Continental capers from Scandinavia to the Med
On Monday evening, Cagliari's press office issued a statement on the club's website. Nothing strange about that, you might think. Except this wasn't another banal training update or a new ticket offer, rather an odd call for help from the club's owner Massimo Cellino.
His principal grievance rested with the Serie A fixture list. Yet congestion is not the issue here. After all, Cagliari aren't in Europe.
Even so, TV scheduling meant that their opening home game of the season would be played not on a Sunday, as is tradition, but on a Saturday instead… and not just any Saturday.
When writing the date into his diary, Cellino noticed something. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up and a chill went down his spine. It fell on the 17th, his unlucky number.
Since the 1995-96 season, Cellino has made every effort to purge the No 17 from Cagliari. No player has been allowed to wear it on the back of their shirt under his tenure and if it really means that much to them, a 1+6 is offered.
Massimo Cellino - lucky horse shoe not pictured...
Therefore, with the stars apparently aligned against Cagliari ahead of newly promoted Novara's visit to Sant'Elia, Cellino sought advice. From who or what exactly, no one knows.
Could it have been from someone like Mario Maggi, the self-proclaimed 'wizard', and confidante of great former Roma coach Nils Liedholm? Maggi frequently claimed to offer an insight into what formation he should play before big games. He even predicted Roma’s defeat in the 1984 European Cup final. “Nils didn’t speak to me for two months after that,” Maggi sighed.
Whoever it was, Cellino insists he has the answer… Every Cagliari supporter must turn up to the ground wearing the unlucky colour purple. Why? Because, "according to the well-informed," one negative cancels out another.
"Is this a joke?" asked several Cagliari fans. "At this point, why not replace coach Massimo Ficcadenti with Merlin?"
Before everyone scoffs at Cellino, however, it's worth remembering that his intuitions have worked in the past. When Max Allegri lost his first five games at the club in 2009, Cellino thought it could be down to the colour of his suit.
Such an observation might sound superficial, but Maurizio Zamparini had sacked Luciano Spalletti purely on that basis at Venezia in 2000 because his sartorial preference was always for black. "It was gloomy, funereal and didn't bode well," he complained.
Allegri also tended to dress in black. But rather than send him to the dry cleaners with a P45, Cellino recommended that he get a new suit, a blue one.
Allegri shows off his new blue threads
Bizarrely, it 'worked' as Cagliari ended the season in ninth place, their highest finish for 15 years, and Allegri beat José Mourinho to the Panchina d'Oro, Italy's Coach of the Year award.
Of course, superstition and Serie A have gone hand in hand for years.
For instance, when asked to predict a score line, it's thought of as unlucky to bet on your own team.
The Juventus legend Giampiero Boniperti would never back his side in the media. When he was president of the club, he once wagered five ties on them losing to Udinese with the journalist Piero Molino.
Juventus won and Boniperti had to come up with the goods. Weeks went by then one day a crumpled-looking package turned up at Molino's office. Sure enough the ties were there, but they'd been bought from one of the Chinese street sellers for a lira on the corner outside.
It wasn't a lack of class on Boniperti’s part - no one had more of that than him. Rather it was an indication of his distaste for ostentation.
Still, Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani would have appreciated the gesture. He considers his light yellow tie a good luck charm and knotted it to his shirt collar at the Camp Nou on Tuesday night. Beyond all expectation Milan raced into the lead and ended up with an unlikely 2-2 draw, which few had predicted in the pre-match build-up. Was it the tactics or the tie?
To some it would appear that a wardrobe malfunction in the director's box or on the bench might be as costly to a team's chances of success as a dressing room split between the players.
"Did somebody turn up the heat in here?"
Ask former Bologna coach Renzo Ulivieri (pictured above), who insisted on wearing the same heavy blue duffle coat even in the heat of summer. He'd sit and sweat without grumbling. It was completely irrational, but Ulivieri wasn’t the only one.
Livorno owner Aldo Spinelli still pulls on a special yellow waterproof even in bright sunshine and that’s not all. On away days, he demands to stop at the same motorway service station for a pizza. In fact, pre-match meals are a case in point.
Recall how Luis Suárez - that's the sinewy former midfielder of the Grande Inter in the '60s – thought that if a glass of wine were spilt at dinner, he would score the following day. That prompted Inter’s coach Helenio Herrera to slyly walk into the table and knock over his player’s drink. Suárez would then hurriedly dip his finger in the wine before touching his head and foot.
More food for thought comes in the memory of Romeo Anconetani, the larger than life former president of Pisa. Before one match against Cesena, he covered the pitch in 25kg of salt. Before another against Padova, he set a chicken free then ate it after the match. All out of superstition.
In football as in life, the Lord moves in mysterious ways. Juventus coach Antonio Conte was seen kissing a santino before Sunday’s season opener at home to Parma, calling to mind when the former Vicenza striker Marcelo Otero used to play with the picture of a saint in his socks.
No matter how ridiculous, people believe in superstitions because it gives them the illusion of control in an uncertain world. Ironically, a character like Cellino, with a reputation as a mangia-allenatori already well established on account of his decision to sack 25 coaches in 19 years, doesn’t exactly exude an air of stability. If it works for him then so be it. But come what may on Saturday, Novara won’t be put off.
“Cagliari can wear whatever they want,” a group of their fans told ANSA. “In the end they’ll be crying because blue will be the colour that triumphs. Novara are stronger than superstition itself.”
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