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

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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.

 

Jose Mourinho should avoid Ligue 1 and go back to Inter Milan where he is loved

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The Special One Jose Mourinho is still head hunting for a job after being sacked at Manchester United last December. Just a few weeks after his departure Mourinho was being linked to a return to his native Portugal, possibly with Benfica.

Of course the thought of Mourinho coaching Benfica after his success with Porto never looked like being a realistic option. That would be like Mourinho returning to Italy to coach AC Milan after his incredible success at rivals Inter. All you do in that process is tarnish fans memories of what had been before and it rarely works out with a smile on your face.

But let’s face it football misses Mourinho, even the negative side of Mourinho, glum face, no wins and arguments with players and officials. Modern day football has enough room for Mourinho and lets not forget his incredible successes. Say what you will about Mourinho, his presence does win trophies.

The latest news on Mourinho has come from left field and does feel like a surprise. Apparently he is interested in coaching in France’s Ligue 1. But with the PSG job unavailable, what other options does Mourinho have? Well there is Lyon who have always been a huge club and have had a solid season and have very decent players. They are currently in 3rd place trying to chase down 2nd placed Lille. But they are also 25 points behind PSG.

Lyon of course dominated French football in the 2000s winning 7 titles in a row but the money that PSG has now has changed the ball game in France. The other club he is being linked to is an even greater surprise- Monaco. Now of course Monaco did win Ligue 1 in 2017, but they are a selling club and much of that team has disappeared including the great Kylian Mbappe who was snapped up by PSG. Now Monaco are just trying to survive in Ligue 1.

Of course the destination of Monaco would greatly suit Mourinho but it is questionable whether he will be able to add to his trophy haul by going there. Plus how much disrespect can one man in Leonardo Jardim be shown? Sacked earlier in the season to make way for Thierry Henry. He was brought back in just a few months later when it was clear that Henry was not cut out for the job. Are we seriously suggesting he will be tossed aside once more to make way for Mourinho?

If the truth be told Mourinho should avoid Ligue 1 and go back to Inter Milan. Inter do have a lot of problems but at the same time they have shown great signs this season and if he was given a decent transfer budget together with the contacts he has maybe he could make something of it once again in Milan. Just think for a second how loved Mourinho is at Inter and love is what he really needs at this time.

It was evident again this past weekend when he was reunited with Inter when an all star team played an all star Tottenham side to open up Tottenham’s new season. Mourinho was the happiest that the public had seen him in quite a while.

The bottom line is that managing Inter and being back in Serie A would not be an easy job, and the club would have to challenge a Ronaldo led Juventus. But at the same time he would walk into  a city and club that 100% respect him.

Does he leave the memories as they are or does he come back for a second helping. In part when he did with Chelsea he got immediate success with another league title, but by the end of his reign there it had turned nightmarish and that is something that even after 3 years has not left Mourinho’s legacy.

Does the importance of club football hamper Messi and Ronaldo in international games?

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The domestic football season has taken a break for the next week and some of the football results have been a surprise. Portugal drawing 0-0 with Ukraine was one, featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, the European champions could not beat Ukraine on their home turf. The other match that stuck out was a Lionel Messi Argentina team who lost 3-1 to Venezuela.

Argentina’s result was seen as a huge shock, even though the match was just a friendly and as usual Messi was given the scapegoat tag. How could it be that such a wonderful gifted player who is in brilliant form for his club side Barcelona not be able to perform and inspire his side to what should have been, at least on paper, a routine win?

One has to wonder if the importance of club football and the ever decreasing unimportance of international football is having its effect? Look at the evidence. An international match of no significance has come up bang in the last moments of the Spanish league title. Barcelona are 10 points clear and should win, but in a couple of weeks they will be playing in the Champions League against Manchester United.

Messi should be preparing for these matches both physically and mentally. Playing against Venezuela in a match that counts for very little save a few FIFA rankings points makes very little sense. The only saving grace for him and other international players who have bigger and more important games coming up is that the match was in Europe, Madrid to be exact at Atletico Madrid’s ground.

Is it any wonder then that players like Messi are not motivated to play in the match? It can end up being  a physical game, so what happens if he gets injured and then misses important matches for Barcelona, that actually mean something? At least in Europe, UEFA saw that friendlies were meaningless and introduced the UEFA Nations League. Whilst that competition does have its own flaws, it is still much better than friendless.

As for Ronaldo the situation was different in the fact that Portugal’s 0-0 draw with Ukraine was a Euro 2020 qualifier, but still it took the Juventus man time to get into the game. True the match ended up being a one sided affair where Portugal had an incredible 18 corners and dominated possession. But it was also a match where they really should have strolled home to a victory. With several players involved in title run ins again it just feels that such matches with just two months of the season in Europe left to play, simply come at the wrong time.

With such a full football calendar that UEFA have, it seems that nothing is going to change in the short run. But especially when matches are friendly ones, we shouldn’t be too shocked if the worlds best players are not up for a game, with so many important competitive fixtures around the corner.

 

 

 

Can Juventus put Italy on the map once again and challenge for the Champions League?

