Showing posts with label Calcio. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Calcio. Show all posts

11 April 2024

Renato Cesarini - footballer and coach

Marchigiano who played for Italy and Argentina

Renato Cesarini in action for Juventus  against Milan in the 1933-34 season
Renato Cesarini in action for Juventus 
against Milan in the 1933-34 season
Renato Cesarini, an attacking footballer who played for the national teams of both Italy and Argentina and whose name became part of the Italian language, was born on this day in 1906 near Senigallia, the port and resort town in Marche.

Cesarini’s family emigrated to Buenos Aires when he was an infant. He acquired Argentine citizenship and began his playing career in the Buenos Aires area, playing for Chacarita Juniors at a time when football in the South American country was still an amateur game.

He returned to Italy in 1929 to sign for Juventus, with whom he won five consecutive league championships.  His habit of scoring late goals, both for club and country, prompted a journalist to begin describing the last minutes of a match as the zona Cesarini.

The phrase not only became part of the language of football was adopted more broadly in different contexts, such as when a deadline loomed to complete a task or an agreement in an industrial dispute was reached just in time to avert a scheduled strike.

After retiring as a player, Cesarini became a successful coach, managing clubs such as River Plate and Boca Juniors, among others in Argentina, and returning to Italy to coach Juventus. 

Cesarini’s story began in the tiny village of Castellaro, set in agricultural land about 12km (7 miles) from Senigallia and about 4km (2.5 miles) from the Adriatic coast. With little work available in the area, his family took the decision to emigrate when Renato was just a few months old.

Cesarini in the colours of his first club in Argentina, Chacarita Juniors
Cesarini in the colours of his first
club in Argentina, Chacarita Juniors
Growing up in the bustling neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires, Renato’s passion for football was ignited at an early age and his success with Chacarita Juniors, for whom he scored 57 goals in 93 games, brought his name to the attention of European scouts. 

His Italian roots made a return to Italy an attractive proposition, especially since it offered the opportunity to play as a professional for the first time. He signed for Juventus in 1929, made his debut against Napoli in March 1930 and quickly became a fixture in the team that became known as Juve del Quinquennio, coached by Carlo Carcano, who were winners of the scudetto - the Italian Serie A championship - for five seasons in a row between 1930 and 1935. 

It was a record that was equalled twice - by Torino in the 1940s and Internazionale in the 2000s - but not surpassed until the Juventus of Massimiliano Allegri became champions in 2016, the sixth consecutive Serie A title in a run of nine in a row begun by Allegri’s predecessor Antonio Conte and completed by his successor, Maurizio Sarri.

An attacking player who could operate in midfield or as a striker, Cesarini scored 46 times in 128 Serie A matches in the black and white stripes of the Juventus shirt. He was top-scorer in the 1932 edition of the Coppa Mitropa, a forerunner of the European Cup that brought together the champions and runners-up from the Italian, Austrian, Hungarian and Czech championships. Cesarini scored five goals but the competition was won by the Serie A runners-up, Bologna.

Cesarini had already played for Argentina twice in the 1920s but with Italy on his birth certificate he qualified to turn out for the azzurri as well, which he did 11 times between 1931 and 1934 under coach Vittorio Pozzo.

The Juventus team that were crowned Serie A winners
in 1935. Cesarini is second from the right in the front row 
After the fifth Juventus title, Cesarini returned to Argentina to play and then coach. He had immediate success with River Plate, where he coached the iconic team known as La Máquina, which is still celebrated for its fluid, attacking style of play, winning the Argentine championship in 1941 and 1942. Juventus quickly tempted him back as coach, although his period on the touchline in Turin coincided with the peak years of Grande Torino and he had to be content with Juventus finishing runners-up to their city rivals in each of his three seasons as coach.

Later he would return to Juventus as technical director for the 1959-60, working alongside coach Carlo Parola as the Piemontese club completed a league-and-cup double for the first time in their history, thanks in no small part to the 28 goals scored by Omar Sivori, another Argentine-Italian dual international who had been Cesarini’s protégé at River Plate.

Cesarini ended his career with a brief stint as head coach of the Argentina national team. He died in 1969 at the age of 62, not long after finishing his career.

In 1975, a football club - Club Renato Cesarini - and training academy in Argentina was founded and named in his honour by former members of the Argentina national team.

The art nouveau pier, known as the Rotonda a Mare, is a feature of Senigallia's long, golden beach
The art nouveau pier, known as the Rotonda a Mare,
is a feature of Senigallia's long, golden beach
Travel tip:

Senigallia, the nearest sizeable town to the village where Cesarini was born, is a port and resort of around 44,000 inhabitants famous for its 13km (8 miles) of golden sandy beach known as the Spiaggia di Veluto - the Velvet Beach - which attracts thousands of visitors each year. The beach is punctuated by a small harbour and by the Rotonda a Mare, an art nouveau pier designed by the engineer Enrico Cardelli and opened in 1933, replacing a previous structure destroyed in World War One.  Although much of present-day Senigallia is modern, some relics of its historical past remain, notably the Rocca Roveresca, a castle of Gothic origins that was restored in 1492, built on a square plan with four round towers.

The 18m-high Roman Arch of Trajan still stands guard over the entrance to Ancona's harbour
The 18m-high Roman Arch of Trajan still stands
guard over the entrance to Ancona's harbour 
Travel tip:

Senigallia and Castellaro fall within the province of Ancona, a bustling port with a population of almost 102,000. Although the area around the port has an industrial feel, there are some notable beaches nearby and a good deal of history in the older part of the city, bearing witness to its Greek and Roman past. The 18m(59ft)-high Arch of Trajan, built in honour of the emperor who built the city’s harbour, is regarded as one of the finest Roman monuments in the Marche region. Ancona’s harbour contains the Lazzaretto, a pentagonal building constructed on an artificial island in the 18th century as a quarantine station designed to protect the city from diseases carried by infected travellers.

