Brera. The historical core of Milan which was used for military reasons around the year 900, is now Milan’s leading artistic distract. Cobbled walkways are situated around this distract, with its bohemian atmosphere, it was the perfect place for me to set up HQ.

It was a big deal for me to move away from Glasgow. But it was a new chapter of my life and one that I was relishing. With most of my life packed into cardboard boxes, it was time to get settled in my new home and look forward to my new start as manager of Brera Calcio.

Many of my friends and family thought I was mad for taking my life savings and moving to Milan to work as the manager of an amateur football club. “What if it goes wrong?”, “what if you run out of money?”. All questions I would worry about if it was to ever occur. I was searching for a new calling in life, and I think this is finally it.

On the 19th of July, I made my presence known around the club, but there was so much to do to get this team in shape for the upcoming season. I had 13 players available for the season, which was scarily low and needed tending to, but on top of that, I had one member of staff, my assistant manager Gianfranco Cotrina. Unfortunately, Gianfranco’s people skills as an assistant manager were not what I was looking for, and with his knowledge of the game being so poor, I had to move him on. So here I was, on my own. I suppose it was about time I put a band together.

With the limited Italian I knew, I manage to muster together a few bodies that I could trust at this level of Italian football. These acquisitions meant that Brera Calcio had the best infrastructure in the league, I just had to make sure that we had the calibre of players to go hand-in-hand with the backroom staff. Plenty of players arrived on trial. Plenty of them was let go almost immediately. But with only 13 players to pick from initially, I knew I couldn’t be too selective about potential signings, and I had to be cautious of the players that I may lose eventually due to their amateur contracts.

With a backroom staff in place and a big enough squad to last a season (and almost enough central midfielders to field a team), it was time to get the players working on the park as we prepare for our campaign. Predicted to finish 15th out of the 128 teams competing in the Seconda Categoria Lombardia, I knew that it was going to be a challenge to achieve promotion in the first season, but I wanted to aim high.

The board and I agreed that a promotion playoff spot should be achievable with the existing squad – with a couple of reinforcements in there, we were doing ourselves no harm in bolstering our hopes. But the biggest question that remains? Do we have the bottle to see through that expectation? 24 teams would go into the playoffs and I could just hope that we would be at least one of them by the end of the season.

I had a core of players now at my disposal, and along with a backroom team, it was time to put the team through their paces during the summer. I had to make the most of our 2 training sessions on a Wednesday and Friday to get my ideas across. I wanted to keep things simple given the lack of training time, and thought that this would be the way forward:

I had to remember this was amateur football, and keeping it simple will, more often than not, win you games. Overcomplicate team and player instructions, and you could be setting yourself up for a downfall in a short period. Knowing that I was some time away from being able to sculpt a team into the style that I like, I had to settle for adapting and making minor tweaks to the formation when things weren’t going as well as planned. 

Given we were predicted to finish 15th out of all 128 teams competing in the Seconda Categoria, I was certain that we would be able to start the season off with a win and continue a good run of form:

Eventually, the players began to find their feet under the current system, but the opening two games certainly were cause for concern. With a total of 14 players arriving at the club on free transfers, I knew it would take some time for the players to adapt to one another, but results would eventually come our way, which was exactly the case. The real turning point in performance levels was the unfortunate 2-1 defeat to Cinisello in the Coppa Dilettanti Lombardia, which is the Lombardia cup competition for clubs based in Italy’s 9th tier, Terza Categoria, right up to the Eccellenza A. Cinisello were two tiers above us in the Promozione level, so whilst it was a difficult draw for the club, it was bitterly disappointing to lose narrowly.

On the high of a good domestic campaign, the winter months were going to be a real opportunity to lay down the gauntlet to the rest of the group. We were sitting 7 points clear at the top of the table, but those 7 points soon disappeared into a singular point advantage:

Whilst we did manage to avoid defeat against our nearest challengers Cantello Belfortese by the skin of our teeth, I had to tweak things in the wake of a 2-2 draw with Torre de’Roveri. As I mentioned before, I did not want to make wholesale changes to the formation and style of play, but subtly bringing up our defensive line, and line of engagement, closed off gaps deep into our half and stopped our opposition from capitalising on goals from around the penalty spot. Bosvisio Masciago was the first game where these changes were implemented, and whilst it was good to keep a clean sheet, I found it a bit odd that our attacking output was poor throughout the 90 minutes. Thankfully normal service resumed with victories over Marmirolo, Medigliese and Galbiate.

Over this run of games, I felt it was appropriate to keep on top of player recruitment. As this is amateur football, every single player can leave the club for another should there be interest, and I would be silly not to have appropriate backups in place should I lose key individuals. A quick squad analysis saw me leading the charge to recruit in the defensive third:

Zampatti and Pignatti were brought in as rotational options to keep things fresh and to give us depth in times of injuries and suspensions. Only Campa and Piantoni were brought in as immediate replacements; Chacra was unhappy over game-time which prompted his exit from the club and Francesco Marchetti sealed a move to Vogogna in the Promozione division. I didn’t want to continue signing players for the sake of it, especially with the upcoming youth intake:

It was going to be tough to gauge this intake given how low down we were, but I saw this as an opportunity. We could flood our U20s with these players and begin their development a few years earlier than anticipated. The star player of the intake was Kevin Serio and once he had arrived and signed on the line, we got him moved to the first team to continue his development.

Back to footballing matters and following a shock defeat at home to Nuvolera Montichiari, we regained focus with victories over Chignolese, Grumulus & Amici Mozzo, whilst underperforming against Osl Garbagnate and Lainatese; these two results opened the title race right up and we led by 2 points with 5 to play, and we had the hardest run-in.

