Jose Callejon – Serie A’s best signing of the last decade?

Recall the scene: Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne would receive the ball down on the left hand channel of the opponent’s half. Insigne would take several touches, cut inside and delicately float a beautifully weighted diagonal pass behind the opposition defence and into the stride of Jose Callejon on the right hand side, who’d timed his run impeccably.

Callejon would either take one of two options: he’d instantly kill the ball with his first touch and shoot at goal, or roll it across for Napoli’s central striker to tap it in. Throughout the Maurizio Sarri era, this scenario played out seemingly two or three times a game, with a goal usually the end result. Continue reading

Uncovering Atalanta’s Ruslan Malinovskyi

Cast your mind back to Atalanta’s third strike in their six-goal demolition of Brescia 10 days ago.

Ruslan Malinovskyi received the ball in the left hand channel of the Brescia half, some 35 yards from goal. The Ukrainian dropped the shoulder to sidestep Mattia Viviani, ran into a more central position, pulled back his traction engine of a left foot and unleashed a missile that flew into the bottom corner of Lorenzo Andrenacci’s goal.

It was yet another screamer for the Malinovskyi scrapbook. “I don’t have a bad left foot,” he joked in his first interview for Atalanta last summer. It’s safe to say that Malinovskyi was slightly understating things. Continue reading

Is winning Serie A enough for Cristiano Ronaldo as he winds down at Juventus?

The Italian football season is set to restart following the well documented Covid-19 pandemic- which greatly affected the Italian peninsula. The date is set for June 20th, and Juventus, the current champions, could be heading for a historic 9th league title in a row.

Their superstar player is of course Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the true modern great players, but is the former Real Madrid player’s career winding down at the Old Lady? Will Ronaldo be satisfied without winning the full range of trophies after moving to Turin? Some may even say, does he regret leaving Real Madrid where he probably had a better chance of winning the Champions League again? In hindsight there could well be an argument for all that.

The question is what does Ronaldo want from the game? There is no simple answer because CR7 is looking to create more history. If we go back to Euro 2016 and asked Ronaldo if winning the European Championship was his crowning achievement, then surely the answer would be yes. This is another great example of Ronaldo creating history. Portugal winning their first ever silverware was and is a major statement.

Portugal had come close before particularly when they hosted the Euros in 2004, their star player that year was Luis Figo but in the final they lost 1-0 to the defend-first approach used by the Greeks. In France in 2016, it all came together for the Portuguese and Ronaldo finally won a major tournament with his country. Prior to that point he was heading for a similar theme as Lionel Messi, namely being a great club player but consistently coming up short with the national side. The sheer joy on his face when Portugal won was all too visible. It meant something much more than a club trophy for him, in a nutshell it was as if he had won something for the first time.

Now imagine Portugal had dominated for many years and this was, for example their 3rd silverware in a decade. True it would be special but for Ronaldo it wouldn’t be unique, not as unique as winning for the first time and being the driving factor in helping his side to win for the first time.

Ronaldo does two things- what motivates him the most is scoring goals and winning the big trophies. So if Juventus can shrug off Lazio, the only realistic team that can deny Juve this season, then the Bianconeri will have won the league 9 times in a row with back to back titles for Ronaldo. But is that really special for him? Is that enough for CR7? True it is for the club as they tear up the record books and for Ronaldo it is yet another trophy to mark down on his CV but let’s face it it is not as special as winning the Champions League with the Old Lady.

Ronaldo in effect was brought in to Juventus to deliver the Champions League after winning the competition 4 times with Real Madrid and once with Manchester United. Winning league titles and domestic cups is great but Ronaldo would certainly feel a big hole in his move to Italy if he couldn’t deliver the Champions League to a club which has been waiting for 24 years.

And that is the key here, winning the Champions League with Juve would be as important in many aspects as winning the European Championship with Portugal and winning the 3 Champions League trophies in a row with Real Madrid. It would feel more like an achievement bringing home a trophy to Turin that the Italian giants have not won since 1996 (rather than a league title).

Trophies are great of course but Ronaldo has set that personal bar of success so high that one wonders if the Champions League is beyond the club Ronaldo joined?

Time is moving on too and Ronaldo is 35. He’s achieved almost everything in his career and is going to be remembered as one of the greats. But if he leaves Italy without ‘Ol Big Ears’ as they affectionately call the Champions League trophy he will be the first to be upset.

Brescia’s Massimo Cellino wants Serie A null and void, he has a point but is he right?

Brescia  president Massimo Cellino has spoken out and wants the current Serie A season declared null and void but is he thinking of his clubs own interests or the interests of the league?

Brescia surprise surprise are bottom of Serie A and aren’t just last but rock bottom in the fact that they are 9 points from safety and with 12 games to go only a miracle really would have seen them stay up.