Also on this day:

1512: The Battle of Ravenna

1514: The death of painter and architect Donato Bramante

1890: The birth of dictator’s wife Rachele Mussolini

1987: The death of writer and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi


7 March 2024

Luciano Spalletti - football manager

National coach has long record of success

Luciano Spalletti reached the pinnacle of his club career by winning Serie A title
Luciano Spalletti reached the pinnacle of
his club career by winning Serie A title
The football manager Luciano Spalletti, who led Napoli to their first Serie A title since the Diego Maradona era before being appointed head coach to Italy’s national team, was born on this day in 1959 in the Tuscan town of Certaldo, just under 50km (31 miles) southwest of Florence.

A late starter as a professional player, at 64 Spalletti became the oldest winning coach in the history of the Italian championship when Napoli won the 2022-23 scudetto.

The achievement turned him into a hero in Naples, where fans celebrated in scenes not witnessed in the southern Italian city since Napoli won two titles in four years with the late Maradona as captain and talisman, the second of which was 33 years earlier in the 1989-90 campaign.

Having hinted before the season finished that he was thinking about taking time out of football, Spalletti confirmed ahead of the final fixture that he would be leaving the club to take a year’s sabbatical.

In the event, his break from the game lasted only three months. Following Roberto Mancini’s resignation, Spalletti was appointed head coach of the Italian national team, officially taking charge on September 1, 2023.

His first major assignment will be to defend Mancini’s European championship title when Italy contest Euro 2024 in Germany, having secured qualification by winning three and drawing two of his first six matches in charge, before switching his attention to qualifying for the 2026 World Cup finals following the failure by the azzurri to qualify for the last two tournaments.

Italy fans will have high hopes that Spalletti can emulate his success in club football, in which he has an outstanding record as a coach following a relatively modest record as a player.

A young Spalletti with his first professional club, Entella
A young Spalletti with his first
professional club, Entella
Brought up in Empoli, about 30km (19 miles) north of Certaldo, Spalletti played at a semi-professional level until his mid-20s, after which he played for a number of clubs in Serie C, the third tier in the Italian pyramid.

He finished his playing career at Empoli in 1993, remaining at the club as a coach and being appointed head coach there a year later.  It was not long before his potential to become a top coach came to the fore as Empoli won back-to-back promotions to return to Serie A for only the second time in their history.

Four years later, after spells with Sampdoria, Venezia and Ancona, Spalletti served notice again that he was capable of making an impact at the highest level by steering unheralded Udinese to fourth place in the 2004-05 season, when their exciting, attacking football enabled them to qualify for the Champions League for the first time.

He was immediately snapped up by Roma, being named Serie A coach of the year in his first season in the capital. While there were no trophies to show for his debut campaign, Spalletti was recognised for bringing order to the club after a chaotic previous year in which they had changed head coach three times, and for changing their style from defensive to attacking as they finished runners-up in the Coppa Italia and qualified for the Champions League.

He retained the Serie A coach’s crown the following year as Roma won the Coppa Italia for the first of two times under Spalletti, reached the last eight of the Champions League and finished runners-up in Serie A, a feat he repeated in the 2007-08 season while also retaining the Coppa Italia and winning the Supercoppa Italia.

More success followed as Spalletti ventured abroad for the first time, his period as head coach at Zenit St Petersburg bringing two Russian Premier League titles, a Russian Cup and a Russian Super Cup.

Back in Italy, Spalletti took charge at Inter-Milan, qualifying for the Champions League in each of his two seasons.

Spalletti won two Russian Premier League championships with Zenit St Petersburg
Spalletti won two Russian Premier League
championships with Zenit St Petersburg
His triumph with Napoli followed two seasons without a job, his achievement at the Stadio San Paolo - by then renamed in honour of Maradona - all the more remarkable for having been achieved with a rebuilt team following the departure of several experienced players in the summer of 2022.

The 2022-23 season saw Spalletti's free-scoring side equal the Maradona team’s record of 11 consecutive wins and reach January before suffering their first league defeat, quickly bouncing back with a 5-1 win against arch rivals Juventus in Naples, the heaviest defeat anyone had inflicted on the Turin side since in 30 years.  

Spalletti’s team were 12 points clear of the field by the end of January and clinched the title with five matches to spare. He was honoured with the Serie A coach of the year award for the third time.

Despite his high profile as a coach, Spalletti has managed to keep his personal life private. Married since 1989 to Tamara, with whom he has three children, he spends his time away from football at La Rimessa, a country estate in the Tuscan hills just a few kilometres away from Certaldo, which he acquired first as a place of solitude but which now provides another source of income.

As well as growing olives for oil and grapes for Sangiovese wine, Spalletti offers upmarket accommodation on the beautifully landscaped 50-acre estate near the village of Montaione in the shape of five luxury rustic villas and apartments created from converted farm buildings.

Boccaccio's birthplace (with the tower) in Certaldo Alto
Boccaccio's birthplace (with the
tower) in Certaldo Alto
Travel tip:

Certaldo, where Luciano Spalletti was born, is a charming town of around 16,000 residents in the Valdesa region of Tuscany, easily reached from Florence by road or rail, it being a stop on the line linking the Tuscan capital with Siena. With a history going back to the Etruscan era, Certaldo began to thrive during the Middle Ages and is well known as the birthplace of Giovanni Boccaccio, the Renaissance writer and poet whose collection of short stories under the title of The Decameron had a profound influence on the development of Italian literature. Boccaccio’s house near the town’s walls in the mediaeval Certaldo Alto - the upper town - is open to the public as a museum and also offers breathtaking views over the surrounding countryside from its tower. The Palazzo Pretorio, or Vicariale, is the restored former residence of the Florentine governors. It has a picturesque facade adorned with ceramic coats of arms and is decorated with frescoes originating between the 13th and 16th centuries. It is also home to a collection of Roman and Etruscan artefacts discovered in the area. 

