Words: Livio Caferoglu
Former Lazio boss Marcelo Bielsa gained notoriety last season when it emerged he had sent a staff member to spy on Derby County before Leeds United’s 2-0 victory over the Rams. Unlike Genoa youth-team goalkeeping coach Luca De Prà back in September 2013, however, they didn’t dress in camouflage gear, hiding in the bushes surrounding their arch-rivals’ training ground. Neither did they do so without notifying their employers.
The grandson of legendary Genoa goalkeeper Giovanni De Prà, who won two top-flight titles with the club in 1923 and 1924, Luca wasn’t just any member of staff. The term ‘win at all costs’ has seen Italian teams throughout history resort to all sorts of suspicious tactics to get one up on their opponents, yet none of them even dared to tread the path taken by De Prà. Needless to say, no-one has dared try since.
The story goes that, in the build-up to the first Derby della Lanterna of the 2013-14 campaign, De Prà set up camp on the fringes of Bogliasco to take a closer look at Samp’s preparations for the fixture. Genoa were rock-bottom of Serie A after two defeats from their opening two games. The Blucerchiati, meanwhile, started the season similarly slowly, albeit with one more point than their Ligurian neighbours.
Before the two sides kicked off, Samp fans who happened to be in the vicinity noticed movement in a small woodland area next to where their team were working out. They alerted club officials who chased the intruder, quickly identified as De Prà, behind a tree wearing full military attire. The 57-year-old was promptly suspended by Genoa and likened to John Rambo in a statement on Doria’s official website.
“We knew the derby was a matter of nerve, tactics and strategy, but we frankly never expected it to become a matter of espionage,” it read. “And yet, in Genoa, this too can happen. Just two days before the big match, Delio Rossi ordered training behind closed doors and an emissary from the other team was asked to spy on the tactical systems for Sunday night.
“It was a real secret mission set by the Genoa generals, a military action with full camouflage gear and mountain boots. Like a would-be Rambo hidden in the Poggio bushes, Luca De Prà, Coach of the Primavera youth team goalkeepers from the club of such noble descendants, could not fight the counter-measures of the Blucerchiati’s intelligence services.
“However, there are no prisoners, nor bloodshed. Once he was caught in the act, with his hands in the cookie jar, the soldier from the other side was set free so he could return to base. After all, one must always forgive enemies, as nothing irritates them more.”
The Grifone ‘hit back’ with a tongue-in-cheek counterclaim that they were being spied on too, by local journalists, although they did stress De Prà was working of his own accord. “No director or member of the coaching staff sent Luca De Prà, goalkeeper coach for the youth team, to watch the training session at Bogliasco. It was a personal initiative,” they wrote in a press release.
“This has never been done before and is not part of the club’s modus operandi. The club makes it known that De Prà has been suspended with immediate effect pending further explanations.”
Fortunately for Genoa, they were spared bad karma and comfortably beat their city rivals 3-0. Never before had Samp lost to the Rossoblu as the designated home team by such a margin. “If we want to go all the way, I say De Prà did a great job! If we lose it’s my fault, but if we win then it’s all thanks to De Prà,” joked Liverani after the game. Opposite number Delio Rossi, on the other hand, wasn’t amused.
“I am sure someone sent him, as he hardly went of his own volition,” responded the former Palermo and Bologna boss. “I actually felt pity for him, as the poor thing said he was ‘just working’ when we caught him. Anyway, that whole affair had absolutely nothing to do with this result.”
Deep down, Genoa and De Prà would probably like to think the affair played a part in their little piece of derby history. After all, rivalries aren’t supposed to be friendly.