Only a very minor loss (~€6K) is reported for the month, so we're looking good, and there were only two home games in September.
Unione Venezia 1 - 3 Chievo (Serie B bwin)
We go out against newly-relegated Chievo with vim, and enthusiasm, and concede a goal after two minutes, as Moscardelli beats Ingrassia at his near post with a belted finish. The referee all but puts the game to bed before the 20-minute mark, deeming Marsili to have 'fouled' in the box; Granoche (pen.) does the honours. We steady the ship after that, but look unambitious going forward. In the 76th minute, Grieco picks out Cesarini in the area and we can glimpse a way back, but then Sergio Pellissier, still a force at 35, stamps on any fledgling hopes until they are dead. The FIGC are conspicuously silent when I spit vitriol about the penalty decision after the game.
Grosseto 4 - 1 Unione Venezia (Serie B bwin)
A worsening drizzle plagues the early going. On 24 minutes, Arturo Lupoli peels off the shoulder of the last defender to slice it into the bottom corner. The lead is short-lived, though, as Coralli chests in a wayward Ganz cross. Yet our hapless defending continues, and Vincenzo Coluccio (o.g.) redirects a sprawling Ingrassia save into the empty net. If we had any ideas about clawing our way back into this one, Florian Klein dispels them with an excellent drive from outside the area, and Giovio adds another minutes later as our defence spontaneously combusts. Grieco hits the bar and the post with a single effort, the glowing highlight of the worst half of football I have witnessed under my reign.
The egregiously bad players from this performance file into my office one at a time the next morning to receive their dressings-down. Only Coluccio bucks, and when he starts to throw a tantrum about his (more than deserved) fining, I politely ask him to leave and shut the door behind him. A serious black mark against his character, but he is still young. A team meeting follows in which some of the older players lead the way in cheering the squad up. Only Nicolň Fiorucci is not present, as he is away with the Italian U19s, making him our first international player.
Livorno 1 - 2 Unione Venezia (Serie B bwin)
We manage to drain the life from this encounter early on, like some sort of vampiric beast that survives by lapping up fun and good football. We get to half-time, at least, without conceding a goal. On 63 minutes Marsili dings the crossbar with a free kick and Coralli is quickest to react, heading it home past the stranded keeper. It takes Livorno four minutes to wipe out our lead, and it comes, inevitably, from a corner, as Simone Dell'Agnello is first to the ball. An air of calm descends after that; we start to relax and keep the ball intelligently. After an extended spell of passing, Alberto Baccarin chips it into the path of Rispoli for the striker to open his season's account. Our incisive finishing is the key to a much-improved performance and a vital win, our first in five games.
Pomante begins full training for the first time in five months, albeit as a shadow of the player he was before. He represents a significant cost to the club at this point, and clearing him out has become a top priority. His elephantine wages will be an impediment, though.
Unione Venezia 0 - 0 Piacenza (Serie B bwin)
Our first Serie B match to be featured on television. Piacenza's Franchini has a diving header ruled out for offside early on, but otherwise we have the better of it, though our efforts to take charge of midfield are disappointing. After half-time, Libertazzi's header past an open goal is the best of the chances, but in the end we grind out another important point amid mounting nervousness.
Padova 0 - 1 Unione Venezia (Serie B bwin)
A televised game against our local rivals and fellow relegation battlers. What could go wrong? As it turns out, not much, though the first half is about as boring as a football match can be. Neither side can get hold of the ball or shoot it at goal. Ganz, having missed at least one sitter, is half-fouled in the box on 75 minutes, and Cesarini (pen.) just about steers it past the keeper from the spot. Despite an incredible six minutes of stoppage time awarded to the home side, we pull through to pick up our 12th, 13th, and 14th points of the season, and our second consecutive clean sheet.
Following this game, Padova manager Alberto Malesani fires off a remark in the press about our poor chances of overcoming Bologna at the weekend. Alessio Greco, of course, wants to know my opinion of this. I care little for Malesani's opinion, of course, but when he sees I am reluctant to comment, Alessio begins scribbling furiously on his notepad anyway.
"What are you writing?" I ask.
"Your response, mister."
"But I haven't given one."
"You have not," he admits, adding a final flourish with his pencil. He smooths the ends of his moustache. He smiles. "Consider this intelligent correspondence on your behalf."
"Are you working for me now, Alessio?" I ask, grinning.
The first day of November is usually the one I choose to take my first hard look at the league table. To my surprise and pleasure, we are 13th, though just three points separate us from Reggina in 20th, the first relegation spot. We have also broken even for the month financially.
Unione Venezia 1 - 0 Bologna (Serie B bwin)
A magnificent start: Coralli and Ganz combine up front, and the younger man slides the ball into the bottom right-hand corner. We look firmly in control by half-time, with the possession in our favour and Bologna having had just one opportunity to level the score. The second 45 is less comfortable, with Bologna banging on the crossbar from range, but our rising confidence and much improved defending over the past few weeks continues today. We're now unbeaten in four matches, improbably.
Reggina 1 - 1 Unione Venezia (Serie B bwin)
The busy Serie B season means this game comes just three days on the heels of the last one, but as we have more chance of picking up points here than against Cremonese at the weekend, I start the best side I can. We begin poorly, but Reggina are in little shape to take advantage. Although Maurice Gross is rampant at times, no goals follow. Mesto has a effort scratched off for offside early in the second half, but still the Amaranto don't feel threatening. Yet on 68 minutes Fabio Ceravolo puts his head through a well-aimed free kick, and suddenly we're behind. The goal proves the spur we need to get ourselves into the game, and we build a series of clever attacks until Suagher rises at a corner to correct the scoreline and nick a point.
Unione Venezia 2 - 0 Cremonese (Serie B bwin)
I'm expecting this to be a difficult game, but Cremonese seem timid in the opening period and we are gradually able to assert a passing game over them. Ganz dinks yet another neat finish off the inside of the right post and we're away. The rest of the game passes much the same, with few startling opportunities for either side. There's a moment of worry late on when Taddei has to limp off with all our substitutions made, but in stoppage time Ganz seals a good victory with his second goal, getting on the end of a Caciagli through ball while Cremonese's keeper looks on in confusion. Defying any and all predictions, including my own, we rise to eighth in the table.
Taddei will miss the next two months, unfortunately. This is our first injury in a while, and reminds me, if I had forgotten, of how quickly fortunes can change in football. Still, by my rough estimates, we're halfway to safety with only a third of the season played. With fans and board alike singing my praises, I take my latest demands to Chairman Fiasco: increase the junior coaching budget once again. He duly does so.
Modena 2 - 0 Unione Venezia (Serie B bwin)
A less punishing schedule and our recent good form means we go into this match in reliable shape. In what proves to be a tightly contested affair, we concede a goal from a corner (if you can believe that): Prince Oniangué heads Modena into the lead with the game on a knife's edge. As we press for an equalizer the game starts to open up, and the opportunities flow for both sides. In the end, it's Modena who get the next goal and so decide the result, with Giuseppe Greco (no relation) getting on the end of a high, looping cross from the left wing. Ganz hits the post at the death, but that won't stop us slumping to 10th.
Unione Venezia 1 - 0 Foggia (Serie B bwin)
Foggia pipped us to promotion last season, and have since clawed their way up to a dizzying fifth in the league. Monachello blows the easiest goal he'll ever score from point-blank on a breakaway, and then lands a header on the post before 12 minutes are up. Our best effort, meanwhile, is Cesarini thumping it into the back of Ganz when the latter is standing offside, though Suagher has an effort saved from a corner just before the whistle blows for half-time. The rain is pouring down harder when we resume, and Foggia might finally have gotten their goal if the slick surface hadn't caused Inglese to put his shot onto the woodwork. In the 87th minute, Ganz is barged off a through pass, and the referee points the spot. Coralli (pen.) blazes it into the top corner, and we wriggle away with the points.
Crotone 1 - 3 Unione Venezia (Serie B bwin)
After just 8 minutes, Ganz lopes onto a long through pass and squeezes in his tenth goal of the season. He almost has another in identical fashion 12 minutes later. Leonardo Terigi trips Cesarini (pen.) in the box, and our captain capitalizes on the penalty. The 2-0 scoreline is harsh on Crotone, but we aren't complaining. On 43 minutes, Bigazzi beats the field with a single pass along the ground that leaves two defenders panting after Ganz. He steals in for number three. Crotone get one back, at least, through Strestik's header a minute later. But after all of that, the second half is perhaps understandably anticlimactic. What is notable is yet another execrable performance by Coluccio. Again he doesn't take kindly to a reprimand, so I allow him a week's leave to get his mind right and make plans to loan him out somewhere. As it is, he's a liability whenever he plays.
Unione Venezia 2 - 0 Varese (Serie B bwin)
One full-back to another as Möllestam finds Lorenzini in the box for a header that all but floats into the far corner. Varese are short on confidence and we aren't helping. Fiorucci opens his account for the club when the ball lands at his feet from a corner. By all rights Ganz should grab the game's third, but he slams a Lorenzini cross into the angle of post and bar. The second half is calmer, though we have enough chances to double the score.
We are an incomprehensible fifth in the league. Alessio Greco provides me with an interesting statistic at the post-match press conference: Unione Venezia conceded 18 goals in the first nine league matches of the season, and then four in the following nine. How did I turn around our defensive performances in such a short space of time? Do I attribute our success to a switch to more counter-attacking football?
"No," I say, granting him a sage nod. "We are merely flirting with humility. Next question."
Frosinone 0 - 3 Unione Venezia (Serie B bwin)
After four minutes, Caciagli finds Baccarin finds Ganz. We're in superb form, but strangely that's our only shot on target in the entire first half. Four minutes into the second, we repeat the trick. Same players and almost the same goal as Ganz bags his thirteenth of the season so far. The 21 year-old poacher has been an almost flawless acquisition for us; we create relatively few chances, but the Heir to Maurizio can be relied on to poach them as they arise. Coralli guides in our third goal at the near post, though it is credited to goalkeeper Jacopo Furlan (o.g.). An intoxicating team performance provides a fourth straight victory.
Coralli goes down with injury for a month or so, giving Bigazzi an opportunity to prove his worth in the deep-lying forward role.
In bigger news...
Unione Venezia 1 - 0 Pescara (Serie B bwin)
Under the shadow of the club potentially being sold, we begin our final match of 2014 at home, under a cold drizzle of rain. After 30 minutes of tidy enough football, Ganz seizes on a well-flighted Caciagli pass to slip in the opening goal, his fifth in his last four matches. This rouses Pescara into actually putting some passes together, but our defence is its more typical self (organized, that is, rather than a leaky mess). Our focus in the second half is on possession and quietly seeing out the remainder of play until the winter break. We look less than impressive, but it's enough to see off a largely docile Pescara.
Although we are still in fifth, this result leaves us just two points behind top of the table Chievo. Relegation is no longer a real possibility. The question being asked across Venice, indeed across Italy, is just how far this side can go against the odds? With a wage budget one-seventh that of second placed Catania, the only team we have yet to face, how much longer can we sustain this startling run of form?
Nice work to get to fifth. I reckon you can do it.
Originally Posted by iHeadHunta x
Nice work mate, Hope it can continue!
Originally Posted by deltablue
Originally Posted by abulezz
You've had a really good last couple of months in terms of form.
What Im really happy about is your the defense - they definitely seem to be the backbone of your club right now. How are your top defenders doing in terms of form/stats?
Not that amazingly, actually. I mean, they're fine, don't get me wrong, but our recent run has more to do with our midfield. The 3 in the 4-3-1-2 just keep the ball amazingly well. You'll see when I post the stats for the winter round-up that my central midfielders all do well on Hdr R, Tck R, and especially Pas R (a number of them are hovering near 90% pass completion over 1,000+ minutes of football). It also helps that Ganz is scoring at will up front.
Simone Andrea Ganz, in particular, has been a revelation, but my young defence (Silvestri, Grieco, and Lorenzini are all in their early twenties; and now I am introducing teenagers Fiorucci and goalkeeper Tonani) are starting to gel behind a formidable midfield.
The annual hunt for contract expiries slowly narrows to a shortlist of 14 names.
I am also approached by Juve Stabia in the division below. It's an almost insulting offer, though I am glad the footballing world is starting to realize I exist. And the board and fans alike are pleased when I make it clear I have no intention of leaving Venezia for the foreseeable future.
First, I send Davide Cais packing; he was taken up on loan before I secured Coralli's signature, and hasn't played a minute. Second, I finally convince the board to buy out the remainder of Pomante's contract. At 32, he will never recover from the damage wrought upon his knees over the six months or so he was out of commission, while his disgusting wages are an obstacle to contract discussions at this time of year. Speaking of which, I arrange for three players to join us in July. The first is Lukas Zima, a 20 year-old Czech goalkeeper who will replace Pipolo when the latter departs at the end of the season. He's spirited, unflappable, more talented than the man he's replacing (already capped multiple times for his nation's U21s), and will arrive on a lesser wage. Second is Marco Cuomo, a defensive midfielder who I view as a long-term replacement for ball-winning Fonjock (who is only turning 29 this year, but has seemed less sure of himself since returning from injury). Cuomo will require retraining slightly further up the pitch, but he already looks accomplished in that role and is a professional about his work, so I'm optimistic he can adjust to our game. Third, we pick up 17 year-old Renzo Locci, another colossus stopper in the same vein as Fiorucci. He's too potentially talented to ignore my scouts' unprompted recommendation. We miss out on one or two exciting young strikers who re-sign for their clubs, but on the whole I'm excited about the progress we're making.