Stay in Certaldo with

One of the converted farmbuildings on Spalletti's country estate outside the village of Montaione
One of the converted farmbuildings on Spalletti's
country estate outside the village of Montaione
Travel tip:

Montaione is a quaint village located about 17km (11 miles) west of Certaldo, a short distance from the Sacro Monte di San Vivaldo, a sanctuary made up of 18 chapels, each representing a site in the Holy Land, which is sometimes known as Tuscany’s Jerusalem. The monastery has works attributed to Giovanni della Robbia, Benedetto Buglioni, Raffaellino del Garbo and Andrea Sansovino. Set on a green hill surrounded by beautiful vineyards, olive trees and woods in a typical Tuscan landscape, Montaione itself boasts much mediaeval charm and has become a popular tourist destination, particularly for well-heeled visitors following a substantial investment by a leisure company in the area, who have opened two upmarket hotels and a 27-hole golf course. Historically, Montaione is also famous for its glass-making, particularly in the production of bottles, flasks and cruets, going back to the 13th century.  The town has a civic museum located within the Palazzo Pretorio and there are the remains of several castles in the vicinity.

Find accommodation in Montaione with

More reading:

Ottavio Bianchi, the northerner who coached Maradona’s Napoli

The film producer and entrepreneur behind Napoli’s revival

The day Maradona signed for Napoli 

Also on this day:

1274: The death of Saint Thomas Aquinas 

1481: The birth of architect and painter Baldassare Peruzzi

1678: The birth of architect Filippo Juvara

1785: The birth of novelist Alessandro Manzoni

(Picture credits: Spalletti at Zenit St Petersburg by Vladimir Mayorov; Boccaccio's house by Davide Papalini; via Wikimedia Commons)

16 July 2023

The first Coppa Italia football tournament

Tiny club from Liguria emerged the winners

The 11 players and their manager, centre, who gave Vado their moment in the spotlight
The 11 players and their manager, centre, who
gave Vado their moment in the spotlight
The first final of the Coppa Italia, which was to become Italian football’s equivalent of England’s celebrated FA Cup knock-out competition, took place on this day in 1922.

It was won by Vado Foot-Ball Club, from Vado Ligure, a commercial and industrial port in the province of Savona in Liguria. 

Vado, who defeated Udinese in the final to lift the trophy, have not won any major honours in 101 years since their famous triumph and currently play in Serie D, the fourth tier in the Italian football pyramid.

The circumstances of their victory would look quite bizarre in the context of modern-day football. 

The competition itself existed only because of a major schism in the Italian championship that had taken place the year before, when 24 of the country’s major clubs broke away from the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) to form their own championship after a demand for a reduction in the number of teams in the Prima Categoria - the forerunner of Serie A - was rejected.

With the likes of Pro Vercelli, Juventus, Bologna and AC Milan choosing to play in the new Italian Football Championship (CCI), the FIGC launched the Coppa Italia as an attempt to regain prestige.

Felice Levratto, who scored the winning goal in the final, went on to play for Italy
Felice Levratto, who scored the winning
goal in the final, went on to play for Italy
However, the take-up among the clubs was much less enthusiastic than the FIGC had hoped. Teams from the south of Italy had aligned themselves with the CCI and of the northern and central teams registered to play in the regional sections of the Prima Categoria, only 23 out of 46 accepted the invitation to take part.

The invitation was thus extended to teams from the second-tier Promozione division, which included Vado.  The total entry grew to 37 teams.

The structure of the new tournament was further complicated by the rules for taking part. Participating teams, which had to be able to provide a fenced playing area, had to guarantee to pay the FIGC a sum of 100 lire to host a match, in addition to paying the opposition players (and their manager) a fee of 30 lire each, plus the cost of third-class rail travel to and from the tie.

Clubs drawn at home but unable to meet those requirements had the option to switch to the home ground of their opponents.

While other clubs baulked, Vado took advantage of this rule. Through the entrepreneurial skills of their managers, they were able to raise the funds to offer to pay the costs of every team against which they were drawn and play five of their six ties at their home ground - the Campo di Leo - including the final itself.

Vado almost left the competition in the first round, needing extra time to overcome Fiorente Genova 4-3. Wins against Molassano (5-1) and Juventus Italia Milano (2-0) followed, before their only away tie, against a strong Pro Livorno team, in which they came out on top by a single goal.

The semi-final turned out to be another tough battle, against Libertas Firenze - the future Fiorentina - which Vado won in extra time.

The replica of the Coppa Italia trophy won by Vado in 1922
The replica of the Coppa Italia
trophy won by Vado in 1922
Udinese, one of the teams that decided against joining the breakaway CCI, started the final as favourites, despite having had to play their semi-final against Lucchese twice because of a technical infringement when the teams first met.

Yet Vado again had the advantage of playing at home and prevailed - again in extra time - thanks to star player Felice Levratto’s goal.

Levratto went on to enjoy a successful career with Genoa, Ambrosiana-Inter and Lazio, as well as playing for the Italian national team at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.

The Coppa Italia did not become a regular fixture in the Italian football calendar until 1935, by which time the breakaway by the top clubs had long been resolved and Vado were a lower-tier club unlikely to climb much higher than the occasional foray into Serie C.