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There was a time when Italy was the toast of Europe, regulary winning the Champions League and contesting in finals. From the inception of the competition in 1993, Italian teams featured in the final for 6 years in a row. Winning in 1994 with AC Milan and 1996 with Juventus.

In the 2000s despite the emergence and then the dominance of the Spanish La Liga, Italian football was still strong. There was an all Italian one in 2003 when AC Milan beat Juventus on penalties and Milan would go on to make the final in 2005 losing historically to Liverpool after being 3-0 up at half time and then getting their sweet revenge over the same club in 2007.

But it was around this time when Italy was hit by betting scandals that saw Juventus relegated to Serie B, teams banned and their league titles in the mid 2000s wiped out. And then came Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to put the nail in the hammer being in Spain and dominating with their clubs and end of year trophies.

Of course Inter Milan provided a speed bump by winning the Champions League in 2010 in incredible fashion but they remain the last Italian team to win Europe’s most sought after prize. Since then the flag has been solely flown by Juventus who have reached 2 finals in the past three seasons, losing to Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.

Now Juventus equipped with Cristiano Ronaldo who has won the competition an incredible 5 times will have their sights on lifting the trophy next year for the first time in 23 years. It would only be the clubs 3rd title if they did so, not so many considering that Juve remain the biggest team in Italy.

But can they do it? Former goalkeeping legend Gianluigi Buffon who has never won the competition believes that they are one of three teams that will win this season alongside Barcelona and Manchester City. Buffon now plays for PSG in a last bid attempt to win it, the only major trophy missing from his resume.

Juventus have been strong this season and yet lost at home to a beleaguered Manchester United side, although they did beat them at Old Trafford. However if those two games had been a knock out one they would be knocked out now. As for Ronaldo he will be trying to win his 4th title in a row and 6 overall to equal the Real Madrid great Gento.

Juventus will be there and thereabouts and it would be a surprise if they didn’t at least reach the semi finals, and it will be fascinating if the old lady can finally rise to the challenge. They are in the last 16 now and have every chance to go as far as they believe in.

A move for Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the wrong one for AC Milan

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When was the last time AC Milan were the kings of Italy? Well that’s not too hard, one could say it was in 2011 when they won Serie A, before the Juventus domination. But even then all Milan were really doing were looking after the title.

In truth a dominating Milan have been largely absent from Italian and European football since they last won the Champions League in 2007, 11 years ago. The team have become a distant shadow of the club who were so powerful in the late 80s and throughout the 90s which also extended to the 2000s where they starred in 3 Champions League finals- 2003, 2005 and 2007, winning two of them.

It almost feels that football has passed them by- first it was being overtaken by the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid, two teams that Milan could once brush aside and then the clubs of the Premier League had their own victories over the Rossonieri.

Even in Italy, Juventus, Inter, Napoli, Roma perhaps even Lazio at times have left Milan somewhere on a deserted highway wondering where all their player pulling power has gone, because it really seems like it has.

Simply put Milan are historically a massive club, but in 2018 they don’t even belong in the top 20 clubs in Europe for aspiring players and the best to say, that is where I want to play. Milan have failed to play catch up. That is why the emerging story of them looking to re sign Swede great Zlatan Ibrahimovic should come as no surprise.

Now let’s not be silly about such matters, Ibrahimovic is an outstanding player and will be remembered as one of the best players of the first 20 years of this century. But Ibrahimovic is also 37 years old. True he is scoring goals for fun in the MLS where he currently has 22 goals from 27 games, but Serie A is a major step up for him at this stage of his career.

The signing if it does take place which does look likely almost feels like a nostalgia trip for Milan where Zlatan played for the club between 2010 -2012. There he scored 42 goals and won the league, he is a hero and a cult figure at San Siro even though of course he also played for Milan’s rivals Inter. So he will be welcomed back with open arms.

But one can’t help and think that the signing is just a luxury roll out on a Serie A season that is almost already over for Milan as they see Juventus running away with the league yet again. And that’s the real difference here. Whilst Juventus have also signed a legend in their 30s that so happens to be Cristiano Ronaldo who has an advantage of 4 years over Zlatan. You can’t help but think that the deal if it goes through won’t work out for player or club.

Goals continue for King Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus

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Was it ever in doubt when Juventus bought Cristiano Ronaldo for a mind boggling 100m euros in the summer? For a 33 year old such an amount of money would never have been thrown on the table, and it may never happen again- but there are rare exceptions and one of them is Ronaldo.

Ronaldo has kept himself in such good shape that many of his teammates believe that he is playing in a body of a 27 year old. Ronaldo himself believes that he can play at the top until he is at least 40, and that means 7 more seasons of his greatness. It  is also great news for Portugal where Ronaldo is set to play not only at Euro 2020 but at the Qatar World Cup in 2022, which would fittingly end his international spell.

But back to Serie A and Ronaldo’s new club Juventus. When Ronaldo joined the old lady, there were some cynics that said that the free scoring record breaking player would naturally struggle in a league that prides itself on defence. And for a brief moment they were absolutely correct. Ronaldo wasn’t scoring for the first few weeks, game after game would come and go, Juventus would win, whilst Ronaldo would miss chances, hit the woodwork and yet still set up goals. It was key and showed and does show the depth of this Juventus side that they could win without Ronaldo’s goals- but let’s be honest, Ronaldo lives for goals.

