Showing posts with label Champions League. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Champions League. Show all posts

13 February 2017

Pierluigi Collina - football referee

Italian arbiter seen as the best in game's history

Pierluigi Collina
Pierluigi Collina 
Pierluigi Collina, arguably the best and certainly the most recognisable football referee in the history of the game, was born on this day in 1960 in Bologna.

Collina, who was in charge of the 1999 Champions League final and the 2002 World Cup final, was named FIFA's referee of the year for six consecutive seasons.

He was renowned for his athleticism, his knowledge of the laws of the game and for applying them with even-handedness and respect for the players, while using his distinctive appearance to reinforce his authority on the field.

Standing 1.88m (6ft 2ins) tall and with piercing blue eyes, Collina is also completely hairless as a result of suffering a severe form of alopecia in his early 20s, giving him an intimidating presence on the field.

Growing up in Bologna, the son of a civil servant and a schoolteacher, Collina shared the dream of many Italian boys in that he wanted to become a professional footballer.  In reality, he was not quite good enough, although he was a decent central defender who played amateur football to a good standard.

Pierluigi Collina is now UEFA's  chief  refereeing officer
Pierluigi Collina is now UEFA's
 chief  refereeing officer
When he was 17 and at college, he was persuaded to take a referee's course and displayed a natural aptitude. Soon, he was taking charge of matches in regional football and, after graduating with a degree in economics at the University of Bologna and completing his compulsory military service, began to contemplate that instead of playing he might one day referee at the highest level.

In the meantime, though, he had to work.  His first job was in the marketing department of a newspaper group based in Milan, from which he then moved to Viareggio in Tuscany to work for a bank, where he would later establish himself as a financial consultant.

He began to officiate in Serie D and Serie C matches in 1988 and within just three years had been promoted to Serie B and Serie A.

Bu 1995, with only 43 Serie A matches to his name, he was co-opted to the FIFA list for international matches, winning his first major appointment in 1996, when he was allocated five matches at the Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, including the final between Argentina and Nigeria.

Named Serie A's referee of the year in 1997 and 1998 and FIFA's best in 1998, he was put in charge of the Champions League final in Barcelona in 1999, which turned out to be one of most dramatic of all finals when Manchester United scored twice during the three minutes of stoppage time added on by Collina to beat Bayern Munich 2-1.

He described the match, in which Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer scored for United to overturn Mario Basler's goal for Bayern, as the most memorable of his career, likening the noise generated by United fans at the end to the "roar of a lion."

Pierluigi Collina was never easily intimidated on the field and earned the respect of players
Pierluigi Collina was never easily intimidated on the
field and earned the respect of players
The players and supporters of the German side remembered the occasion less fondly and came to regard Collina as bringing them bad luck.  He was also in charge when the German national team lost 5-1 at home to England in a World Cup qualification match in 2001 and officiated in the World Cup final in Yokohama, Japan the following summer, when Germany were beaten 2-0 by Brazil.

Collina published his autobiography, My Rules of the Game (published in English as The Rules of the Game) in 2003, and took charge of another showpiece occasion in 2004 when Valencia met Marseille in the UEFA Cup final before his career ended in regrettable circumstances the following year in a row with the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) over sponsorship.

He had agreed to a substantial contract to advertise for Opel cars (Vauxhall Motors in the United Kingdom) but as Opel were already sponsors of AC Milan the deal was seen as presenting a conflict of interest.  The FIGC felt they had no option but to bar Collina from top-level matches in Italy, to which he responded by tendering his resignation.

Despite attempts by the Italian Referees Association to find a compromise that would enable Collina to continue, he decided he would stick by his decision to resign and never officiated at a competitive professional match again, although he has refereed a number of charity matches since and serves the administration of the game as UEFA's chief refereeing officer.

Away from football, Collina has been married since 1991 to Gianna, with whom he established the coastal resort of Viareggio as his home. He has two daughters and is a lifelong supporter of Fortitudo Bologna basketball club.

Tagliatelle bolognese, one of Bologna's most famous dishes
Tagliatelle bolognese, one of Bologna's most famous dishes
Travel tip:

Famed for its culinary tradition, Bologna is known as La Grassa - the Fat One - and with good reason. The home of the world's most famous pasta dish - although bolognese sauce is always served with tagliatelle rather than spaghetti in the city of its birth - Bologna is also famed for its mortadella sausage, which is also a key ingredient of the city's second most well-known pasta, tortellini, the little twists of pasta that are also stuffed with pork loin and proscuitto crudo (raw ham), parmesan cheese, egg and nutmeg. The best traditional food shops in Bologna can be found in the area known as the Quadrilatero, bordered by Piazza Maggiore, Via Rizzoli, Via Castiglione and Via Farini.

Choose where to stay in Bologna with

Viareggio's seafront promenade is lined with Art Nouveau buildings from the 1920s and 1930s
Viareggio's seafront promenade is lined with
Art Nouveau buildings from the 1920s and 1930s
Travel tip:

Viareggio is a seaside resort in Tuscany that has an air of faded grandeur, its seafront notable for the Art Nouveau architecture that reminds visitors of the town's heyday in the 1920s and '30s. Nonetheless, with wide sandy beaches it remains hugely popular, especially with Italians, and the flamboyant Carnevale, featuring a wonderful parade of elaborate and often outrageous floats, is second only to the Venice carnival among Mardi Gras celebrations.