However Cellino believes that Coronavirus goes beyond football and his statement about ending the league which would save Brescia has nothing to do with his team being relegated. Cellino said: “I don’t care at all about relegation so far we have deserved it and I have my blame in that, too.”

Cellino went on to say that the season could descend into chaos and that Brescia may just forfeit games if the season did go ahead in respect of the towns in Italy that have been hit the hardest over the virus which includes the region of Brescia.

Cellino said: “This season doesn’t make sense any more. We’ve stopped no team will return as before, the matches will be behind closed doors, plus there’s a risk to the health of the athletes. For me to go back to business is pure madness. If they force us to play, I’d be willing to not field the team and lose the matches 3-0 out of respect for the citizens of Brescia and their loved ones who are no longer there.”

Cellino continued: “We need to change all the national and international rules players’ contracts, balance sheets, deadlines with the banks, the transfer market, preparation, start of the new season. It will be absolute chaos and for what?”.

At first glance it is easy to dismiss Cellino’s claims that the league season should be cut short and end now. His team are bottom of the league and sure to be relegated. At the same time would he be speaking out if Brescia had stunned Italian football and were in first place or challenging for first or a Champions League finish? Only people very close to him could tell you that answer and because of Brescia’s position, Cellino could talk about ending the season all day long, not many would listen. Now if Maurizio Sarri the Juventus coach asked for the season to end that would be different as they are leading and would be giving up the league title.

But Cellino does raise good and valid points about how football simply isn’t as important as some people may make out when a virus is killing thousands in Europe. Also players contracts, health insurance etc, all come into play. Cellino isn’t completely talking nonsense and making isn’t completely only thinking of self interests, and it wouldn’t be  a surprise if Serie A were to look into his views.

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How far have Milan fallen when they are resigned to signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic at 38?

Even though AC Milan won the Serie A title in 2011 they have had a poor decade in football where they have seen major stars leave the team and Juventus take over their mantle as the strongest side in Italy.

Indeed whilst not as quite bad this Milan team is very near how poor the club were back in the 1970s. You used to look at Milan teams and your jaw would drop in the quality that was on the field; Ruud Gullit, Carlo Ancelotti, Paolo Maldini, Marco van Basten, Andriy Shevechenko, Andrea Pirlo the list is endless because Milan of the 80s and 90s and even into the 2000s were as strong and brimming of quality like Barcelona and Real Madrid.

But the 2010s were not kind to the team, football seemed to leave them behind and apart from the odd special result Milan have been quite forgetable on the European stage. They haven’t even played in the Champions League now for several years, even though that competition was supposed to be ingrained into their DNA, after all they have won it 7 times.

Currently the club are in 11th place and 21 points behind the league leaders and we are only at the half way stage of the new season. What will be even more grinding is that the club in front are their arch rivals, Inter Milan, a club where they share the same ground. Indeed everyone seems to have moved into Milan’s territory, even Inter who have, for long periods, been in Milan’s shadow and yet of course out of the two Milan’s they are the last to have won the Champions League when they triumphed in 2010.

As January announces itself Milan have hit back, well kind of. They have signed one of the great strikers of the modern game in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Now let’s not dot around here, Ibrahimovic is a superb player, the clubs he plays for win games, win titles, win trophies and he always scores lots of goals, most of them contenders for the season. But Ibra as he is fondly known is 38 years old.

When his signing was announced there were no groans or media backlash, even at 38 the fans have got behind the player and their club. From the moment he has arrived in Milan he has been treated like a superstar, crowded by fans, with his name chanted. At 38 the Swedish player is expected to be the messiah and save the club.

His goal scoring instinct will ensure that he scores goals for the club though it is questionable how many he will be able to get. Surely the objective this season will be a European finish, the club are 8 points adrift of a Europa League position, so it isn’t impossible, But being 14 points behind a Champions League position seems a little too far this season.

One wonders if Ibrahimovic’s transfer isn’t something different? Firstly to become the voice and guide in the dressing room and then possibly get into management and for this first job to be with Milan. If his advancing years takes away his goals, we still have an incredible character, a true leader who may well be able to shape Milan’s future like he did with his goal scoring boots when he first signed for the club more than a decade ago.

The jury is out but not in Italy where the player simply can’t fail with the fans. If anything the very fact he is back at the San Siro will give this very average Milan side a boost. But how far have the club fallen getting excited over a veteran Ibrahimovic? Maybe they know something we don’t?

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Can Inter Milan upset Juventus and win their first Serie A title in 10 years?

No Inter Milan fan even in their worst nightmares could have predicted the fall of the club after Jose Mourinho upped his sticks and left the club in the summer of 2010 for Real Madrid. Now they are dreaming again almost a decade later.