The trophy they were awarded in 1922, meanwhile, no longer existed, having been handed by the club as a gift to the nation on Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s so-called ‘day of faith’ in December 1935, to be melted down along with tens of thousands of gold and silver rings donated by Italian women as a means of raising funds for Mussolini's empire-building ambitions.

However, the fact of Vado’s victory could never be taken away and in 1992, following a friendly against Udinese to mark the anniversary, the FIGC presented FC Vado, as the club is now known, with an exact replica of the original trophy.

That trophy was placed in a case on display inside the Vado Ligure branch of the Cassa di Risparmio di Savona bank in Piazza Cavour, where it remains.

Vado Ligure has a ferry terminal for services between Italy and the island of Corsica
Vado Ligure has a ferry terminal for services
between Italy and the island of Corsica
Travel tip:

The port of Vado Ligure, just outside the city of Savona, has its roots in the Roman era, when it was called Vada Sabatia. A former military camp, it was one of the first Roman settlements in Liguria, becoming an important traffic hub for trade.  Now heavily industrialised, it is home to a large railway construction plant, founded in 1905 as Società Italiana Westinghouse and now part of Bombardier Transportation. Vado also has an electric power plant, whose two towers, 200 metres (660 ft) high, are visible from many kilometres away.  In the centre of the town, there are some attractive pedestrianised areas, while the beach front has many bars and restaurants.

The beautiful Piazza della Libertà is Udine's  main square and architectural showpiece
The beautiful Piazza della Libertà is Udine's 
main square and architectural showpiece
Travel tip:

Udine, whose Udinese team provided the opposition when FC Vado Ligure won the Coppa Italia, is an attractive and wealthy provincial city and the gastronomic capital of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Udine's most attractive area lies within the mediaeval centre, which has Venetian, Greek and Roman influences. The main square, Piazza della Libertà, features the town hall, the Loggia del Lionello, built in 1448–1457 in the Venetian-Gothic style, and a clock tower, the Torre dell’Orologio, which is similar to the clock tower in Piazza San Marco - St Mark's Square - in Venice.  The city was part of the Austrian Empire between 1797 and 1866 and retains elements of a café society as legacy from that era, particularly around Piazza Matteotti.

Also on this day:

1194: The birth of St Clare of Assisi

1486: The birth of painter Andrea del Sarto

1852: The birth of sculptor Vincenzo Gemito


6 June 2023

Roberto De Zerbi - football coach

Left turmoil in Ukraine to achieve success in England

Roberto De Zerbi made his name as coach at Sassuolo in Serie A
Roberto De Zerbi made his name
as coach at Sassuolo in Serie A
The football coach Roberto De Zerbi, who helped the English Premier League club Brighton and Hove Albion qualify for a European competition for the first time in their history, was born on this day in 1979 in Brescia.

De Zerbi, who was unknown to many British football fans before he arrived on the south coast of England in September, 2022, guided his new team to seventh place in the Premier League table, earning the club a place in the UEFA Europa League for the 2023-24 season.

The club had hired him to succeed Graham Potter, who left Brighton to take over at Chelsea. De Zerbi’s first win as the new man in charge was against Potter’s Chelsea.

De Zerbi, who retired as a player in 2013, did not find significant success as a coach until he took over at Sassuolo, a team from a town just outside Modena in Emilia-Romagna which became a Serie A club in 2013, having never previously played in the top division of Italian football in its 103-year history.

His club before he joined Brighton had been Shakhtar Donetsk, one of the two biggest clubs in Ukraine, but his time there ended abruptly because of the war between Ukraine and Russia.

Donetsk, an industrial city in the eastern part of the country, lies at the heart of the disputed Donbas region, to which pro-Russian separatists had already laid claim before the Russian invasion began and witnessed fighting before the Ukrainian capital Kiev.

De Zerbi described how he had enjoyed a normal training session with the Shakhtar players the day before the invasion in February 2022 and 24 hours later was forced to take cover in the basement of his hotel as the Russian army began shelling the city.

De Zerbi made his Serie A debut as a player with Napoli
De Zerbi made his Serie A
debut as a player with Napoli
He was praised for remaining in the city long enough to ensure all the club’s foreign players were given safe passage out of the country and back to their home nations, or to safe areas of Europe.  After five days he returned to Italy himself, although his contract in Ukraine was not formally cancelled until July.

Donetsk were top of the Ukraine Premier League and had qualified for the group stages of the UEFA Champions League when football was suspended, having already beaten arch rivals Dynamo Kiev to win the Ukraine Super Cup.

De Zerbi was a talented attacking midfielder as a player, although he had a relatively modest career. After starting out with a local youth team in the Mompiano district of Brescia, he was spotted by AC Milan in 1995 and spent the next three years in their development squad, known as the primavera.

After turning professional in 1998, he spent the next four years on loan with various clubs in Serie C - the third tier of Italian football - before Milan decided to move him on, never having given him a chance in their first team. 

After the disappointment in Milan, De Zerbi teamed up with Foggia, winning promotion to Serie C1, forming a good relationship with coach Pasquale Marino, with whom he later teamed up at Catania as the Sicilian club won promotion to Serie A in 2006.

His success in Sicily, where his technical skills and goalscoring ability made him a popular player, earned him a move to Napoli, who he also helped win promotion to Serie A. Unfortunately, the opportunity to establish himself as a Serie A player never came

Manuel Locatelli, now with Juventus, won his first Italy caps at Sassuolo
Manuel Locatelli, now with Juventus,
won his first Italy caps at Sassuolo
After another couple of loan moves within Italy, De Zerbi moved to Romania to join CFR Cluj, where he enjoyed his biggest success as a player, winning the Romanian league and cup double and making his debut in the Champions League. Returning to Italy in 2012, he had one more season as a player, with lower league club Trento, before announcing his retirement. 

