Straight from the dark heart of Italy
It has been a busy week, what with the Italian Cup attempting to sneak under the radar once again, AC Milan going Dutch on the transfer front and Adrian Mutu promising for the umpteenth time that he will be a good boy.
It's not as if the Coppa Italia is losing its appeal – there's never any interest amongst clubs and fans alike until the semi-finals at least – but in the last few seasons the Football Federation (FIGC) has attempted to revamp the competition.
The much maligned two-legged encounters were jettisoned until the semi-final stage, and the final became a one-off with a permanent home in Rome.
However, with midweek rounds in the league, Champions League and Europa League ties and internationals to fit in, there's little room in the fixture calendar for Cup games so they have to be shoe-horned into the dead time in January.
We've had two rounds in the last two weeks – the last 16 and quarter-finals – leaving a black hole in the memory bank until April, when we will be reminded that the semi-finals will take place.
These January stages can become glorified a kick-around for Serie A benchwarmers in front of sparsely-populated crowds for afternoon or late-evening mid-winter kick-offs.
However, the FIGC has latched on to the fact there is a worldwide television audience out there and even if there is little interest at home, the armchair fans in Asia, in particular, are all for watching the likes of Inter, Juventus and Milan, while Napoli, Palermo and Roma have major fanbases in the Americas.
In fact, only the absence of Lazio – dumped out by Roma last week – made the quarter-finals a clean sweep of the league's current top eight teams: interlopers Parma were dispatched by Palermo after penalty-kicks which seemed to be the only point of their appearance in Sicily on Tuesday evening.
There were few takers - with people having jobs, families and suchlike - for the Sampdoria-Milan matinee show to heckle the pantomime villain Antonio Cassano on his return to the Marassi stadium – and anyway it was such a low-key affair that the home side didn’t wake up until midway through the second half, when Alexandre Pato had already scored twice for the visitors.
The occasion, if you call it that, did give Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri a chance to blood his two new arrivals, Mark van Bommel and Urby Emanuelson: the Dutch pair must have wondered if a friendly had been specially arranged for their benefit.
They ran around a bit, passed the ball, and Van Bommel made his obligatory lunge at an opponent, but what is the point of this pair? OK, they arrived on free transfers, and Van Bommel is represented by Italian-born Dutch agent Mino Raiola (who also brokered Zlatan Ibrahimovic's moves in and out of Milan), but what return do you get from a 33-year-old midfielder and a 24-year-old who is fundamentally no more or less talented than many home-grown players?
No wonder Italy coach Cesare Prandelli is lamenting a dearth of potential internationals when the major clubs refuse to invest in Italians, but decide on the low-cost option from abroad.
Milan had expressed an interest in signing Domenico Criscito before the close of the January sales but not if Genoa are demanding something like, heaven forbid, cash: €12m, although €8m and a couple of youth players would probably seal the deal.
Instead, it seems that Adriano Galliani will turn once more to foreign shores and Espanyol left-back Rossello Didac Vila – coincidentally, another Raiola client – who will cost a mere €3m.
At least Inter seem to be putting some faith in a future Azzurri, Andrea Ranocchia (and have now signed another Italian in Giampaolo Pazzini), but we will wait and see how long that lasts.
Centre-back Ranocchia started in what semed to be the pick of the cup ties at Napoli, but in truth we could have skipped 80 minutes and tagged the other 10 minutes on to extra-time. It was well past most people’s bed-time before the penalty shootout ended with holders Inter through.
Juventus could have played all night against Roma and never scored. The Old Lady can just about kiss goodbye to her season after losing 2-0 at home to the Giallorossi, who never really had to get out of first gear and of course have what the Turin side do not: a quality striker in Mirko Vucinic.
So we can wave farewell to the cup until the more mellow days of spring. Which brings us on to someone looking to soften his turbulent life: bad boy Adrian Mutu, who has been lying low ever since storming out of training when Fiorentina decided that he could'nt pick up all his toys and flounce off to Cesena.In his defence, the evidence suggests Romanian may not have been thinking clearly as he processed the information coming from his agent Victor Becali, considering that Cesena look destined for an immediate return to Serie B.
Having parted ways with Becali, angry Adrian called a press conference to apologise and pleaded for another chance in the Renaissance city. No doubt he was sincere in his intentions to toe the line, but the only people who need to believe him are the club.
President Andrea Della Valle seems to have bought it when he called Mutu’s apology “lovely” - and no doubt the wayward talent will be back in a Viola shirt if not this weekend then in time for the following midweek round. The whole saga is a bit like the Italian Cup – long-winded and very predictable.
It's strange to see Juve letting their season go up in smoke as they let Inter sign Pazzini and let Cassano go to Milan. The funny thing is, Juve needed these two far more than the Milan teams did.
If Juve had these two up front for the rest of the season they would be feared. Now they're a laughing stock. Who's going to get the goals?
I'm not sure what Inter were thinking, either. Yes, Pazzini is good, but where does this leave Milito? I think he'll be sold in the summer now. And getting rid of Biabiany is another mistake.
We've seen some bizarre transfers over the last few days, I can't see many of them working out. And yes, Milan should have left Van Bommel where he was.
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