To finish the season we had to host 5th and 2nd (Juvenilia Fiammamonza & Cavese (PV)) and travel to 3rd, 14th and 4th (Cantello Belfortese, Cantù Sanpaolo & Torre de’Roveri). It was going to be a huge 7 weeks for Brera as we looked to start our climb up the Italian ladder, did we have the bottle?

We did ourselves no harm with 7 points from 9, but Cavese (PV) were matching us stride for stride. We had to fight back twice against Juvenilia, but big wins on the road would set the 24th of April up to be a potential title decider. Win and we were champions, anything else and it would go to the last day.

I could only feel aggrieved that we missed the opportunity to win the title against our closest challengers. A real scrappy game from start to finish, with little quality in the final third meant the spoils were shared and the title would go down to the wire. Brera travelled to 4th place Torre de’Roveri, knowing they had to match or better Cavese’s result. Cavese travelled to 14th place Cantù Sanpaolo – I knew we had to get the job done ourselves.

Knowing that destiny was in our hands, I was relieved when Paolo Cataldi opened the scoring for us in the 24th minute, and as we got closer to half-time, I was aware that the Cavese score was still 0-0. So far so good going into halftime, and the message was going to be simple to the players.

“Don’t do anything stupid. No rash decisions. Simple football. Simple game.”

I thought the message was clear and obvious to the players. Until Jacopo Nichetti had a mad 4 minutes. He initially received a booking in the 51st minute for a silly foul, he didn’t need to make the challenge but he did so. In the 55th minute, he was given his marching orders for yet another needless foul. We were down to ten men, and whilst we were under no real pressure up to that moment, I was concerned.

A lot of niggling fouls then played out to disrupt the game, something I had advised Alberto Paone to tell the players when he came off the bench, but we were still under a lot of pressure from that point in. And then a miracle. Cantù had taken a shock lead at Cavese and grabbed a second just moments later. We had done it!

Brera FC Players

Upon taking over the side, I had 11 players available to select from. Whilst I brought in a huge influx of my own players, I wanted to try and continue game time for the original players.

Daniele Biondo

The 30-year-old winger certainly benefited from game time as he played 29 times in the Second Categoria Lombardia for Brera this season, missing the final game of the season through suspension. Biondo managed to grab himself 10 goals and 9 assists throughout the campaign and really lay down the marker of being a consistent performer averaging a 7.22 rating all season.

Eli Guerrero & Foday Jarju

Venezuelan Guerrero and Gambian Jarju formed a formidable partnership at the heart of the defence, playing 26 and 25 games respectively, both coming off the bench once throughout the campaign. With Guerrero being the more experienced figurehead out of the two, I thought it would be a brilliant opportunity to let Jarju lean on him and develop through regular playing time.

Paolo Cataldi

Paolo found it difficult to get himself into the starting 11 at the start of the season due to summer signings Salif Cissé & Luigi Tandurella, but following suspensions and injuries for the latter, Cataldi managed to find his way into the side and got 17 starts with 4 bench appearances.

Grabbing himself 10 goals and a solitary assist, certainly gives me food for thought going into the new season, and if he should be spearheading the attack at the expense of Tandurella (35).

Jacopo Nichetti & Reny Valdivia

Nichetti (20) found it very difficult to get himself into the team, partly due to the experience of Piergiorgio Perfetti playing on the left, or Daniele Biondo covering on the left. With age on his side, I want to get more minutes into him during the new season and see if I can get him to develop into being a more natural left-winger; but there is a lot of work required due to his tendency not to get stuck into challenges.

Valdivia (23) found it just as tough but in the middle of the park. Summer arrivals Alex Guerci and Luca Tardiani meant his game-time was limited but I do look to Valdivia as being a replacement for Tardiani in the not-so-distant future. Capable of playing on either wing or in the middle of the park, Valdivia certainly looks to a central midfielder role with his good technique, and this is where he will need to put a good pre-season in to give himself the best chance of gaining a run of games.

Alberto Paone & Luca Cardani

Unfortunately for the two more experienced members of the side, neither Paone nor Cardani got a significant run of games in the campaign to show what they were capable of. With age getting the better of both players, Paone would have been wasted on the wing, and Cardani would have been leaning heavily on his defensive partners.

Paone did find himself on the score sheet in his 2 starts and 5 sub appearances; a dramatic 95th-minute equaliser against Cantù Sanpaolo back in November, which proved significant come to the end of the season as we recorded the first league title campaign in our journey to the top.

Francesco Marchetti, Joao Chacra & Pasquale Casalnuovo

The three departures of the original squad. Whilst it was sad to see them go, things either didn’t work out or better opportunities arose.

For Marchetti, it was certainly the latter, after he earned a move to Vogogna in the Promozione A Piemonte-Valle d’Aosta division. He went on to make 9 appearances for the side following his move in January, starting every game since his move. Unfortunately, he could not stop Vogogna from being relegated.

Casalnuovo found himself on the bench without making an appearance due to the performances of the midfield two. He was not happy over the lack of game-time, and in January he left the club with immediate effect. In March, he did sign for Auswahl Ridnauntal, who play their football in Eccellenza B Trentino-Alto Adige and has started all 5 games since his arrival.

However, for Chacra, it is very much a different story. With the arrival of Metelli as my number one, the Brazilian never made an appearance throughout the campaign for us. At the end of January, he raised his concerns over this, and whilst it was something I could not guarantee, he decided to take the risk and leave the club immediately. To this day, Chacra still remains without a club.

One thought on “#1 – The Battle for Milan

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