I also extend Coralli's contract another year, with a modest wage increase. He's proven himself an important player for us up front, and at 31 shows no sign of slowing down just yet. For the time being our wage budget has decreased from what it was in September, but we've started to lose money again, and I'm very conscious of the red number at the bottom of the balance sheet.
The spectre of takeover hangs over the club throughout this month, and an inopportune embargo makes our dealings for contract expiries more difficult than they need to be.
I call Alessio Greco in the hope of getting more insight into this "local" businessman, but for once, strangely, there is no reply. Perhaps he is sick? The club administration, too, respond to my queries only via email during the ghostly first week of January. Even after it emerges that there will be no takeover, that the bid has been withdrawn, Roberto Fiasco is eerily cheerful with me, responding to my endless demands and requests with less of his usual cynicism. I get the sense that whatever did not just happen has only be postponed, and will raise its head again sooner rather than later.
Catania 0 - 1 Unione Venezia (Serie B bwin)
A big game against a top club, and our early play is tentative with good reason. Catania's clever build-ups, however, devolve only into wild shots from range. When a goal does come, it's a Venetian one, on the counter-attack; we're getting very good at this. Cesarini drives a ball up the middle between two defenders, and Ganz leaves everyone gasping to plant the ball in the bottom corner, opening his account for 2015. It's his twelfth in the league and fifteenth of the season, and it turns out to be the only one in this, our sixth straight victory. This recent run has seen us concede just a single goal, and our success is starting to appear unfathomable, even to me, while the national press have begun to hound me for quotes and comment.
Nocerina 0 - 3 Unione Venezia (Serie B bwin)
Nocerina are dead last, with 14 points from their first 21 games, and don't look confident on the field. We are able to revert to our more typical passing and possession game (as opposed to the counter-attacking system we've been using to great effect in recent months), albeit with little end product to show for it. It takes 42 minutes for Ganz to find the net, and again it comes from a Cesarini through ball. Nocerina are matching our shape but little else, and after the break Cesarini turns his man and lofts it into the far corner to get a goal of his own. Fiorucci nods in a third from a well-worked short corner three minutes later. Nocerina finds their feet again after this one-two punch, but they never recover, and play the last quarter of the game with ten men following Margarita's injury. Next.
Unione Venezia 2 - 1 Ascoli (Serie B bwin)
It's snowing gently in Venice when we host Ascoli, who inflicted four goals on us the last time we met. It's Ganz who has the first word in this match, though, lashing the ball home with atypical force from the edge of the area on 12 minutes. We successfully keep Ascoli boxed in for much of the first half, and even in the freezing cold I am warmed by the sight of my players playing the fluent football I have taught them. Another involved move ends with Grieco chipping it onto the foot of Cesarini almost inside the six yard box. He rolls it home with nonchalance. Ascoli eat into our possession in the second half, but nothing much comes of it until a corner breaks down and Steve De Ridder pounces at the back post. It's their only shot on target all game.
We are top, at least until Chievo play their game in hand. Not bad for the team with the lowest salary per annum in the league now. What's most remarkable about the Ascoli result, however, besides it being our eighth straight victory, is a good stint by Coluccio in the left-back role. I am determined the son of a bitch will reach his potential after abysmal beginnings in the arancioneroverdi.
Spal 1 - 0 Unione Venezia (Serie B bwin)
For the first 45 minutes Spal manage to strangle the life out of our passing game and limit opportunities on the break. Meanwhile, they get to the byline with alarming frequency and even smack the crossbar on a couple of occasions. Ganz has a quiet game throughout and ends up making way for an underused Rispoli. It takes 82 minutes for Spal to actually land a firm shot on Tonani in goal, but then just when it looks like this one is going to finish as a bore draw, Sesay of Sierra Leone pulls out a near post finish despite being surrounded by our black shirts. This happens in the 94th minute. There is no time for reply, and with wins for Chievo and Catania both, we drop to third in the table. I wish Spal were dead, or better yet dying, so that I could hold their mouths shut as they breathe their last, and they would know it was me what did it.
Unione Venezia 0 - 0 Sassuolo (Serie B bwin)
Still relegation-bound against expectations, Sassuolo should be an opportunity for us to hop right back in the saddle. Yet a solid half of controlled possession football makes few in-roads into their defence, and a congested midfield more often than not means we're passing around them, rarely through. For the second game in a row, Ganz looks outmuscled up front. Cesarini is desperately unlucky not to win it at the death, as his vicious shot is turned onto the underside of the crossbar, but it finishes a disappointing draw in which we had 71% of the possession, but almost no penetration.
Tonani joins Fiorucci in being called up to the Italian U19s, but then injures himself in training. Out for five weeks.
Empoli 0 - 0 Unione Venezia (Serie B bwin)
A thoroughly disappointing season for Empoli has them in 16th with little visible hope or happiness, but we still struggle to break them down, and Ganz is continuing to misfire. In a game where Empoli never once look like mounting an assault on our goal, we nonetheless can't bring ourselves to score. A second 0-0 has me asking questions of our attacking play; against sides that play to draw, the breakaways Ganz feeds upon are scarce.
Our next match against Siena is called off because of a waterlogged pitch at Pierluigi Penzo; the postponement puts it three days after our next fixture, a promotion (!) clash with leaders Chievo. I had been on the verge of starting Rispoli ahead of Ganz for that game, but then the former goes and twists his ankle. On the day of the Chievo game, officials deem the Marcantonio Bentegodi surface as unplayable too. This turns the schedule for the next few weeks into something quite punishing.
Unione Venezia 2 - 0 Siena (Serie B bwin)
The pitch at Pierluigi Penzo is looking the worse for wear, but at least the weather is dry today, and we can do what we want with the ball. Indeed, we put together 16 passes before Caciagli plays it into the path of Cesarini, who lets it run through his legs for Ganz to collect and score. It proves to be our only shot on target in a balanced and somewhat boring first half (though Coralli wastes a penalty over the bar), but that efficiency has been key to our success this season. In the 78th minute, Marsili bends in his first Venezia goal from a free kick, and we can relax.
The result puts us back in second, and the board reluctantly pays out €18K to Ganz for reaching 15 league goals this season (18 in all competitions).
Despite slashing the wage budget we're still bleeding every month, and are now half a million euro in the red. With an average attendance close to the capacity of Pierluigi Penzo, and eight stadium sell-outs this season, I'm not sure what's within my power to improve.
Our clash against Chievo proves ever-elusive, this time postponed as a result of heavy snow and rescheduled for the middle of March, between matches against Livorno and Piacenza.
Unione Venezia 2 - 0 Grosseto (Serie B bwin)
Constant sleet makes this an unpleasant game to play, and to watch, though it settles into a typical rhythm: we have more possession and fewer but better chances than our opponents. Caciagli pops up with his first goal of the season, a shot from just inside that takes a slight deflection past the keeper. Cesarini fires a penalty onto the left upright, before Silvestri raps it a second time from a corner. Grosseto improve in the second period, only to have Ganz kill the game with another well-timed run onto a Cesarini through pass. Another polished team perforamnce, and Coluccio is man of the match at left back. A wonderful reply to the 1-4 drubbing we received at the beginning of the season.
Fonjock will miss the next match through suspension, and appears to take his frustration out on poor Fiorucci in training, fracturing his ribs and ruling the kid out for two months. Infuriating. Lorenzini also clatters Milani, and suddenly our midfield is looking thin.
Unione Venezia 0 - 0 Livorno (Serie B bwin)
A drab, depressing home game where Livorno turn our own counter-attacking philosophy against us. We get into the break looking defeated and nervous, and I give far from my most comforting team talk. Simone Dell'Agnello, who tormented us the last time we played Livorno, has a headed goal from a corner ruled out for a questionable foul, but that proves the extent of Livorno's threat. Yet despite the balance in the game, nervousness creeps through the Venezia ranks to the extent that we seem resigned to merely playing things out, rather than pushing for the goal the game demands.
The youth intake this year is strong, perhaps reflecting the investment we've put into junior coaching over the past year. 15 year-old Simone Bortone in particular looks perfect for the ball-winning Fonjock role in midfield if he can improve his physicality.
Chievo 1 - 0 Unione Venezia (Serie B bwin)
We go into this much delayed and much awaited title (!) clash with growing nerves about the expectations being placed on us, and Bostjan Cesar doesn't help matters by heading Chievo in front after 23 minutes. Stevanovic then nearly puts a hole in our crossbar from a counter-attack minutes later. We go into the interval deserving to lose, and do little to help our cause in the second half, though Chievo are largely wasteful, heading chance after chance well over the bar. Mustering just one decent effort on goal all game, we politely opt out of the unlikely title race; we're now seven points off the leaders.
Piacenza 2 - 1 Unione Venezia (Serie B bwin)
Rescheduling forces us to play this third match in seven days, and we're in no mood or condition to do so. After seven minutes, a Hollywood pass from the Piacenza right-back meets the laces of Raffaele Franchini, who duly controls it and converts. The jitters are back. On 25 minutes, Möllestam allows his man down the line, and the cross is bundled in by Silvestri (o.g.) after Ingrassia can only palm it away. Piacenza almost repeat the trick minutes later. First Cesarini hobbles off with an injury, and then Coralli. We get a goal back against the run of play when Lombardi (o.g.) turns in a Ganz pull-back. Both sides play slapdah football, riddled with errors, and Piacenza go down to ten men when Zirilli receives a silly second yellow. Bigazzi lands a header on the crossbar, and then has a goal whistled away for offside, but it's questionable whether we even deserve a point. Our players are psychologically feeble by the end, and so I just about manage to be charitable in the dressing room.
Even a cautious team meeting in the aftermath does little to lift our spirits, having dropped points in six of our last eight fixtures. Promotion, though, is still very much within in our reach.
It's a terrible time to be playing third-placed Bologna, and rescheduling also decrees this will be our third straight away game. I receive a series of text messages from Alessio Greco detailing exactly what Bologna boss Devis Mangia is saying about us and our chances. It ends with a winking smiley. How does the old man know what smileys are? I'm surprised he can even work the phone. It feels like months since I've had one of my long chats with him; he's been suffering from an unpleasant chest ailment that's lingered on since the bad weather in February, and his daughter insisted he go to the doctor and get it seen to. I've missed his surly face at our recent press conferences.
Bologna 1 - 2 Unione Venezia (Serie B bwin)
Coluccio fires in a perfect cross on 13 minutes for Ganz to nab a rare headed goal, but after that the ball belongs to Bologna and they won't give it back. Luckily, or game plan doesn't depend on that, and a smart counter sees Baccarin eviscerate Bologna's backline with a single through pass. Coralli makes it two. Now I'm seeing smiles. Ingrassia even makes a good save. Bologna get one back when Diamani's free kick finds Amaya's head, and we go down to ten men when Coluccio has to go off toward the end, but we see it out.
Back in third now, with a game in hand that could see me leapfrog Modena in second.
Unione Venezia 0 - 2 Padova (Serie B bwin)
We return to a mucky Pierluigi Penzo for a down and dirty rivals match. And so-called Calcio Padova are pernicious little upstarts: after half an hour a cross into our box turns into a kicking, scratching mudbath by the near post, only for Wilfred Osuji to force it over the line. What sort of a name is Wilfred, anyway? We look short on ideas and clumsy at the back, and Padova could have had another before half-time. I make my expectations, and those of the fans, very clear to the team at the break: we must not rest until we have pulled Padovani spinal columns out via Padovani throats. That sort of thing. Five minutes after the restart, Padova score again, with a goal that somehow outdoes the first one in awfulness. Boots churn the mud. Defenders barge defenders. Zlatan Muslimovic digs out the ball and squirrels it under Tonani in goal. By 60 minutes it would be difficult to point out any player on our team and describe him honestly as a 'footballer'. Caciagli, maybe. Or the goalkeeper, bless him. Fonjock adds two yellow cards to his not inconsiderable collection and walks. The Venezia supporters follow before the game is over.
The press conference following this catastrophe is long and tiring. I get home late. There is a message on my answering machine from Greco, and suspecting it to be a wicked diatribe about my failings, both tactical and personal, I do not listen to it until the morning. But I should have. Greco didn't even watch the Padova match, it turns out. Because he had just been diagnosed with lung cancer.
Unione Venezia 0 - 0 Reggina (Serie B bwin)
It's been a horrifically mid-table season for the club tipped to finish first, but it's essential we don't underestimate Reggina today. We have the better of the first half, but fail to find the target, with Ganz anonymous. My speech at half-time is solemn, dispassionate, and bitterly disappointed. The team go back out with fires stoked in their bellies, but the outcome is more of the same: plenty of possession, no chances to speak of. In fact, we leave our own field with no shots on target, and with whistling from a few fickle fans shrill in our ears. I switch off my radio in the car, and drive to Alessio's house in silence.
Three points shy of Catania in second; six points behind leaders Chievo, who have a game in hand.
Cremonese 1 - 0 Unione Venezia (Serie B bwin)
Ganz starts on the bench tonight, with Rispoli preferred because of the former's sputtering form. And things look promising: Baccarin is sent through within 30 seconds, only to put his shot wide of the post. That turns out to be our best effort of the first half, though, as the game devolves into a scrappy affair in which our defence doesn't help our build-up play by spraying the ball away wildly. We clearly want to do better, but for all our bluster this one is a fizzling squib that never quite goes off until the 80th minute, when D'Ambrosio leaves Lorenzini in the dirt and places his cross on the head of Giacamo Casoli. There's no danger of us coming back after that.
