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.
Ever since I took the job at Pro Vercelli, I’ve lived with a gnawing sense of something not quite right in the world. It was nothing I could quite put my finger on, just a dark flicker of discomfort at the edges of my consciousness. It was as if something hostile and hidden were secretly encroaching on my territory.
Today I figured out what it was.
There’s another club in Vercelli. Of course I knew that; I couldn’t help but be aware of our tiny cross-town rivals Pro Belvedere, a quaint, even gentle club founded in 1912 and eking out an existence in our shadow ever since. But there was so little reason to care about Pro Belvedere—we’d won seven Italian championships, the last in 1922; they’d won no Italian championships, including in 1922—that I didn’t fully take note of them until today.
Today was when I realized they’d been promoted. Into our division. And made the host of our first match of the season, a group-stage game in the Serie C Cup. We’ll play them at least twice more, once in November and once in April.
Now, I have nothing against Pro Belvedere. If Bob Uecker ever needed a butler, I’d put him in touch with their coaching staff. And as long as they’re in Serie D, we have no problems. But one of the principles I intend to enforce as the manager of Pro Vercelli is that nobody can just waltz into our town (in 1912), found a football club (in 1912), and take our place in the hearts of the people. Especially when they only got into Serie D in the first place by merging with a club from Trino. Trino!
Beating Pro Belvedere is now Topic A around the Silvio Piola.
Apart from this astonishing turn of events, I’m quite pleased with the way the transfer season is going. Our salary crisis has been abated by selling off a couple of players and cutting a few—including our ex-captain Marco Palombi; this is no time to get sentimental—who had reached the end of their contracts. And we’ve made some progress in finding good players at the name-brand discount price of free.
Smiling through gritted teeth, I signed an agreement with Sampdoria to become their feeder club, and they’ve been fairly accommodating about letting me cherry-pick their youth team for loan players. I’ve found a few other good loan signings as well, and now have nine all told, with four looking like starters.
I also managed to find another good free-transfer player to complement Jorge Ibáñez: Gustavo, a powerful Brazillian defender who spent years playing in Serie B for Treviso. He’s 32, mentally stalwart, and a natural leader; I’m even thinking of making him captain straight away.
The rest of our first-team squad is looking something like this:
GK Marciano van Dijk — The 21-year-old Dutchman whom we signed from Telstar last season. He’s a little erratic, and possibly a little lazy, but he has all the physical tools to excel in Serie C2/A and played well for us in the matches he got last season.
DC Gustavo — See above.
DC Paolo Mengoni — My first signing at the club, the defender with the Lionel Richie hair. He didn’t really improve over the course of the last season, and seems to have a debilitating temper (12 yellow cards and 3 straight reds last season). I’m hoping I can convince him not to throw himself into tackles this year. Otherwise, he could be a weak point.
DR Davide Croce — A 19-year-old on loan from Juventus (I’m sorry, there’s sausage at stake). Not an intimidating player physically, but he has fantastic technical ability for our league and, for a player his age, an incredible understanding of the game.
DL Antonio Menichetti — One of our bright spots from last season. He’s an average Serie C player in most respects, but has so much natural tenacity that he seems to wring the best out of himself every week.
MC Darío Farina — A 19-year-old Argentine whom we snapped up on loan from Sampdoria. I’m worried he’ll be a bit of a prima donna, but he seems to read the game well, control the ball, and know his way around a pass. I’m hoping he’ll lay on a number of goals for our strikers.
MC Andrea Salvati — Another young Sampdorian. I’m hesitant to play him, because his sense of the game is still very unsophisticated. But he’s a gritty defender who can also pass accurately, and I’m hoping he can play a sort of Baby Gattuso role for us.
MR Orlando van der Ent — Already noticeably declining with age, OVDE may be a long way from his peak years with Feyenoord, but at 34 he still has what it takes to play at this level, and his experience is a huge asset to us (though it would be huger if he spoke Italian). If he bottoms out this season, another Dutchman, 21-year-old Pieter Oosting, is ready to take his place. (I hear they’re calling us “Real Vercelli” around the Pro Belvedere training ground.)
ML Carlo Saba — I’m close to abandoning hope for Saba, who seems to submit himself to injuries with an Arjen Robben-like zeal, but as long as OVDE can fill the right-wing slot, Pieter Oosting can fill in here as needed.
FC Jorge Ibáñez — Our new 19-year-old Spanish striker is our most valuable non-loan player, rated at €110,000. Temperamentally, he’s a bit cynical for my taste, but if he can stay among the goals, I’m hoping it will mean we’re winning matches and this won’t come into play. I’m also hoping he can work well with…
FC Andrea Cognoni — Another Sampdoria import, and one of the most promising players at the Silvio Piola this season. He’s unambitious, afraid of a tough challenge, and inclined to give up when things don’t go his way, so I’m expecting to substitute him often. But he has sensational technique, is accurate with his shooting, and doesn’t panic in front of goal. Or so I hope.
(Click the player’s names to see their profiles. Also check out Mengoni’s new haircut. You can try to be all cosmopolitan, Paolo, but you still look like you’re waiting for a blind girl to sculpt you while you passionately lip-synch the lyrics to “Hello.”)
Obviously, with this many loan players, I’m a little worried about what will happen if we actually do get promoted. But that’s a crisis to confront the day it happens. For now, we’re training our malevolent powers on Pro Belvedere, going out like lions to win the league, and filling our bones with hope.
by Brian Phillips · December 16, 2008