Showing posts with label Torino. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Torino. Show all posts

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


10 February 2019

Andrea Silenzi - footballer

Forward was the first Italian to play in the English Premier League

Andrea Silenzi was a leading striker for  Torino before joining Nottingham Forest
Andrea Silenzi was a leading striker for
Torino before joining Nottingham Forest
The footballer Andrea Silenzi, who made history in 1995 when he became the first Italian to be signed by a Premier League club, was born on this day in 1966 in Rome.

A 6ft 3ins centre forward, Silenzi had enjoyed Serie A success with Torino in particular, his form persuading Nottingham Forest to offer £1.8 million - the equivalent of about £3.5 million (€4 million) today - to bring him to England.

When Forest manager Frank Clark proudly announced his new man before the 1995-96 season, it was seen as an important moment for the fledgling Premier League, then only three seasons old.

The Italian League at the time was the most glamorous in Europe, wealthy enough to hire stars from all around the world, including many British players; it was rare for Italian players to move abroad. Yet Silenzi, a teammate of Diego Maradona during a two-year stay with Napoli who had won a call-up to the Italian national team after his 17 goals for Torino in the 1993-94 season, had agreed to come to England.

Forest gave Silenzi a contract worth £360,000 a year, a considerable sum at that time. Was the tide now turning, with the money flooding in from lucrative television contracts putting the Premier League clubs on an equal footing?

Silenzi made a limited impact at Nottingham Forest but  was still a trailblazer for Italians in the Premier League
Silenzi made a limited impact at Nottingham Forest but
was still a trailblazer for Italians in the Premier League
In the event, Silenzi was unable to make the impact that Forest had hoped from him, making only 12 Premier League appearances in his two seasons in England. His only goals - just two - came against smaller clubs in the cup competitions and he went back to Italy in October 1996, joining Venezia on loan before Forest cancelled his contract.

Yet although Silenzi was branded a flop, his arrival did mark the beginning of a trend and within a couple of years fans of the Premier League were able to watch high-quality Italian players at a number of clubs.

Chelsea signed three Italians in Gianluca Vialli, Gianfranco Zola and Roberto Di Matteo, Middlesbrough recruited Gianluca Festa and Fabrizio Ravanelli and Sheffield Wednesday brought in Benito Carbone and Paolo Di Canio.

Derby County joined the trend by signing Francesco Baiano and Stefano Eranio, Crystal Palace landed Attilio Lombardo and Tottenham attracted Nicola Berti.

Silenzi had begun his career in the youth team of Pescatori Ostia, a junior club based at the beach resort of Lido di Ostia, 30km (19 miles) outside Rome, before beginning his professional career with Lodigiani, now extinct but then the capital’s third-biggest club after AS Roma and Lazio.

Paolo Di Canio joined Sheffield Wednesday in the wave of  Italians that followed Silenzi to the Premier League
Paolo Di Canio joined Sheffield Wednesday in the wave of
Italians that followed Silenzi to the Premier League
His goals for Lodigiani earned him a move to Tuscan club Arezzo, then in Serie B, and although he was not successful there his next move, back to Serie C to play for Reggiana, paid dividends.  His nine goals in his first season for the Reggio Emilia team helped them win promotion to Serie B, and he was the top scorer for the whole of Serie B in 1989-90 with 23 goals.

That led to interest from Napoli, who were then the best team in Italy, winners of both Serie A and the Coppa Italia in 1990. Silenzi made a immediate impact, scoring twice against Juventus in the Supercoppa Italia on his debut.

In the event, competing with such stars as Maradona, Zola and the Brazil forward Careca, Silenzi’s opportunities were limited in Naples, yet the move to Torino confirmed his talent, which is why Forest, who had finished third in the Premier League in 1994-95, saw him as a player worth signing.

Silenzi was treated harshly by the English press, with one national newspaper recently listing him as one of the “10 worst foreign signings” in Premier League history. Yet in a recent interview he insisted he enjoyed the experience of playing in England.

After resuming his career in Italy, Silenzi retired from playing in 2000. Since then, he has worked for a number of clubs in the role of sporting director and appeared as a pundit on television but is no longer involved in football, devoting his energies to running an expanding construction business in his home city.

One of his two children - his son Christian - followed him into football, however. Aged 21, he plays for Albissola, a third-tier team from Liguria, as a winger.