As a coach, he took his first steps with Darfo Boario, another club close to his home town of Brescia before returning to Foggia and gaining his first experience of Serie A with Palermo and Benevento, although without success.

But his talent came to the fore at Sassuolo, who had been promoted to Serie A in 2013 and where he received plaudits for twice finishing in eighth place, missing out on European qualification only on goal difference in the 2020-21 season. He also established his reputation for improving players through his coaching, helping striker Domenico Berardi and midfielder Manuel Locatelli become international players.

His possession-based, attacking style of play and his meticulous attention to detail in his training programmes were strongly influenced by the all-conquering Manchester City coach, Pep Guardiola, and by one of Guardiola’s own influences, the former Leeds United coach Marcelo Bielsa.

As he was learning his trade, De Zerbi went to the French club Lille to observe Bielsa’s methods and to Bayern Munich in Germany to watch Guardiola at close quarters.

De Zerbi attributes his success as a coach partly to his passion for football, which he says he inherited from his father, Alfredo, although that passion has several times landed him in trouble with referees. During his first season at Brighton, he was red-carded twice for his behaviour on the touchline.

On his appointment, De Zerbi was the 14th Italian to be appointed coach of an English Premier League team, four of whom - Carlo Ancelotti and Antonio Conte (both with Chelsea), Roberto Mancini (Manchester City) and Claudio Ranieri (Leicester City) - have seen their teams crowned champions.

Brescia's beautiful Piazza della Loggia is an elegant square with Venetian influences
Brescia's beautiful Piazza della Loggia is an
elegant square with Venetian influences
Travel tip:

Brescia, where De Zerbi was born and grew up, is a city of artistic and architectural importance. The second biggest city in Lombardia, after Milan, it has Roman remains and well-preserved Renaissance buildings but is not as well-known to tourists as the other historic Italian cities. Brescia became a Roman colony before the birth of Christ and you can still see remains from the forum, theatre and a temple. The town was fought over by different rulers in the Middle Ages but came under the protection of Venice in the 15th century. There is a distinct Venetian influence in the architecture of the Piazza della Loggia, an elegant square in the centre of the town, which has a clock tower remarkably similar to the one in Saint Mark’s square in Venice. Next to the 17th century Duomo is an older cathedral, the unusually shaped Duomo Vecchio, also known as la Rotonda. The Santa Giulia Museo della Citta covers more than 3000 years of Brescia’s history, housed within the Benedictine Nunnery of San Salvatore and Santa Giulia in Via Musei. The nunnery was built over a Roman residential quarter, but some of the houses, with their original mosaics and frescoes, have now been excavated and can be seen.

The facade of the Este family's Ducal Palace in Sassuolo, which is just outside Modena
The facade of the Este family's Ducal Palace in
Sassuolo, which is just outside Modena
Travel tip:

Sassuolo, which stands on the Secchia river some 17km (11 miles) southwest of the city of Modena in Emilia-Romagna, is best known as an industrial centre, the heart of Italy’s tile industry, although its profile within Italy has also been raised by the football club’s success.  The town was run for many years by the Este family, whose legacy can be seen in the Ducal Palace, built on the site of a mediaeval castle. Obtained by Niccolò III d'Este in the 15th century, it was converted into a court residence by Borso d'Este in 1458, while the present building was commissioned in the early 17th century by the Duke Francesco I d'Este and built by Bartolomeo Avanzini. The palace is now owned by the town of Sassuolo and the Gallerie Estensi, a network of galleries established to preserve the historic heritage left by the Este family.

Also on this day:

1513: The Battle of Novara

1772: The birth of Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily

1861: The death of Camillo Benso Cavour, Italy’s first prime minister

1896: The birth of Fascist commander Italo Balbo

1926: The birth of automobile engineer Giotto Bizzarrini


15 May 2023

Debut of Italy’s national football team

Illustrious history began with victory over France

The Italy team of 1910 wore white shirts. The players were allowed to chose either white shorts or black
The Italy team of 1910 wore white shirts. The players
were allowed to chose either white shorts or black
The first official international football match involving Italy took place on this day in 1910 in Milan.

Officially formed four months earlier, the Azzurri made their debut at the Arena Civica in Milan, beating France 6-2 in front of a crowd said to number 4,000 spectators.  The match was refereed by Henry Goodley, an Englishman.

The team’s first goal was scored after 13 minutes by Pietro Lana, a forward with the AC Milan club, who went on to score a hat-trick, including a penalty kick.  The team played in white shirts, adopting the famous blue colours the following year.

In a team dominated by Milan-based players, the other goals were scored by Internazionale’s Virgilio Fossati, Giuseppe Rizzi of the Ausonia-Milano club and Enrico Debernardi, who played for Torino. Fossati, tragically, was killed six years later while fighting for the Italian Army in World War One.

Organised football had begun in Italy in 1898 with the founding of the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio - the Italian Football Federation - who arranged the first national championship, won by Genoa.

The FIGC was primarily concerned with domestic football and it was the newspaper La Stampa, a daily journal published in Turin, who first mooted the idea of a team to represent the nation. 

The Arena Civica in Milan as it would have looked in the early part of the 20th century
The Arena Civica in Milan as it would have looked
in the early part of the 20th century
In addition to England and Scotland, who faced each other in the world’s first international football match in 1872, many countries around Europe and elsewhere had national teams and many Italians felt that their country needed to follow their lead.

The FIGC duly announced in January, 1910, that it was to select a national team to make its debut in Milan during the federation’s annual national congress in May of that year.

A commission to select the team was appointed but by mid-April the identity of Italy’s first international opponents had not been decided, while a domestic dispute was about to wreck the selection process.