Fifth in the league. With one win in our last seven games, Italy's notoriously feverish press asks whether we are in 'crisis', forgetting that they themselves said we would finish bottom as few as eight or nine months ago. We are not in any immediate danger of falling out of the playoff places, as we still have six points on seventh placed Foggia (also newly-promoted, also defying predictions), but the slide has to be arrested, and soon. I hold a team meeting, and make the facts of the situation very clear to the players. Seven games remain. We have a chance to do something unprecedented in Venetian footballing history. We can't afford to start conforming to expectations now.
Unione Venezia 3 - 1 Modena (Serie B bwin)
Now here is the Venezia you might remember from our mid-season run. On 21 minutes, Grieco stabs a pass through the defence and Ganz sweeps it into the net. On 29 minutes, Cesarini plays a teasing ball between the two central defenders and Ganz jogs past them to score his second. On 39 minutes, Ganz is let free in the channel and whips it across to meet the diving head of Cesarini. Modena, who were in fourth place before this game began, are whimpering by half-time. Someone must have calmed them down quickly, though, because Giuseppe Greco (no relation, you may remember) curls a free kick into the top corner of our net to get one back for Modena immediately after the restart. But that's all they get.
Modena manager Alfredo Aglietti tells the press he can't see a better team in the promotion battle. I can see several, but perhaps none as plucky.
Foggia 0 - 2 Unione Venezia (Serie B bwin)
We're back in good spirits after the Modena result, and that translates into a strong start. Ganz has a wickedly looping header disallowed for offside; Coralli has another similarly ruled out on 17 minutes. Monachello even has one crossed off for a foul at the other end, too, though that one really should have stood. Somehow we get to half-time without either side actually being awarded a goal. The second half follows the same pattern: after Ganz goes off with a knock, Rispoli is twice set free, only to hit it straight at the keeper. Rispoli finally gets it right in the 72nd minute, controlling and finishing Grieco's quick cross. There's mercifully little time left for Foggia to rouse themsevles, and Rispoli makes the scoreline even more reflective of the play with his second goal at the end of stoppages.
Baccarin will miss most of the remainder of the season through injury. With May now underway, I start making plans for next season. With money still pouring out of the club despite packed houses and some television revenue, I set about cutting the wage budget. That means extending contracts on players now instead of next August or September, when their growing reputations or newfound agents may demand greater increases. This also allows me to renegotiate deals without killer promotion clauses, on the off-chance we make it into Serie A this year. I also make the hard decisions to sell Suagher and Ingrassia: both players seem to have peaked somewhat this year, and are fighting for their first team slots with two 18 year-olds; both are arguably overpaid as it is, and eager for further increases; both have potential replacements arriving in July for less money; and both already have the interest of potential buyers.
Unione Venezia 2 - 0 Crotone (Serie B bwin)
One minute, 49 seconds. That's how long it takes for Ganz to find the net, popping in Coralli's unselfish pass when the pair break onto a long ball. That makes 20 for him in the league this season, and 23 when you include the cup. Crotone have little to offer by way of response, and Olivieri heads in Marsili's free kick cross for two. A steel-plated performance by our backline means Crotone never even hit the target.
Joint second. One point off first. Four games left: Varese (A), Frosinone (H), Pescara (A), Catania (H). The first three are in the drop zone or close to it. Catania, however, are a point behind us.
Ingrassia agrees terms with Atalanta, and will leave in July for €30K, saving me €2.3Kp/w (and more, potentially). That's a lot less than I probably could have got for him, and represents a loss overall, but the deal was quick and easy, and that's what I need right now. I have a title race to run.
Varese 0 - 1 Unione Venezia (Serie B bwin)
A corner after five minutes gifts centre-back Luigi Silvestri a tap in at the near post for his first goal in arancioneroverdi. He's been ever-present this season, and improving all the time. We dominate this game throughout, especially in possession terms, but the second goal doesn't arrive, and late in the second half a certain fearfulness pervades; only the offside flag can halt Varese's Hoxha when he's sent through on goal. Yet Silvestri's goal is enough.
Chievo drop points away to Frosinone, leaving us clear in second, still a solitary point behind Bologna. I gather the players after the next training session and hold an impromptu team meeting right there on the pitch. Just a few more games, I say. Just a few more wins to reach Serie A, and to complete a rise more meteoric even than A.C.F. Fiorentina's a decade ago, on a fraction of their finances. I can't believe we are here, I tell them. I thought this would take five, or six, or seven seasons. It has taken three.
Nocerina settle Suagher's future contract this week. He will join them in July in exchange for €35K (distributed across four years, unfortunately, but that can't be helped, as he refused an up-front offer from Modena). This move is far more of a wrench than the Ingrassia deal, but it's also a financial imperative. And with Silvestri and Fiorucci already forming a strong partnership, Olivieri providing experience and tutoring, Locci arriving in the summer, and Möllestam already rarely getting a chance in his natural centre-back role, I have an overabundance of players right now for that position.
With impeccable timing, Roberto Fiasco chooses this moment to announce his intention to step aside as chairman sooner rather than later. In a press conference ahead of hosting already-relegated Frosinone, I inform the assembled journalists that my players are professionals, and will not let the uncertainty affect their performances. That's before Bologna are thrashed 0-3 by Modena. If we win our game in hand, we will be two points clear. At the top, that is. Two points clear at the top.
Unione Venezia 3 - 1 Frosinone (Serie B bwin)
10 minutes: Grieco's short corner is sent over by Marsili for Fiorucci to head home. 28 minutes: a more direct Grieco corner is volleyed home by an unmarked Fiorucci. 45+3 minutes: Grieco, Marsili, Fiorucci. The 18 year-old central defender's hat trick, from a hat trick of corners. 75 minutes: a frantic corner at the other end is turned in by Bellato. 90+4 minutes: the final whistle blows, and the Pierluigi Penzo erupts.
The game that sees us clamber into daylight at the top of Serie B also happens to be Cesarini's 100th appearance for the club. We are two points clear, with two games left. That means we can win the Serie B bwin title in our very next game, if results elsewhere go our way.
Pescara 1 - 2 Unione Venezia (Serie B bwin)
Having not yet survived relegation (Sassuolo, Nocerina, and Frosinone are down this year, but the fourth place is undecided), Pescara still have something left to play for. In better news, Bologna concede an own goal just seconds into their away game against Foggia, and as things stand, we have a three point lead at the top. And the pressure is showing; only Ganz and Cesarini look properly motivated for the task at hand. No surprise, then, that it's Ganz who puts us in front, picking up a Grieco pass on his way to scoring his 24th goal of the season. Almost simultaneously, Bologna level the score in Foggia; we're four points ahead. Our lead has settled the team down, though, and when Cesarini finds Ganz for a second on 24 minutes, our hopes begin to soar. Pescara press forward and win a succession of corners, but to no result. It takes a quick turn by Del Papa to get them back in it, as Fiorucci (o.g.) slide-tackles the nimble forward and inadvertently puts the ball in his own net. The nerves are back. Ganz misses a golden opportunity for a hat trick with the keeper stranded. Then the half-time whistle blows, and we know we're 45 minutes away from promotion and the Serie B title, provided the scores here and in Foggia remain the same.
The second half is calmer than the first, and we're in better control, though both our centre backs looks on edge; I soon send on veteran Olivieri for Fiorucci to lend a guiding presence. Then Benassi trips Coralli in the box, and we have a penalty to surely put the game beyond doubt. Ganz steps up and smacks the top of the post. The ball bounces clear. The game goes on. It's still 1-1 in Foggia. In the 72nd minute, Ganz breaks onto a Grieco ball from deep and again draws a save when he should have scored. Bologna take the lead against Foggia, and it's as you were, with two points separating us. Tonani beats away a shot at the near post. The clock ticks into stoppages. Somewhere, I know, Alessio Greco is meeting with his oncologist, sighing, and fussing with his moustache, perhaps even checking his watch. The score, the score, he will be wondering. What is the score?
Hmm, what else?
The Serie B title will go down to the very last day.
Unione Venezia 1 - 0 Catania (Serie B bwin) Stadium: Pierluigi Penzo, Venice Date: 31 May 2015 Time: 20.45 Weather: Dry, 13° Referee: Andrea Padovan
Bologna are hosting 15th place Crotone; we can't rely on anything less than a win to secure the title.
We plan to start in our usual 4-3-1-2, with André Möllestam replacing the injured Silvestri in central defence; the line-up is otherwise predictable, with Caciagli, Marsili, and Fonjock across central midfield. Catania's 4-4-2 will be missing Morimoto and Scacchetti through suspension, while Mirko Antenucci has not recovered from a hip injury. In the press conference beforehand, half-dazed with preparation, I think to myself my, there are an awful lot of journalists here. Serie A has finished up already, of course, with Inter being declared victors more than a week ago. Serie B is the only show in town between now and the summer holidays, and Unione Venezia's rise has all the eyes of Italy upon it. I sit. I clear my throat.
"I'll take a few questions."
It doesn't take us long to get our passing game going in and around the rigid, deep-lying Catania formation. The gulf between their midfield and Aveni and Bergessio up front is huge when without the ball, and it's clear they've set their stall out to defend, though they can finish third with a win here today. Grieco is carded on 13 minutes for a needlessly rough challenge on the edge of the Catania area; during the opening minutes we dominate possession and territory both.
There is a moment of unadulterated, stomach-gnawing horror for the home fans when goalkeeper Tonani is deemed to have collected a long ball just outside of his area, but the referee only waves a yellow card. Ganz betrays the nervousness at the heart of this perfomance when he plays a stray backpass that allows Pettinari to break through the defence, but the ever-dependable Grieco gets back and makes a superb sliding challenge to rescue the situation. Catania are getting more of the ball now, and Petrzela is a constant threat down the right flank, with Lorenzini struggling to keep pace. Möllestam becomes the third Venezia player to see yellow when a long ball over the top forces him to hold back Aveni. A dull and scrappy half finishes 0-0, while the Bologna fixture is also scoreless. Two points continue to separate the sides going into the final 45 minutes of a 42-game season.
In the dressing room, I inform Olivieri he's coming on for Möllestam; the veteran defender, who will turn 32 next month, only nods calmly. To the room at large, I express my disappointment at the performance, telling them I am not happy with the quality of our build-up play, or the ease with which Catania's wingers have received the ball and taken on our defenders. For Coralli, however, who is staring at the floor in an almost catatonic state of nervousness, I have a word of kindness: there is no pressure on him today. A single goal will do it. One kick. That's all anyone is asking for, I tell him.
It's a dry day, sunny but not warm. As I straighten my tie on the sideline, waiting for the second half to begin, I take in the packed stands of the humble Pierluigi Penzo stadium, the banners, the sea of black and green. You can taste salt on the breeze. The whistle blows, and we're off again, for what feels like the thousandth time. I think of Alessio Greco propped up in his hospital bed with notepad and pencil, about to receive his first dose of chemotherapy. I think of my face displayed for a moment in miniature on his television screen. I think of everything a football fan hopes for in those moments when the game is still alive.
The whistle blows again, and I blink. The stadium is frantic. Claudio Coralli is rushing for the distant corner flag, and for a moment I wonder what he has done that has caused all of his teammates to chase him there. Then it occurs to me: he has scored. I will not see the goal until later that afternoon, on a hospital television, and so the memory of it is always in slow motion, and silent, though I have seen it a hundred times since. A minute after the restart, Caciagli sweeps a pass between the two central defenders; Caciagli collects it, hurdles the challenge of Francis Dickoh, and plows it past Sclopis in goal. 1-0 Venezia.
Five minutes later, Ganz stings the keeper's gloves to earn a corner. In my mind, I am teasing apart that oldest of questions, the one no manager at any level has ever completely solved: how do you best protect a one-goal lead? Possession is my answer, and I shout it out into that tiny park, again and again. Simple passes. Keep the ball when you have it. Harry them when you don't. My assistant, Centurioni, leans in to tell me it's still 0-0 in Bologna. I don't want to hear it. One match will decide this season, if we can ride it to the end. On 72 minutes, I send the more defensive Milani on for Caciagli, who's flagging in midfield. Catania are still without a shot on target, and yet I cannot help but be restless, fearful. I try not to let the contagion spread to my players.
A murmur of discontent goes around the stadium. Bologna have scored at last, and suddenly our lead is just two points again. If we were to finish level on points, results between teams would mean we still win the league, yet that seems little comfort with twenty minutes still left to play.
Sclopis goes full stretch to deny Ganz when the latter steals onto the end of a speculative Grieco pass. Fiorucci heads well over from a corner. There is a strange air of calm about the game, as if it were any other Sunday, as if we were languishing in Serie D again, with no expectations, no hopes. I want to scream at my players, hurry them on... and yet there is no need. I realize they know what they are doing better than I ever will.
Cesarini goes down injured in midfield, and though capable of playing on, I opt to replace him with Baccarin, just to be safe. Avani, meanwhile, has a shot charged down at the edge of the area before the referee's assistant announces four minutes of stoppage time. I patrol my technical area, pace it, count the steps. Bergessio robs Lorenzini and tears down our left flank, spies Aveni's run, and whips it into the middle... where Grieco cuts out the pass and puts it behind for a corner. Fonjock rises to head that clear. In the 94th minute, Fiorucci boots away another wayward cross.
