Escaping from relegation at your home stadium in the closing minutes of the last day of the season should be a joyous occasion. However, as the Spanish and Italian League seasons drew to a close at approximately the same time on Sunday night, the contrast could not have been starker.
In the Madrid neighbourhood of Vallecas, where Raul Tamudo's 92nd minute goal guaranteed Rayo Vallecano another season in La Liga, the Coach climbed into the stands, the fans streamed on to the pitch, the players clambered on top of the crossbar, and those that didn't had their shorts and jerseys ripped off their bodies by delirous supporters in scenes that would make Silvio Berlusconi blush.
Meanwhile at Marassi, the goal that preserved Genoa's Serie A status was met with roughly the same amount of enthusiasm as a consolation scored in a pre-season friendly. Alberto Gilardino was his jubilant self after his trademark tap in from Marco Rossi's cross, but his teammates took their time in going to congratulate him.
The camera panned to President Enrico Preziosi, sat not in the tribune but behind a billboard at ground level, isolated, his hand covering half his face, betraying little emotion other than boredom. The stadium announcer didn't lack enthusiasm as he called out Gilardino's name, the problem was that there was no one to whip up, no one to join in his cries, the game being played behind closed doors as a result of the Genoa Ultras’ attempt to remove their players jerseys – in a rather more menacing manner than that of the Rayo fans – during the 4-1 defeat to Siena last month.
But it wasn't just the empty stands. Anything other than muted celebrations would have seemed inappropriate even if the Stadio Luigi Ferraris had been rocking, because fighting for survival on the last day is a frankly ludicrous situation for a squad of the Rossoblu's calibre to find themselves in.
Gilardino, Rodrigo Palacio, Juraj Kucka, Miguel Veloso, Sebastien Frey – purely in terms of quality Genoa are on a par with Udinese, a team they finished 14 positions and 22 points behind. But Udinese have what Genoa lack, stability, unity, a rational strategy and perhaps most importantly, patience. Genoa don't buy bad players, the issue is not giving signings time to settle in, flogging anyone that doesn't make an immediate impact when the next transfer window opens, so that the Grifone XI we see each January bears little relation to the one that ran out the previous August.
Genoa are the oldest club in Italy and the fourth most successful in Serie A's history, yet as the relegation battle went down to the wire it was hard not to root for little Lecce, a side with less history and fans but who were so much more than the sum of their parts, whereas Genoa were so much less.
It wasn't always like that. There was no more likeable team in Italy during Gian Piero Gasperini's reign, when the port club finished 10th on their top flight return in 2007-08 and fifth the season after, playing some exhilarating attacking football on the way. With hindsight it’s the sacking of Gasperini in November 2010 that sticks out as the point at which the decline began in earnest. In the 18 months since then Preziosi has been through four Coaches and spent countless millions on countless players, but his team has only regressed, finishing 10th last term and 17th this.
It’s difficult to comprehend how a successful businessman can keep making the same mistake, but Preziosi's “I don't intend to abandon ship, there is probably a need to change the equipment, and maybe the commander” comments on Sunday suggested he's about to make it over all again this summer, and didn't bode well for current Coach Gigi De Canio.
The potential recruitment of sporting director Pietro Lo Monaco from Catania would be a positive if a spending spree were needed, but what's called for now is a squad trimming if anything – getting the number of players on the clubs books down to a more manageable level in order to create a genuine team, a smaller, more united group with a specific identity and style of play.
Having finally cut off his infamous 'rat tail', Palacio yesterday donated it to the club's museum. It would be in the best interest of everyone concerned if Preziosi's chequebook was consigned there also.
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