The beach at Ostia Lido attracts many visitors from nearby Rome during the summer months
The beach at Ostia Lido attracts many visitors from
nearby Rome during the summer months
Travel tip:

The seaside resort of Ostia Lido, where Silenzi was a youth player, lies 30km (19 miles) to the southwest of Rome, situated just across the mouth of the Tiber river from Fiumicino, home of Rome’s largest international airport. It is the only district of the Rome municipal area on the sea. It adjoins the archeological site of the ancient Roman city of Ostia Antica, once the harbour city of Rome, which has many well preserved remains. Many Romans spend their summer holidays in the modern town, swelling the population of 85,000.

Hotels in Ostia Lido by

The Basilica di San Prospero, built between the 16th and  18th centuries, is a notable building in Reggio Emilia
The Basilica di San Prospero, built between the 16th and
18th centuries, is a notable building in Reggio Emilia 
Travel tip:

The city of Reggio Emilia, where Silenzi played for the local Reggiana team, may lack the cultural wealth of neighbouring Parma and is consequently less visited, yet it has an attractive historic centre with a number of notable buildings, including the Basilica della Ghiara and the 10th century Basilica di San Prospero, which overlooks the elegant Piazza of the same name. The province is also believed to have given Italy its tricolore national flag, with evidence that a short-lived 18th century republic, the Repubblica Cispadana, had a flag of red, white and green.  It can also claim to be the home of Italy's world famous hard cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is thought to have originated in the commune of Bibbiano, about 15km (9 miles) to the southeast of the city.

16 December 2018

Francesco Graziani - World Cup winner

Forward injured seven minutes into 1982 final

Francesco Graziani in action for  the Italy national team
Francesco Graziani in action for
the Italy national team
The footballer Francesco Graziani, who played in all of Italy’s matches in the 1982 World Cup in Spain but had the misfortune to be reduced to the status of a spectator when injury struck just seven minutes into the final, was born on this day in 1952 in Subiaco, in Lazio.

Graziani, a striker with Fiorentina who had made his name with Torino, scored a vital goal in Italy’s final match of the opening group phase against Cameroon, securing the draw that was enough to take the azzurri through to the second stage of the competition.

He played in Italy’s epic victories over Argentina and Brazil in the second group phase and in the thumping semi-final win over Poland but was replaced by Alessandro Altobelli after damaging a shoulder in the opening moments of the final against West Germany.

Altobelli went on to score Italy’s third goal as they overcame the Germans 3-1 to lift the trophy for a third time.

With 23 goals in 64 appearances for the national team, Graziani - nicknamed ‘Ciccio’ - achieved a strike rate in international football similar to his goals-per-game ratio in his career at domestic level, which brought him 142 goals in 413 league appearances.

His peak seasons came in the eight years he spent with Torino, during which he scored 97 times in 221 Serie A matches, winning the scudetto as Serie A champions in 1975-76.

The Torino team that won the Serie A championship in 1975-76. Graziani is fourth from the left on the back row
The Torino team that won the Serie A championship in
1975-76. Graziani is fourth from the left on the back row
A strong, physical player, Graziani began his footballing career in Bettini Quadraro, an amateur team in Rome, before moving to Arezzo and then to Torino in 1973.

Graziani scored 122 goals in 289 games in all competitions for Torino, including eight goals in 23 matches in Europe. In addition to the Serie A title, he was a member of the team that reached the final of the Coppa Italia in 1980.

He was the top-scorer in Serie A with a tally of 21 goals in the 1976-77 season, part of a powerful forward line alongside Paolo Pulici and Claudio Sala.

Graziani left Torino in 1981 when he and teammate Eraldo Pecci were transferred to Fiorentina, where they missed winning the title by a single point in the 1981–82 season.

In 1983, he was signed by Roma, with whom he won the Coppa Italia twice, in 1984 and 1986.

Graziani is brought down by Juventus defender  Gaetano Scirea during a Turin derby in 1976-77
Graziani is brought down by Juventus defender
 Gaetano Scirea during a Turin derby in 1976-77
Known for his composure in front of goal, Graziani was capable of playing as a main striker, in a creative midfield role, or even on the wing. He worked hard to hone his technique and eventually his determination, ability in the air and a natural eye for goal enabled him to become the complete centre-forward.

Nonetheless, despite his excellent scoring record, Graziani twice missed penalties in shoot-outs, first in the one that decided the 1980 Coppa Italia final, when Torino lost out to Roma at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, and then again in the 1984 European Cup final - in the same stadium - when Roma, his next club after Fiorentina, were beaten by Liverpool.

After two seasons with Udinese and a brief appearance in the Australian National Soccer League, Graziani called time on his his playing career in 1988. His Serie A record was 130 goals from 353 games.