Another minute passes, and another. I can hear Centurioni losing his temper with the assistant on the touchline, roaring for the final whistle to be blown. Doesn't he know it won't matter? Catania cannot score twice in this, the 97th minute. Bologna cannot undo their defeats to us. Silvestri's leg cannot be unbroken. And the cancer in Greco's lungs will not wither and die. This game, this sport of ours, is just passing theatre, and for what? What is it we're struggling over?
Catania's Calello trips Olivieri on the edge of the latter's own penalty area, and the referee blows into his silly little whistle not once but thrice. Three long, leisurely, lovely blasts.
As the team around me surges forth onto the field as one, the answer to my own question comes to me; I remember the very first word of Italian I ever learned.
The top Serie A sides indulge in their annual dismissal of young talent, so I pick up a few of their leavings on trial, hoping to find an overlooked footballer or two in the bunch.
The club is awarded €2.77M for our final placement in the league; even after €775K of that is paid out to the players, there's enough left to put us into the black and then some.
Ganz wins top goalscorer in the league with 22, and is named in the team of the year. I claim the Serie B bwin Miglior Allenatore award. Bongiovanni, forgotten on loan with Treviso, wins the Capocannoniere crown in the Lega Pro Prima Divisione (Girone A) with 17 goals, to everyone's astonishment including his own.
The takeover talks go back and forth for weeks, until I no longer care. It will have a profound effect on the future of both the club and myself, of course, but for the time being I am content to let it play out. I spend my time hiring new backroom staff ahead of our return to Serie A: additional fitness and youth coaches arrive to swell the ranks. This is the closest thing I've had to a holiday in three seasons.
Our new main kit sponsorship deal is €1.3M for the coming two years, over four times what it was previously. The board set provisional wage and transfer budgets of €83Kp/w and €266K respectively; I hardly know what to do with myself. Roberto Fiasco even blasts the club's potential buyers in the media, demanding they make their decision so that I can get back on with the business of strengthening the club in the coming transfer window. I feel a warm pulse of love for that man.
The season review, fixtures list, and so on all arrive before the deal is done, however. The transfer market opens with us unable to make any new moves into it. The board's expectations are that we avoid relegation, yet this verges on the impossible if I am unable to bring in any new players.
Zima, Locci, and Cuomo, meanwhile, all arrive on their pre-agreed deals; Ingrassia and Suagher depart, the latter to some consternation from club legend Collauto. I know what I'm doing Mattia, you Serie D nobody who could never even land a job coaching a youth team.
Another additional kit sponsorship deal will bring in €187K per annum for two years. Bigazzi signs for Aversa Normanna, bringing in €50K and slashing the wage budget further. The board announce profits of €1.9M, a healthy 23 percent of turnover. Fiorucci is called up to the Italian U20 World Cup squad. On 13 July, it is widely reported that the takeover bid is struggling again. A sudden wave of frustration hits me, and I hurl an empty coffee cup at the back of my office door, leaving a dent in the dark wood. As it stands, I can't even offer suitable contracts for the youth players I have on trial, as their demands are higher than current constraints will allow. The following day, the papers say the bid is "close" again. I stop reading the news after that.
On 19 July, a full five days later, I have an email waiting in my inbox.
So long, Roberto Fiasco. Disappointing there's no investment, but Capecchi is eager to improve our fortunes, and eager to listen. On my advice, he increases our junior coaching budget to something exceptional, and promises to devote €1.1M to improving our youth training facilities by 5 January next year.
Once we have the ability to buy players, we move quickly. 19 year-old right back Mirco Ghiglia arrives on free transfer to play understudy to Grieco. 28 year-old Argentinian striker Christian Chávez agrees to fulfill our deep-lying role ahead of the inconsistent Coralli, albeit on a steep wage. At least the transfer was free.
Sampdoria 2 - 1 Unione Venezia (Friendly)
Sampdoria finished second in an historic and unlikely Serie A campaign last season. They've also already reached a state of fitness that far surpasses our own, so this is an early indication of how far off the pace we are, exactly. Unsurprisingly, then, Nick Viergever heads them in front from a corner before 20 minutes are gone. Drouin adds a second under similar circumstances. We improve dramatically in the second half and have chances of our own, but the gulf in class is unbridgeable. Ganz seizes on some confusion in the Sampdoria defence to put some respectability on things, and Rispoli misses a chance to tie the game at the death.
19 year-old Diego Baronti deepens our goalkeeping options, while Marco Donadel, 32 years young and previously of Fiorentina and Napoli, arrives to do a job for us in midfield on a costly one-year contract.
Sacilese 0 - 2 Unione Venezia (Friendly)
Our annual friendly. It takes until the second half for us to find a way through the Seconda Divisione side, with Nicola Milani curling in a rare goal. New kid Locci heads in a simple Donadel cross on 65 minutes. It's a pleasant stroll in the park on a nice, warm day, and everyone goes home happy.
We sell half of youngster Zago's contract to Reggina for €160K; he'll remain at Unione Venezia until 2017. Marsili agrees to move to Piacenza on loan, likely for the remainder of his contract, which ends next June.
Libourne 1 - 3 Unione Venezia (Friendly)
The board has sanctioned a trip to sunny France. Caciagli opens the scoring toward the end of the first half with a curling free kick. Argentinian Chávez adds another for the break, collecting the rebound of his own stray pass to roll it in at the near post. Olivieri adds a third from a Caciagli corner. Libourne grab a late consolation goal via Seguin. Yawning in the sunshine, I pack up a case of Bordeaux to take back with us to Venice.
Trying to resolve our ongoing left-back problems, at least for the time being, I splash €200K to bring in Lorenzo Laverone from Siena. His volatile and confrontational nature is a profound concern, but there are simply no credible alternatives in terms of talent. With that deal done, I move Coluccio on loan to Treviso in order to guarantee him first-team football.
Cesena 0 - 2 Unione Venezia (Friendly)
Another friendly on the road, this time against a side who we may find ourselves embroiled in a relegation battle with. There are promising indicators when Baccarin plays in Rispoli just before half-time, and in fact we have more and better chances throughout. Cesarini releases Coralli for a second goal 15 minutes from the end, and there are smiles all around on the bus home.
Forgotten goalkeeper Luciani agrees a loan deal with Siena, including a €100K option to buy. Youth starlet Gabriele Cazzola joins Coluccio at Treviso.
Unione Venezia 0 - 0 Espanyol (Friendly)
The highlight of our preseason calendar is hosting the Spanish side who finished 9th in Liga BBVA last term. Espanyol look thoroughly uninterested at the prospect, and we are the ascendant side throughout. We don't score. But neither do Espanyol. The weather was lovely, thanks for asking.
Young defender Penazzato is the third Venezia player to go on loan at Treviso this year. It's a strange situation given they are one of our nearest rivals, but I also know their manager, Andrea Cano, is excellent at working with young players.
Unione Venezia 0 - 0 Karlovac (Friendly)
NK Karlovac is a Croatian football club based in the town of Karlovac. They play in the Prva HNL, the country's top division, having been promoted to top level at the end of the 2008–09 season. Karlovac play their home matches at the 12,000-capacity Stadion Branko Čavlović-Čavlek. Traditionally lower-level minnows, the club's most successful period in the Yugoslav football league system was in the 1970s when they competed in the Second Yugoslav League. After the breakup of Yugoslavia and the formation of the Croatian football league system in 1992, Karlovac spent most of the time playing in Druga HNL and Treća HNL, the second and third levels. Led by manager Igor Pamić, Karlovac won consecutive promotions in the 2007–08 and 2008–09 seasons, which saw them join the top level for the first time in their history. In this game, their striker, Dino Poljak, scores with Karlovac's only shot of the game on 44 minutes. It takes quite a few minutes before Ganz puts things right. They are not happy minutes. Fonjock finds Chávez before the end, and Unione Venezia, an Italian football club based in the city of Venice, are spared some unkind words from their manager, John Divney (born in Ireland).
Cesarini continues as club captain; teenage goalkeeper Stefano Tonani, dubbed variously as the new Viviano or De Sanctis, is appointed vice-captain.
Unione Venezia 2 - 1 Varese (TIM Cup, Third Qualifying Round)
We start strongly against these Serie B upstarts, and things get better when Ibrahima Sory Camara sees red just 21 minutes in, though he walks off the field with a chunk of Andrea Grieco's leg still clinging to his studs. It's Varese who open the scoring, though, and in embarrassing fashion: Locci fails to control a simple backpass, and Giuseppe De Luca pounces. We have all of the ball after that, but little goalmouth action. And then Laverone's clumsy tackle leads to a penalty, mercifully skied by Nicola Madonna. In the second half, Varese are content to defend with ten or eleven men stationed around their own box. Chávez eventually finds a way through with a sidefooted debut goal. Three minutes later Chávez puts us in front, scoring into an empty net when the Varese keeper comes to claim a through pass and the ball bobbles free. He's all that stands out in our disappointing performance against ten men from the division below.
Season tickets have nearly doubled since last year, up to 3,023 from 1,681. I only hope they aren't too depressed by what they watch this year. We will get underway at Brescia.
Brescia 0 - 1 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
It's a baking late summer's day, and I'm not quite sure our players are ready for the heat, or the packed houses of Serie A. Our few chances come on the break, amid sustained periods of opposition pressure. Remarkably, though, we're the ones who open the scoring, when a chaotic move from our throw-in down the right ends with Massimiliano Taddei being able to pick his spot from just inside the area. It's his first goal for the club, and seems to deflate Brescia sufficiently that the game is tedious after that. At least until the 68th minute, anyway, when Stefan de Vrij is sent off for appearing to put an arm across Coralli's throat during a breakaway. That does away with what was left of Brescia's endeavour, and we walk off sweaty and victorious.
Yeah, it's unreal. When I've done bottom-to-top runs in Italy before I've managed back-to-back Lega Pro titles a few times, but it's always taken at least a couple of seasons to adjust and win promotion from Serie B. Was not expecting this at all, and now we have zero infrastructural or other development going to the big show.
My scout in Eastern Europe turns up two superb young Romanian defenders. The first, Petre Bubu, is sadly out of my price range, though he's a model professional who can play with both feet in any position across the backline. The second, 18 year-old Zlatomir Munteanu, is a natural right-back who can play on either side of defence with a reasonable left foot, and will arrive in Venice in January for the princely sum of €210K.
Unione Venezia 0 - 0 Napoli (Serie A TIM)
The fun stops here, I guess. Or it should. Napoli don't quite show up in the first twenty minutes and we look the more exciting side. But then they did just sell Cavani and Hamsik this summer (to Man City and Atletico, respectively) for a combined ~€75M, and are resting several players who are paid more each week than my entire squad. Alberto Aquilani has a goal ruled out for a clear offside at one end, while Chávez suffers the same fate at the other. In the second half, Cuomo thumps the bar from distance, while Destro heads wide from a pinpoint cross. It finishes goalless, with not one of Napoli's 12 shots hitting the target. Walter Mazzarri has kind things to say about us after the match, but then he would, wouldn't he?
Federico Rispoli and I have a bitter falling out over his lack of first-team football. I've been expecting this for a while, as Ganz more or less kept him out of the team most of last year, but it's an irritating diversion from a player who doesn't merit the fuss.
Palermo 0 - 1 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
Again our superiors seem in no great rush to destroy us, and despite controlling the game in terms of possession and passing, Palermo are losing in the tackle and conceding more shots on goals than we are. By half-time, my team are positively nervous with the state of affairs, and I do my best to settle them down for another long 45 half of underdog football. Then Cesarini opens his Serie A account, a little over three years since signing for a Seconda Divisione team. It's a special goal, too, with Cuomo carving the defence open with a single pass and Cesarini charging through to chip it goalward; Tzorvas can only palm it further into the top corner.
Unione Venezia 1 - 1 Fiorentina (Serie A TIM)
Another day, another enervating battle against the odds. Alberto Rodriguez sees red for Fiorentina with three minutes played for holding back Ganz when the poacher is through on goal. This allows us to take charge of the game, though it's still Fiorentina who come closest, pinging the angle of post and bar from distance. This effort came from Mauro Formica, and he must have been sighting for his second shot, minutes later, which flies straight and true into the top corner. There's nothing to be done about it, and I am sympathetic with my team at the break. Eight minutes after the restart, four passes bring us down the field before Coralli finds Cesarini and Cesarini finds Ganz, who coolly sidesteps the keeper before blazing in the finish. It's his first of the new season, and worth waiting for. Fiorentina look tired and stretched, having used all their subs by the 60 minute mark, and so I send on Baccarin to run at the defence. We continue to tease and taunt Fiorentina with our passing, but no chances come. A creditable result.
A superb start to the season. No team has ever been relegated in recent years with our target of 40 points, and we're already a fifth of the way there after four matches.
Genoa 0 - 1 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
Genoa are performing below expectations in these early games, and sit just outside the drop zone. It takes just under a minute for us to stretch them far enough that Taddei can slip Cesarini the ball for 1-0. Ten minutes later, though, Lorenzo Laverone has to go full sprint to clear the ball off our line. Full credit to the left-back; he's been solid so far, despite my reservations about his temperament. Genoa inexplicably go to a 5-2-3 in the second half, prompting me to simply retreat into midfield and keep the ball. We have the lead, you numskulls. Chávez dropping off the line causes all sorts of problems, as hoped, and he times his run on 55 minutes to perfection, though Eduardo nearly keeps the ball out. Nearly. Genoa persist in having, like, three men at once mark a lone Rispoli until the whistle blows. Someone should tell them he isn't any good.
