The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
Like the hard fist of Beowulf smashing repeatedly into the sternum of a cringing, slobbering Grendel…actually, hold that thought. Fifteen games into a do-or-die season with Pro Vercelli, it’s time to confront an icy truth. Since I came to the club, we’ve done well. We’ve earned multiple promotions, done a cameo in the Champions League, and established ourselves as the fifth-richest club in Italy. We don’t have much to feel bad about. The only thing is…we haven’t really won anything.
More precisely, we’ve won two trophies: the Serie C2/A championship following our sort-of-undefeated season in 2009/10, and the Serie C2 Supercoppa, the three-team microtournament contested by the winners of the three Serie C divisions, that same year. And that’s it. Our next two promotions came through a playoff (which we didn’t even win) and by finishing second in Serie B. We never won a Serie C Cup. We haven’t won the Coppa Italia. We obviously haven’t won Serie A, the Champions League, or the Europa League. The club has completely transformed itself in the last nine seasons. But the trophy room looks pretty much the same.
It’s starting to bother me. Granted, my single goal is to turn Pro Vercelli into a force capable of winning at the highest level, and everything beneath that is essentially lights on the side of the highway. But you’d like to think you could trouble the gods on occasion. Which might be why it gives me so much pleasure to introduce this record of our start to the new year:
Like the hard fist of Beowulf, we are landing ruinous blows to the Lega Calcio Serie A TIM table this season. And I couldn’t be happier, not just because of the bitter taste of last year, but because after all these seasons of settling for compromised best-case scenarios, it’s nice to look at a list and see our name at the top of it.
So go on, tell me A.C. Milan still have a game in hand and will overtake us if they win it. We’re not afraid of A.C. Milan, having already drawn with them once (2-2 at the Silvio Piola) and beaten them once (1-0, in the Coppa Italia, at the San Siro). And this isn’t the time to be pessimists. Not even halfway through the new year, we’ve picked up 11 wins (we had 16 total last season), scored 36 goals (we scored 50 total last season), and earned 35 points (we had 54 total last season). Everything’s heading skyward; our hopes might as well go, too.
In a way, last season might have been a boon for the club, because it revealed the flaws we needed to address so much more clearly than another fairly satisfying fourth- or fifth-place finish would have done. It’s gratifying that the adjustments I made have worked—we’re tearing up the net in open play, Ibrahimovic is playing like a man possessed, and we’re frequently enjoying a fitness advantage over our opponents in the last 15 minutes—but in some ways it’s easier to fix glaring problems than to sort out vague signals of distress. So thanks, last season. Thanks for showing us the strength that lies on the other side of seriously wanting to throw a computer monitor through a window.
There are a lot of players and moments I could single out as representative of the way things have been going around here. I’ll stick with one of each. For moments, our away game against Palermo, who have historically been a minor bête noire for us. They went up 2-0 on goals in the 15th and 19th minutes. Paolo Galli went off on a stretcher in the 40th minute. Had this happened last year, we would have been the scraped-off burned part of toast. This year, Rubino scored in the 60th minute to make it 2-1, then Arteaga equalized in the 65th minute. And then, in the 88th minute, Teixeira scored an amazing 25-yard goal that somehow bisected the penalty area by Pythagorean means before clipping in off the top of the far post. We won 3-2.
And for players: say, have you met Teixeira yet? Well, meet Teixeira: 14 goals and 5 assists in 16 starts, including a double in his first-ever Serie A game and match-winners against Palermo, Juventus, and A.C. Milan. All that, and he’s just turned 20; my coaches think he can get a lot better; and his stats are all artificially deflated at the moment because he’s homesick for Brazil. On paper, he doesn’t look nearly as good as Paolo Galli, but one of the great things about this game is that paper doesn’t always tell you much.
He also has 10 goals in 8 games for the Brazilian U20 team, and since the Brazil manager keeps showing up to our games to scout him, I’m guessing his first senior cap isn’t far away. The fans were initially unhappy when I signed him because they thought he’d hurt our chemistry (he’s temperamental, as evinced by his difficulty settling in the area, I guess). But everyone is very excited about the Teixeira Era in Vercelli now, I can tell you. And while there’s no telling how long this momentum will last, at the moment, I’m excited about everything, from oxygen on up.
by Brian Phillips · May 17, 2009