Straight from the dark heart of Italy
With the week’s international friendlies taking a large number of Serie A stars off on their travels, the coaches gathered at Coverciano on Monday for a technical meeting and to award the Panchina d'Oro (Golden Bench) for the coach of the year.
The award went to Jose Mourinho, who was snubbed last time round in favour of Massimiliano Allegri - but with the Portuguese (and his ego) now safely out of the country – and a treble winner - he is at last being given some credit by his former peers in Italy.
The day also offered an opportunity to swap ideas and listen to the latest musings on the game. The Italy squad were also at the Federation headquarters preparing for their match against Germany - so the coaches could keep an eye on their charges if they wished.
The majority of Italy players are as pious as cardinals when on Azzurri duty, but there is always the odd one or two who will use the occasion to break with club protocol - hence Allegri dropped in on Antonio Cassano to ensure that his recent signing was sticking to his diet.
There were no reports of the AC Milan coach finding empty jars of Nutella on the windowsill or chocolate wrappers hidden under the player’s mattress, but no doubt the portly Bari boy will be on the scales when he returns to Milanello on Thursday - just to be sure.
The pair had a quick word or two at the café inside the complex, where the player swore that lunch had been nothing more exciting than chicken before lifting his training top and tucking in his tummy - as if that was going to fool anyone.
Cassano arrived at Milan at the turn of the year looking well fed after being exiled from the Sampdoria squad for reportedly swearing in a different manner at club president Riccardo Garrone.
And for someone more in love with self-indulgence than self-discipline, Cassano has found it difficult to shed the excess baggage: in fact, he has made the latter-day Ronaldinho look almost svelte in comparison.
Even the much-vaunted MilanLab have not been able to put any spin on Tony’s weight-gain plan - which is no surprise considering he has revealed that when he retires he plans to get fat, really fat.
There is no denying the skill and tricky are still there, but the initial thrill of seeing Cassano waddle on as a second-half substitute to set-up a goal or two has worn off somewhat amongst the Rossoneri faithful, who have now witnessed the league leaders draw their last two games in a worryingly collective wobble of their own.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has admitted he is beginning to feel the strain of being the first name on the team-sheet and the Swede certainly has not been as sharp or clinical in front of goal in the last two games; spending more time growling at his team-mates than roaring past defenders.
A little R&R would no doubt not go amiss, but that seems unlikely - not with Cassano unable to last the pace and Allegri seemingly not yet having enough faith in Alexandre Pato to allow him to lead the line, despite the Brazilian netting a more than an adequate nine goals in 14 league appearances.
Cassano will at least have a opportunity to sweat off a few pounds in Dortmund, scene of that never to be forgotten World Cup semi-final in 2006, where Cesare Prandelli will hand him yet another ‘last chance’ – let’s hope he still has the appetite to take it this time round.
More hungry to leave his mark at international level is another descendant of the Italian Diaspora, Thiago Motta who will make his debut this evening.
The Inter midfielder has felt the tug of the old country on his heart strings for some time – his great grandfather emigrated from the Veneto region for South America when he was in his early 20s – which at the time you would have to say was not a bad move.
It seems that for now Prandelli has given up attempting to groom home-grown talent for the central midfield role alongside Daniele De Rossi, with Italo-Argentine Cristian Ledesma another of the ‘new Italians’ to don the Azurri jersey.
It may not have gone down too well with the tifosi, but if these homecoming sons - as with Mauro Cameronesi in the past – help lift the national side out of the doldrums, then boos will soon turn to cheers. And as Cassano will almost certainly testify, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
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