This involved Pro Vercelli, the Piedmont-based club who were one of the most successful in the early years of the Italian championship, and Internazionale, the team we now recognise as Inter-Milan.

The two had finished the 1909-10 Prima Categoria - forerunner of Serie A - level on points. According to the FIGC rules, Pro Vercelli - champions for the last two seasons - should have won the title by virtue of their superior goal difference.

Yet the FIGC decided to ignore that rule and ordered the teams instead to meet in a play-off on April 24 to decide the title.

Pro Vercelli quite reasonably objected, pointing out too that several of their players would not be available because they were committed to appear in a military tournament on the same day. Yet their pleas were rejected.

The Italian national team won the first of its four World Cups on home soil in 1934
The Italian national team won the first of its four
World Cups on home soil in 1934
In protest, Pro Vercelli fielded their fourth team - essentially a youth team - for the play-off, which they lost 10-3. FIGC’s response was to ban Pro Vercelli from competition for the rest of 1910 and suspend their players, six of whom happened to form the bedrock of the 22-man squad chosen for Italy’s first international match.

Despite this, the match went ahead as planned on May 15 with France the chosen opponents from a shortlist of three alongside Switzerland and Hungary.

The FIGC were understandably keen that the event, the showpiece of their annual congress, should end in victory and chose France largely on the basis of their poor form. They had been hammered 10-1 by England in April, having previously lost 4-0 to neighbours Belgium.

Furthermore, their travel to Milan involved a 16-hour overnight train journey, disembarking at the city’s railway station at 5am on the day of the match. Not surprisingly, their weary players proved no match for the Italy team, even in the absence of the Pro Vercelli contingent.

For all its significance, the game attracted scant newspaper coverage, with only a brief report in the Milan daily, Corriere della Sera. A 6-1 defeat in the team’s next fixture, against Hungary in Budapest, hardly helped their early efforts to excite the nation.

Nonetheless, it was only 24 years before Italy would be world champions, winning the first of their two World Cups under manager Vittorio Pozzo.

The Azzurri have gone on to become established as one of the superpowers of international football, winning the World Cup four times in total. Only Brazil have been more successful, with five wins.

The main grandstand at the Arena Civica is a  striking example of neoclassical architecture
The main grandstand at the Arena Civica is a 
striking example of neoclassical architecture
Travel tip:

The Arena Civica - now known as the Arena Gianni Brera in memory of one of Italy’s most popular football journalists - can be found in the Parco Sempione behind the Castello Sforzesco in central Milan. It is one of the city's main examples of neoclassical architecture, an elliptical amphitheatre commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte soon after he became King of Italy in 1805. At one time the home of the Milan football club Internazionale, it is nowadays home to Brera Calcio FC, a lower league football team, as well as a venue for international athletics and rugby union and a host of non-sports activities, including jazz festivals and pop concerts. It can accommodate up to 30,000 spectators.

The beautifully preserved Basilica of Sant'Andrea
The beautifully preserved
Basilica of Sant'Andrea
Travel tip:

Vercelli, once home of one of Italy’s strongest football teams, is now best known as the centre of Italy’s rice production industry, with many of the surrounding fields in the vast Po plain submerged under water during the summer months. Rice has been cultivated in the area since the 15th century. The city, which has around 46,500 inhabitants, is in Piedmont, some 85km (53 miles) west of Milan and about 75km (46 miles) northeast of Turin. It is reckoned to be built on the site of one of the oldest settlements in Italy, dating back to 600BC, and was home to the world's first publicly-funded university, which was opened in 1228 but folded in 1372. Vercelli’s Basilica of Sant'Andrea is regarded as one of the most beautiful and best-preserved Romanesque buildings in Italy.  

Also on this day:

1567: The baptism of composer and musician Claudio Monteverdi

1902: The birth of musician and band leader Pippo Barzizza

1936: The birth of actress and singer Anna Maria Alberghetti

1943: The birth of opera singer Salvatore Fisichella


10 January 2023

Aldo Ballarin - footballer

Brilliant defender who died in Superga tragedy

Aldo Ballarin became one of Italy's finest defenders
Aldo Ballarin became one of
Italy's finest defenders
Aldo Ballarin, one of the 18 Torino players who were killed in the 1949 Superga plane crash, was born on this day in 1922 in the fishing port of Chioggia, at the southern tip of the Laguna di Venezia.

Ballarin, whose brother, Dino, also died in the accident, played at right-back in the Torino team, making more than 150 appearances and winning the scudetto - the Serie A championship title - four seasons in a row between 1945 and 1949.

A defender who was renowned for his tackling and heading ability but who also used the skills he had learned as a winger in his youth to be an effective attacker, Ballarin won nine international caps in the azzurri of Italy.

He remains the only player born in Chioggia to play for the Italian national team.

One of six children in his family, Aldo would play football for hours in the street near his home as he was growing up. Of his three brothers, two would also play professionally. Dino, who was a little under two years younger than Aldo, was on Torino’s books as a goalkeeper.

At the age of 13, Aldo began playing for the youth team of Clodia, a local amateur club, before signing apprentice professional terms with Rovigo, a Serie C club about 55km (34 miles) from Chioggia. He then moved much further away to play for Triestina, based in the north-eastern city of Trieste in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.

Ballarin (right), with Torino teammates Valentino Mazzola and Ezio Loik, line up for Italy
Ballarin (right), with Torino teammates Valentino
Mazzola and Ezio Loik, line up for Italy
It was with Triestina that he made his Serie A debut in 1941 at the age of 19. His 57 league appearances for Triestina were interrupted when the Italian championship was suspended in 1942 because of World War Two. In the interim he played for Venezia in the Alta Italia Championship.