Graziani made his debut for the Italy national team in April 1975, in a 0–0 home draw in Rome against Poland, and scored his first goal for Italy in April of the following year in a 3–1 home win against Portugal.

Francesco Graziani has been a coach and pundit since giving up playing
Francesco Graziani has been a coach
and pundit since giving up playing
As well as being a key member of the 1982 World Cup team, he also went to the 1978 finals in Argentina as understudy to Paolo Rossi and to the 1980 European Championship finals on home soil, where he made four appearances, scoring once, as Italy finished in fourth place.

His career as a coach has so far produced mixed results. As coach of Fiorentina he reached the 1990 UEFA Cup Final. Spells at Reggina and Avellino were unsuccessful but then led Catania to promotion from Serie C1 to Serie B in the 2001–02 season.

From 2004 to 2006, he coached Cervia, an amateur team of Emilia-Romagna from the Eccellenza league who were the subject of an Italian reality show, Campioni – Il Sogno. He led the team to an immediate promotion to Serie D.

More recently, Graziani has worked as a football pundit for the Mediaset TV channels.

The Rocca Abbazia castle that towers above the town of Subiaco remains largely intact
The Rocca Abbazia castle that towers above the town of
Subiaco remains largely intact
Travel tip:

Graziani’s home town, Subiaco, which is situated about 70km (43 miles) east of Rome and about 40km (25 miles) from Tivoli, is built close to a hill  topped by the Rocca Abbazia castle, and close to Monte Liviato – one of Lazio’s premier ski resorts. Originally built to provide accommodation for workmen on Nero’s grand villa, of which barely anything remains, Subiaco became well known for the fact that, in the fifth century, Saint Benedict lived as a hermit in a mountain cave nearby for three years, before leaving to found the monastery at Montecassino. Among a few things to see are the Ponte di San Francesco, a medieval segmental arch bridge over the Aniene constructed in 1358.

The Municipio - local authority building - in Cervia, the town on the Adriatic coast where Graziani coached
The Municipio - local authority building - in Cervia, the
town on the Adriatic coast where Graziani coached
Travel tip:

Cervia, whose football club Graziani coached to promotion in 2005, is a resort town in Emilia-Romagna, on Italy's Adriatic coast.  It was once an important medieval city with three fortified entrances, seven churches and a castle supposedly built by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.  Among things to see are an early 18th century cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta and the Museum of Salt, which tells the story of the town’s prosperous past as major centre for the mining of salt.

Search for hotels in Cervia on Tripadvisor

More reading:

How Paolo Rossi's hat-trick sank Brazil at the 1982 World Cup

Enzo Bearzot, the pipe-smoking maestro who plotted Italy's 1982 victory

Marco Tardelli: That goal, and that celebration

Also on this day:

1944: The birth of businessman Sandro Versace

1945: The death of Fiat founder Giovanni Agnelli

1954: The birth of pop star Ivana Spagna


1 October 2018

Walter Mazzarri - football coach

Former Watford manager with outstanding record in Italy

Walter Mazzarri has coached nine teams in Italy and England
Walter Mazzarri has coached nine
teams in Italy and England
The football coach Walter Mazzarri, whose disappointing spell in English football as Watford manager contrasts with a fine record as a coach in his native Italy, was born on this day in 1961 in San Vincenzo, a resort on the coast of Tuscany.

Mazzarri won promotion to Serie A with his local club Livorno and kept tiny Calabrian team Reggina in Serie A against the odds for three consecutive seasons, on the last occasion despite an 11-point deduction for involvement in an alleged match-fixing scandal.

He subsequently had two seasons as coach of Sampdoria, qualifying for the UEFA Cup by finishing sixth in the first of those campaigns and then reaching the final of the Coppa Italia with a team that included the potent attacking duo Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini.

After that he returned to Napoli, where he had previously been assistant to Renzo Ulivieri, to be appointed head coach in 2009, guiding the azzurri to sixth place - their best Serie A finish for 25 years - to qualify for the Europa League in his first season in charge, and doing even better in his second season, when Napoli were third, their highest placing since the golden days of the late 1980s, when Diego Maradona inspired them to win the scudetto twice in four seasons.

They qualified for the Champions League for the first time as a result and won the Coppa Italia, beating Juventus in the final - Napoli’s first major silverware since 1989-90 at the end of the Maradona era.

The striker Edinson Cavani became a star under Mazzarri at Napoli
The striker Edinson Cavani became
a star under Mazzarri at Napoli
He moved to Internazionale for the 2013-14 season but could not replicate his success with Napoli. After finishing fifth in his first season at the helm he won a contract extension but was sacked in November 2014 after a disappointing run of results.