Luis Enrique, Genoa manager and tactical mastermind, is the latest to lavish praise on my scrappy upstarts. In more serious news, Luigi Silvestri is back in training, and according to my near-constant monitoring over the past months, it hasn't set him back irreparably.
Unione Venezia 2 - 0 Roma (Serie A TIM)
It's still a wonder to see the familiar crests and colours of these big clubs flashing around the humble Pierluigi Penzo, which is rammed to capacity every week now. As much of a wonder as seeing our doggedStefano Olivieri share a field with the likes of Daniele De Rossi. Not quite as much of a wonder as seeing Roma centre-back Rhodolfo clatter his own keeper chasing a long ball, leaving it for Chávez to collect and stroke home. Or Fiorucci powering a header toward goal from a Grieco corner, only to have Daniel Osvaldo (o.g.) help it in at the back post. By the end, I am speechless. The crowd is on their feet. Roma hurry off to their bus, hoping not to encounter their own travelling fans.
Coralli is out for three or four weeks with a damaged knee cap, but that's the only problem in sight. After six games, we have the meanest defence in Serie A, having given up a single goal, and that a piledriver from distance. What makes this more astounding is that, for all their promise, our young defenders are meant to be among the league's worst.
We're second, by the way. Second.
Torino 2 - 2 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
Our second goal conceded this season comes 16 minutes into the first half, as Federico Moretti squeezes a shot off from the tightest of angles in a crowded box. When we get our own back, Fiorucci is again desperately unlucky not to be credited, as the officials instead deem goalkeeper Alberto Frison (o.g.) to have punched the corner into his own net. We gradually improve from a poor start, and could have gone into the break with the lead if Ganz wasn't wasteful with his chances. It's a game neither side deserves to win, but Fiorucci at least deserves a goal, and he gets one on 77 minutes, heading in Grieco's free kick at the back post. Still only 18, he has been immense so far this season. Just when it looks like he's secured another three points, however, Torino pull one back in the dank, dark depths of stoppage time, when Brahimi's cross from the right flank makes it all the way over to António Rodrigues on the far side of our penalty area. Caught napping.
18 year-old Piero Marino, released by Frosinone despite being dubbed the next Massimo Maccarone, arrives on free transfer after this game as a potential replacement for backup striker Rispoli, who looks increasingly likely to see a January exit.
Unione Venezia 1 - 0 Milan (Serie A TIM)
Tonight one of the titans of world football visits our house, though they're in raggedy shape with Rafa Benítez in charge, finishing a staggeringly poor 16th last season. That's no reason not to be wary, yet despite a spate of yellow cards and little possession, it's Venezia who take the lead with their very first shot of the game. Simone Andrea Ganz, son of the more famous Maurizio, scores against the side he was abandoned by several years earlier. It's a humbling moment for one of Italy's elite clubs, and a pleasing moral tale about trusting in youth and so on and yadda yadda. Some such nonsense. Milan set about kicking my team to bits in retaliation. Controversy then strikes on 83 minutes, when Diego Costa, having already cannoned his shot off the bar with Tonani beaten, floats in the last of a series of Milan headers. But the goal is scratched off for a nonexistent foul. Better to be lucky than good.
Unbeaten in eight games.
Unione Venezia 0 - 1 Parma (Serie A TIM)
After the teams we've faced so far this year, second from bottom Parma should be easy beats, right? Not on the evidence of the first half, when they have the lion's share of possession. The best chance, though, as is typical, falls to Venezia, when Chávez sets the right upright quivering from just inside the area. I'm less than satisfied at half-time, and the team goes back out snarling and ready to tear hot, bloody chunks out of the Parmigiani. Then Modesto finds Jorge utterly unmarked at the back post, and the ageing Spanish centre back boots it in. The goal is game-changing, as Parma start to unpick our back four with greater ease. I'd like to say we come back into it late on, but that's simply not the case. With 35% possession and no shots on target, we are deserving losers.
In better news, Luigi Silvestri starts his first game for the Venezia reserves, scoring and winning man of the match in a 2-1 win over amateur side Cordignano. Warms the heart, it does.
Great win over Milan! You should be in the Europe spots by now?
We're 2nd! Or we were, anyway. For a little while.
Originally Posted by deltablue
Didn't realize you could check out an attribute team comparision.
Yeah, under team report, team comparison there's a row of tabs that show averages for various attributes for the league you're in. You can also see them compared against an individual team (if you've scouted them), which is more useful, as you can use it to compare your strengths and weaknesses with those of your next opponents'.
Cagliari 2 - 3 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
Six minutes into this one, Thomas de Jong's cross finds the diving head of Borini and we're already in trouble. Gignac makes it two after 24 minutes when local youngster Ivan Zamboni, making his debut, just lets him waltz on by. A chipped through pass from Milani on 37 minutes finds Cesarini to make things look a little less grim, but we still go into the break trailing, and I instruct the team to show me something different. They decide to indulge me. Two minutes in, Cesarini and Ganz combine to put us back on level terms. Eight minutes after that, Ganz noses us in front with another incisive finish, completing the comeback.
The board is pretty pleased with how things are going, too.
Unione Venezia 1 - 1 Novara (Serie A TIM)
Luigi Silvestri starts his first senior game since his leg was broken in late May. We spend most of the first period trying to get the ball back, but Novara don't know what to do with it in any case. On 53 minutes, Silvestri is first to the near post from a Grieco free kick, and the Pierluigi Penzo roars their approval. We're rampant for a spell after that, but Chávez misses a sitter and Novara end up pulling one back through Maurice Dalé. Things end on an irksome note when Marco Cuomo is shown a second yellow in the 92nd minute.
In between my other concerns, I take time out to arrange the signing of 18 year-old Pole Lukasz Olszak on a youth contract, as Bayern have inexplicably let him go. He's a young striker who doesn't quite fit any particular role right now, but his model professionalism and extraordinary determination mean he's a safe bet to reach his potential, which my scouting team tell me is considerable.
Udinese 4 - 0 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
We get off to a poor start in Udine, with Zé Renato celebrating in front of the home fans within minutes, courtesy of Antonio Candreva. And it gets worse: Odion Ighalo plants an easy header thanks to a cross from Masiello down the right. The two goalscorers combine for the third, on half an hour: Zé Renato twists inside Silvestri, Laverone isn't covering the space, and Ighalo can open fire from about nine yards. There's no way back by then, and there certainly isn't when Ighalo returns the favour, allowing Zé Renato to stride into our box unopposed for four. It's hard to know what to say in the dressing room at half-time. The rot is stopped in the second period, but it doesn't matter. Even if we manage to grind out an equal share of the game by the end, Udinese had all the chances, and they took them. A new contender for the worst defeat of my reign.
I have my first falling out with Laverone concerning his performance in this game, and make it very clear both privately and publicly that I will not indulge his poor play or worse attitude. He's dropped for the next two games at least.
Milan 1 - 0 Unione Venezia (TIM Cup, Fourth Qualifying Round)
There's little time to recover after the Udinese drubbing, so the squad is heavily rotated for this cup tie. Coralli hits a penalty straight at Amelia after just six minutes, and that will prove to be the last of the Milan goal we see for some time. At the other end, Stephan El Shaarawy is left with a simple finish after the ball bobbles kindly off Silvestri's shin in our own penalty area. Before the half is out, however, Amelia is forced into a sensational point-blank save from a Locci header. I sympathize with the team at half-time: the San Siro is an intimidating venue for anyone, let alone for those players who were featuring in the Italian fourth tier three years ago. Milan have less say in things as the game wears on, but we never look like getting an equalizer.
Unione Venezia 1 - 1 Chievo (Serie A TIM)
It's time for us to get back to winning ways. Chávez has an early goal correctly deemed offside, and in general we look more composed than we have these past few weeks. That starts to wane as the half goes on, though, and my half-time talk is more about regrouping the team than anything else. We look better again after Guédiora is sent off for a second yellow. Better, but still goalless. It takes a neat Coralli header in the 89th minute for us to sneak into the lead. Chievo don't give up, though, and a dogged Cruzado gets into the box to find Xisco Nadal for the sliding equalizer two minutes into stoppages. We are not back to winning ways.
(After this game, Luis Enrique, fired from Genoa, is appointed Chievo manager, continuing his slide down the ladder of Italian clubs.)
We are so far under the allotted wage and transfer budgets that I am giddy at the prospect of this year's contract expiries search. My team of scouts, confronted with the mountain of paperwork they are going to have to draft, are less so.
Sampdoria 3 - 2 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
I approach this game with some trepidation given our performances of late, but Ganz lays my fears to rest after 10 minutes, surging onto a Baccarin through pass to finish in the far bottom corner. Pandev has a goal at the other end scratched out for offside. I have to scream at my players to stay on their feet after we give away a succession of dangerous free kicks around the area, and when we do eventually concede it's a dead ball straight off the training ground: Palombo lays it off short for Bangoura, and he stabs the ball into the area for the ghost run of Maxi López. When we restore the lead after half-time, it's through superb one-touch football: Laverone to Taddei, Taddei to Baccarin, and Baccarin to Ganz, who dinks his second goal over the goalkeeper with his left foot. It can't last. Drouin slams in a ball from the right flank for Palombo to smuggle in while the defence is caught ball-watching. And then Laverone (o.g.) sinks lower in my estimation by tackling Maxi López in the six-yard box and turning the ball into his own net. Sampdoria even have a fourth goal denied by the linesman's flag.
Even a slump that has us down to seventh (eighth if Udinese win their next match) hasn't taken the shine off our season so far, and when Roma sack Pasquale Marino for taking them no higher than 11th, I am linked with a major Italian club for the first time I can recall.
Unione Venezia 2 - 0 Lazio (Serie A TIM)
Lazio set the tone for 20 minutes, but then Hurtado trips Ganz as he steps inside the box, and a penalty is awarded. Cesarini smacks his kick off the bar, but Chávez is fastest to react and puts the ball where it belongs. Our lead paralyzes Lazio, and we're content to sit back and indulge a few wild long shots. The second half is even more boring, though Mario Balotelli, back in Italy, has a belter from distance, and Ganz hammers the crossbar when he really should have scored. Lazio continue to be their own worst enemies, and Ganz (pen.) succeeds where Cesarini failed after Hamdan Al-Kamali hauls down his man in the area.
Juventus 5 - 3 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
My beloved Juve are struggling at the moment, and don't even have a working right back with Gunino suspended and Lichtsteiner injured, so reserve team winger Pepe has been called up for service. Quagliarella hacks the ball in from a corner after two minutes to put the Old Lady in front, though it's Silvestri (o.g.) who gets the credit. From another corner on half an hour, Quagliarella gets down to head in, and this time it's his name that appears on the scoresheet. Juventus more or less own our box during dead balls, and D'Amato heads in a third corner. It's not even half-time. Pereyra makes sure our dressing room will be more or less a suicide booth by bagging another at the back post from a Gervinho cross. 4-0. The referee takes pity on us and calls an end to the first 45. The sane 45. On 62 minutes, Silvestri slides in from a corner of our own to peg one back. A few minutes later, Quagliarella smashes in his second of the game having taken on our keeper and won. Then Cesarini plays in the dashing run of Andrea Grieco for his first ever league goal in this, his 94th start for Venezia. Not done there, we find Fiorucci's head from a corner with ten minutes to go, making it 3-5. It's still a crushing defeat, but somehow I find myself smiling on the drive over to Alessio Greco's house. We tried, I can tell the old man. He will be grumpy about it, but he will respect the effort. I should have said: like our very own Venezia side, he is still cheerfully clinging to life.
I politely deny any interest in the Cesena job after Regni is fired for picking up just three points from the first 16 games. Why would I leave Venezia, the club and city that I adore, at a time when we're an improbable sixth in the league? The job is eventually taken up by Gianfranco Zola.
It's a quiet winter break for us, with few dealings of note. I tie up a few loose contracts for my backroom staff, and negotiate extensions for one or two of the older players who I think have something to offer in terms of experience, tutoring, or backroom potential down the line. There is quite a bit of dead wood to chop, but I'm not quite sure how to go about conveniently 'losing' some of the players who are currently unimpressing on loans at teams a division below us: Luciani, Coluccio, Marsili. Laverone is also not looking like a long-term part of my plans; not only is his behaviour and attitude poor, he isn't reaching his potential in training, either. He'll be hard sell to any clubs, however.
I make some offers for players whose contracts are expiring, though my options are limited by the existing wage structure at the club and my desire to focus on youth, and preferably Italian youth.
The board consults me about our changing expectations for the season, and I tell them I'm comfortable delivering a mid-table finish. I can't decide whether this is pessimistic given our current position, or optimistic given our more recent form. Our next match is against league leaders and reigning champions Inter to boot. The board also announce the completion of work on our training facilities: for the first time since my arrival, they are adequate.
Romanian Zlatomir Munteanu arrives as January does, and my first action is to give him a week's rest, as he is looking jaded and exhausted. He looks like an immediate fit, though, and I'm pleased with this bit of business given my failure to secure reliable full-backs over the years (with the obvious exception of Andrea Grieco, whom I adore).
