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Ukrainians, Palladinho e Stuffs

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andriy-shevchenko.jpgGenoa

If my sources are correct, the Giallorossi were thoroughly outplayed, yet still managed to bag Genoa's scalp; not unlike the way ManU snuck through the back door and swooped for the three points while everyone was ballroom dancing in the living room, striking a dull and resounding blow to the collective heart of the Giallorossi. I see this as ultimately positive, borderline optimal, as they begin their ascent upon the steep face which has become Old Trafford on Tuesday. What you saw on Saturday was not simply a reversal of fortunes in the scoreline, but the very definition of a 180 degree turn in the face of adversity. Two of the vaunted Holy Roman Trinity were missing, as were nearly the whole of the Roman Samba Contingent: Juan is still suffering from his knock, Mancini’s desire was buried deep within the winter soil a month ago, still yet to be dug out (which will surely coincide with either a contract extension or the official opening of the mercato), and Doni’s brain has taken his quarterly month-long holiday, in its absence leaving a cavernous coconut patrolling the area between the sticks.

Despite it all – even with this being The Year Of The Actual Bench - they managed a crucial, yet perhaps undeserved, three points against a good side in the neverending quest for made-up ground on the Nerazzurri. What does that say to the confidence of an athlete? After spending so many nights deserving a victory but lumbering home without their full spoils, it says they can surely bring their "B", even "C" game, and grind out a victory without all that fancypants bella calcio. If they do play to their level, they can certainly climb any mountain, but without their top form, they are still a formidable side capable of the requisite three points. And after last Tuesday, they needed that boost of confidence. What if they were on form and fully healthy against Genoa? A bombardment, for sure. They'll be fine Wednesday.

Who Wants A Sheva?

I’ve wavered on this for the past few weeks since the rumors reared their plain Jane heads. I never liked him at Milan, despite my obvious affection for all things blonde and Ukrainian (of course the fact that he is male and also not available for marriage for the Low! Low! Price! of nothing more than shipping & handling probably did not help matters), and I don’t really have any explanation as to why. My first instinct is it was the ESPN commercial with Scott van Pelt, but that was well into my distaste for all things Sheva.

Speaking of mail-order marriages (his wife, the American model, went shopping for a rich footballer in Milan and got herself a Mr.), we all know why Sheva is in London: the wife. And of course, if you didn’t see this coming the good ship logic sailed on you long ago. A woman was involved, and we all know they ruin everything. We also know that Americans ruin everything (see: Iraq, MLS, KFC, etc). So when you combine the two in a devastating one woman cyclone seeking higher education in an English-speaking country, well, you’re bound to experience an apocalyptic disaster – such as one of the world’s best athletes having to join a pub league team on Sundays to get any type of playing time and some goddamn oranges at halftime.

• - I was 100% kidding about one of those demographics ruining everything, I’m sure everyone can guess which one.

Despite his obvious discontent in London (unless he’s happy just showing up for his bustling paycheck – something I doubt greatly), Sheva has taken his repeated blows on the chin and turned the other cheek, refusing to cause an uproar over his diminishing status. I can guarantee not all superstars would handle that situation as graciously and quietly as he. Imagine if Didier Drogba or Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Milan and found themselves spending more time perusing the crowd for hot chicks with Cristiano Brocchi more often than perusing the opposition for fresh meat with Ivan the Freaking Lunatic. I greatly doubt they would show as much class as Andriy. And perhaps that’s what has almost won me over regarding him. Luciano Spalletti has made it abundantly clear there is no I even in the vicinity of his team, and that locker room unrest has no business at Trigoria anymore (a good and valuable introductory lesson he was handed by a certain Cassanata upon his arrival in la citta eterna). Even with superstar status dwindling by the day, Sheva does not appear to be a guy whose head would match his desired contributions.

The first question on everyone’s mind skips past all other factors and jumps directly to finances. His transfer fee, paid less than two years ago, would be enough to buy most Serie B teams, and his paycheck still among the highest in the world. Even with his price tag being halved, it’s still a substantial amount of money (£15m) for a guy who has been a gilded bench ornament over the past two years. Money obviously means very little to Roman Abramovich, but it’s doubtful he’s going to drop Sheva off in Rome in his private jet for a mere few million quid and a messily romantic all night rendezvous with some mango gelato involving rubber gloves, medicated Chapstick (PRN) and a snorkel. (My gut actually says a loan would be enough for now.)

The man’s still going cost some serious bank, £10m an absolute minimum, I’d venture to guess*, and will still require a contract – however unfeasible – which will bend, if not break, the ceiling of the Giallorossi salary cap (the limit of which, or limit period, will almost surely be up for consideration this summer). Is he willing to take 2.5m before substantial bonuses? This would mean a serious, serious paycut,. His agent says something can be worked out, so perhaps Andriy has reached the point where money is a distant second to reclaiming his past status as a legitimate superstar.

• - I’m 99% sure his contract would be one of the very few whose negotiated transfer fee would be much less than the buyout clause, per the Webster ruling.

And now on to the next question on the list: Is Sheva the player done? Here’s an answer: @#$% no. Watching him play for country, rather than club, proves he is still exquisitely lethal, and still holds a talent very few in the world possess. The tactics at Chelsea never suited him, and perhaps neither did the Premiership – the case with many other highly skilled and technical athletes. The watered-down technique of the EPL is a far cry from Serie A, a place where his pitch intelligence, subtlety and no-need-for-description simple ability to constantly bulge the back of the net have flourished before and can do so again. Players of enough talent to win a Ballon D’Or – an unconscionably absurd award, but one which does require top drawer talent – don’t simply lose their abilities during their prime (neither do athletes who can do this). And if there is anyone who can nurture him back to health, it’s The Grand Imperial Poobah.