24 April 2016

Alessandro Costacurta - champion of football longevity

AC Milan defender played in Serie A until 41 years old

Photo of AC Milan after 2003 Champions League win
Alessandro Costacurta, on the far right, celebrates winning
the 2003 Champions League with his AC Milan teammates
As former Italy and AC Milan defender Alessandro Costacurta celebrates his 50th birthday today, it is remarkable to recall that he retired from football only nine years ago, still playing at the highest level.

Costacurta, born on this day in 1966 in the town of Orago, near Varese, retired in May 2007, 25 days after his 41st birthday, having played more than 660 matches for AC Milan over the course of 21 seasons.  He is the oldest outfield player to appear in a Serie A match.

Milan lost his final game 3-2 at home to Udinese but Costacurta marked the occasion with a goal, from the penalty spot.  It was only his third goal in 458 Serie A appearances for the rossoneri, but made him Serie A's oldest goalscorer.

He could look back on a career laden with honours, including seven Serie A titles and five European Cups, two in its traditional knock-out format and three more after the inception of the Champions League.  He also won 59 caps for Italy and was a member of the team that finished runners-up in the 1994 World Cup in the United States, although he had to sit out the final because of suspension.

Costacurta made his Milan debut in the Coppa Italia in 1986 before being sent away to gain experience with Monza in Serie C.  His first Serie A appearance came for Milan in October 1987 in a 1-0 win at Hellas-Verona.

Photo of Arrigo Sacchi
Arrigo Sacchi
A defender blessed with positional awareness and tactical intelligence, he was technically gifted and a fierce competitor. He and Franco Baresi were at the heart of a formidable defence assembled by his first manager, Arrigo Sacchi, complemented by the brilliant full backs, Mauro Tassotti and Paolo Maldini.  They formed the best back line in football in the late 1980s and early 90s, enabling Sacchi and his successor, Fabio Capello, to dominate both at home and in Europe, winning five domestic titles and three European Cups between them.

Capello left for Real Madrid after the 1995-96 season but Milan were champions of Italy again three years later under Alberto Zaccheroni.

Milan's fortunes dipped somewhat after that and financial problems began to bite, to the extent that club president Adriano Galliani made it known that the size of the first-team squad would have to be trimmed at the end of the 2001-02 season.  Costacurta was out of contract and with his old boss, Arrigo Sacchi, keen to sign him for Parma, it seemed he would be leaving at the age of 36.

However, with the Milan squad lacking experienced defenders, Galliani relented at the 11th hour and offered Costacurta a new contract.  Under Carlo Ancelotti, he picked up his fourth European Cup winner's medal as Milan beat Juventus on penalties in an all-Italian Champions League final at Old Trafford, Manchester in May 2003.

After retiring as a player, with a fifth Champions League medal to his name, Costacurta at first remained at San Siro as a coach. He then had a brief but unsuccessful spell as a manager himself with Mantova in Serie B.  Married to a former Miss Italia, Martina Colombari, with whom he has a son, Achille, he now works as a pundit on Italian television.

Throughout his career, Costacurta was more often known as Billy than Alessandro.  He is believed to have acquired the nickname as an AC Milan youth player, when he also enjoyed playing basketball.  Milan's basketball team, Olimpia Milano, was at the time sponsored by a soft drinks company that sold products under the trade name Billy.

Photo of a chapel on Sacro Monte di Varese
One of the 14 chapels on the Sacro Monte di Varese
Travel tip:

Varese, which sits above the lake of the same name, is an elegant Lombardy city characterised by a number of fine villas and castles, often enclosed within beautiful gardens.  It is also home of the Sacro Monte di Varese, literally the Sacred Mount of Varese, which offers both spectacular views of the lake and surrounding countryside and the chance to follow the so-called Rosary Path, a 2.5 kilometre trail to the summit that takes in 14 beautiful chapels built in the 17th century, each dedicated to an event in the lives of Jesus and Mary.  At the top is the picturesque village of Santa Maria del Monte, from which it is possible on a clear day even to pick out Lake Maggiore to the north and the city of Milan to the south.

Travel tip:

Home for AC Milan is the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, better known after its location in the San Siro district of Milan.  Opened in 1926, it had an initial capacity of around 35,000 but was extended over time to hold 100,000 spectators by the mid-1950s, with the addition of a second tier.  This was cut back to 80,000 for safety reasons in the 1980s but increased again for the 1990 World Cup, when a third tier and a roof was added, supported by the 11 cylindrical towers that made the stadium instantly recognisable today. Since 1947, the stadium has been the shared home of both AC Milan and Internazionale.  It hosted six games at the 1990 World Cup and has staged three European Cup finals, in 1965, 1970 and 2001. It has been chosen as the venue for the 2016 Champions League Final.

More reading:

Marcello Lippi - World Cup winning coach

Arrigo Sacchi - revolutionary coach who transformed AC Milan

(Photo of Milan's Champions League celebrations by Soccer Illustrated CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of Sacro Monte di Varese by Torsade de Pointes CC 1.0)