Back in 2010 Inter under Mourinho’s infamous dogs of war and arguably his most successful period as a football coach not only won the league title but also completed for the first time in Italian football history the triple. That is the league title (Scudetto), the Italian cup and the creme of them all the Champions League. Indeed it was Inter’s first triumph in Europe since 1965. It all felt like a dream, but it was reality. Not only were Inter the champions of Italy but the champions of Europe.

Inter had finally stepped out of AC Milan and Juventus’ shadow as a club to be reckoned with and then Mourinho left and rather quickly Inter’s fortunes disappeared. It was as if by reaching the top of the mountain the only way was down. To add salt into the wounds Milan their eternal nemesis would win the league the following the year.

Since then countless coaches have come and gone and whilst Inter have always been there and thereabouts they have never looked like recapturing that glory at least domestically until this season. It has been a decade dominated by Juventus and their 8 in a row titles.

This season Inter have started superbly, losing just one game so far in Serie A inevitably to Juventus and the grand old lady remain their biggest obstacle to picking up their first title in what will be 10 years. But can Inter do it?

With the international break upon us Inter are just one point behind Juventus with 31 and that has been achieved out of a maximum points total of 36. In short in most seasons Inter would be in 1st place with a healthy lead. But there looms always the threat of Juventus.

Inter have a 7 point lead over 3rd place Lazio which is massive and Inter should be able to finish at least 2nd this season. But only winning the league will do and this team does have the tools to do it. Headed by Romelu Lukaku the Belgian has found a new lease of life after going a little stale at his former club Manchester United and he has already scored 9 goals this season. Even the great Cristiano Ronaldo only has 5 so far for Juve.

But Inter also have quality in their ranks such as Stefano Sensi who has already scored 3 goals from midfield and assisted in another two. In Antonio Conte Inter have a very successful coach the one who masterminded so many Juventus league titles, everything looks in place.

Can Inter go that extra mile and stop another Juventus win? This title looks like it will go down to the wire which, if anything, will be great for Italian football rather than the normal procession.

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Maurizio Sarri was right to substitute Ronaldo and the Portuguese legend must understand that

The big clash in Serie A at the weekend was against Juventus and AC Milan, which in truth meant a lot more 15 years ago and it was a game that Juventus would narrowly win 1-0. But the result was not the talking point, indeed it was all over a substitution.

In world football there are two players who, if they get subbed, can make headlines. One is Lionel Messi and the other is Cristiano Ronaldo and at the weekend for the second consecutive game in a row, the Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri substituted CR7 a.k.a Cristiano Ronaldo.

When it happened in the 55th minute the game was 0-0 and Ronaldo was none too pleased. He trundled off in what appeared to be a huge mood and then reportedly make the bizarre decision to leave the stadium before the end of the game. If this is true he has completely undermined Sarri. Sarri himself tried to play the incident down, saying in a nutshell that it was normal for Ronaldo to be upset and that he would be worried taking off a player that didn’t show emotion. It was nothing more than a textbook response, and Sarri should be boiling inside at Ronaldo’s actions.

On the face of it there has been a falling out and Sarri has no fears about making the decision that most coaches would fear in bringing off Ronaldo. But there is more than meets the eye and it seems that the Portuguese player has been suffering with a niggling knee problem the past few weeks.

It was also reported that before his substitution he had looked at his knee, hobbled a little and looked at the bench. However if true why would he be so angry at coming off? There is a competitiveness but there is also a danger of taking that too far and picking up a much worse injury in the long run.

Ronaldo is a total professional most of the time and nearing 35 next year is still scoring the goals and performing in games. However he got it wrong this time and Sarri was simply trying to protect his player. Maybe he was listening to recent comments too where Ronaldo admitted that he would only want to play in the very important games and Champions League ones.

The game ended with a Pablo Dybala goal, and to rub the salt into Ronaldo’s wounds, Dybala was the player who replaced Ronaldo.

Let’s hope Juventus and Sarri has the courage to fine Ronaldo for his actions, could you imagine a younger player doing the same and getting away with it?

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Coaches in Italy still refuse to believe in fans racist chants after Balotelli almost walks off

The problem with racism in Serie A reached new heights at the weekend when Verona took on Brescia. Mario Balotelli who has been repeatedly subjected to racist taunts much of his whole career when in Italy was again targeted.

The incident happened in the second half when Balotelli went over to take a corner and the section of Verona fans started doing the monkey chant. Rightly disgusted Balotelli kicked the ball in the air and then threatened to walk off the pitch. After a few minutes of whistles and jeers and with both sets of players from both sides convincing him to stay on he did just that.

But racism is going nowhere in Italy, in fact it is getting worse and this was highlighted by both coaches after the game. Where in England you would expect a manager in the post match press conference to speak up against racism, in Italy it feels that coaches do not see the problem.