Is it feasible? I suppose. There are only so many clubs which can afford to take him on, and Roma is one under the right circumstances. Assuming he’d like to return to Serie A (going back to familiar and bountiful hunting grounds would seem a logical way for Andriy to reclaim his lofty status – I’m guessing he knows that), there are four who can accommodate his requests – even if Roma would need to do some finagling. Milan is the only real consideration aside from Roma, and Carlo doesn’t seem to think he fits their tactics anymore - so that one’s a great big heave of the shoulders. Inter? Would they attempt to bring him back half hoping to work some magic, half hoping to take an eye for an eye by swooping in and nabbing a Silvio favorite after ex-Moratti lovebug Ronaldo moved to the other half of the San Siro? I wouldn’t put it past Moratti, but if Mourinho is on his way to Milan, as many suspect (like me), then you can cross that one off with a big fact permanent marker. Juventus? They’ll be busy fighting off Milan for Amauri and I’m not sure I see Sheva appealing to them.

Tactically there would have to be a lot of tweaking – perhaps finally seeing that two striker system or dropping Francesco back into that treq spot – but that’s a subject only for if and when it happens. I have to say I think Roma will roll up their sleeves and burn the midnight oil to make this one happen, but I can’t be sure it will happen. They will probably only be the backup option to Milan, and Roma will have to wait on those developments before Rosella starts providing his agent with extracurricular favors in the hopes of dropping his price. Until then, wait and see.

In the end, despite the fact that I hold great hope that he comes to Rome, it’ll be fine either way. If he does don Kappa next year, I see him as 08-09’s Gabriel Batistuta. If not, oh well, they’ll still walk out onto the pitch come next year’s first giornata with the new Sheva, currently calcio’s greatest Eastern European import, ready to shepherd them to the promised land.

(Hit mute.)

Valeri Lobanovsky

No, he is not a transfer target, he has actually been deceased since 2002. Valeri was Dynamo Kyiv's long-reigning coach, and the man who mentored Sheva when he was still but a buding phenomenon. A pretty good player (left wing), his greatest claim to fame was creating a system under which a team could thrive, rather than a group of highly gifted individuals. The system was very similar to one employed by the famous Ajax Total Football team, but it was based more on fitness rather than extreme skill based purely on resources. His teams absolutely dominated Soviet football and on three occasions he took them to their peak as a club (like their CL run which eventually brought Sheva to Milan). The only great export from this system, the only person who could really thrive in the West, was Andriy Shevchenko.

There has been much talk of Luciano Spalletti's Roma in the same sentence with that same Ajax team and Total Football recently, and it's not unfounded. Andriy made his name in another system which was similar. Andiry could again make his name in a similar system under another soon-to-be-great coach. I am 100% convinced if Sheva came to Rome, The Poobah could take him back to the promised land.

* - This was really ironic, because I wrote that Genoa/Sheva bit up top on my flight yesterday, and only picked up my book while we were beginning our descent. Much of the first chapter was on Lobanovsky, and there were a few mentions of Sheva - the two automatically clicked in my mind. It's not exact, but it could and would work - and don't think for a second Sheva and his handlers don't know this. (The book is Jonathan Wilson's Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football, if you're interested.)

Palladinho

First off, let’s dispel the notion that Alberto Aquilani would be sold as a part of any deal involving Juventus – or anyone else for that matter. Not happening. I haven’t seen the original source, but something tells me it’s called Sportutto, or the like.

I see Palladino as perhaps the ideal replacement for Mancini for the versatility he provides as a lateral forward with pace, skills and the strikemanship (that’s a new word I just made up) of a striker. I think of him playing against Roma and I think of a guy who was born to play the wing effectively, at the very least, in the unique Spalletti system: slicing in to space, holding the ball, creating towards the box and the capabilities to find the back of the net and the height to find the end of a cross. Basically, he’s a middle class Vucinic. I’m very appreciative of all that Mancini has done for Roma in his past years after being such a find, but I can do nothing but hope that Juventus has an interest in him, and is willing to part with Raffaele in return (plus a bit of cash, of course). The Roman puzzle is still not finished, but I fully believe he is one of the remaining pieces.

(Or maybe Spal just has a crush on Napoletano wingers: Espo, Toto, Fab Quags and now Palladino. It must be only a matter of time before Foggia is linked.)



Manchester Nuggets

I) Rio Ferdinand is "doubtful" but Sir Alex is "hopeful". Guess what? Speculation is useless. We'll find out tomorrow and that is that.

II) I convocati:

ANTUNES Gabriel
AQUILANI Alberto
BRIGHI Matteo
CASSETTI Marco
CICINHO
CURCI Gianluca
DE ROSSI Daniele
DONI
ESPOSITO Mauro
GIULY Ludovic
JUAN
MANCINI Alessandro
MEXES Philippe
PANUCCI Christian
PERROTTA Simone
PIZARRO David
TADDEI Rodrigo
TONETTO Max
VUCINIC Mirko
ZOTTI Carlo

III)
Never look ahead, Saffy, never look ahead....


“If we get by this one, the difficult one of course will be Barcelona - a marvellous football club and a good football team.”

I've never had much respect for Fergie as a person, just as a coach. Even mentioning Barcelona before the second leg has been played doesn't help. What a classless fuck.