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Pro Vercelli: Wolves to the Slaughter

We’re 11 games into our first Serie C1 season, and things are going roughly according to plan. We’re sitting in 10th place, with a record of four wins, two draws, and five losses. Nothing you’d want on your tombstone, but good enough to keep us from looking up at our own for a little while yet.

When you’re right on course for a safe mid-table finish, it sometimes feels like there’s not a lot of news to report. A win isn’t a huge story, but then, a loss isn’t a huge story either, and time can slip by pretty fast as you make minor adjustments and chart the weekly ticks in your balance sheet. One game blends into the next, and before you know it, the season turns into a reverie. You’re living life like a Middlesbrough fan. If you want to be sharp, you have to fight the glide.

So: let’s be specific. The good things about our season so far:

  • We’re continuing to excel in derby matches. We knocked Pro Patria out of the Coppa Italia, 2-1 (goals by Carlo Saba and our new loan signing Landry Assakou) and beat Novara in the league, also 2-1 (goals by Antonelli and Novara’s hapless Francesco Larcher). These were both home games. Our next match is away at Pro Patria, so we’ll see if our luck can continue.
  • We’re doing well in the cups. We took Serie B side Ternana all the way to penalties in the second qualifying round of the Coppa Italia, losing 5-4 in a match that saw Saba leave on a stretcher. We’ve made it to the group stage of the Serie C cup, and I think we have a good chance of reaching the semi-final.
  • We’re scoring goals. None of our players is doing anything like what Jorge Ibáñez did last year, not even Jorge Ibáñez. But collectively, we’re knocking them in, at least to the extent that the only teams to have scored more than we have are way ahead of us in the table.

The bad things about our season so far:

  • We’re not defending. Giving up 13 goals in 11 games isn’t mortally terrible, but Serie C1/A is a grindingly defensive league and we aren’t keeping up. This is largely due to the fact that our team captain and top defender, Gustavo, has hit the attributes-in-freefall phase of his old age and also become fragile like the Glass Menagerie. I’m not sure what to do about this, as we’re desperately in need of his experience and I’d hoped to prolong his career by a couple more years at least.
  • We’re mentally susceptible. It’s that Middlesbrough glide I was talking about, combined with our extreme, awkward, painful, wide-eyed youth. I don’t want to start throwing around numbers, but let’s just say that about 60% of the team bus could plausibly see a unicorn. We’re not ruthless. We let games go late, we fold under pressure. We give up early goals, then just give up. Last year, we got by on talent, but this year we need character too, and it’s a few years away. There are players on the team who still believe in Father Christmas.
  • We’re injury-prone. I was hoping this wouldn’t be a problem since we now have one decent physio, but Carlo Saba has reverted to his Robben-worshipping ways and everyone else seems to have caught the fever. In addition to Gustavo, we’ve lost Andrea Cognoni, Carlos (a late loan signing from Fiorentina and theoretically our best striker), Paolo Mengoni, and Antonio Menichetti for long stretches as well (the last one for four months). The squad is a bit smaller than last year, and any further injury problems could seriously knock the sand out of our mid-table optimism.

We’ve got two intriguing players lined up for January, a right-back from Cannes called Miguel José and the striker I already told you about, Messi of Waidhofen/Ybbs. Either one could possibly start, and we might need both of them before the end of the year. We also need a new defender like a museum needs a wall. But I don’t want to make any of this sound too apocalyptic. Short of miracles and earthquakes, we’re not going to get promoted or relegated this year. We’re fighting for the glory of eighth or the despair of thirteenth place, and next season is when the stakes should get high again.

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Pro Vercelli: Wolves to the Slaughter

by Brian Phillips · January 14, 2009

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