The monkey chants were clearly audible and yet Verona coach Ivan Juric said: “I’m not afraid to say, today there was nothing. Lots of whistling and teasing against a great player, but there was nothing else. I have also taken so many insults over the years, I know what it means, but today there has been nothing. On the reason of the reaction you have to ask him. When there is racism, I will have no problem saying so because it sucks, even if it comes from my fans. But today I heard nothing. We don’t create a case where there isn’t, it would be a lie.”

How Juric had the gall to say such words is up to him, but what it did was underline that in Italy they do not hear or see a problem such as racism in football. His statement like many others before him seemed to want to make light of the incident and sweep it under the carpet. Perhaps and hopefully in the coming days with video evidence he will change his mind.

It is worrying when a situation is obvious and the coaches and presidents of clubs do not speak up. After the game Balotelli went to social media to thank his teammates but at the end of the day he must be disappointed with Juric’s comments. Aren’t we supposed to be taking steps forward and not backwards? However when UEFA do very little to educate and reinforce racism- banners do absolutely nothing- then we are left at a stalemate.

In England racism has almost disappeared from the stands. Yes of course it is there, but who remembers Balotelli having to stop a game and getting visibly upset when he played in the Premier League? Perhaps he needs to check again if playing in Italy is the right career move for him. However being Italian why shouldn’t he play in his home country, why should he run? The real problem is inside the football dressing rooms and outside the stadiums, sadly it seems that nothing is going to change quickly.

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Juventus Top Perfomers in Round Six vs SPAL

Juventus did not bother showing up until the final stages of the first half, but then insisted in their pursuit of the kill-shot after getting the lead and their wish was ultimately granted, allowing a tranquil finish for a change.

Matthijs De Ligt (5 points): the Estensi attackers did not pose much of a threat and were pretty poor technically even when they tried to go forward, but the Dutch youngster still made his presence felt on few occasions, perfectly forestalling the opponents with ease. His best intervention came in the first half where he thwarted a three vs two. He has been growing in each game and it is a matter of time until he is back to Ajax levels. A diligent game for Leonardo Bonucci as well, who was just a tad nonchalant on a ball in the box late. Gianluigi Buffon surpassed Paolo Maldini with his 903rd club appearances and that was the highlight of his day, as the enemies never took a shot on goal. Continue reading

Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci’s shame as he fails to back team mate Kean after racist abuse

KEAN(1)

Moise Kean has been in one word spectacular the past few weeks for Juventus as the promising young striker has stepped into the Juventus team and started scoring goals right off the bat. He has notched 4 goals in a few weeks and helping to ease Juventus to another Serie A title.

But in the match against Cagliari everything came to a head when Kean suffered racist chants from a frustrated and very confused set of Cagliari fans. His best response of course was scoring the goals which condemned Cagliari to defeat. What happened next was shocking. After he had to put up with racist chants he wasn’t even given the support of one of his teammates Leonardo Bonucci, a superb defender with ancient views.

Bonucci instead claimed that the racist chanting towards his team mate was 50/50 for the share of the blame, because Kean had faced off against the rival support. Did his face off warrant racist chanting? Anyhow that chanting had started before his goal celebration.

But Bonucci has thrown down a shocker- could one even fathom any England player for example not defending Raheem Sterling’s latest racial abuse? Bonucci has had to come out and say that his words were misunderstood, but this is cheap talk from someone who should know better.

The truth is that the Premier League in England is head and shoulders above any other major European league when it comes to stamping out racism. Yes there are still problems within the game- the lack of black managers being one, and yes you could argue that racism hasn’t disappeared from the English game but there is back up, organisations and education that would never lead someone like Bonucci to come out with such a response.

Unfortunately there is still no huge understanding of racism in some European countries- some would even just call what fans say banter. That’s the sad reality of it and we have been down this road so many times- why do you think that Mario Balotelli does not play in Italy, when he could? He was another player subjected to racist comments, and that was over a decade ago.

Sadly it seems that very little will be done and little will change within the game of Italy. And of course it must also be pointed out that there are many great fans, who are not racist in Italy and that the chants and singing are from a minority of so called fans.

Bonucci most probably regrets what he said, and is a good person. But questions must be raised as to why he would want to partly back the fans with his 50/50 comment. It feels that in some countries there is this respect with the ultra fans, because they make a noise at games. That respect must be dissolved when racist chanting comes into effect.

What huge leagues like Serie A must understand is that if you don’t curb racism it affects everything right down to sponsorship which means less money for the game which in turn means less quality players in the league. Italy has already felt that effect in the past 10-15 years, does it want to go further under?

What is certain is that Kean who could have ended up being a Juventus legend will most probably leave the club and country. In short change is needed, but will it happen has to be questionable.