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.
Before we go on with the saga of the summer, here’s a story that took place late last season, while we were in the thick of our fight to win promotion to Serie A.
One bright spring morning I opened my inbox to find the following news item, based on a quote from an unnamed source.
Naturally, I was concerned. Barone couldn’t handle the pressure? But he had nine goals and four assists in his 15 matches for the club, and he’d never seemed overawed at any time during that stretch. Where was this allegation coming from? In FM-speak, a “leading former player” generally means a club favorite, and we had five of those: Landry Akassou, Carlo Saba, Miguel José, Jorge Ibáñez, and Giuliano Tufano. Of that group, only the latter two were former players, and Tufano had left football and was no longer talking to the media.
So it was coming from Jorge Ibáñez. What could his motive have been? I checked his stats at his new club, Perugia:
Aha. Three starts and zero goals in 11 possible appearances. Was it possible that Jorge Ibáñez was…jealous? Was he slandering the Red Baron because his career was on the rise while Ibáñez’s was falling apart? Believe what you will, but Ibáñez finished the season with one goal in seven appearances, while the supposedly pressure-shy Barone nabbed 13 in 21, including four in his last six games in the heat of the promotion race. He was also named the signing of the season in Serie B. Whose maturity should we be questioning again?
Back to the offseason. Finding players was largely a matter of spending some endless hours paging through lists and scouting (and scouting…and scouting) different prospects. There were serious days of takeout Chinese food at the Silvio Piola. My assistant manager Manuel Marchini and I made priority charts, pored over scouting comparisons, agonized over whether we should move for Player A rather than Player B if Player A was 10% better but would cost 30% more. Finally we settled on a striker, Piacenza’s 21-year-old Paolo Galli, who’d scored 17 goals last season in Serie B:
The goal was not to aim for variety but to bring in someone who could play a very similar role to Barone so that the two could be swapped in and out for each other without a lot of tactical adjustment. And as you can see, they have fairly similar profiles—Barone is a bit quicker, Galli a bit more technical, but they should both be big enough and strong enough to hold up the ball and deft enough to put it in dangerous places:
Next we needed a midfielder to play with Sammarco and Rubino, and our new South American scouts found one on an early pass through Argentina: Jefferson Arteaga, a 24-year-old Ecuadorian playing for Boca Juniors. He was defensively fierce but also creative, and also made a pretty persuasive free-kick specialist, something we’d sorely lacked:
These two cost a combined €3.7 million (€2.3 million for Galli, €1.4 million for Arteaga), which was just about all I wanted to spend, so I thought we might be out of luck in our search for a backup left back. That wouldn’t have been terrible, as our backup right back, Joaquín Cabezas, could play on the left in a pinch. But the squad was still frighteningly small—just 18 players—and I really wanted to bring in at least one more new face to cover for injury emergencies.
Then, after what seemed like a geological epoch spent searching for players who were unattached or out of contract, I unearthed Torino’s Michele Napolitano, a deeply weird left back who was in the middle of a contract standoff at his club and whom I instantly wanted to bring to Vercelli. He’s tiny—at 5’3″, the shortest player in Serie A—but unbelievably quick, with pace and acceleration both rated at 20. I’m hoping he’ll add a new dimension to our left side, making overlapping runs with David (who, as a natural left back, can provide defensive cover) and then zipping back to harry the opposition when they have the ball.
He demanded €15,750 a week, making him by far our best-paid player; but since I was signing him for free and since he’d be the only player on the squad with real Serie A experience, I decided he was worth it. So we stole him from Torino, and here’s how the 4-3-3 looks heading into our first season in the top flight:
We’ll have some combination of Galli, Cassano, Cabezas, Iacopino, Tuma, Crucitti, Baiocco, and Marchetti on the bench. I’m thinking Galli will start cup matches and be given a chance to win the top striker job from the Baron as the season progresses.
We played three preseason friendlies, beating the Sampdoria reserves 3-0, then losing 0-1 to Liverpool and 1-2 in an extremely credible performance against Barcelona:
We sold 7500 season tickets. That’s almost 80% of the stadium. The air in Vercelli is thrumming. Our first Serie A league match is in five days’ time at Palermo. The team is so keyed up that our best defender, Arjen Servais, broke his jaw in training last week and is out for a month. I’m feeling good. We’ve got scouts in Brazil. We’re going to find our feet in this league. And when we do there will be no stopping us.
by Brian Phillips · March 31, 2009