Snow leads to Serie A meltdown

Christmas came early for Serie A, although not as Italy’s football fraternity would have wanted. The Italian FA were forced to postpone 10 matches up and down the country on Saturday as snow created conditions that Il Corriere della Sera described as ‘Siberian’.

While some just shrugged their shoulders in the quintessential Italian way, taking the chance to stuff down another piece of panettone, Milan Vice-President Adriano Galliani cut a Scrooge-like figure, huffing and puffing in the cold air and doing his level best to put the red in Rossonero with his rosy baldhead.

He didn’t give two hoots about the snow – it could have been yellow for all he cared. At stake here, he said, was something much more important than Christmas – the honour of Italian football was being slighted, it’s image damaged yet again.

“The game has not been postponed because of the cold, but for the obsolescence of Italian stadiums,” Galliani raged, as if just off the phone from angry TV execs. “I was at the Stadio Franchi [in Florence] and saw up close that the pitch was in perfect condition, a resplendent green. That’s because there is a heating system and the ice left no trace.

“But the stands in Florence, much like in Bologna and almost all our stadiums, are out in the open. The consequences are inevitable. The ground is iced over and the authorities do not feel prepared to let the game go ahead with risks for public safety. We made an inevitable decision.

“I am too old to win this battle. They played everywhere else in Europe this evening. The problem is the stadiums. We need to change the grounds. There is nothing else to say. Merry Christmas,” Galliani signed off, although a ‘Bah Humbug’ would perhaps have been more appropriate.

Galliani has certainly taken it upon himself in recent years to fight calcio’s corner more than anyone else, whether it be in terms of TV rights or more recently the UEFA co-efficient, so while he is often a polarising figure, a cause championed by Galliani is often in Italy’s and not just Milan’s interest.

Italian stadia have come under great scrutiny over the last few years, perhaps no more so than in 2006 when UEFA snubbed Italy’s bid for Euro 2012 and Filippo Raciti, a Sicilian policeman, was tragically killed during a riot outside Catania’s ground. Not for the first time, the English Premier League was held up as a model of progress both on and off the field.

Deloitte’s annual football rich list has always strongly advised Italian clubs to invest in privately owned stadia and to move away from dilapidated grounds run by the council that don’t bring in any money and represent a burden rather than a blessing on the balance sheet.

Galliani is wrong to single out Fiorentina for criticism, as after Juventus, who have already started building an eco-friendly stadium, the Viola have arguably done the most to address this problem, getting planning permission for an ambitious football theme park admired by Real Madrid that would include a new improved ground.

Inter, Roma, Genoa and Cagliari have also released architect’s drawings of prospective new stadia, but without funding or cheap credit any development will be top heavy, as Italy’s smaller clubs are in more financial trouble than ever.

As more snow falls on the peninsula, the debate shows no sign of cooling, especially with this weekend’s postponements causing an unenviable fixture pile up. Milan are justified in feeling the most aggrieved as Saturday’s match with Fiorentina is now expected to fall on January 27, just three days after the derby against Inter.

However, as is often the case, one man’s sorrow is another man’s joy and fortunately for Pasquale Marino the snow might just have saved his job. The Udinese manager was told last week that a fifth defeat in six games would spell the end of his time with the Zebrette. Sunday’s game with Cagliari was one of those snowed off and Italy’s most attacking coach got the reprieve his attacking brand of football deserves.

Talking points

  • Ciro Ferrara shrugged off claims made by Guus Hiddink’s agent that Juventus had been in touch with his client. “When I saw a drop in temperature so similar to the climate in Russia, some doubts did enter my head”Ferrara joked. A 2-1 defeat at home to Catania now leaves Hiddink with the last laugh.
  • If there were any doubts regarding Inter’s status as the team of 2009, their stats at home surely put them to rest.  The Nerazzurri went unbeaten at San Siro for the entire year and haven’t lost there in Serie A since March 22, 2008.  All the more remarkable is the fact Javier Zanetti participated in every one of Inter’s 37 games in the League, playing 90 minutes in all of them.
  • After just over a year out of the game, Roberto Mancini was formally appointed the manager of Manchester City. Controversy aside, Mancini’s coaching CV makes interesting reading. Yes, he won three Scudetti in a row with Inter, but his greatest achievement lies with Lazio and Fiorentina who he guided to safety and a Coppa Italia each. Question marks remain over his temperament. He lost the dressing room in 2008 after he resigned only to go back on his decision following Inter’s Champions League defeat to Liverpool. The team then blew a massive lead in Serie A and almost lost the title.
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