Tuesday 17 April 2018

Udinese's and Italy's Stefano Fiore

Inzaghi and Fiore (right) celebrate the goal against Belgium
Stefano Fiore celebrates his 43rd birthday today. Here is a look back at his career.

At Euro2000, the usual debate of 'which superstar should play' had followed the Italian national team into the tournament. Was it to be Francesco Totti or Alessandro Del Piero?  After the group stage, it seemed coach Dino Zoff preferred a twenty-three-year-old Totti to Del Piero.  The Roma man started the first two victorious games for Italy against Turkey and Belgium, scoring in the latter; Juventus's Del Piero started the last meaningless one against Sweden, in which he nonetheless scored a blistering winner in the 88th minute.

The debate staged the usual regional anxieties and allegiances that the blue of the Azzurri never seems to soothe completely.  But while the media quibbled over their preferences, a Cosenza native by the name of Stefano Fiore had announced his arrival on the international stage with a breathtaking goal of his own against Belgium.  

Fiore didn't represent any of le sette sorelle (the Seven Sisters)--a now disfigured sisterhood, but once comprised of the ultra-competitive clubs of Parma, Roma, Lazio, Milan, Inter, Fiorentina, and Juventus.  He had just finished an outstanding season at unfancied, sensible Udinese in which he scored nine goals playing more of an attacking role in Luigi De Canio's midfield.  Zoff deployed him closer to the strikers, but he considered him equally adept at playing a more conventional position in central midfield.  Fiore was even deployed on the left flank during his career as well.

It was a bittersweet versatility.  

"My preferred position has always been to play inside of a 3 or 5 man midfield, but it was where I played less in my career," he recently said in an interview to fantagazzetta. "I have played as a regista and often as a trequartista, and even on the flank."

His goal against Belgium at the Baudouin Stadium that summer night illustrated precisely what Fiore was capable of when played closer to the front, as he exchanged a quick pass with Filippo Inzaghi before releasing an unstoppable shot from near the edge of the area.  But it was his celebration that was emblematic of his career: pointing to his name on the back of his jersey as he wheeled away, Fiore was reminding everyone that he still existed, that he still mattered.  

That night he earned his sixth cap for Italy at the age of twenty-five, but only keen followers of Italian football knew who Fiore was.  His career wasn't particularly decorated, even if at Parma he had won a UEFA Cup serendipitously at only the age of twenty.

"I was co-owned by Cosenza and Parma, but I ended up at Parma after they won a bid," he recalls.  "I was playing for the youth team, but then found a place in the senior side, and won the UEFA Cup."

In 1999, he would win the UEFA Cup again with Parma after
Fiore in action for Udinese
playing a much more crucial role in that season, but he only came on as a substitute for Juan Sebastian Veron in the 77th minute of the Final against Marseille.  Marginalized, Fiore went to Udinese where he finally earned the recognition that he had sought.  

But his success was transient.  After Udinese, came Lazio, Valencia, Fiorentina, and Livorno but Fiore was never able to replicate the success of the years between 1999 and 2001 (it should be noted that he had his moments while playing for Lazio and Fiorentina).  That period was his apotheosis as a footballer, and near the end of his career Fiore slowly faded into relative obscurity.

For Italy, after that game against Belgium, Fiore continued to have a remarkable tournament.  He provided an assist for Totti's goal against Romania in the quarter-final, and started the Final against France, which Italy lost to a golden goal.  When I watch replays of that Final even now after seventeen years (I make sure to end my viewing right before Wiltord's equalizer, of course), I still allow myself a smile when the panning camera lingers for a second or two on Fiore during the Italian national anthem.

I read about him in April of 2017 after he was involved in an accident in Rome that killed a 22-year-old man.  Fiore was cleared of any culpability in the death.  Fittingly, he now works for the youth sector of the club that propelled him into recognition--Udinese.  

Wednesday 11 April 2018

Daje Roma!

Manolas scores and sparks a frenzy of Roma celebration
For once, Italian football was not a spectator to someone else's resurgence, remontada, or, more fittingly after the last twenty-four hours, someone else's rimonta, the Italian and not the Spanish word for come-back.

Overturning 4-1 deficits, 3-0 deficits, is the preserve of the Spanish and English.  Think Deportivo and Milan. Think Milan and Liverpool in Istanbul.  Think back to just last year when Barcelona did to PSG what Roma did to them last night at the Stadio Olimpico.

Italian clubs are known for negotiating ties more than upturning them.  But after last night, that reputation may start to change.

Roma had to do the unthinkable: score three at home against Barcelona and keep Lionel Messi and Suarez from scoring.  They did both, but it was the latter they did with supreme distinction.  Barcelona were nowhere. Roma had accounted for every blade of grass on the Stadio Olimpico's pitch; everything was in their purview.

3-0 is what they had to achieve, and they did, stubbornly picking away at Barcelona until the Catalan club disintegrated.

When Edin Dzeko scored, you thought, well, it's a matter of time until Barcelona would; when Daniele De Rossi smashed the penalty home, you thought now Barcelona would steal a goal; but when Kostas Manolas headed home for 3-0, the sought-after result, you knew Roma were going to achieve what almost no one thought they could. 

There are times when language betrays you because you have betrayed it in the past; you are out of superlatives, you are out of adjectives because you have squandered them in the service of less deserving occasions. 

At the final whistle yesterday, you thought to yourself, how do you describe something so utterly absurd? That is not to say that the result was a case of anything resembling fluke; no, what makes the 3-0 even more stupefying is that Eusebio Di Francesco legislated for Barcelona in every possible way.

You saw the design.  You saw the organization, but you still asked yourself, how could this happen?

Roma players, hoarse from celebrations, told you how in post-match interviews, almost reprimanding you for not believing.

They believed.  They always had,  they said. Juan Jesus. De Rossi. Radja Nainggolan, all of them had, and all of them had planned for this score.  They had laboured for the miracle: this was no bolt from the blue. 

When Manolas ran to the bench after scoring Roma's 3rd in the 82nd minute, his eyes were open wide, unblinking, the spectacle washing over him, as he tried to take in every blur of flying limbs and screaming fans he could see.  After the final whistle he walked around bare-chested, completely straight, shoulders pegged back. 

His celebration was emblematic of the win: Roma were colossal. 

Now, I hope for a repeat of the 1984 European Cup Final between Roma and Liverpool--and I hope for a different result.

Daje Roma!