By then, he was attracting the attention of many of Italy’s top clubs and his return to Serie A action with Triestina regularly drew talent scouts to his games. It was ambitious Torino, who had been crowned Serie A champions in the final season before the suspension, who wanted him most.

Under the presidency of Ferrucio Novo, the former player whose status in the city enabled him to attract much financial support, Torino were able to find 1.5 million lire to secure Ballarin’s transfer in 1945.

It was more than they had paid for Valentino Mazzola, the attacking midfield player who was their captain and who was regarded as one of the best players in Italy. Italian football had never seen so much money change hands for a right back.

But it proved to be money well spent as Ballarin became one of Italy’s most accomplished defenders. Had it not been for the tragedy of 1949, when the plane carrying the Torino team back from a friendly match against Lisbon in Portugal, crashed on its approach to the city’s airport in heavy, low cloud, he would doubtless have won many more international caps.

Aldo's brother Dino, who played in goal, also died in the crash
Aldo's brother Dino, who played
in goal, also died in the crash
Possibly due to a malfunction of his altimeter, the pilot was unaware that he was flying perilously close to the enormous Basilica of Superga, the 75m (246ft) high church built atop the hill of the same name. 

When the basilica became visible in the murk, it was too late to take evasive action. The plane did not hit the main structure of the church, built by Filippo Juvarra in the early part of the 18th century, but collided with a retaining wall on an embankment at the rear of the building. Only the tail of the aircraft remained intact.

All 31 people on board died, including 18 players, as well as the team’s English coach, Leslie Lievesley, and four other officials, plus three journalists.  Aldo Ballarin’s brother, Dino, who had yet to make his senior debut, was on the flight only because Aldo had convinced the management to take him to Lisbon as a reward for his hard work in training.

The crash not only robbed Serie A of the team that had become known as Il Grande Torino - the Great Turin - but the core of the Italy national team. Of the Torino first team, the only survivor was the left-back, Sauro Tomà, who missed the trip to Lisbon through injury. President Ferruccio Novo stayed at home because of influenza.

The Ballarin brothers were mourned as much in Chioggia as well as Turin. As a mark of respect, the town’s municipal stadium was renamed Stadio Aldo e Dino Ballarin.

Union Clodiense, the team that plays there, still wear the maroon shirts favoured by Torino, that were adopted by one of its predecessors, Union Clodia Sottomarina, in 1971.

The Stadio Aldo e Dino Ballarin from the air. The main part of Chioggia is in the background
The Stadio Aldo e Dino Ballarin from the air. The
main part of Chioggia is in the background
Travel tip:

Chioggia, where the Ballarin brothers were born, is an historic fishing port at the southern limit of the Venetian lagoon. It is accessible by boat direct from Venice, although the service runs each way only once a day. The most popular route is via ferry and bus along the length of the Lido island. Chioggia itself is actually a small island, linked by a causeway to the resort of Sottomarina.  Like Venice, Chioggia has a number of canals but, unlike Venice, it is not closed to cars. The main street, Corso del Popolo, has a number of churches and some fine fish restaurants. The Stadio Aldo e Dino Ballarin, which houses about 3,000 spectators, can be found on Via della Stazione.

Filippo Juvarra's magnificent Basilica di Superga stands on a hill overlooking the city of Turin
Filippo Juvarra's magnificent Basilica di Superga
stands on a hill overlooking the city of Turin
Travel tip:

The Superga tragedy is commemorated with a simple memorial at the site of the crash, at the back of the magnificent 18th century Basilica di Superga.  Mounted on a wall, the damaged parts of which were never restored, is a large picture of the Grande Torino team, with a memorial stone that lists all the names of the 31 victims of the disaster, under the heading I Campioni d’Italia.  Built between 1717 and 1731 for Victor Amadeus II of Savoy, the future king of Sardinia, the basilica fulfilled a pledge he had made to mark his victory over the French in the Battle of Turin, during the War of the Spanish Succession. The basilica’s elevated position means that it often sits serenely in sunlight while mist shrouds the city below. It can be reached by a steep railway line, the journey taking about 20 minutes.

Also on this day:

49BC: Caesar crosses the Rubicon

987: The death of former Doge of Venice San Pietro Orseolo

1834: The birth in Naples of historian and politician Lord Acton

1890: The birth of silent movie star Pina Menichelli

1903: The birth of sculptor and car designer Flaminio Bertoni

1959: The birth of football manager Maurizio Sarri

2009: The death of publisher Giorgio Mondadori


29 November 2022

Luigi ‘Gigi’ Peronace - football agent

Calabrian facilitated string of transfers to Italy

Luigi 'Gigi' Peronace is seen by some as football's original players' agent
Luigi 'Gigi' Peronace is seen by some
as football's original players' agent
The football agent Luigi ‘Gigi’ Peronace, who brokered the transfer deals that saw leading British stars from John Charles to Liam Brady play in Italy’s Serie A, was born in the Calabrian seaside town of Soverato on this day in 1925.

Agents are commonplace in football today but they were an almost unknown phenomenon when Peronace set up in business in the 1950s and he is widely accepted as the first of his kind, certainly in terms of building a ‘stable’ of clients.

The charismatic Peronace’s ability to charm all parties in transfer deals - buyer, seller and player - led to him becoming an influential figure in football in both Italy and the United Kingdom over a 25-year period.

Charles, the Welsh giant whose talents persuaded Juventus to almost double the British transfer fee record when they paid Leeds United £65,000 for his services in 1957, remains Peronace’s most famous deal, although he was instrumental in introducing other big-name British players to the Italian game, including the prolific Chelsea and England striker Jimmy Greaves and Scotland’s Denis Law.

Peronace’s first taste of football was as a player in the 1940s with the Calabrian team Reggina, for whom he kept goal despite being quite a small man. Evidence of his skills as a Mr Fixit were emerging even then, as a teenager, when he arranged football matches between English and Australian soldiers and local Calabrian teams.

