Chris KingComment


Chris KingComment

This is the tale of a club, Pro Vercelli, who – after 64 years in the doldrums – finally found the key to success; the magic formula to rise above their expected level. They are a club who, with seven titles to their name, could be forgiven for dreaming; dreaming, that after those 64 years in Italy's lower leagues, they might now have finally returned to where they belong.

Unfortunately this is an all too familiar story. Having reached a level not seen in a generation or more, the man they believed would lead the club through a season in Serie B proved no longer to be up to the job. What he offered in Lega Pro was found lacking in Serie B. So the board sacked him, replaced him, and then went back, looking for him once more.

Maurizio Braghin, a youth player with Pro Vercelli back in 1975, was head coach of the club for the whole of the 2011/12 season, their biggest season since the 1920s. It was his second stint in charge of the club, having guided them to a Serie C2 playoff spot in his first spell before succumbing to expectation the following year.

He returned, initially to join Pro Belvedere Vercelli, Pro’s cross town rivals, in 2010. It was at that point that the legal bodies intervened in the demise of Pro Vercelli – run in to the ground as many great, historical Italian clubs are – and united the two clubs as one under the glorious, Scudetto-winning banner. Braghin was home.

His first season upon returning went as well as could be expected. They reached the playoffs in Lega Pro Seconda Divisione A, losing out comfortably to Pro Patria – a name with which you will no be familiar. Fortune then smiled on Braghin and the club: with financial irregularities being problematic for the teams above them, Pro were offered a place in the division above due to their own newly inherited financial security.

What happened next was nothing short of a sporting miracle. The club, who were expected to fight off relegation, got off to an average start but soon found themselves near the top of the league after an impressive run through November, December and January. They were two points short of taking the top spot on two occasions before they faltered in the run-in.

Braghin was accused of mismanaging his side, though he was rightly praised for at least taking the club in to the Lega Pro Prima Divisione A play-offs. They won that play-off, beating Taranto and Carpi to secure promotion to Serie B. There was dancing in Piazza Cavour that night.

Then it all went sour. The top men at Pro, Massimo Secondo and Giancarlo Romairone, went off to a Milanese hotel to find the players needed to keep Pro in Serie B. They returned with a bunch of kids, average Serie B reservists and the striker the fans really wanted: Simone Tiribocchi.

Not one of the players brought in has proved the value the fans had hoped they would on a consistent basis. Tiribocchi has three goals from 18 starts. The service to him has been woeful but he hasn't looked like the spearhead of an attack Pro really need.

Federico Carraro, who couldn't get in to the side under Braghin last season, made a surprise return, and has played just one game this season (not under Braghin). Alessio Innocenti, who came with much promise from the Milan youth ranks, hasn't played a game, and fellow Milan recruit Gianmarco Zigoni has also struggled. The same applies to former Juve Primavera star Elio De Silvestro, who looks more than a year short of Serie B class at the moment.

Alberto Masi (now with Juventus) has not looked the player he did last season. Pietro Iemmello should be the darling of the Curva Ovest but is lacking both the attitude and goals of last year. The biggest shock is in watching full back Angelo Bencivenga, much loved last term, concede ground, penalties and possession on far too frequent a basis. To highlight how bad the squad has been you just have to look at the reaction to Gaetano Caridi's departure; it is doubtful whether a single fan turned up to beg him not to go to Cremonese last week.

Only one player truly stands out: Pro's goalkeeper Alex Valentini. If you are a Serie B manager with a decent attack but a leaky defence, you should be looking no further than Valentini this month.

The finger of blame was eventually pointed at Braghin. His inflexibility with formation and with players (new and old) led the club to relieve him of his duties in October. They brought in Giancarlo Camolese, who, after a difficult 2009 season with Torino, had been warming sofas of TV studios ever since. Pro were just above the relegation spots at that time, and Braghin exited the job having secured just seven points from nine games.

Camolese would turn things round. The fans, tired of wanting more from the squad, believed that a new man may well see different things in his players, that they would ultimately try harder to impress than they did for the old boss. He said the right things and the squad followed suit, proclaiming that it was still an honour to wear the old shirt with pride.

Having previously been forced in to exile in Piacenza whilst the Stadio Silvio Piola was brought up to standard, they had returned to Vercelli for Camolese's first game in charge. All the excuses were cast aside. This was a new dawn.

That first game at home ended in defeat to Padova and was quickly followed up by a draw with Brescia and a home win over Spezia. Three games in and the new boss was clawing the points back. But this was no fairytale, and five defeats on the bounce were temporarily halted by a home win against Vicenza and a spirited draw against Hellas.

Three further defeats signalled the end for a coach who was brought in to shake things up but appeared to struggle with his squad in exactly the same way Braghin had. 13 points from 15 games is hardly the return you need from a new man even when the club is at the foot of the table.

It is a quirk of Italian football that clubs don’t ever really sack a coach. They simply send them off to their gardens and leave them there until they find a new job next season or you realise the guy you have replaced them with is no longer the right man for the job. This leaves a club with two options: bring back the old coach or add a third wage to the ever depleting funds.

So Braghin is back, albeit without a league game during the winter break. He is back to a club that is rife with players whose heads are rumoured to have been turned by the thought of moving on. Back to a club struggling to find the key ingredient needed to stay in Serie B. Back, more importantly, to a club where a management team had previously lost faith in him for the second time. How many more times can one man be slapped in the face by an unforgiving lover and still retain his affection?

As things stand Pro are seven points from safety, three clear wins required in a congested lower half of a table where wins are hard to come by. It's a mountain that needs a mountain of a man, full of presence and commitment, to see the team through. He needs to adapt. He needs to be more flexible, but Braghan is very much back on the scene.

The King is alive. Long live the King.

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