Mazzarri’s move to England came in July 2016 as Watford, the English team acquired by Serie A club Udinese’s owner Giampaolo Pozzo, appointed him as their sixth head coach in four years, his predecessors having included fellow Italians Gianfranco Zola and Giuseppe Sannino.

He replaced the Spaniard Quique Sanchez Flores, who was dismissed despite reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup and finishing 13th in the Premier League.  He argued that he had a successful season in that his brief had been to keep Watford in the division despite being a small club, which he seemed to have achieved comfortably by reaching his target of 40 points - a total that in most years is proof against relegation - with six fixtures still to play.

But the Hornets, the club once owned by the pop music superstar Elton John, lost all of those matches and Mazzarri was dismissed even before the season concluded with a 5-0 home defeat to Manchester City.

Mazzarri's spell in charge at Napoli saw the club achieve its most successful period since the days of Diego Maradona
Mazzarri's spell in charge at Napoli saw the club achieve
its most successful period since the days of Diego Maradona
Mazzarri’s biggest triumph so far has undoubtedly been with Napoli. Under Mazzarri, Napoli become renowned for lightning counter-attacks and a 3–4–3 formation in which the Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani was supported by Argentine winger Ezequiel Lavezzi and creative Slovakian star Marek Hamšík.

They finished second in their group in their debut Champions League campaign, behind Germany's Bayern Munich and ahead of Manchester City and Villareal of Spain. But in the last 16 they suffered a difficult exit against another English side, Chelsea, who overturned a 3-1 defeat at Napoli’s Stadio San Paolo in the first leg with a stunning 4–1 win after extra time in the return leg in England.

Napoli recovered from the disappointment to end the season with a trophy as they won the Coppa Italia final, inflicting Serie A champions Juventus's only defeat of the season, and finished second in Serie A the following season, their highest position in over 20 years.

Since January of this year, Mazzarri, a former midfielder who played more than 250 matches in a fairly low-key career on the pitch, has been coach of Torino in Serie A, his ninth team since he took his first head coach position at the minor Sicilian club Acireale in 2001.

Sand dunes in the beautiful Rimigliano nature park, which is next to the resort of San Vincenzo
Sand dunes in the beautiful Rimigliano nature park,
which is next to the resort of San Vincenzo
Travel tip:

Mazzarri’s home town of San Vincenzo is a coastal resort at the southern end of the Ligurian Sea, roughly 50km (31 miles) south of Livorno, almost level with the northern tip of the island of Corsica.  The resort is notable for the long stretches of soft, sandy beaches that are characteristic of the area. It is also adjacent to the Rimigliano nature park, which covers the shoreline between San Vincenzo and the Gulf of Baratti, where visitors can admire sea lilies and juniper-covered sand dunes or explore forests of cork and pine trees.

The elegant Piazza Duomo in the centre of the Sicilian town of Acireale, north of Catania
The elegant Piazza Duomo in the centre of the Sicilian
town of Acireale, north of Catania
Travel tip:

Acireale, where Mazzarri played for a while and began his coaching career, is an elegant town rich in Baroque architecture, built on a series of lava terraces that drop to the sea about 17km (11 miles) north of Catania on the southeast coast of Sicily.  It has a beautiful cathedral dedicated to Maria Santissima Annunziata, located in Piazza Duomo in the historic centre. Built in the fifth century, it was reconstructed after the 1693 earthquake. The nearby fishing village of Santa Maria la Scala has some charming restaurants at the harbour’s edge.

More reading:

How Gianfranco Zola 'learned everything' from Diego Maradona

The three-times Champions League winner now in charge of Napoli

The founding of Milan giants Internazionale

Also on this day:

1450: The death of Leonello d'Este, patron of Ferrara's artistic heritage

1910: The birth of Olympic cycling champion Attilio Pavese


26 September 2018

Enzo Bearzot - World Cup-winning coach

Led Italy to 1982 triumph in Spain

The pipe-smoking Enzo Bearzot was in
charge of the azzurri for a record 104 games
Enzo Bearzot, the pipe-smoking coach who plotted Italy’s victory at the 1982 World Cup in Spain and at the same time changed the way the national team traditionally played, was born on September 26, 1927 in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northwest Italy.

Italy had a reputation for ultra-defensive and sometimes cynical football but in 44 years had won only one major competition, the 1968 European championships, a much lower-key affair than the current four-yearly Euros, which Italy hosted.

