Straight from the dark heart of Italy
There was quite a little Italy reunion in the stands at Craven Cottage last night.
Carlo Ancelotti was there, laughing away with Gianluca Vialli; it's something cuddly Carlo would never dream of doing back home if he had just been knocked out of the Champions League – turning up at a match 48 hours later, not to mention laughing.
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Seated nearby and a lot more po-faced were Roberto Mancini and former Juventus midfielder Marco Tardelli. Gianfranco Zola wasn't on view, although the little fella may have been lurking in the shadows.
Definitely absent was Marcello Lippi, which was just as well because it would have made disturbing viewing for the Azzurri chief. Out there in the fading London dusk were three of his regulars for South Africa, playing like pale shadows of their former magnificent selves.
Fabio Cannavaro’s fall from grace perfectly mirrors that of the Turin club: a big name with a glittering past.
The way the Italy captain was swatted off the ball by Bobby Zamora was embarrassment enough, but getting on the wrong side of Zoltan Gera – which led to his early dismissal – was the final humiliation for the one-time colossus in the heart of the defence.
Maybe he looked across the line and felt that Fabio Grosso was too equally leaden-footed to cover across, but it doesn't bode well for the defence of the World Cup if the team’s focal point can't play two games in a row without imploding physically and mentally.
Another famous reputation to be cast aside was Mauro Camoranesi – who at least wasn’t sent off on this visit to London, as he was a few years ago against Arsenal. That said, Jonathan Zebina made it an unwelcome double with his late dismissal.
By that time it didn’t really matter as Juve had been dispatched in a manner becoming all too regular for Italian teams in England, AS Roma and AC Milan at Manchester United being two other recent occasions on which Serie A defences have been torn apart by the Premier League.
We should have seen it coming really after the way the Old Lady crumpled to her knees against Siena at the weekend, when the a team leading 3-0 could only draw 3-3.
Even when David Trezeguet scored early on you just felt that a second would be needed, especially when Zamora starting spreading uncertainty amongst the makeshift and creaking defence where Zebina was employed alongside Cannavaro.
The French striker’s goal – his only contribution to the game – was the sum of the Bianconeri’s efforts going forward. And even before the fourth goal floated over Antonio Chimenti’s head it had already been one of the club’s most dreadful nights in Europe – up there with the capitulation to Bayern Munich.
Alberto Zaccheroni has been attempting to impose his favoured three-man defence on the players but naturally he would like to put the system into practice with a full complement of players on the pitch.
Being a man down for the bulk of the tie should have seen Momo Sissoko and Felipe Melo cover back and reinforce the backline; after all, there was an aggregate advantage to protect. Instead the pair ran around in their usual Mad Hatter manner, making nonsensical dashes into no-man’s land and appearing a riddle to one and all who share the same pitch with the indecisive duo.
In all honesty, has anything changed since Ciro Ferrara was sacked? Well, no, apart from the fact the team are even more unwatchable than before. The blame lies beyond Zaccheroni, who can only work with what he is given – and there isn’t much out there to please the eye.
Tardelli rightly pointed out earlier in the week that the club’s hierarchy “know nothing about football”, but in laying scathing blame at the door of those at the top he is only joining a long queue populated by just about anyone who ever played, coached or holds the team dear to their hearts.
The only hope now is that Cesare Prandelli puts club before country and can be incited away from Florence to take over next season and start a rebuilding programme.
There's already enough talent at the current Fiorentina boss’s disposal - and the likes of Sebastian Giovinco, Claudio Marchisio, Antonio Candreva and Paolo de Ceglie would all benefit from his tutelage and ability to turn even the most rudderless careers around. Who knows, he might even get the best out of Diego just as he did with Adrian Mutu.
But in the meantime these are dark times for the old dear. And like the colours of the famous old shirt, everything is in stark black and white.
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Italy need to find how to cope with the intensity of English opposition as they failed again away. Fulham are god at pressuring at home (see Arsenal and United this season) and in that respect Melo and Sissokho were always going to fail (and that bodes bad news for Brazil as the suspicions have always been that Melo can be pressured into submission and made to look like a headless chicken).
awful times indeed, but let's remember the players Zac had his disposal: After Cannavaro's farce, they were left with 10 men - 5 of whom were: de Ceglie, Zebina, Grosso, Salihamdzic, and Grygera - all 5 of whom are full backs primarily. There were no central defenders left after Fabio's dismissal, and in goal you had a man who hadn't played a competitive match in a decade. With those 5 in a team of 10, naturally there was going to be a long day ahead: Yes, the team is awful right now, without shame or honour, yes it's ugly and shameful to lose to Fulham - but which players were missing? Buffon, leggrotaglie, chiellini, ceceres, marchisio - that's the spine of the team. Cut them some slack - it's hard enough as it is, and there is a good spine to this squad; a little time in the off season and some good buys (full backs, plus a midfielder who can get the ball down and boss) will see this team back to its glory days. I am not that depressed, and as a 30 year fan of Juve, I remember when Platini and Zidane were as unwelcome in Torino as Diego is now ...
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