2-0 victory over Inter. Two fantastic goals from Valter Birsa propelled the Flying Donkeys to a flying start to the season. A disappointing debut for new head coach Frank De Boer, who will need some time to adapt to the Italian league.
Newly promoted Pescara took a shocking two-goal lead over Napoli by halftime. Super sub Dries Mertens brought Napoli level, scoring two goals in the span of three minutes. There was some real controversy when Napoli was awarded a penalty but the call was reversed as a foul was spotted earlier.
On the verge on Europa League qualification, Sassuolo continued their fine form by beating Palermo 1-0 on a penalty kick goal from Domenico Berardi.
A near-post firecracker from Luis Muriel gave Sampdoria a 1-0 victory over Empoli at the Stadio Carlo Castellani. Empoli striker Massimo Maccarone received a straight red card in the 84th minute.
A late goal from Mattia Destro gave Bologna a 1-0 victory over Serie A newcomers, Crotone. Roberto Donadoni’s side controlled most of the match and deserved the three points.
New signing Marco Borriello put Cagliari ahead at the Luigi Ferraris Stadium. Hosts Genoa went on to score three unanswered goals in a thrilling comeback. Manchester City loanee Oliver Ntcham equalized in the 78th minute and only moments later Diego Laxalt scored the go-ahead goal. Luca Rigoni added a late goal as the Rossoblu kicked off the season with a well-earned win.
Lazio travelled to Bergamo to face off against Atalanta in a seven-goal thriller. Ciro Immobile scored the opener in his debut and Lazio even took a 3-0 lead. Atalanta, however, came back with a decent shout pulling the score to 3-2 in the 67th minute. Danilo Cataldi gave Lazio a two-goal cushion in the 89th minute but A.C. Milan loanee Andrea Petagna gave Atalanta a consolation goal in stoppage time.
A greatly entertaining first week of Italian Calcio is hopefully just the beginning of a long, fun-filled season.
Blog Written by Nicholas Dobbin (@1958MUFC_Calcio):
“Two in the middle. In from Veron, Crespo lets it go... CHIESAAAA!!! Oh lovely goal… lovely goal” cried Barry Davis a night that crowned favourites Parma their second UEFA Cup triumph in 1999. Roberto Sensini lifted the trophy that day for ‘I Gialloblu’ (The Yellow and Blues) and Parma announced themselves as one the best sides in Europe. Nobody could have thought back then that sixteen years later their football club would seize to exist. A team that had the world’s most expensive goalkeeper - Gianluigi Buffon who moved from Parma to Juventus for £33 million in 2001, Hernan Crespo - a player that himself smashed the world transfer record when he left Parma for Lazio in a £35.5 million deal in 2000. A team that also included Juan Sebastian Veron who left for £18 million, World Cup and European Cup winner Lillian Thuram who himself left for £22 million, Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola, 2006 Ballon d’Or winner Fabio Cannavaro and Italian goal scoring machine Alberto Gilardino. How does a team with so much talent fall so far from grace?
Parma Associazone Calcio in their early years competed in Serie C and B and were not unfamiliar with financial turmoil after being ordered into liquidation back in 1968. Unfortunately for Parma, this was not to be the last time. The club has played its home matches at Stadio Ennio Tardini often known as Il Tardini since 1923, with a capacity of 22,352 fans. The appointment of Nevio Scala in 1989 proved to be the turning point for ‘I Gialloblu’ as he managed to mastermind them to promotion into Serie A with a 2-0 win over A.C. Reggiana 1919 back in 1990.
The investment from the global organization Parmalat proved to be one of the best, yet one of the worst things to ever happen to Parma Associazone Calcio. Everything snowballed after the agreement between Parma and Parmalat became public as they went from being just another team in Italy to being one of the big four teams in the country. Their success coincided with the success of the league in general. Serie A was the home to some of the finest footballers in the world with Van Basten, Baresi, Buffon, Maradona, Ronaldo Maldini, Del Piero, Gullit, Batistuta and Zidane all applying their trade in Italy. Italy’s dominance was reinforced by the country’s clubs having twelve European finalists in seventeen years. Spain, Germany and England only had thirteen teams combined during this period. Italy’s reign came to an end in the early millennium with the global attraction of the Premier League and later La Liga outdoing Serie A. Oppositely, as teams in England grew stronger due to an increase in sponsorship, Italian sides were facing financial difficulties, which looked inevitable for a long time.
There was a good feeling about the club. They made their debut in UEFA competitions in 1991. It did not take them long before they were winning a European trophy as they beat Antwerp at Wembley in the European Cup Winners Cup in ’93. They could not retain their trophy a year later losing to Arsenal. More trophies followed including Parma’s first UEFA Cup beating Juventus in the final. Scala lead Parma to their first four major honours before being replaced in 1996 by now Italian legend Carlo Ancelotti. It did not take him long to show his managerial talents as he guided Parma to second in the league, their greatest Serie A finish after a squad overhaul in 1997. They consequently made their Champions League debut the following year. Ancelotti’s success led to him being poached by Italian giants Juventus.
Alberto Malesani was installed as coach in 1998 and had a successful two years in charge he won the double in his first campaign winning the Coppa Italia beating Fiorentina in the final which was followed by a second UEFA Cup win in Moscow with a 3-0 win against Marseille. The following year they managed a Suppercoppa Italiana victory over league champions Milan in August. Subsequently, their success lead to the big Italian clubs wanting their players and Hernan Crespo left for Lazio for a world record fee of £35.5 million. Gianluigi Buffon left for £33 million a world record fee for a goalkeeper, a record that still stands today. Fabio Cannavaro and Lillian Thuram left for upwards of £20 million and Juan Sebastian Veron left for £18 million. Which begs the question, where did all this money go?