Lazio pay an unbelievable €1.8M for just half of Renzo Locci's contract. He'll remain at the club at least for the next 18 months, meaning I can oversee his development and work out what he is worth, and in the meantime our finances receive a healthy injection of cash.
Arriving next July are Luca Barlocco of Atalanta, a young, quick defender who can play at right-back or in the centre of defence; Matteo Bartolini of Pisa, who can play up front or in the Cesarini role, but will need some work before he's truly suitable for either; and Barletta's Arcangelo Cavallari, who optimists say could be the new Giorgio Chiellini, and is the left-sided defender to Barlocco's right. All are Italian. None are over 20. I am also looking at signing the delightfully named Alessandro Mecca in central midfield, or more hopefully Carlo Ilari, who would be an instant upgrade from Donadel or Caciagli in the role of deep-lying playmaker, and who has only just turned 24. Ilari is expensive, though; another option is Matteo Piccinini of AlbinoLeffe. We shall have to see, but I've identified my central midfield as the area most in need of investment in the near future. Marco Cuomo and young star Bortone likely have the ball-winning position locked down for years to come (with Fonjock now as backup and a potential tutor), but the other two roles are less certain.
Unione Venezia 0 - 3 Inter (Serie A TIM)
This is not the game to go into after a poor run of form followed by a long winter break. Sure enough, Lúcio turns in a deflected free kick after just four minutes. The second goal is even sillier: Adebayor beats Tonani in goal, gets to the byline, and pulls it back for Canales, whose shot is beaten off the line by the recovering Tonani only to be bobbled in by Fiorucci (o.g.) as the young defender rushes in to clear. Our confidence is shattered, and Canales ghosts in for three on 22 minutes. I try to sympathize as best I can at half-time, but the truth is we've been poor even considering Inter's superiority. As has happened before in beatings like this one, we settle things in the second period, and I can respect the renewed efforts of the players. But the damage is done, and in four matches against four of the top sides (Udinese, Sampdora, Juventus, Inter), we've shipped 15 goals.
With that result we slip to ninth, and tenth if Roma win their game in hand.
Alessandro Mecca arrives on a free, technically: I will have to pay Frosinone compensation, but it's less than I might ultimately have paid when you factor in the next sale clause they kept trying to tack on. I love this kid already. He's a model professional at 16, and malleable enough that I can turn him into any kind of ball-playing midfielder I want.
Cesena 1 - 1 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
Cesarini, Laverone, and Taddei all miss this one through suspension. It's an important opportunity to pick up points against the ramshackle bottom club, and yet once again we go behind early to a soft corner, with Xisco forcing it over the line after Fernández rescues it from going out of play. On 38 minutes, Albertazzi is sent off for a cynical trip on Ganz, and we can see a way back into the game. Minutes into the second half, a Baccarin effort is charged down at the edge of the area, but Ganz is ruthless in directing the rebound into the far corner. It's just about enough to deny Cesena their first win of the season.
Also arriving at the club during this transfer window, this time for a fee of €300K, is another Romanian full-back, Vasile Loghin, who at 17 is a little young to solve all my problems on the left side of defence, but may have a great future ahead of him. My Eastern European scout Enrico Polani is certainly earning his keep.
Federico Rispoli comes to me demanding a contract termination; he is willing to settle for €20K. With Piero Marino ready to break into the senior squad in his absence, I jump at the chance. He was never reliable.
The last action in this transfer video is purchasing Matteo Piccinini in exchange for €750K and André Möllestam. This accomplishes a few things, principally deepening our midfield while cleaning up our overabundance of defenders. But Piccinini is a reserved, resolute, tireless midfielder with room to grow at just 22 years of age. And his name is fun to say.
Matteo, flattery will get you everywhere.
Unione Venezia 1 - 0 Bologna (Serie A TIM)
It feels like much longer than a month since our last Serie A triumph, that anomalous win over Lazio. Fiorucci sets us back on the path in this one by tapping in a Grieco dead ball at the back post. It's a balanced game, played during a thin sleet, but Bologna offer nothing in the way of threat, though they should have had a penalty. The city of Venice breathes a wintry sigh of relief.
My constant wheeling and dealing to keep this club competitive through a rapid rise finally backfires with one of my players, though, and this one hurts:
Lukas Zima, meanwhile, is concerned he's not getting sufficient first-team football, which is true, because he has started four games this year and been poor in all of them. I pack him off on loan to Cottbus in the Bundesliga for the remainder of the season.
Unione Venezia 3 - 1 Brescia (Serie A TIM)
It's important to keep picking up the points against the relegation battlers, as we're an outside shot for a European place if we keep things up. Piccinini plows his way straight into the hearts of the Unione Venezia faithful by smashing in a goal first time from the top of the D.
That's Cesarini's first assist of the game; his second is finding gentle giant Fiorucci from a free kick for yet another headed goal. And before half-time, we're an undeserved three up: Ganz gets to the byline and pulls back for Cesarini to get one of his own. Brescia get the goal their play deserves early in the second half, with Federico Masi leaping to head in his first goal for the club. 3-1 is how it ends, though, and we register consecutive victories for only the second time this season.
Napoli 1 - 2 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
Napoli can leapfrog us with a win here today, so it's important to stay focused. The first half is as dull as I could possibly hope, with Napoli coming closest when Chávez somehow nearly heads the ball into his own net. Just before the break, Piers Marino, who turned 19 last month, guides home a Cesarini through ball for his first Venezia goal. Napoli push forward in the second period, which suits us perfectly: from an elegant break, Marino calmly slots in his second, and suddenly Ganz has competition up front. Napoli get one back when Anichebe plays a one-two with Kozhanov across 40 yards of pitch. The Nigeria should have had a second to tie things up, but Tonani makes an excellent save, and we secure an excellent result.
Novara make me an offer I can't refuse, paying €1.8M for half of backup goalkeeper Baronti's contract. The deal is similar to Lazio's for Locci, and will see Baronti remain with us for the next two years at least. I'm on the verge of purchasing deep-lying playmaker Carlo Ilari from Chievo for €2.5M as the transfer window closes, but his agent refuses to back down from an unreasonable minimum release and match highest earner clause. Torino end up buying him instead, and on a wage some €3.5Kp/w higher than I was offering.
Unione Venezia 0 - 2 Palermo (Serie A TIM)
It's snowing faintly in Venice, and for the first ten minutes a combination of the cold weather and Palermo's hot form have us on the ropes. Giroud heads in a Coutinho corner, yet once we're behind we improve. Chávez fluffs a clear-cut chance to equalize, while Fiorucci heads his effort straight into the keeper's arms. Early in the second half, however, a Giroud free kick comes back off the crossbar, and Migliaccio pounces on the rebound. This is by no means one of our worst performances of the season, but Palermo are decidedly the better team.
Fiorentina 3 - 2 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
Again we concede early, with Formica recovering the ball from an attacking move that has broken down to fire Fiorentina in front. Marino strengthens his case as a starter with a sharp finish to level the score, but fewer than five minutes later Paloschi bursts through to restore the Viola advantage. Then Piccinini concedes a soft penalty, allowing Chiodo (pen.) to give Fiorentina a 3-1 lead going into the second 45. Taddei provides a glimpse of the way back on 70 minutes, coolly placing his finish from the edge of the box, but it's not enough.
Diligent scouting up and down Argentina has identified my long-term replacement for Cesarini. It's one Luciano Righetti of Vélez, who stands at all of 5'7", has skill and flair unmatched in my current side, and will only turn 19 in the summer. Getting Vélez to part with him will be difficult, though, and may take more financial resources than I have at my disposal. I start by telling their current manager that he has what it takes to fix his side's currently struggling form. Boca's Luis Gonzalez is another option, but more expensive again, perhaps costing as much as seven or eight million euro.
Unione Venezia 2 - 2 Genoa (Serie A TIM)
We should be better than this, hosting relegation-bound Genoa, but despite a fair share of the ball, we look utterly toothless going forward. Miguel Veloso opens the scoring for the more than deserving away side with an extraordinary free kick. Things get worse after half-time, when no one picks up Macheda's late run into the penalty area. We're struggling to get so much as a shot, but when Coralli finally snaps off an effort the keeper can only punch it away, into the path of the arriving Alberto Baccarin, who dutifully scores his first goal for the club. Then, on 84 minutes, Cesarini rolls the ball in front of Taddei, who gratefully pokes it into the roof of the net. Comeback complete.
Ganz has torn his hamstring, meaning he will miss most of the rest of the season. It's lucky we have Marino starting to spark.
Roma 5 - 0 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
Yet another early dead ball goal gives an indication of the beating that's to come: Francis Coquelin taps in a free kick minutes after Cesarini limps off with an injury. Rhodolfo makes it two from a corner on 23 minutes, when his marker, Milani, gets things horribly wrong. Pjanic makes it 0-3 with a precise header on 30 minutes, and we're floundering. I kindly restrain myself at half-time, conscious that our own overachieving is what makes more normal performances like this look so poor. But Roma grab a fourth shortly after half-time, as Silvestri (o.g.) heads in trying to rescue a floating cross; and they get their fifth when Rhodolfo steers in a wayward Burdisso header, again from a free kick. Across 90 minutes, we fail to muster a shot at goal, and by the full-time whistle I'm feeling a whole lot less charitable.
Cesarini's 125th game for Venezia lasted just four minutes, and now he's out for four weeks. Meanwhile, Mecca and Bortone join Fiorucci in being called up for the Italy U19s; Loghin and Munteanu will feature for the Romania U21s.
I have fallings-out with a couple of players who shall remain nameless following the Roma defeat, and call a team meeting to clear the air, with moderate success. We host third-placed Torino next, however, and then go away to a Milan that has improved to fourth. It's hard to see where the next win might come from.
Unione Venezia 1 - 2 Torino (Serie A TIM) Dridi gives the visiting side the lead after three minutes. The only consolation is it comes from open play, and no single player of mine is at fault. Chávez raises our spirits by slithering a shot onto the post, but otherwise it's Torino's game. We lose Marino to injury in the second period, but then Chávez finally ends his goal drought with a simple finish following a neat one-two with Baccarin. On 79 minutes, Bianchi's shot goes wild in the box, and Piccinini (o.g.) bumbles it over the line. It's another defeat, but at least we battled throughout.
Marino's injury is identical to Ganz's: a torn calf muscle that means three or four months on the sidelines. Losing our first and second choice goalscorers isn't going to help us halt this current run of defeats. We're in 11th now, our lowest position since the season began.
Milan 2 - 0 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
We start well, unbelievably, with Coralli even getting Amelia down at the near post to make an important save. Yet despite keeping our head above water and stretching Milan at times, it's the home side who take the lead, with Iličić heading in a corner at the second attempt. I provide emotional and moral support to my team during the interval, to the relief of those players who've borne the brunt of my rage at times over the preceding weeks. It's more of the same in the second: plenty of hustle and good intent from our boys, but a sublime cross-field pass from Gutierrez allows Alex Sandro to race in and put the result beyond doubt.
Napoli, one place below us, lose to Lazio, and so ends the reign of Walter Mazzarri, whose wheeler-dealing has seriously backfired this season. A disastrous team meeting ahead of our game against Parma, meanwhile, leaves the team split in their opinion of our recent fortunes, and our future chances.
Parma 1 - 1 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
Watching amateur curling with the volume on mute would provide greater spectacle than this excuse for a football match. Parma, by dint of actually having a few chances, are unlucky not to take the lead. On 75 minutes, Chávez's wild clearance is picked up by Coralli, who sprints all the way to finish in the bottom corner. Just when it looks like we're about to put an end to the relentless misery of the last month or so, Chinese striker Dong Fangzhuo hops Donadel's last-ditch tackle to get in for the equalizer, though there is some controversy as Laverone was down injured.
Tonani's agent seems to think one good performance in goal all season is worthy of an improved contract. It is not. I make that perfectly clear to the young goalkeeper when he comes knocking, knocking at my chamber door.
The new youth intake is a little disappointing, too; while there are two highly rated youngsters in the bunch, they're both strikers, and I am laden down with prospects for those positions as it is. That said, Pietro Cardoni is being compared to Fabio Quagliarella already at 15, so perhaps I am being unfair.
Unione Venezia 1 - 4 Cagliari (Serie A TIM)
Our slide has become so bad that it's not out of the question, mathematically, that we could still be relegated, while a win for Cagliari today will see them climb to 14th, just a point behind us in lucky number 13. Our physical and mental fitness is questionable, and after 12 minutes Jacopo Petriccione flicks on a de Jong cross into the far corner. An interesting statistic is that nearly half the goals we've conceded this season have arrived in the first 30 minutes of matches. Silvestri (o.g.) adds to our woes, nodding past his own keeper in an attempt to keep Gignac at bay. Rugani makes it three before half-time. It comes, heavens above, from a corner. Leaking goals to Udinese and Roma is one thing; drowning against Cagliari is another. I have stern, stern words in the dressing room, but Gignac makes it four after we return, slamming in his shot after the ball comes free at, you guessed it, a corner. A late, late goal from Piccinini is all the consolation we see.
Training sessions are extended. I push my team harder, and meaner. Over the course of a few days, I take every player aside individually to speak to them in no uncertain terms about their level of effort and ambition. Everyone is very clear on how exactly we need to improve. I am not sure any of it will work.
