Beppe Furino – The Timeless Water Carrier


Every team needs this player.

State side we call them defensive midfielders, or holding midfielders. Back in my U-10 parks and recreation soccer days we called them stoppers.

In Italy they’re called the Mediano, the water carrier.

John Foot describes the Italian interpretation of this player in his book Winning at all Costs: A Scandalous history of Italian Soccer:

In order for the skillful players to have the space with which to work, somebody had to get the ball, and give it to them. The playmakers couldn’t be expected to do the running that was needed, the dirty work, the pressing. Every team had at least two players of this type, if not three.

Winning at all Costs: A Scandalous history of Italian Soccer, John Foot. pg 146, 147

Juventus of course, had whom many consider to be the greatest mediani of all – Beppe Furino.

Beppe, to the right, in the black and white Juventus stripes

Juventus specialized in mediani, and the greatest of all was Beppe Furino in the 1970s and 1980s. Little Furino, from Palermo in Sicily, ran himself into the ground in order to get the ball to a succession of playmakers such as Franco Causio, Liam Brady and Michel Platini. Yet Furino was not a one-dimensional player. Team-mate Marco Tardelli called him ‘the most tactically intelligent player I have ever seen. He was always close to the ball.’

Winning at all Costs: A Scandalous history of Italian Soccer, John Foot. pg 148

A mediano doesn’t revel in personal glory. But their trophy cabinets are flush with silver.

The life of a mediano was thus a melancholic one. They were always destined to be the supporting act, straight men, water carriers. They could never be stars and would remain forever in the shadow of their more skillful colleagues. Furino won a record eight titles with Juventus in the 1970s and 1980s, but is rarely mentioned in accounts of those years.

Winning at all Costs: A Scandalous history of Italian Soccer, John Foot. pg 148

Beppe Furino and water carriers like him are tactical survivors. No matter the era, they remain relevant.

Legends of Florence: Ribéry Replaces Baggio – 29 years later.

He’s not as handsome as Baggio. But who is?

Like Baggio, Ribéry has the close dribbles. The unexpected changes in speed and direction.

Like Baggio, Ribéry chops the ball past hairy ankles and mud stained socks. And accelerates past hapless fullbacks.

They both play with 5-a-side joy.

They both leave memories for the fans.

But Ribéry has healthier knees.

We must close with Eduardo Galeano on Baggio:

In recent years no one has given Italians better soccer or more to talk about. Roberto Baggio’s game is mysterious: his legs have a mind of their own, his foot shoots by itself, his eyes see the goals before they happen.

Baggio is a big horsetail that flicks away opponents as he flows forward in an elegant wave. Opponents harass him, they bite, they punch him hard. Baggio has Buddhist sayings written under his captain’s armband. Buddha does not ward off the blows, but he does help suffer them. From his infinite serenity, he also helps Baggio discover the silence that lies beyond the din of cheers and whistles.

Eduardo Galeano, Soccer in Sun and Shadow , pg 226

Napoli’s Punk Rock Percussionist

He draws your attention, even at an inch tall on the TV screen.

His sky blue socks socks sag and rest at his shins, with a fat florescent yellow band sitting just below his kneecaps. Of course, the bands match his highlighter Nike Mercurial Superflys. The number 17 is stitched across his back. Tattoo sleeves wrap his forearms. A red Acqua Lete logo scrolls across his chest. Pirates goatee? Check.

Without the ball he and his mohawk (a mohawk that would strike fear in middle age 1980’s moms) take up positions a few feet in front of Napoli’s centerback pairing – Koulibaly and Albiol, forming a flexible, equilateral, defensive triangle.

In possession he stands between Mbappe and Neymar. He’ll turn with the ball when pressure evaporates, to play into Insigne checking in, to Callejon wide right, or to an overlapping Rui wide left.

To create attacking rhythm and draw out PSG a few more yards he’d again engage with his centerbacks, playing it back first time to Albiol or Koulibaly.

Hamšík trots, power-walks and gallops through the match. But never sprints. His knees stay bent. His feet stay light, ready to cushion incoming passes.

He turned down a Chinese ransom for nights like these. Napoli’s punk rock percussionist still has a role to play.

As observed from Napoli’s 2-2 draw with PSG on 10/24/2018

Mandžukić’s Chilena

Episode #5

Morning Journal,

I was thinking of my favorite football moment of 2017.

It wasn’t Monaco winning Ligue 1. An incredible achievement, but that was more of a story than a single moment.