But Bearzot was an admirer of the so-called ‘total football’ philosophy advanced by the Dutch coach Rinus Michels, with which the Netherlands national team reached two World Cup finals in the 1970s, albeit without winning.

Italy did not impress at the start of their Spain adventure, recording three fairly lacklustre draws in their group matches, and were expected to be eliminated in the second group phase when they were obliged to play Argentina, the holders, and a Brazil side brimming with brilliant players.

Bearzot and the team attracted scathing criticism in the Italian press, to the extent that the players and management refused to speak any more to journalists during the tournament, imposing their so-called silenzio stampa - press silence.

Bearzot, right, playing cards on the plane home from Spain with Dino Zoff, Franco Causio and the Italian president Sandro Pertini
Bearzot, right, playing cards on the plane home from Spain with
Dino Zoff, Franco Causio and the Italian president Sandro Pertini
Instead, they made their critics eat their words by beating both Argentina (2-1) and Brazil (3-2), the latter hailed as one of the greatest World Cup matches of all time after Italy led twice and Brazil equalised twice before Italy took the lead again 16 minutes from the end and goalkeeper Dino Zoff pulled off a miraculous late save to deny Brazil another equaliser, which would have taken them through to the semi-finals on goal difference.

All three goals against Brazil were scored by Italy’s wiry centre-forward, Paolo Rossi, whose selection had brought Bearzot more criticism. Rossi had just returned from a two-year suspension for alleged match-fixing, which was controversial enough. He was also a long way behind the rest of the squad in fitness, yet he had scored three goals in the World Cup finals in Argentina in 1978, from which Italy were eliminated by the Netherlands in their final second-phase match, and Bearzot wanted him on board.

Not content with destroying Brazil’s hopes, Rossi scored both goals in Italy’s 2-0 semi-final victory against Poland, and another in the 3-1 win over West Germany in the final, to take the tournament Golden Boot award as top goalscorer, with six.

Bearzot in his playing days at Torino
Bearzot in his playing days at Torino
Although Italy delighted their fans with the gusto of their attacking, they did not entirely abandon tried and trusted methods. Deployed as an old-fashioned man-marker, Claudio Gentile fulfilled his duties to the letter, kicking a young Diego Maradona out of the match with Argentina and doing a similar job on the Brazilian magician Zico, albeit at the cost of a booking that ruled him out of the semi-final.

The final confirmed Bearzot’s transformation from villain to hero in the eyes of the press and earned him four more years in the job, although the 1986 World Cup in Mexico earned him renewed criticism, this time for showing too much faith in his 1982 players, who had lost some of their edge and went out to France in the round of 16.

Bearzot resigned after that defeat but his 104 matches as national coach - seven more even than the legendary Vittorio Pozzo, who was in the dug-out for 97 games - is unlikely ever to be surpassed.

Born in the village of Aiello del Friuli, about 45km (28 miles) northwest of Trieste and about 25km (16 miles) southeast of Udine, Bearzot was the son of a bank manager who had little interest in football and whose wrath he risked by missing two crucial university exams to play in the first team for his club, Pro Gorizia, ruining his chances of completing his degree.

Marcello Lippi, who won the World Cup in 2006, was mentored by Bearzot
Marcello Lippi, who won the World Cup in
2006, was mentored by Bearzot
Tall and strongly built, Bearzot usually played as what would now be described as a defensive midfielder. In his club career, he helped the Sicilian team Catania win promotion to Serie A and had long spells with both Inter Milan and Torino. He made one appearance for the azzurri - the  national team.

He took up coaching with Torino but his only head coach role before he joined the technical staff of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) was with the Serie C club Prato. This lack of club experience meant that, when he worked his way through the ranks to be under-23 coach and then senior coach in 1975 meant there was scepticism from the start over his credentials for the job, even among his fellow coaches.

Bearzot’s success, however, silenced them all.  After Mexico ‘86, he disappeared from football for the most part, never taking another coaching job. He rejoined the FIGC as president of the technical sector in 2002 and was a mentor to Marcello Lippi, who was to match Bearzot’s achievement  by winning the World Cup himself as coach in 2006.

Bearzot retired for good in 2005. He died in 2010 after a long illness and was buried at the church of Santa Maria al Paradiso in Milan, where goalkeeper Zoff and midfielder Bruno Conti were among the pallbearers, with Rossi part of a congregation that included Antonio Cabrini, Giuseppe Bergomi Alessandro Altobelli and Marco Tardelli among other members of the 1982 World Cup winning team.

