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We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.

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Pro Vercelli: Diagrams with Knives

We’re sitting in 15th after our first 10 matches, with nine points from two wins, three draws, and five losses. Here’s a quick summary of the Serie A action so far:

  • L at Palermo 0-2: We held the ball well, but couldn’t shoot or defend and gave up two goals to Bernardi.
  • W at Ascoli 3-1: They owned Serie B last season, but we took a 3-0 lead into the halftime break and never looked back.
  • D vs Atalanta 0-0: We dominated against another of last season’s Serie B teams, but the Atalanta goalkeeper turned in a superhuman performance to keep us from scoring.
  • L vs Udinese 0-2: We had twice as many shots and 57% of the possession, but our defense, still missing Servais and his broken jaw, couldn’t keep the little zebras out.
  • L at Siena 0-1: Another even match, but we conceded in the 18th minute and went goalless for the third straight game.
  • D vs Lazio 1-1: A tremendous result, even if it was our fourth straight game without winning. We took the lead through a Sammarco penalty, but gave up the equalizer on a cheap free kick in the 58th minute.
  • D at Genoa 1-1: Our first-ever televised Serie A game, and the moment was not lacking in drama. In a driving rain, Rubino gave us the lead in the 18th minute, but Servais was sent off two minutes later. Playing with 10 men, we held Genoa off till the 87th minute, when they equalized through young Timuçin Keskin’s first-ever goal for the club.
  • L vs Inter 1-2: This was the match I’d been waiting for. Inter couldn’t care less about us, but they stole our championship in 1910 (I’ll explain sometime) and I want fiery justice. I didn’t get it this time, as they scored 37 seconds into the match. We equalized through Jefferson Arteaga on the stroke of halftime, but they scored just after the break and stifled us from then on.>

    After the match—our sixth straight without winning, but our third straight impressive showing in a league where we’re supposed to be foam underpadding for the carpet—some insane Pro Vercelli fans actually criticized my tactics.

  • “Did you like it back in Serie C2?” I asked in the supporters’ newsletter. “Did you enjoy those times? Do you want to build a special train that will take you through a magical tunnel back to an age when you were sweating out games against Rodengo? Then why don’t you shut it, Giacomo.”

    I can only assume that these are bandwagon fans.  I have to believe that the ultras have my back.

  • W vs Fiorentina 4-1: The team apparently took the criticism personally, because they followed it with the performance of the season, an astonishing pasting of one of Italy’s most storied clubs. We were up 2-0 at halftime through Barone and Miguel José, then went up 3-0 on a Fiorentina own goal in the 55th minute. They dragged one back late in the match, but Paolo Galli, brought on as a sub when Barone was taken off injured, scored a beautiful goal in the 82nd. Giacomo officially shut it.
  • L at Torino 0-1: But we went out flat and Baron-less the next week and lost to the 20th-placed team in the league. We were actually pretty thoroughly outplayed, too—I yelled at the team after the game for practically the first time all season.

So there you have it. We’re two points clear of the relegation zone roughly a quarter of the way through the season:

One thing I’ve been surprised by is the physical roughness of Serie A. Our players have been holding their own technically and have often dominated possession against stronger teams on the road (hopefully a testament to our revitalized midfield, with Jefferson Arteaga playing defensive mid behind Sammarco and Rubino), but they’re getting bullied at times. And in addition to Servais (broken jaw, one month), I’ve had to play through spells without Miguel José (hamstring, one month; strained neck, one week), David (hamstring, one month), Jacob Larsen (strained neck, two weeks), Fabrizio Barone (damaged heel—again—two weeks; bruised rib, one week), Landry Akassou (dead leg, one week), and Paolo Galli (gashed upper leg, two weeks).

Hopefully some of this is just a matter of needing to get accustomed to Serie A. There have been games where it felt like all the momentum in the world was pushing us to win, but we just wilted within sight of the crown. I don’t mind that; our average age is still only 21, and we’ll learn to be tough over time. In the meantime, at least our new signings have been successful: Arteaga is Makelelesque in the role of Makelele; Napolitano, our 5’3″ left back, knows when to be a mosquito and when to be a supersonic rocket; and Paolo Galli has three goals in eight appearances, which is pretty fierce considering that he’s only played 15 minutes in most of those.

What’s more worrying is that these first 10 games represent a relatively easy stretch of our schedule, with two of them coming against fellow promoted teams from Serie B. Roma, Juventus, Milan, and Sampdoria await; we’re only one bad draw above the drop, and it’s hard to believe that Napoli (currently in 18th) and Fiorentina (currently in 16th) aren’t going to make a run at some point. The team is teetering on two edges, one of which leads to a huge improvement in our play—we’re so close to getting it right—and the other of which leads to relegation. I just wish I knew which way we were going to tip.

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Pro Vercelli: Diagrams with Knives

by Brian Phillips · April 4, 2009

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