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Began In '96

The inherent insanity of Italian calcio

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By Zach Ricchiuti

Just how crazy can Italian soccer get?

Calcio.

Derived from the verb calciare, or “to kick,” calcio is the Italian word for football or soccer. And like food, wine and women, Italians tend to think their version of calcio is both much different and much better than the rest.

In reality, soccer in Italy has suffered in recent years. Yet there is no denying that, for better or worse, Italian footballers are dedicated to doing things their own way. While the rest of Europe measures itself through shirt sales, marketing figures and global reach, Italy is defined by corruption and truly insane owners.

Just last year, for example, Palermo owner Maurizio Zamperini fired his club’s coach and sporting director. That’s the normal part. Here’s what followed: the firing and hiring of five coaches during the season, two of whom were fired and then re-hired in the same year. Zamperini would finally settle on Giuseppe Sannino, who just so happened to be his original choice. But by then it was too late. The club had been relegated to a lower league.

Zamperini’s indecisiveness pales, however, in the face of Luca De Pra’s dedication. The Genoa youth coach was in the midst of preparing for a crosstown derby versus Sampdoria when he decided he needed a bit more intel on his squad’s rival. So he equipped himself head-to-toe in camouflage and spy gear and camped in the trees near Sampdoria’s training ground.

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Fans attending the practices quickly noticed a man in full Navy Seal-like gear hiding in the trees, and alerted club officials. Sampdoria’s training staff captured De Pra and, after what we assume was hours of interrogation, released the coach. Intent on beating Genoa at its own game, Sampdoria’s press office released a statement on the incident:

“That the derby is a question of nerve, tactics and strategy we already knew, but frankly we could never expect that it could turn into a scene of espionage.

Like Rambo hidden among the branches on the hill, Luca De Pra, Genoa goalkeeping coach and man of noble footballing ancestry, failed to overcome Sampdoria’s intelligence and counter intelligence operations.

However, no prisoners were taken, and no blood was shed. Once tracked down and caught red-handed, the opposing side’s soldier was let free to return to base. You should always forgive your enemies, as nothing annoys them more.”

Much like the real spy world, Genoa denounced De Pra and maintained that he acted alone. Tossed out by the establishment, De Pra now faces a suspension. Just another day in Italian calcio.

The funny thing is that amid all the stories of espionage and owners gone mad, it’s easy to look past the quality of play shown by many teams. Juventus are finally looking like a side with a plan, Napoli keeps winning on the back of star Marek Hamsik, and the embodiment of Italian craziness, Mario Balotelli, has kept ailing AC Milan in contention. The battle for the title and Champions League spots looks to be one of the most exciting in Europe.

Discounting that because of all the off-pitch drama would be a shame, because like their food and wine, Italian fans and players take their calcio seriously. If only the people running the game there did as well.

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Zach Ricchiuti is a contributor and resident soccer expert for Began in ‘96.