The beautiful Piazza della Libertà is one of the features of the Friulian city of Udine
The beautiful Piazza della Libertà is one of the features
of the Friulian city of Udine
Travel tip:

Udine, the nearest city to Bearzot’s home village of Aiello, is an attractive and wealthy provincial city which is the gastronomic capital of Friuli. Udine's most attractive area lies within the medieval 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 church of Santa Maria at Paradiso in Milan, where Bearzot is buried
The church of Santa Maria at Paradiso
in Milan, where Bearzot is buried
Travel tip:

The church of Santa Maria al Paradiso is in the Ticinese district of Milan, about 1.5km (1 mile) south of the city centre, near the Crocetta metro station. It was begun in 1590 for the Third Order of Saint Francis, after designs by Martino Bassi. The facade, however, was only added in 1897 in a Neo-Baroque style by the architect Ernesto Pirovano. Ticinese is one of the oldest parts of central Milan. It takes its name from Porta Ticinese, a 16th century gate to the city rebuilt in the early 19th century with large ionic order columns. The area also includes the remains of a Roman amphitheatre and the basilicas of San Lorenzo and Sant'Eustorgio, and has a thriving nightlife with a large choice of bars and restaurants.

More reading:

How Paolo Rossi made the difference in a World Cup classic

Marco Tardelli and THAT celebration

How Marcello Lippi led Italy to glory in 2006

Also on this day:

1973: The death of the actress Anna Magnani

1977: The Assisi earthquake


4 May 2018

Marella Agnelli - noblewoman and socialite

Married for 50 years to Fiat patriarch Gianni Agnelli

Marella Agnelli enjoyed a lifestyle  of wealth and privilege
Marella Agnelli enjoyed a lifestyle
of wealth and privilege
Donna Marella Caracciolo di Castagneto, the noblewoman from an old Neapolitan family who married the jet-setting chairman of car giants Fiat, Gianni Agnelli, was born on this day in 1927 in Florence.

Simply known as Marella Agnelli, she was propelled by her marriage at the age of 26 into a world in which she became a socialite and style icon, devoting her life to collecting art, decorating the numerous homes she and her husband kept in Europe and beyond, and attending and hosting lavish, exclusive parties.

The couple would eventually have homes in Rome, Paris, New York,  Corsica and Saint-Moritz, as well as several houses in and around Agnelli’s home city of Turin, including the Agnelli estate in the foothills of the Italian Alps.

As member of the House of Caracciolo, she was regarded as high Italian nobility, although she admitted that the conservative aristocratic circles in which she grew up were a long way removed from the new life she took on at Agnelli’s side.

Her father was Don Filippo Caracciolo, 8th Prince di Castagneto, 3rd Duke di Melito, and hereditary Patrician of Naples, who married an American whiskey heiress, Margaret Clarke. One of her brothers, Don Carlo Caracciolo, founded the newspaper La Repubblica.

She and Agnelli met when she was 18. Marella was familiar with him both through the gossip columns - he was a notorious playboy - and through the tales she heard of his wartime exploits as part of a tank regiment on the Eastern Front and in north Africa.  He was 24 and, after his parents had both died young, became head of the Agnelli family.

Marella and Gianni Agnelli arriving at a function in 1966
Marella and Gianni Agnelli arriving at a function in 1966
The couple did not become engaged until the summer of 1953, marrying in November of the same year in the chapel of Osthoffen Castle, just outside Strasbourg, the French city where her father was based as secretary-general of the Council of Europe.

Before they were married Marella had been developing her photography skills in the New York studio of Erwin Blumenfeld and returned to Italy as a correspondent for the upmarket magazine publisher Condé Nast but effectively gave up her career to be a wife and society hostess.

She and Agnelli’s lives revolved around late autumns in New York, the skiing season in Saint-Moritz and summers on the French Riviera, entertaining a circle of friends that included the Kennedys, the Kissingers, the Rockefellers.

Their son, Edoardo, was born in New York in 1954, their daughter, Margherita, in Lausanne the following year.

Each year, from mid-August until the end of September, while Gianni attended to business in Turin, Marella and the children would be based at the Agnelli family estate at the foot of the Alps at Villar Perosa, 40km (25 miles) from Turin. It had been home to the family since the early 19th century.  She and Agnelli also had a city residence in Corso Matteotti in Turin.

Marella Agnelli became known for elegance and style
Marella Agnelli became known for elegance and style
Their homes were known for their elegance and style, much of it the work of Marella, for whom the artistic talents that might have flourished had she maintained her budding career in photography were channelled into interior design, whether at Villa Frescot, in the hills above Turin, their duplex apartment on Park Avenue in New York, or the country estate, where Marella enlisted the garden designer Russell Page in transforming the grounds into a living work of art.

