It’s rather ironic that days after Napoli released a formal statement lambasting Barry Glendenning’s Guardian column for making glib references to the city as a “mafia stronghold,” the same directors were negotiating with ultras to get the Coppa Italia Final started. Delayed for 45 minutes amid utter chaos because three fans had been shot, though police insist it was not related to the game. The head ultra who captain Marek Hamsik and the authorities were talking to? The son of a Camorra figure.
I got into this job to write about the beautiful game. I did not expect to be covering a Coppa Italia Final and updating on gunshot wounds. In Brazil this week a supporter was killed by a toilet bowl thrown from the stands, so perhaps we should count ourselves relatively lucky to only report on a near fatality. Whether or not the shooting was related to the match, and the police insist it wasn’t, the fact remains the world got to see Italian football at its worst. The ultras are in charge and authorities, players and directors must crawl to them for permission to go ahead. At the final whistle there’s a mass pitch invasion because stewards were warned beforehand not to try stopping them, as it would only result in trouble. It seems as if Italian authorities have only two levels of policing: brute indiscriminate violence or laissez-faire. No middle ground at all.
Yet the Final, that insane situation at the Stadio Olimpico, gave me hope for the future. The hope is Fiorentina. A decade ago they had notoriously the worst fans in Serie A, who considered everyone a bitter rival and made each away game an opportunity to get into a fight. Between the Della Valle brothers, Cesare Prandelli, Vincenzo Montella and also the uniting force of fighting back from Serie C2 to the top, the Viola ultras have become the positive example of a fanbase. Passionate, following the team in droves and waving their scarves in the air at the Olimpico after Napoli’s third goal ensured the trophy was out of reach, they showed the way forward. Even when the pitch invasion spread to beneath their Curva and Napoli fans started mocking them, the Fiorentina crowd did not react. Maybe there is hope. Now we just need every club to go bankrupt and come back up from the fourth division. That might help...
This Final showcased the bad of Italian football, but also the good and that was on the field. Napoli and Fiorentina played out an entertaining contest with great goals that kept everyone on the edge of their seat until that Dries Mertens strike. Lorenzo Insigne lived the dream, the only Neapolitan (and Italian) on the pitch for his team bagging an early brace, impressing Italy Coach Cesare Prandelli ahead of the World Cup selection. Giuseppe Rossi made his comeback after four months out and he too can hope for a ticket to Brazil. Without Mario Gomez or suspended star Juan Cuadrado, the Viola still put in a real fight and proved this team has plenty of quality at its disposal, even though Alessandro Matri is so bad that Montella would rather field Borja Valero as a centre-forward. Possession might be nine tenths of the law, but it’s only worth one tenth of a goal, so this team sorely needs a hitman.
Rafa Benitez insisted the Coppa result was irrelevant to how he’d view this debut season, but it’s clear to all the campaign would’ve been considered a failure without the trophy. Don Rafa did what he does best – win cup competitions with counter-attacks and struggle to maintain consistency throughout a League tournament. Ultimately that’s why he was hired, so Mission Accomplished.