REVIEW BY PAUL McPARLAN – @paulmcparlan
Paul Grech’s new offering is a follow up to his highly enjoyable Il Re Calcio (The King Football) which was released in 2014. For anybody not familiar with his work, Paul is an experienced writer whose features on football and other sports have appeared in The Guardian newspaper and The Football Pink magazine amongst others. If you have not read any one of his previous oeuvres, now may be the time to do so.
The author is a self-confessed admirer of Italian football and his purpose in producing this tome is clearly stated in the introduction. He was inspired to write the book after spotting Andrea Peruzzi celebrating with the Lazio squad after their Italian Super Cup victory at the start of the 2017/2018 campaign. In the 1990s, Peruzzi had been acknowledged as one of the best goalkeepers in the world but his achievements were completely overshadowed by the man who took his place in the Juventus team, a certain Gianluigi Buffon. This reflection initiated a train of thought as to which other players may have suffered a similar fate and this research project eventually became the book, with the aim of telling the stories of players whose achievements have been overlooked.
The book is divided into ten relatively short chapters with each one providing a succinct and vivid account of the footballing careers of each of his chosen players. Undoubtedly, unless you are a massive fan of Calcio you may not recall all of his subjects, but each individual portrayed has a story worth revisiting and telling. Grech has chosen to focus on players whose careers spanned from the late 1980s into the early part of the new millennium and whose paths were interlinked at various stages.
Il Re Calcio II covers a range of diverse characters from the Italian footballing milieu. The opening chapter deals with the aforementioned Angelo Peruzzi before progressing seamlessly to the world record transfer signing who never wanted to leave the club he supported and the striker forever surpassed by the achievements of his more famous footballing brother. Later sections highlight the combative midfielder derided as a “water carrier” who turned teams into Scudetto winners and the manager with the growing reputation whose career has seemingly forever been associated with one bad season at Juventus that has overshadowed everything else.
These are some of the accounts brought to life by the author in addition to several others. Undoubtedly though, the most poignant is the heart-breaking story of the Juventus defender who appeared to have the world at his feet, only to be diagnosed with leukaemia and succumb to the unforgiving ravages of the condition at the incredibly young age of twenty-three. He deserves to be remembered.
There are constant themes running through the lives of his chosen subjects. Fate can be a harsh taskmaster. A seemingly sensible decision at the time turns out to have ramifications which could never have been predicted. An innocuous looking injury suddenly turns out to end a footballing career which was reaching its pinnacle. The night time ride in a sports car which crashes and consequently that player never performed at that level again. The missed penalty in a crucial Derby match which is never forgiven by the tifosi or the manager and follows you around forever.
Nonetheless, it is not all doom and gloom. There are some very uplifting stories here as well. Christian Rigano, for example, a bricklayer by trade who was instrumental in the rebirth of Fiorentina and helped La Viola to rise from the ashes of bankruptcy and Serie C to return to their rightful place in Serie A. Igor Protti who was the Capocannoniere in Serie A with 27 goals at the venerable age of thirty and who continued playing and scoring goals in Serie C at the age of thirty-seven. Not forgetting Daniele Massaro, who despite never being the most talented or skilful footballer was a key cog in the AC Milan side that destroyed Barcelona four – nil in the Champions League final in 1994.
Many readers may be familiar with the name of Gianluigi Lentini, especially if you were an aficionado of the much missed Gazzetta Football Italia coverage of all things Calcio on Channel Four in the Nineties. At the time of his transfer from Torino to AC Milan he became the most expensive footballer in the world but like many players burdened with the weight of such a fee his subsequent career was an object lesson in how we often place such unreal expectations on young footballers who have yet to even develop fully as adults.
Each individual portrayed by the author has a fascinating football story to recount, whether they performed in the lower reaches of Serie C or the heights of the World Cup Finals. Grech has been painstaking in his research and in each short chapter he brings the individual players to life, their agonies, their achievements and the reasons why their stories need retelling. I defy anybody not to be moved to tears by the story of the ironically named Andrea Fortunato. Nevertheless, Grech is dispassionate with his analyses and avoids falling into the trap of over sentimentality.
Some readers may find the length of Il Re Calcio II a tad frustrating, others may find it is just apt for their requirements. It runs to eighty-four pages of content and although the author has been admirably economical and concise in his descriptions, I know that personally I felt that practically all of the individual chapters could have been extended further without any loss to the quality. Should Grech ever choose to reissue this book at a subsequent stage with expanded content, I for one would be delighted to read it again. Nevertheless, this is an ideal book for the morning commute or for a reading session in your back garden in the summer sun. You will probably find yourself revisiting each chapter more than once to see if a certain individual could have avoided the path that destiny had apparently chosen for them.
For me, the true test of a football book is whether you can appreciate it without having a prior knowledge of the subject matter. Fortunately, you do not need to be a cognoscenti of all things Calcio related to thoroughly enjoy this book and the human-interest element of each individual life, the unforeseen impact of fate and decisions made, make this a book that deserves reading and reading again.
Paul Grech had a clear aim when writing this book, he wanted to tell the stories of those players whose influence on Italian football has been largely overshadowed by subsequent events. His skill has been to bring these individuals back to our attention and demonstrate how the passage of time sometimes prevents fans from truly appreciating the immense impact a footballer has made during their career on the history of their club. Many tifosi will undoubtedly relish the opportunity to rediscover an apparently forgotten favourite footballer amongst these pages
Il Re Calcio II is another excellent read which I would recommend without hesitation. I am sure that there may be other characters from the rich history of Italian football whose stories would benefit from being brought back to our attention. I am equally certain that with his profound knowledge of all things Calcio that Paul Grech is the man to do it justice.
You can buy Il Re Calcio, Volume 2 by Paul Grech from Amazon for Kindle HERE