It was their love of art on canvas that drew the Agnellis to New York, where they became friends with Leo Castelli, the contemporary art dealer from Trieste who had emigrated to New York, who introduced them to upcoming young artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Tom Wesselmann, Frank Stella and Robert Indiana, whose paintings they collected with such enthusiasm they had an apartment in Milan designed by Gae Aulenti, the architect who designed the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, specifically for their collection.

Among the circle of friends they built in New York was the author Truman Capote, who famously who dubbed Marella and a group of elegant and beautiful socialites of the time, including Barbara “Babe” Paley, Lucy Douglas “CZ” Guest and Nancy “Slim” Keith, as his “swans”.

Marella and Capote became very close, the American spending much time in Italy as well as keeping their company in New York, but they fell out eventually after Marella saw a chapter of his novel Answered Prayers, in which he  exposed the lives and secrets of many people who had regarded him as a confidant.

After Gianni Agnelli’s death in 2003, Marella acquired Ain Kassimou, a villa in Marrakech, Morocco, that had been built in the 19th century for a relative of Leo Tolstoy, and she spent a good deal of her time there.  Nowadays, aged 91, she still lives in the family house at Villar Perosa.

The Agnelli house in Villar Pelosa has been in the family
since the early part of the 19th century
Travel tip:

The country house and estate at Villar Perosa, a 45-room stuccoed rococo villa with commanding views of the Alps,  has been in the the Agnelli family since 1811. The Fiat founder, Giovanni Agnelli - Gianni’s grandfather - had been born there in 1866. As well as Russell Page, the English landscape gardener, the Agnellis hired Gae Aulenti to create the timbered pool house.

The Tarot Card Garden at Garavicchio
The Tarot Card Garden at Garavicchio
Travel tip:

The Caracciolo family’s country estate in Tuscany, spread over 500 acres, is near the medieval village of Garavicchio, some 200km (125 miles) south of Florence and 125km (78 miles) northeast of Rome along the Tyrrhenian Sea coast. At the heart of the estate is a 16th century farmhouse positioned so as to enjoy views towards the sea on one side and rolling Tuscan hills on the other.  An unusual feature of Garavicchio is its Tarot Card Garden, a wooded area featuring 22 brightly coloured sculptures inspired by Tarot symbols.

More reading: 

How Gianni Agnelli became the most powerful man in Italy

Giovanni Agnelli - the man who founded Fiat

Gae Aulenti, trailblazer for women in architecture

Also on this day:

1527: Mutinous troops sack Rome

1655: The birth of Bartolomeo Cristofori, inventor of the piano


17 February 2018

Raffaele ‘Raf’ Vallone – actor

Movie star who had four careers

Raffaele Vallone, pictured in a scene from the Giuseppe de Santis neo-realist movie Bitter Rice
Raffaele Vallone, pictured in a scene from the Giuseppe
de Santis neorealist movie Bitter Rice
Raffaele Vallone, the stage and screen actor who was born on this day in 1916 in Tropea, Calabria, was remarkable for having embarked on three starkly different career paths even before he made his acting debut.

Usually known as Raf, he grew up from the age of two in Turin, where his father, an ambitious young lawyer, had relocated to set up a legal practice.  A natural athlete, he was a fine footballer – so good, in fact, that at the age of 14 he was snapped up by Torino FC, who made him an apprentice professional.

Compared with the average working man, he was handsomely paid as a footballer, and he won a medal as part of the Torino team crowned Coppa Italia winners in 1936.  Yet he quickly became bored with football and enrolled at Turin University, where he studied Law and Philosophy with a view to joining his father’s firm.

Ultimately, he baulked at the idea of becoming a lawyer, too, and instead joined the staff of the left-wing daily newspaper L’Unità, where he rose quickly to be head of the culture pages, at the same time establishing himself as a drama and film critic for the Turin daily La Stampa.

It was in his capacity as a journalist that he was invited to meet Giuseppe De Santis, the film director, who wanted him to help with background information for a new film in the growing neorealist genre called Bitter Rice, about a woman working in the rice fields in the Po Valley.

Vallone in his days as a young footballer with Torino FC
Vallone in his days as a young footballer
with Torino FC
This was a time when, partly out of budget restrictions, partly out of a desire to cast real people rather than rely solely on established stars, directors were weighing up everyone they met as a potential actor.

De Santis was immediately impressed with Vallone, who had served with the anti-Fascist resistance during the Second World War, both for his depth of knowledge but also for the passion of his views, particularly on the subject of exploitation of workers.