Novara 0 - 1 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
No more alibis. No more treating every team as if they are going to beat us, because with that attitude they more often will. This time, I send my team out to play football. To play the game as if it can be won, rather than waiting for defeat. And we manage it, against a Novara side three places below us in the league. We pass the ball better. We keep it longer. And in the 85th minute, Chávez plays through Coralli, and we take the lead. That'll do.
On April Fool's Day, I receive a phone call from Pavel Nedved. But he's not pulling any sort of prank.
And so I end up having to politely explain to an idol of mine that I cannot, alas, give up my position at Venezia to improve the lot of my favoured Juventus. My work here is not done. Unione Venezia is a part of me now, and it would be impossible to leave now, or perhaps ever. And so I have to decline what in another time and place would represent a childhood dream. It's also worth pointing out that the annual wage budget at Juventus is currently 38 times that at Venezia. 38 times. But no. I wish you the best of luck, Pavel, but no.
He understands, of course. Good old Pavel. He goes on to appoint Attilio Tesser of Novara the next day, but I will always know who his first choice was.
Unione Venezia 0 - 0 Udinese (Serie A TIM)
Today we host the league leaders, who put four past us earlier in the season. We're tougher than we were then, I think, hardened by any number of disappointing defeats since. Tougher, and we've been drilling our defence of set pieces for the last couple of days. We get to half-time without conceding, which is a little victory in itself. On 57 minutes, Chávez is sent clean through, but blazes away our best chance of the game. Our performance at the other end is heartening, though, and by the end it would be churlish to say we didn't deserve this well-fought draw.
My assistant, Matteo Centurioni, is coming to the end of his contract, and I feel we've outgrown him as a club, though he has been a loyal and willing servant for this club. When his contract is up, I plan to replace him with Egidio Notaristefano, a 50 year-old youth coach at Sassuolo whom I've had my eye on for some time now. He's an unflappable model professional who excels at working with the kind of young players who predominate in my Venezia side. I think he has the perfect work ethic and skillset to benefit our club over the next few years.
Chievo 1 - 3 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
47 seconds elapse before Coralli (pen.) is held back in the area and thumps his penalty into the top corner. It's an important goal, but it also sets the tone for a half dogged by silly fouls and hesitant football. Chievo's Aveni flights a beautiful shot in after the break to put his side in contention. Nine minutes later, Cesarini does even better from a free kick. Chievo keep coming, though, and pile forward toward the end in an attempt to secure the elusive points they need to stave off relegation. A counter-attack is sloppily brought under control by Andreolli, and Cesarini nicks the ball to place his second goal and our third in the top corner. It hasn't been our captain's most profilic season, but he's been our most consistent player. And his name has long since beeen written into the hearts of our fans.
Unione Venezia 3 - 0 Sampdoria (Serie A TIM)
A one match suspension for Coralli means we start this game with Polish U20 hopeful Lukasz Olszak up front, though Ganz should be back in a matter of a week or two. It's a miserable, drizzling April day, and we end up playing pinball with the Blucerchiati on the slick surface. Sure enough, when a goal does come, it's a rained-out mistake: Eyal Golasa (o.g.) bundles the ball past his own keeper trying to clear a Cesarini cross. Donadel makes things needlessly difficult by getting sent off not longer afterwards for a late challenge in the middle of the park. Sampdoria are their own worst enemies, though, fouling ceaselessly as we play an increasingly genteel passing game. Lorenzini pops up with a rare goal from the edge of the area to give us even greater comfort, though truthfully Samp look toothless. Taddei puts the seal on perhaps our most impressive performance of the season, turning back inside his man from a good passing move to place the ball past a motionless De Lucia in goal. 17 shots and 67% possession. With ten men. My post-game team talk is rhapsodic.
Lazio 1 - 0 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
Our good April continues, at least for 23 minutes, when Dossevi gives Lazio the lead. At the other end, Fiorucci has a header bounce back off the bar, and Silvestri his rebound attempt cleared off the line. The latter chips another bit of paint off the frame of the goal just before half-time. Juan Forlín inexplicably stays on the field after tripping Piccinini when the latter is clean through on 66 minutes. We continue to be the better team, but 0-1 is how it stays, and my chat with the team afterwards is more than a little ambivalent.
Napoli lose to Palermo, meaning we maintain 11th place in the league. I'd love to squeeze into the top half before the season's end, but our next two games are against big, big clubs.
Unione Venezia 3 - 1 Juventus (Serie A TIM)
The last game between these two sides was an eight goal thriller. I'm hoping for something a little more restrained today, but Viera sends Jonathan Cristaldo through after just eight minutes, and his finish is imperious. On 36 minutes, Chávez picks out a wonderful run from deep by Cesarini, who strokes it past a disbelieving Branescu. Just before half-time, Cesarini is at it again, this time breaking into space to collect a pass from Fonjock (who is playing his 100th game for Venezia today), and then crossing for Chávez to slide in from six yards. Two shots, two goals. After the break, Fabiano Viscidi, who turned 17 last month, cuts in from the wing and whips in a third, which allows him to celebrate in front of the home fans at Pierluigi Pienzo for the first time. It turns out to be a startlingly assured second-half performance, one of our best of the year, against a team I rejected just a few weeks previously. Somewhere, Nedved is smiling mournfully.
Inter 3 - 0 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
It's been a thoroughly disappointing season for the nerazzurri, and they are long since out of the title race (which is down to Udinese and Palermo, with a point separating them). They're still battling for the European spots, though, and an impeccable passing move after four minutes ends with Rodrigo coolly chipping the ball over Tonani, off the far post, and in. We can't keep up with Inter during the first half, and it ends with Rodrigo playing in Etienne Capoue for an exquisite finish at the near post, from the narrowest of angles. The second half makes clear our inferiority, and it's only a sterling performance by Tonani in goal that forces Inter to wait until the very end to get their third. There is nothing he can do when Adebayor is put clean through.
Unione Venezia 3 - 0 Cesena (Serie A TIM)
Our last home game of the season is against a Cesena who have collected just eight points all season (though one of those was against us). We get things going early, with Chávez's clever backheel being the last of twelve passes to free Cesarini on 12 minutes.
Ganz, in his first game back, has a goal ruled out for a debatable offside, before Cesarini builds on his superb form by swivelling in a crowded box to hook a second goal past Teodorani. Piccinini tacks on a third with a bullet from outside the area.
Udinese win their second Serie A title in three years, pipping Palermo to the post with only one game left to play.
Bologna 1 - 3 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
This game means very little, as Bologna were relegated last week, and 10th place is beyond us now. As anticipated, almost nothing interesting happens until the 63rd minute, when Luigi Silvestri (o.g.) scores his fourth own goal of the season. Piccinini levels the score not long after that, before teenage Viscidi bags another from outside the area to put us in front. Chávez rounds off a more than satisfying year of football.
Our newly-promoted Unione Venezia side, tipped to come dead last, finish in 11th, and receives €3.81M in prize money. Holla.
I actually returned home from Venice just yesterday, and I was told to give you THIS message. It's all they were shouting from bell towers, and around Piazza San Marco, and from the gondolas passing by.
Great thread though. Nice layout and great success (so far!).
I actually returned home from Venice just yesterday, and I was told to give you THIS message. It's all they were shouting from bell towers, and around Piazza San Marco, and from the gondolas passing by.
Great thread though. Nice layout and great success (so far!).
Although dogged by at least one wretched run of form and some dispiriting performances from my young defence, this has been a good season. Cesarini continues to defy all the odds: signed for just €6K four years ago, he has established himself as an attacking midfielder to fear in Serie A. Surprisingly, though, it is Christian Chávez who the fans select as their player of the year, perhaps for the consistency of his creative work.
I would question the logic of naming our new ground after a loyal but thoroughly unremarkable servant of the club during its darkest days of Serie D mediocrity, rather than the inspirational manager who has, you know, taken Venezia to mid-table Serie A status in just four seasons, but what do I know? I just pick the team, right? It's a pleasing improvement in capacity and quality over our existing ground, and the schedule for construction is impressive, yet somehow there's something unromantic about it all.
Farewell, my beloved Pierluigi Penzo. I promise to do marvellous things within you during your final season. May you pass into rosy myth.
The merciless ravages of time also mean our facilities are starting to look further outdated compared to our peers. Our rapid rise has left us completely out of step on the infrastructure side of things, and that makes developing my young side to their fullest potential that much harder.
Jesus Christ, 'Collauto Park', really? Alessio Greco calls to tell me that this is the true spirit of Venezia: mediocre yet dogged servants of the club being rewarded for their faithful efforts. I ask him if he wants to return to the days of grinding out 0-0 draws against San Marino, and then feel bad when his laughter devolves into a coughing fit. The doctors maintain his cancer is in remission, at least.
Meanwhile, down in Serie B, Livorno are bought by a filthy rich Indian businessman who promises to transform the club with his extravagant wealth. We need to turn our own football club into a profitable, modern enterprise.
My first order of business on the transfer front is to find, for one season at least, a dependable left-back. That's a little unfair to Lorenzini, who's been with me for seasons and workmanlike in the role, but he's not Serie A calibre, and my other purchaes over the years have all been flawed in one or more ways. Laverone's personality is a hindrance, and he demonstrates as much again when I make it clear he's leaving. The problem is that I signed him at the last minute, in desperation, and his wage is inordinately high, which makes moving him on very tricky indeed. In the meantime, I agree a €750K transfer for his replacement, Fabio Pascucci, who at 20 years of age was the outstanding player in Crotone's otherwise poor Serie B campaign last term. He is at least as talented as Andrea Grieco on the opposite side, still young, of course, and most importantly level-headed.
The board sets initial wage and transfer budgets of €54Kp/w and €8.82M respectively, though I suspect these are a little generous given loan repayments will be bleeding the club over the thirteen or so months until we start playing games in our new stadium. I further convince the board to invest in our training facilities, and to also seek out a feeder club overseas.
Coralli, Donadel, and Marsili all leave the club when their contracts expire. The first two were simply getting too old (and too costly) to keep, and neither impressed last season anyway. Departures among the fringe players include Coluccio, Luciani, and Penazzato; Ghiglia moves on loan to Grosseto. On 1 July, I delay the co-ownership decisions for Zago, Baronti, and Locci, and welcome in Barlocco, Cavallari, Bartolini, and Pascucci. The renegotiation of contracts for backroom staff and players alike goes smoothly, with our highest earners Cesarini and Chávez agreeing to a small cut and no increase respectively.
I drop €850K on an 18 year-old Portuguese striker, Gabriel Dias, who is already impressing with his professionalism, determination, and composure in front of goal. He should provide Ganz and Marino with the incentive to put that little bit more work in during training.
My native Ireland reach the semi-finals of the European Championship, but are then beaten by Turkey.
Novara pay €2.7M for half of Piero Marino's contract. The money is too good to turn down, and the presence of Dias means I have two promising young poachers looking to outgrow Ganz as it is.
In the European Championship final, Russia beat Turkey on penalties.
I finally ship Laverone out to money-drenched Livorno, who raise his wage to an abominable €5K a week. I hope they don't realize he is dressing room cancer until it's too late, though their fans have already raised concerns in that regard. More money saved.
Unione Venezia 4 - 1 Ravenna (Friendly)
We dominate as expected. Ganz pulls back for Cesarini on half an hour. A team effort down the left ends with Cesarini firing a second in with 51 minutes gone. Morsia grabs one for the away side when we appear slack from a set piece, but Cesarini completes his hat trick with a placed free kick. Bartolini tacks on a fourth with a curling shot from outside the area.
€150K buys me Siena's 25 year-old midfielder, Antonio Meola. Not the best central playmaker, but the best I can afford, with a good attitude to boot.
Inter 4 - 0 Unione Venezia (Friendly)
These games are about building up fitness and teamwork, right? Because otherwise we're doomed. Goals from Konoplyanka, Parolo, and Konoplyanka again have us at 0-3 by half-time. We improve in the second period, but rarely threaten. Pazzini completes the rout on 80 minutes.
Siena 1 - 2 Unione Venezia (Friendly) Giorgio Gonnelli gives Siena an early lead, but we're the better team throughout this one. Viscidi gets us back into it from 18 yards in the second period, before Bartolini (pen.) decides the result from the spot.
Livorno take Caciagli off our hands. I'm sad to see him go; he was once one of our best players, and ran our midfield in the first couple of seasons after I took charge. But he's simply not cut out for Serie A.
Unione Venezia 2 - 0 Watford (Friendly)
Our newly relaid pitch plays host to a ding-dong battle in which Watford have a hatful of chances, but we have all the possession. It's Dias who gets the opening goal for us, feeding off Chávez and Cesarini's interplay at the edge of the area. Arcangelo Cavallari adds a second toward the end from a Chávez corner. Watford traipse back to England empty-handed.
Avellino 3 - 1 Unione Venezia (Friendly)
An unmentionable first half sees us lose Milani and Baccarin to injury, while Lega Pro side Avellino rack up two goals from Saviolo and Bianconi against the run of play. Gatti adds a third after half-time as Avellino score all three of their shots on target. Barocco provides us with some sliver of consolation on 70 minutes, but it's not enough to stop me ordering cold showers in the dressing room afterwards.
Unione Venezia 3 - 0 Mallorca (Friendly)
A dreadful backpass allows Cesarini to steal in for an early goal. We control proceedings almost from the first whistle, but it's not until the 74th that we find our way through again, when Ganz fires a precise shot into the far corner. Cesarini (pen.) puts the stamp on a convincing performance from the penalty spot.