It was said earlier that Parmalat was the best and worst thing that happened to Parma. You’ve seen the success, now here is the failure of Parmalat. The global company went bankrupt in 2004 with debts of $20 billion and fraudulent activity at Parmalat worth up to €10 billion. Essentially, there were certain groups of people that were taking money out of the club that became unspoken for. After three years of being kept alive by administrators Tommaso Ghirardi bought the club out of administration in 2007. After flirting with relegation for a few years they eventually succumbed to the drop in 2007-08 but managed to get back to Serie A at the first try. After many managerial changes due to Ghirardi’s ‘trigger-happy’ finger, they did manage to sustain mid table finishes for four years before finishing sixth and in theory qualifying for European football for the first time under the ownership of Tommaso Ghirardi. However, due to late payments of income tax on salaries they were unable to qualify for a UEFA License and were therefore, not able to compete in European competitions. This lead to Ghirardi becoming disinterested at the football club. At this point there were around 300 players registered to the football club, the most in Europe. Over half of that figure was registered as first team players. Many of which were loaned out or co-owned by other football clubs. This was a huge strain on the clubs finances and ended up being the catalyst to players not being paid and electricity bills as well as security costs not being covered for matches. Club legend Hernan Crespo who is now a coach at Parma once famously said that his players had to take cold showers after matches and training sessions because the clubs hadn’t paid the electricity bill.
The club was eventually sold for one solitary euro, an embarrassment for the Parma fans. To think the club that they love was being sold for such a nominal figure, so small that you could buy a pint of milk and a loaf of bread and it cost nearly double than Parma was sold for. A succession of ownership changes lead to eventual bankruptcy in March 2015 with debts of around £278 million as well as months of unpaid salaries.
So where are they now? A crowd funded campaign called #WEAREPARMA allowed the fans to get their club back. Parma, now under a different name of Parma Calcio 1913 was competing in the fourth tier of Italian football after being declared as bankrupt in 2015. But after all the heartache of the last decade the fans can worry no more. Club legend Alessandro Lucarelli and company have managed to get themselves promotion at the first time of asking into Lega Pro, the Italian third tier. Is it the UEFA Cup? The European Cup Winners Cup? The Coppa Italia? No. It is much more than that. They have their club back.
Blog Written by Alessandro Pugliese (@sandro_pugliese):
Even though Manchester United is set to break the single transfer fee record for the signature of Paul Pogba, Juventus won't miss him as much as the fee suggests. Pogba is a very talented, 23-year-old flashy midfielder with incredible worldwide marketability and favored to win a Ballon D'Or in the future, yet Juventus will be happy to take the money and run.
The Bianconeri already signed the attacking-minded, creative midfielder Miralem Pjanic from Roma earlier this summer by exercising his release clause of €32 million. Pjanic is a world-class talent who will certainly be able to replicate, if not improve upon, Pogba's offensive production. Pogba and Pjanic led Serie A last season with 12 assists each.
So with Pjanic's services already secured, Juventus are reportedly looking to sign a more defensive-minded midfielder. Blaise Matiudi, Nemanja Matic, Luiz Gustavo and Axel Witsel are the top names being mentioned. If Juve do end up signing one of these midfielders, the club won't be missing Pogba on the field too much in my opinion. A midfield consisting of Claudio Marchisio, Sami Khedira, Miralem Pjanic, Mario Lemima, Kwadwo Asamoah and a possible new signing would be one of the best in Europe. Despite losing Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and now Paul Pogba, Juventus have been able to find suitable replacements.
But perhaps Pogba's most influential impact might be off the field, a factor into his astronomical price tag. He is a superstar recognized worldwide and a phenomenal marketable icon. Juventus had the seventh most jersey sales during the 2015-16 season with Pogba as their highest seller. Many younger fans around the world have become familiar with Juventus in recent times because of Pogba. Don’t forget that the Calciopoli scandal knocked Juve off the world football scene for about five years or so but signing the likes of Pogba, Pirlo and Vidal helped put the club from Turin back on the world map.
Pogba’s influence has even helped the Italian champions expand their social media reach. @Andreank91 on Twitter, who reports on Juve stats and news, said that the official Juventus Twitter account gained 37,500 followers a week after Euro 2016. Meanwhile, before the tournament the club averaged a gain of 16,500 new followers a week. The saga surrounding Pogba’s transfer presumably has played a significant factor in the high increase of followers.
The brilliance of Juve’s management is that they already strengthen each position on their roster this summer even before announcing the mega-sale of Paul Pogba; Dani Alves on a free transfer, Mehdi Benatia on loan (with option to buy), Miralem Pjanic from Roma, Marko Pjaca from Dinamo Zagreb and Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli. With a possible addition of another midfielder their mercato should be pretty wrapped up, excluding the possible sales of a few fringe players. Doing smart business for yet another summer, sporting director Beppe Marotta and company have spent their available funds wisely while in a timely fashion.
As great a talent that Paul Pogba is, Juventus will be able to replace him on the field and have continued success. But he will be sorely missed off the field, where he has helped the club’s global outreach and recognition. As former Juventus midfielder Marco Tardelli told La Stampa last summer, “Players come and go but the club remains.”