After the end of the Second World War, Peronace moved to Turin to study engineering. Already with good English, he took a job with Juventus, who needed an interpreter to help their new Scottish coach, William Chalmers. When Chalmers was dismissed after one season, the Turin club hired an Englishman, Jesse Carver, to look after the team.

John Charles, who joined Juventus
from Leeds United in 1957
Carver likewise did not stay long, despite winning the Serie A title in his first season in charge. He soon returned to England to manage West Bromwich Albion. But he was back in Italy a year later and invited Peronace to work with him again at Lazio. It was Carver who first told Peronace about John Charles, a tall, powerfully built man who had been converted from a centre-half by Leeds United to one of the most prolific centre-forwards in England.

Intrigued, as soon as his time at Lazio had ended Peronace travelled to England to see Charles in person, contacted the Juventus president Umberto Agnelli and persuaded the Turin club that they should spend whatever it took to sign him.

It took Peronace two years to convince Leeds to sell and Charles to move, but in August 1957, the deal was done. It made headlines, of course, not just for the size of transfer fee but for what the player himself was offered. Juventus gave him an apartment for his family, a Fiat car and a £10,000 signing-on fee - this at a time when the signing-on fee for players moving between English clubs could be as little as £10.

The Charles deal was not Peronace’s first. While wooing Charles and Leeds, he had arranged for South African-born Eddie Firmani, who had Italian heritage, to join Sampdoria from Charlton Athletic. But it was the Charles transfer that gave him credibility.

The Welshman would go on to score 108 goals in 155 matches for Juventus, helping them win the scudetto - the colloquial name for the Serie A trophy - three times and the domestic cup competition, the Coppa Italia, twice.

Peronace helped Charles settle in Turin but in 1961 he returned to England, moved into a plush apartment in Knightsbridge and from there pulled off more headline-making deals. He helped Aston Villa’s Gerry Hitchens move to Inter-Milan, persuaded AC Milan to sign Jimmy Greaves, and Torino to take both Denis Law and the English-born, Scottish-raised striker Joe Baker.

Peronace's close friend, the  pipe-smoking Enzo Bearzot
Peronace's close friend, the 
pipe-smoking Enzo Bearzot
While Hitchins, like Charles, enjoyed significant success, the last-named trio failed to settle in Italy, although it was to the advantage of Peronace, who negotiated their transfers again, helping Greaves return to London with Tottenham, Law team up with Matt Busby at Manchester United and Baker make a fresh start with Arsenal.

Always immaculately dressed in the most expensive Italian clothes, Peronace’s natural charm enabled him to befriend the most powerful figures in both English and Italian football, which opened doors in both countries. This was especially useful to him after the abolition of English maximum wage lessened the attraction to players of moving abroad.

A close friend of Sir Denis Follows, the secretary of the English Football Association, he used his contacts to help establish the Anglo-Italian Cup competition.

In Italy, he became a close friend of Enzo Bearzot and worked with him for the Italian Football Federation at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.

Peronace would doubtless have been alongside Bearzot when Italy’s pipe-smoking coach guided the azzurri to their World Cup triumph in Spain 1982 had fate not tragically intervened 18 months earlier.

As the national team prepared to leave for a tournament in Montevideo, Uruguay in December 1980, Peronace was at a hotel in Rome when he suffered a fatal heart attack, dying in Bearzot’s arms at the age of just 55, leaving a wife and five children.  Liam Brady's move to Juventus from Arsenal earlier that year was the last high-profile deal in which he was involved.

The coast around Soverato is famed for an abundance of white, sandy beaches
The coast around Soverato is famed for an
abundance of white, sandy beaches
Travel tip:

Soverato, where Gigi Peronace was born, is situated on the Ionian coast of Calabria, about 37km (23 miles) south of the city of Catanzaro. If the map of Italy is seen as a leg, Soverato is at the point on the underside of the foot at the beginning of the big toe. With a population of fewer than 10,000 and an area of less than eight square kilometres, it is a small town yet thanks to its location on the Gulf of Squillace, notable for its white, sandy beaches, has become the wealthiest town per capita in Calabria with a bright modern promenade, apartment buildings and hotels and a botanical garden established on a reclaimed waste site in 1980. There is little of historical note save for a Pietà sculpted by Antonello Gagini from a block of Carrara marble in 1521, which was recovered from the nearby convent of Santa Maria della Pietà after an earthquake in 1783 and is now kept in the town’s church of Maria Santissima Addolorata. 

John Charles scoring a goal at a packed Stadio Comunale, which was Juventus's home ground
John Charles scoring a goal at a packed Stadio
Comunale, which was Juventus's home ground
Travel tip:

Juventus today play at the modern Allianz Stadium, their 41,500-capacity home in the Vallette borough of Turin, about 6km (3.7 miles) northwest from the city centre. When John Charles signed for them in 1957, Juventus shared the Stadio Comunale with city rivals Torino.  Situated around four kilometres south of the centre in the Santa Rita district, it was known as the Stadio Municipale Benito Mussolini after it was opened in 1933, being renamed Stadio Comunale after World War II, and further renamed the Stadio Olimpico after being chosen to host the opening and closing ceremonies at the Winter Olympics in 2006.  Torino left the stadium with Juventus in 1990 to play at the Stadio delle Alpi, forerunner of the Allianz, but returned to the Olimpico in 2006.

Also on this day:

1463: The birth of antiquities collector Cardinal Andrea della Valle

1466: The birth of banker Agostino Chigi

1797: The birth of opera composer Gaetano Donizetti

1850: The birth of soldier and cardinal Agostino Richelmy