Totti retiring, the actual day. His final goodbye at the Stadio Olimpico (which got killer reviews on Google by the way) came to mind. Tears and tears. A tearful Totti is a Totti worth remembering. But alas…

Then there’s the US men’s team not qualifying for the World Cup. A bit of shock and joy.  A hope that rot will stop, which may only happen if Eric Wynalda is elected as the USSF president. But that’s another journal entry for another day.

But the moment that rose to my hippocampus’s surface was Mario Mandžukić’s Champions League final chilena:

Mandžukić, Juventus’s alleyway brawler, displayed his technique and audacity to lift the hope of Juventus supporters around the world.

It wasn’t enough.

Mandžukić’s goal, his match tying goal. His momentum shifting goal. His glimmer of hope goal, will likely be forgotten. Real Madrid’s 3 second half goals turned brilliance into a consolation.

Football supporters just don’t sit around in pubs discussing all the amazing consolation goals they’ve witnessed.

But when it was executed, in that that moment, the Croatian’s chilena wasn’t a consolation goal. It was a celebration.

Here’s to more chilena’s in 2018.

Jack

Link Ups – December 2017

    1. La Masia and Clairefontaine have nothing on the streets of Naples. Chloe Beresford explains.
    2. Slow motion for me…slow motion. In the age of pace Cesc Fàbregas survives.
    3.  William Gallas grows a salt and pepper 5 o’ clock shadow. Chris Waddle rocks a mullet. Joey Barton wears a beanie.  See it all in: Marseille: A Football City from Dugout.

– Thanks to Get French Football News for sharing the Marseille documentary.

 

Totti Dreams

Totti

Totti is the player you dreamed of being.
He’s the player’s name you’d shout during pickup games.
Pumping a fist while spinning away from a pair of trash bins after scoring.
Totti’s the reason you let your socks sag at your ankles.
He’s why you try chipping the keeper at any opportunity.
Totti is why you watch YouTube clips until 3am Wednesday morning.
He’s why you’ll never support Lazio.
He’s why you’ll never support Juventus.
He’s why Italian football became your obsession.
He’s why tomorrow will be the first day of a new Serie A.
A Serie A without dreams, a Serie A without Totti.

Atalanta – Serie A’s Lemons to Savor

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Serie A returns this weekend. Be sure to give Atalanta a taste.

When life gives you lemons, stick em’ in your bra.” said an old roommate’s girlfriend when her plans went to shit. My plan that Sunday afternoon was the Derby Della Madonnina. Atalanta v Roma was supposed to be an appetizer. A nibble of fruit and cheese before the main course. I caught one Atlanta counter. And another. 5 minutes became 10. 10 became 30. I was captured. Atalanta was pushing Roma around like your Aunt Milda’s liver onions at Thanksgiving.

I’d heard murmurs from podcasts and tweets that Atalanta were a team on the rise. A young side eager to carry out Gio Gasperini’s 3-4-3 masterplan. Still, I hadn’t seen for myself. After all, it was Atalanta. In my years of following Serie A I’d never watched them play. And today I needed a Roma win. If only to slow the Juventus juggernaut from a fifth consecutive Serie A title.

Atalanta ripped my loyalties apart. My logic cursed Salah’s spurned chances and bemoaned Roma’s lack of possession. My emotions whispered for Atalanta. Her back three. Her old-fashioned touch-line wing play. And her boots-full-of-tricks number 10 – Alejandro “Papu” Gomez, were irresistible.

Gasperini’s 3-4-3, oiled and quick, confounded Spaletti’s defensive shape. Atalanta’s movement and passing stirred up a level of anticipation usually reserved for individual players. The type of anticipation you’d feel when “Brazilian” Ronaldo dribbled full force at defenders. Or when Zidane trapped a pass from the air without spilling his espresso. Each feint a word before the punch line, each touch a silk scarf from a magician’s wrist.

However, this interruption of plans went beyond formations and players. It came to life from the stands. The Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia, built in 1928, remains a noir shrine to Italian football of yesteryear. Smoke from the flares of the Curva Nord 1907 brought the nostalgia of Serie A’ early 90s pomp. And the supporters were KISS concert rowdy.

Late on Papu added to the ruckus, bamboozling Pardes to draw the penalty. Franck Kessié converted as Spaletti’s strategy fell to the cutting room floor. The final whistle kicked Atalanta closer to a European adventure while Roma wedged deeper beneath The Old Lady’s heel. This wasn’t the Sunday I’d planned. This wasn’t the Sunday Roma planned. But when life gives you lemons, you stick em’ in your bra.