Messina 0 - 3 Unione Venezia (Friendly)
There's evidence in this last preseason friendly that Ganz is getting back to his best, and he times his run for the first goal in this one to perfection, and later dents the crossbar with a header. Locci powers in a header for two, and then Messina goalkeeper De Pandis (o.g.) punches a Bartolini effort in off his own post.
It takes €2.2M in total to coax Empoli and Fiorentina to give up their respective halves of Lapo Cusini's contract. At just 18 years of age, though, he's a highly-determined model professional who can make an immediate impact as a backup creative midfielder. Of course, this merely drags the average age of our squad down further to 22.16 years, the youngest in Serie A.
Unione Venezia 1 - 0 Siena (TIM Cup, Third Qualifying Round)
A bad-tempered game in which we have all the possession and Siena are utterly toothless. Yet we carve out few concrete chances on goal, while the general play is scrappy and halting. In the 90th minute, Chávez darts onto a loose ball at the back to get the decisive goal, but there should have been more.
It turns out we have quite a few young internationals now: I knew Cusini would be called up for the Italian U21s, but we now have five players in the national U19 squad. Loghin and Munteanu are both Romanian U21s, while Gabriel Dias is selected for the Portuguese U19 team.
Unione Venezia 1 - 3 Udinese (Serie A TIM)
Beginning your season against the defending champions is not ideal, but our young team does their best. In an even game, it takes 51 minutes for Kadlec to pounce on the volley from a dipping cross. Udinese's lead lasts all of two minutes, with Chávez's effort bouncing around the box until Dias can just about bumble it over the line. It's an ugly goal to open his account for his new club, but he won't mind. Then Bertolacci leaves the very defender I was trying to substitue for dead, and we're 1-2 down. A push for the equalizer leaves us exposed at the back, and when Grieco scythes down his man trying to recover a breakaway, Zé Renato (pen.) has no trouble from the spot.
Is there a way to edit stadium names? I'd at least like to change 'Collauto Park' (which sounds weirdly English) to 'Mattia Collauto' in line with Italian naming conventions. Although obviously it should be The Divney Shrine.
Lecce 1 - 2 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
A belted shot from Cătălin Ştefan Ţîră bounces in off the underside of our crossbar after an early spell of possession for the home side. We get back into the game with a classic Cesarini and Ganz goal, the latter's first of the season. Three minutes later Ganz has his second, chasing down a long ball to mug Terranova. The second half is less busy, and we gradually edge the chances and tackling. In the end, Cesarini missing a penalty at the death doesn't matter.
Unione Venezia 1 - 1 Fiorentina (Serie A TIM)
On 23 minutes, a glorious Chávez chips finds Ganz in space, and when the striker's shot is stopped it falls to Cesarini to smack home. Fiorentina have their chances, but none on target, and we go into the break as the better team. In the 69th minute, a Chiodo cross is turned in by 34 year-old Alberto Gilardino. Cesarini hits the angle of post and bar with the keeper beaten late on, but looking at the general play and opportunities for both sides, 1-1 seems about right.
Napoli 2 - 0 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
This match arrives three days on the heels of the last, and so the squad is significantly rotated. Ganz would have had an early goal, but for the flag on the far side. After that it's a fairly tame affair, but Napoli grow more and more cocky as the game wears on, the play is stretched, and eventually Mohamed Bangura drives a low shot from the edge of the area and Tonani can't get down quick enough. Ganz puts our best chance of the game in the keeper's arms, and then Bangura grabs a second and puts things beyond our reach.
Unione Venezia 0 - 2 Roma (Serie A TIM)
This one is nicely balanced until Pascucci sees red and takes Weiss out with both feet. Roma make their own heedless mistake, but Dias misses the penalty that results from Kryvtsov's foul. A breakway leaves us helpless as El Hamdaoui steps in to slot in the game's opening goal. And a good spell at the start of the second half means nothing when Pjanic finds Lamela from a corner. Goalscorer El Hamdaoui makes a vicious challenge on his marker and leaves the field to jeers from the Venetian crowd, but we fail to take advantage of 10 versus 10.
Genoa 2 - 3 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
We begin well, and then, on 26 minutes, Piccinini bursts into vacant space and draws two defenders before picking out Chávez for a simple finish. Genoa's goal is even simpler, though: Lorenzini is easily turned and the cross from the right finds Bernard Parker free between our two centre-backs. Junuzovic adds an exquisite free kick minute later and suddenly we're in trouble. Slack Genovesi defending is what saves the day: in the second half, Ganz is able to reclaim the ball within the opposition penalty area and lay it off to Chávez for the Argentinian's second goal. Both sides have chances to win it, but it's Fiorucci who rises from a corner in the 94th minute to smuggle three crucial points out of the Luigi Ferraris.
Unione Venezia 0 - 1 Inter (Serie A TIM)
A bright start against the struggling giants of Internazionale is soured when Munteanu, having coolly dispossessed his man in our area, then all but passes the ball to the lurking Adebayor. We pile forward in the second half and especially toward the end, but yield just one shot on target from 12 attempts. It is timid. It is saved.
Juventus 4 - 0 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
It's one-way traffic in Turin, as expected, but we hold out until nearly half-time, when Chiellini and Marchisio string a passing move together that leads to Roberto scoring his first goal for the bianconeri. In the second 45, Borini (pen.) buries a soft spot kick, and we try and hide behind the ball for much of the rest of the game, hoping Juventus won't see us. No such luck. Quagliarella scorches our net a third time with a free kick from well outside the area; Bonucci heads in goal number four when he finds himself utterly alone at the back post. Shambolic.
Two places and two points above the drop zone. The honeymoon is well and truly over, and last year's sensational start seems like the foggiest of memories.
Unione Venezia 2 - 1 Novara (Serie A TIM)
It seems strange to be talking about must-win games in October, but relegation battles are a marathon, and games like these matter. Cesarini has a clear penalty denied inside the first 15 minutes, but gets his revenge almost immediately by picking his spot through a tangle of Novaresi legs. Otherwise the first half is a tepid affair. Sloppy defening in the second allows Cacérčs to find a way back with a pinpoint finish from the edge of the area. This is a clumsy game of football that neither side deserves to win, but in stoppages a wayward cross bobbles free to Piccinini, and he smashes in to grab us all the points.
We climb to 12th, and the win sets us up nicely for the coming games against Catania, Brescia, and Cagliari, all currently below us in the table and ripe for a beating.
Catania 1 - 0 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
Or not. For 75 minutes we look reasonably assured and slick, passing the ball well and approaching Catania's goal with something resembling organization and purpose. And then Francis Dickoh soars at a corner to punch a header goalward. It's Catania's first shot on target. Tonani gets the merest fingertip to it, serving only to direct the ball incrementally further upwards, so that it glances against the crossbar on its way into the back of the billowing, satisfied net. This is bad. This is very bad.
Brescia 1 - 2 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
Again we struggle to break our opponents down, though Brescia are weaker prey than Catania proved, and we are in charge of proceedings almost from the first whistle. 13 shots, five on target, produce no goals. Finally, on 50 minutes, Dias gets right to the byline before pulling back a hopeful, bouncing cross, that someone comes all the way to Bartolini. The teenager duly scores his first goal in orange, black, and green. Brescia take this as their cue to start playing football, and it takes some roaring from the touchline to keep my players pushing high up the field. All to no avail. We retreat, and eventually a Brescia cross causes Tonani enough trouble that Gonçalves can hurt us. In the 93rd minute a punted clearance causes some confusion in the Brescia defence, however, and Bartolini can take his time squaring it for substitute Baccarin to bundle in. Unconvincing, but we'll take the three points and run.
We climb to 13th. Meanwhile, I complete a €775K transfer for Varese's 18 year-old playmaker Alex Lardieri, whom my scouts have been touting for some time as a successor to Cesarini. We shall see.
Unione Venezia 0 - 2 Cagliari (Serie A TIM)
By starting in a deep, rigid 4-5-1, Cagliari are more or less demanding we play through them, but offering little threat by isolating Bojinov up front. When they score, it's from a set piece, Badu chipping it onto the toe of Ekstrand, who has no difficulty from seven yards out. All our pressure and possession amounts to little, as Cagliari adopt an even more negative approach in the second period. When Fiorucci walks for a second foolish yellow, I bring on a more attacking midfielder in Cusini and have Cuomo drop deeper rather than make a replacement in defence. The hole that's left is exactly what Dixon Rosales exploits as he's sent through on the counter for a second goal. Cagliari get everything right tactically, and nothing goes our way.
Palermo 3 - 3 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
Predicted to challenge for the Champions League, Palermo find themselves at the wrong end of the table, and still I feel uncomfortable identifying the Renzo Barbera as a place to pick up a result. I start in an untested 4-1-3-2, trying to shore up the weaknesses I have identified with our play so far this year. On 11 minutes, however, Ganz rises majestically to meet Piccinini's deep free kick with his head, and we're in front. Unrepentant Frenchman Olivier Giround ensures the lead is short-lived, nabbing his own header from a Palermo corner. A perfect cross from Balzaretti then finds Giround for 1-2. Undeterred, Ganz gets us back in it immediately, doing well to find space before firing an even more impressive shot past Ujkani in goal. Balzaretti proves the literal thorn in our side, though, and another swerving ball from the flank is turned in by Ruben before half-time. After all that, the second half can only disappoint. At least, that is, until we revert to our usual 4-3-1-2 and Palermo look confused just long enough for Dias to smuggle in an equalizing goal. Result.
Unione Venezia 2 - 0 Triestina (TIM Cup, Fourth Qualifying Round)
Hosting Serie B strugglers Triestina is a golden opportunity to progress in the TIM Cup, and yet my focus remains steadfastly on not getting relegated, so I field what is very much a second team that includes one Simone Bortone, now 17, making his first senior appearance for the club. We are appreciably the better team in this fixture, but Triestina are playing to spoil; it's worth nothing their goalkeeper today is none other than Francesco Luciani, a petulant ex-Venezia backup option I finally rid myself of in the summer. Eventually Schiavi takes Cesarini's legs in the area and Dias (pen.) is able to convert from the spot. The game wears on without Triestina taking back the initiative, and Dias wraps things up after surging onto a Lorenzini pass from deep.
Any hopes of going much further in the cup are dashed when we draw AC Milan for the First Round match in January.
Unione Venezia 2 - 1 Reggina (Serie A TIM)
The team is in excellent spirits going into this match against a club bizarrely coached by André Villas-Boas, and that's reflected in our dominance of the first half, though neither side looks to be able to finish their chances. Early in the second, Signorini walks for a thoroughly pointless second yellow, but that doesn't stop Reggina waltzing down the field to score, with Stuani picking out an unmarked Coria in the middle. It takes Ariaudo shoving Piccinini in the box for us to level things through Cesarini (pen.). We press for the winner, and get it, albeit in a fortuitous manner: Munteanu whacks a cross into the box and it somehow spirals off Chávez into the waiting goal. They all count.
We rise to 12th, five points clear of the relegation places for now.
For the third straight month the club turns a decent profit, all the more exciting given this includes our obligation to pay €400K toward our stadium debt each month for the next bazillion years.
Lazio 1 - 1 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
The opening 20 minutes are all Lazio, but we nullify their attacking threat and slowly assert ourselves, until it's clear who's the form side (our opponents are currently dead last in the league). After the break, Ganz moves onto a Cesarini through pass and calmly puts the ball past the onrushing keeper. This allows us to play an even more composed, and somewhat boring, passing game. Sadly. it does eventually dawn on Lazio that they're going to lose another game, and Youssef El Arabi arrives very, very late in the box to head past a motionless Tonani in the 82nd minute. Drat.
Unione Venezia 0 - 1 Sampdoria (Serie A TIM)
Nicola Pozzi is stretchered off with an injury just two minutes in, but our luck ends there. Despite our impressive start, it's Samp who take the lead, with Maxi López steering in a volley from 15 yards when surrounded by black shirts. We're unlucky to go into the break behind, and desperately unlucky not to score on the basis of our second half play. Already dominant, when we switch to an untested 3-3-1-3 towards the end of the game, with first Cesarini and then Bartolini cutting inside as a third forward, Sampdoria look routed; they even have a man sent off for a desperate second yellow. Yet while we finish with 16 shots and 66% of the possession, no goals come. This result, more than most, is a little demoralizing.
The board informs me of completion of works on our training facilities, though this has done little more than return them to the level they were at before they were deemed to have deteriorated. We still have a long way to go on the infrastructure side of things.
Alberto Baccarin comes to me demanding more first-team football, and after a lengthy debate on the subject, I agree to let him go. With Lardieri arriving, his role as a backup to Cesarini will be further eroded.
Milan 3 - 0 Unione Venezia (Serie A TIM)
I've no great hopes of rescuing so much as a point from the San Siro, and Djuric dashes what's left with a header after a quarter of an hour. We look frail from set pieces once again, and it's a free kick that finds Djuric for a second at the back post. Harsh words at half-time lend us renewed fervour in the second half, and ensure we don't disgrace ourselves, at least until Munteanu walks for a second yellow. There is no way back. The hole he leaves allows Djuric to feed Robinho for a late, deflating third.
Not sure how this passed me by as I love the Italian threads, but massive kudos for getting where you are. I'm chuffed to bits for you getting to the top flight, hope you have enough to stay there again.