Franco Colomba had been waiting by the phone for what seemed like ages. Then the call came, and he said: “Yes”. He was back in the game. The Menarini family wanted him to become Bologna’s fourth manager in under a year. Colomba turned to his wife and said: “From this day forward you can call me ‘mister’ again.”
Having coached eight different clubs in the last nine years, Colomba didn’t shy away from the fact that his tenure with Bologna could prove short. His predecessor Giuseppe Papadopulo, known fondly among Bologna fans as ‘the Pope’ after the miracle he performed last year in keeping the Felsinei up on the last day of the season, left him under no illusions of the task awaiting him.
After likening the news of his sacking to “a tsunami”, Papadopulo said: “Last year I took over a team in a disastrous condition with seven games to go and we avoided relegation. We had our summer transfer campaign amid a sea of troubles, scraping together the few pennies we could find to get new players. Despite all that we had a pretty positive start to the season. This decision is totally lacking in any logic.”
Papadopulo had a point. Actually he had six after the opening eight games of the season. Admittedly, that total left Bologna third from bottom in Serie A, but they had managed to come away from Turin with a credible draw against Juventus and were unlucky to lose in injury time to a Napoli side reborn under Walter Mazzarri the Sunday before last.
All things considered, ‘the Pope’ had also been working under the less than saintly Menarini family who had made a far from dignified habit of consulting disgraced former Juventus director Luciano Moggi towards the end of last season. Moggi apparently dined with Renzo Menarini on a number of occasions, offering him advice on finding much-needed new investment, something Bologna then failed to do when Rezart Taçi’s takeover failed in the summer.
One wonders if, after the elation of finding a new job, Colomba turned to his wife again and said: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what have I done?” Saturday’s visit to second placed Sampdoria certainly didn’t do much to reassure Colomba, who earned his managerial spurs at Reggina where he helped launch the careers of Andrea Pirlo and the all too often forgotten Mohamed Kallon, who went on to score 20 goals in 65 games for Inter.
When Colomba walked out at Marassi on Saturday afternoon, the Sampdoria fans greeted him with a banner that certainly couldn’t be described as sinister, but nonetheless made its impact felt, sending yet more chills down his spine. “Welcome to the Luigi Ferraris where we have only won.” Sampdoria didn’t disappoint their supporters, taking just 33 minutes to score four exquisite goals.
Giampaolo Pazzini, the Blucerchiati’s top scorer, sported a quite intimidating mask on which he had inscribed his nickname, “Pazzo”, which means “mad” in Italian. The 25-year-old opened the scoring with a typical striker’s finish, receiving the ball from Antonio Cassano in the six-yard box before slipping it under Emiliano Viviano.
Samp’s second goal rightfully deserves to be considered one of the best of the season so far. Pazzini took the ball on his chest just outside the box and flicked it over his shoulder to Daniele Mannini, who volleyed it at a saveable height but with just enough power to leave Viviano reeling.
It’s starting to look like a fairytale season for Mannini. He is just one of several players enjoying a renaissance under Gigi Del Neri. Discarded by Napoli in the summer after a year in which he was banned and then exonerated for turning up late for a drugs test, which he passed, Mannini has now scored five goals in eight games for the Blucerchiati. He is a dark horse for a place in Italy’s World Cup squad.
Reto Ziegler, another of what the Italian Press have called Samp’s “old young talents”, also scored his first goal of the season. The Switzerland international has been an ever present for Doria this season, appearing in every one of their nine games in Serie A, and is showing the sort of form that convinced Tottenham to sign him from Grasshopper Zürich aged just 18 way back in 2004.
At the heart of everything of course is Antonio Cassano, the 27-year-old, whose name Italy fans chanted much to the annoyance of Marcello Lippi during the Azzurri’s unconvincing 3-2 victory over Cyprus in Parma the week before last. La Gazzetta dello Sport wrote of his performance: “It’s a true delight to see him play. Mature. Efficient. Decisive. He even takes beatings without protesting. It’s a scandal he isn’t in the national team.”
Few would argue with the idea that Cassano is now a changed man. He has the very real possibility of making history with Sampdoria in tandem with Pazzini. Not a day goes by in Genova without their partnership being compared with i gemelli del gol, Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli, who inspired Samp to their first and only Scudetto in 1991 as well as a European Cup final in 1992.
The question is, do Sampdoria have what it takes to mount a sustained title challenge and usurp Inter from their place at the top of Serie A? The Nerazzurri saw Samp’s 4-1 victory over Bologna and raised it with a nervy 2-1 win at home to Catania. They did so by resting the likes of Dejan Stankovic and bringing in Mario Balotelli who Jose Mourinho admitted only played on Saturday because he had no other options.
Samp obviously lack that strength in depth, but with the Nerazzurri engaged on three fronts and ever more preoccupied with the Champions League, they might just offer a more credible challenge than stuttering Juventus, who they face on Wednesday night.