Pro Vercelli: The Derby
and What Came After
by Brian Phillips · December 21, 2008
Okay, here’s a question. Why is Worldsoccer.com stalking me? Every few matches, I’m asked to speak to the media, which I imagine is standard practice even in a lowly league like Serie C2/A. But every single time, literally without fail, my assistant informs me shortly before the press conference that
This is starting to play tricks on my brain. I mean, what do they see in us? It’s not like we expect major English-language exposure at this point. And a search of the real Worldsoccer.com website reveals not a shred of interest in Serie C. I can only assume that some intrepid World Soccer reporter is trying to do one of those books about following a team around for a season and eavesdropping on what they say in the bath. But it’s just weird to have him constantly peering around corners wherever I go. Why am I even sitting behind the microphone if there’s only one guy out there asking questions?
Still, I have to admit he’s been useful when I need to score a point in my burgeoning flame war with hopelessly overmatched Pro Belvedere boss Alessio Guarnieri.
So. We won the derby against Biellese in spectacular fashion. We then went on to record huge wins against second-placed Pizzighettone, the one team in the league that was keeping pace with us on points, and third-placed Itala, in a rough game that saw us surrender the lead to an own goal in the 79th minute, only for Mengoni, a centerback, to get it back with a shot from outside the area in the 85th.
Our winning streak finally ended at 11 after a 0-0 draw to Canavese, but we won the next three matches to get back on track. 16 games into the season, we’re sitting on 15 wins, 1 draw, and 0 losses, have a nine-point lead over the team in second place (and a 17-point lead over the team in third), and have already scored more goals than we did in all of last season. Sometimes being the greatest manager in the history of the world isn’t about winning all your matches. But then, as I recently explained to a reporter from Worldsoccer.com, sometimes it definitely is.
Honestly, after the trauma of 2008-09, or The Season That Shall Not Be Spoken Of, I’m more relieved by this than anything. What’s been most gratifying about the year so far is how many of our players have transcended their own personal conflicts. Paolo Mengoni is no longer a Bruce Lee-obsessed red-card magnet but a steady leader who, admittedly, will drop you to the ground if the moment is right. Carlo Saba has torn up his Arjen Robben posters and hasn’t so much as stubbed a toe for three months. Andrea Salvati has more than excelled in his Baby Gattuso role and usually even makes the right pass after he grittily claims the ball. The biggest disappointment has been Andrea Cognoni, who’s suffered through a gashed leg, a pulled hamstring, and a damaged foot so far this year—and even he’s scored four goals in the eight games he’s been healthy enough to start.
My biggest worry for the next few games is overconfidence. It’s hard to strike the right balance. A team this young, as even Walter Colombo can (and would) tell you, is prone to thinking after a string of good results that all they have to do to win is show up. I can keep them focused by demanding victories and warning them against complacency. But a team this young is also prone to struggle with pressure and high expectations, so there’s a danger that what I do to keep them from getting cocky will actually fill them with angst.
As it happens, though, cockiness hasn’t been much of a problem. Jorge Ibáñez has been by far my most complacent and cocksure player, and he’s absolutely tearing Serie C2 apart: 13 goals and eight assists in 16 games, and leading the league in both categories, as well as in overall average rating. Our opponents and their supporters may not like him, but for Pro Vercelli fans, he’s the best €0 we ever spent.
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