The director also noted Vallone’s physical stature and his rough-hewn features and decided he would be perfect for the role of a soldier from peasant roots, competing with Vittorio Gassman for the love of another relative unknown, Silvana Mangano. In fact, not only was Vallone an educated man, his mother was descended from nobility, which only illustrates how appearances can be deceptive.

The film, made in 1949, was a box office hit, commercially one of the biggest successes of the neorealist era.  Unlike some of the unknowns plucked from real life, discarded after one movie, Vallone went on to enjoy a successful career.

He worked again with De Santis in 1950 in  Non c'e Pace tra gli Ulivi (There’s No Peace Among the Olive Trees), playing a shepherd who antagonised local Mafiosi, and in Rome 11 O'Clock (1952), based on a true story of a rickety staircase that collapsed under a queue of unemployed girls hoping for a job interview.

Raf Vallone (left) in a scene from Il Cammino della Speranza, in which he starred with his future wife, Elena Varzi (right)
Raf Vallone (left) in a scene from Il Cammino della Speranza,
in which he starred with his future wife, Elena Varzi (right)
In Pietro Germi’s Il Cammino della Speranza (The Road to Hope, 1951) Vallone starred alongside Elena Varzi, whom he later married and with whom he had three children.

The popularity of neorealist films declined as Italy’s shattered post-War economy began to recover, when audiences decided they no longer wished to be reminded of the hard times they had left behind. For a while, Vallone’s career stalled.

Ever eager to try different things, however, Vallone now set his sights on the stage.  He travelled to Paris and London, where he was inspired in particular by Peter Brook’s production of the Arthur Miller play A View From the Bridge, in which he felt the role of the Italian-American longshoreman Eddie Carbone, tormented by a sexual fixation with a niece, was made for him.

He had the chance to play the character when Brook took the play on tour to Paris. Vallone’s performances at the Theatre Antoine, where the play ran for 550 nights, were frequently received with ovations from the audience, and earned him the same part in Sidney Lumet’s 1961 film version of the play, which he shot in both English and French.

That movie helped cement Vallone’s popularity with American movie-going audiences.  During that time he also gave well received supporting roles in Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women (1960) and Anthony Mann’s El Cid (1961), both co-starring Sophia Loren. Other actresses he co-starred with on included Gina Lollobrigida, Anna Magnani, Melina Mercouri and Simone Signoret.

In his later years, Vallone tended to play only cameos, such as in The Italian Job (1969) and The Godfather Part III (1990). He also directed for the stage, even trying his hand at opera with a production of Bellini’s Norma, with Renata Scotto in the lead role.

Tropea in Calabria enjoys a spectacular cliff-top location
Tropea in Calabria enjoys a spectacular cliff-top location
Travel tip:

Tropea, where Vallone was born, is for obvious reasons not a resort that attracts many holidaymakers other than Italians. Situated on the western coast of Calabria, the region that occupies the toe and the instep of the Italian peninsula, it is more than 400km (250 miles) south of Naples and though relatively close to Sicily – Messina is just 112km (70 miles) away – it tends to be a place flown over en route.  Yet it has much to recommend it, from its beautiful soft sandy beaches to the spectacular cliff-top setting of its historic old town, with its maze of narrow streets and sleepy southern Italian feel.  On a stretch of scenic coastline known as the Costa degli Dei – the Coast of the Gods – it is regarded by some regular visitors as one of Italy’s hidden gems.

Submerged rice fields are a feature of the countryside around Vercelli in the Po Valley
Submerged rice fields are a feature of the countryside
around Vercelli in the Po Valley
Travel tip:

The rice fields of the Po Valley represent the largest rice production area in the whole of Europe.  The Po Valley, or Po Plain, is vast, stretching about 650km (400 miles) from the Western Alps to the Adriatic Sea, bordered by the Alps to the north and the Apennines to the south, with an area of 46,000 sq km (18,000 sq mi).  Rice production is mainly centred on the province of Vercelli, between Milan and Turin, in which the town of Vercelli is surrounded in the summer months by submerged paddy fields, for which water is supplied by a canal from the Po River.  Rice has been grown in the area since the 15th century.

More reading:

Silvana Mangano - actress whose big break came with Bitter Rice

Vittorio De Sica and the neorealist masterpiece Bicycle Thieves

The earthy beauty of Oscar-winner Anna Magnani

Also on this day:

1600: The death of  'heretic' philosopher Giordano Bruno, burned at the stake

1653: The birth of composer Arcangelo Corelli

1796: The birth of composer Giovanni Pacini