Sunday 1 May 2011

Sampdoria's Three Games of Agony

Cassano and Garrone embrace during happier times
Secretly, away from the rehearsed platitudes in front of the camera, perhaps Antonio Cassano is looking back at his spat with Riccardo Garrone with vindication.  In the late fall, Garrone ostracized Cassano from Sampdoria for refusing to attend a local awards ceremony as a personal favour to him.  Of course, the refusal was accompanied by the usual battery of flattery Cassano-style, during which he reportedly likened Garrone not just to fecal matter, but old one at that.  In the aftermath, Cassano apologized repeatedly, but Garrone remained committed to his position, insisting that it was a question of dignity and integrity.

Penitent, Cassano even offered to drink petrol as atonement, but Milan obviated the need for that by rescuing the player from Sampdoria.

Since then and since the departure of the commensurately influential Giampaolo Pazzini to Inter, Sampdoria have been taking steady doses of petrol every weekend, and the conflagration of Serie B is now a distinct possibility, despite a spirited, but ultimately wasteful 3-3 draw against relegation rivals Brescia this weekend.

To think that Sampdoria could be playing in Serie B next year seems unpleasant but realistic as just a point separates the club from Lecce, the unwitting hinge of the relegation trapdoor.  Since Cassano and Pazzini departed, nothing has gone right for Sampdoria.  Their loan signing of Federico Macheda from Manchester United promised to offset the departure of the two players, but he has not managed to find the net once since his arrival.  Massimo Maccarone, meanwhile, has netted a grand  total of three.  Nicola Pozzi seems the most promising forward not because he has been especially prolific but rather because his goals have been timely.  He scored last and this weekend to allow Sampdoria's fans not to plunge completely into despair.

Startlingly, Sampdoria were sixth after fifteen rounds of play this season.  Remember, too, they came within tantalizing distance to qualify for the Champions League proper this season.  Serie B is still not an inevitability by any means, but considering they have the derby della lanterna against Genoa, Palermo at home, and Roma away still to come, one feels that Sampdoria's best chance to put some distance between them and the trio at the bottom was this weekend.

What makes this debacle even more bitter for me is that despite the trauma of this ersatz Sampdoria, I still remember the skillful Blucheriati of Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli, and the lesser known Giovanni Invernizzi and Attilio Lombardo.  I remember not just the European Cup final defeat to Barcelona in 1992, but also the club's relegation in 1999.  For the club to spend another few purgatorial years in Serie B would be especially agonizing given both the talent of some players like Andrea Poli and Pozzi and the comparative ascent of Genoa, who despite disappointing this season have looked like they belong in Serie A.

With the Scudetto all but decided, the relegation struggle remains compelling.  Three games could claim a large casualty of Sampdoria for Serie B. Three games remain for Sampdoria to turn things around, and to vindicate the intransigence, principled and admirable though it was, of Garrone.

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