Then came the game against Sassuolo where after four league games he finally broke his duck, and then in typical fashion added a 2nd which also marked his 400th league goal of his career. Ronaldo was off and running and hasn’t looked back. It was ironic too that his first Champions League goal for Juventus actually came against one of his former clubs Manchester United.

As for stats well Ronaldo already has 8 goals in Serie A from 12 games and is just one behind in the standings, something that he would dearly love to top in his debut season in Italy.

Since Ronaldo became the complete player and not counting his youth his least amount of goals overall in the season was 23 for Manchester United 11 years ago. He is well on track as a 33 year old to beat that and also on track to add even more trophies to his cabinet. Juventus are clear at the top of Serie A and will qualify for the next stage of the Champions League- can Ronaldo continue his glittering career and fantastic stats? Absolutely, he already is and yes it was never really in doubt.

 

5 Reasons to watch Serie A this weekend

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Will Napoli’s attack settle into a hierarchy?

The biggest change since Carlo Ancelotti took over at Napoli is the amount of squad rotation. The former Milan manager has never settled for same lineup in back to back games, a far cry from his predecessor Maurizio Sarri. But we may see a more set cast as characters now that Dries Mertens has expressed his dissatisfaction with his lack of playing time.

Considering Ancelotti’s success and track record with a classic number nine to open space for the others emploeyed in the Christmas tree formation, many expected Arkadiusz Milik to establish himself as Napoli’s main striker- prior to this season, the only thing holding the Polish striker back in Serie A was staying healthy. But while he has been healthy enough to start regularly for Ancelotti, he hasn’t scored at his previous rate.

The match against Empoli on Friday could be a turning point for either Milik or Mertens- Napoli will need another offesinve force to emerge should Lorenzo Insigne slow down after a blistering start.

Can the real Roma please stand up?

On already two occasions this season it felt like manager Eusebio Di Francesco was one loss away from potentially losing his job. While the former Sassuolo manager got to enjoy the international break since he went into it after a four game winning streak, the home loss to SPAL turned the heat back on to his seat which was (once again) off set by the win in the Champions League and the draw against Napoli at the San Paolo last Sunday.

Roma will face a tough test at the Franchi stadium on Saturday evening when they go up against Fiorentina. The Tuscan club currently feature the second best defense in Serie A, so Di Francesco will have to hope Edin Dzeko continues to be inspired when they stadium lights are on – so far he has scored 54 of his 80 goals for Roma at night.

But should the Bosnian striker falter, who can Di Francesco truly count on? Pastore has been significant bust, after a strong start Kulivert has struggled to establish himself enough to earn consistent playing time and Under hasn’t been as a consistent as last season. The fact that El Shaarawy is Roma’s leading scorer and Lorenzo Pellegrini has taken Pastore starting role as the trequartista, are in a way reasons for concern.

Will Barella impress Juventus enough for a January move?

The Sardinian midfielder has had a break out season. The 21 year old has been his hometown team’s best player and he has established himself as a reliable starter for Roberto Mancini on the Azzurri. While he has drawn interest from both Milan and Inter, there’s less momentum for him being a target for Juventus.

The bianconeri had inquired about him last season, but despite the fact that they felt like a midfielder short even before Khedira and Can’s injuries, they are focused on other profiles at the moment. While Barella’s talent is undeniable, Juventus’ sporting director Paratici tends to focus on taller players- last season he was in fact more interested in Dennis Praet than his more hyped (for good reason by the way) teammate Lucas Torreira.

Barella can however start to change Paratici’s mind, or even just showcase himself for other teams on a huge stage when he takes to the pitch at Juventus Stadium on Saturday. Cagliari had previously sold Radja Nainggolan during a January window, will they do the same in 2019 with their best player since the Belgian international?

Will Ilicic keep his streak going?

The former Palermo and Fiorentina striker is one of the most infuriating players in Serie A. When he’s on few players ooze more talent in Italy when he has the ball at his feet, but all too often he disappears to the point you forget he’s even on the pitch in a way that is reminiscent of Savicevic and more recently Vucinic.

Ilicic has recently been the main reason Atalanta turned things around the past two weeks after a very problematic start. Ilicic scores a hat trick at the Bentegodi against Chievo, and followed it up with another very strong performance against Parma at home. The bar of competition will be raised a bit on Sunday, when Atalanta face Bologna, another team that turned things around after a slow start.

Will Lazio continue to crush weak opponents?

On one hand you could argue it’s quite remarkable that Lazio are in fifth place after Luis Alberto and Milinkovic Savic got off to dreadful starts while the competition in Serie A has improved significantly this season, on the other Lazio have gotten this far thanks to win against provinciali types.

The flip side is Simone Inzaghi’s squad has lost to Napoli, Juventus, Roma and more recently Inter, a match in which they had a great oppprtunity to avenge last season‘s shocking final match. On Sunday they will face another provincial side SPAL but they will have to do so without the two “registi” on the squad- Lucas Leiva and Badelj are both out with injuries.