There’s a quality to players that coaches love to see here; they call it “grinta,” or “grit” — the will to focus one’s attention and energies towards a task despite all obstacles and conditions. Simon’s coach constantly talks to his team about playing with grinta. Castel Rigone showed it after the holiday break and earned three points in their fifth straight win, 1-0 over Chieti (who had beat them 3-1 in the very first game of the season back in August).
I took Simon to see the match; it had poured that morning, and the pitch was full of water puddles; the grounds crew worked with squeegees and augers to try to drain the water and dry the mud. The all-white kit of the home side was brown almost immediately, however. In those first minutes, Chieti launched a direct assault, putting through-balls between defenders who were slow to respond. Only the crossbar and Franzese, the alert Castel Rigone keeper, prevented a goal. Franzese was superb throughout, the defense got their act together and began to cut out Chieti’s final passes, and Castel Rigone wrested control of the match. When the rain returned, Castel Rigone remained calm, continuing to string passes together and work combinations, even as Chieti reverted to launching hopeful long balls upfield. The Rigonesi combination of ferociousness and calmness was remarkable, and was responsible for a win that solidified their position at fifth in the league. They now have 29 of the estimated 50 points thought to be necessary to survive into Serie C next year.
With an average starters’ age six years greater than their opponents (28.2 to 22.3), the experience of Castel Rigone’s players made the difference. Castel Rigone’s two oldest players are their trentagenarian strikers, Tranchitella (top scorer in the league, adding his twelfth in this game) and Agostinelli (who was excellent at holding up play and controlling tempo until he tired towards the end). Both strikers were continually pushed, grabbed, and obstructed (though they won no fouls; the referee was parsimonious), but did not submit to frustration. They just kept working. Wise experience tends to contribute to calm play, and calm play is greatly appreciated in calcio. Fans commonly say “con calma” when a player is under pressure but has options to play the ball. They applaud players who patiently work the ball out of a sticky situation in their own half, because that accomplishment requires not just skill, but strong presence of mind.
The mountain green that surrounds the stadium feels calm, and when mixed with the fog that often drifts across the field, it can make for a “Lost World” atmosphere. In that rarified air, the manager, Luca Fusi, is earning credit for instilling consapevolezza (“awareness”). Tranchitella spoke today (6 Jan.) in the Giornale dell’Umbria about Fusi bringing tranquillità. His sentiment agreed with that of the chairman, Cucinelli, who said after the game: “…non c’è bisogno di urlare o fare i maleducati. Solo i meno educati e gli insecuri urlano. Con i suoi modi pacati ma decisi sa trasmettere alla squadra tranquillità e determinazione.” (“There’s no need to shout or be rude. Only ill-mannered and insecure people shout. With his quiet but decisive ways, he [Fusi] knows how to convey calmness and determination to the team.”)
The determination of the Rigonesi was exemplified by no. 4, 28-yr. old left midfielder Carlo Vicedomini, who played from end to end and from start to finish with a fire to warm any manager’s heart. Two moments in the second half (see the video below) showed his insight and determination: sprinting to latch onto a back-heel from Tranchitella on the end-line, and turning to play a perfect cut-back to Bontà (who skyed it over the bar), and then dribbling through two defenders and fooling a third with a quick short pass. He also slid alertly to the ball after the Chieti keeper spilled Luoni’s long shot, and so created the chance for the lone goal.
Francesco Luoni was playing his first match in more than nine months; the lanky right terzino, recently acquired, was adventurous going forward and honed his positioning as the game wore on. With two dangerous fullbacks in Bianco and Luoni, and an increasingly stingy central pairing of Gimmelli and Moracci, Fusi seems to have found his preferred defensive lineup. The defense has kept the opposition scoreless for 318 minutes, key to the team’s rise up the table.
Grinta con calma: An excellent recipe.
Next up: a trip down south to Puglia (where we visited last week), and A.S. Martina Franca.
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Speaking of recipes, Simon and I finally found a place to eat in Castel Rigone: La Posta di Arrigo, featuring a logo with the eponymous Visigothic founder of the town glaring from behind his moustache. Simon had a tartufo-rich penne, and I enjoyed pomodorini with bacon over strozzapreti (“priest-chokers”), a twisty shape popular in the mountains of central Italy. They also brought us pizza bianca — dressed simply with olive oil, salt, and rosemary — which is what all the kids bring to school here for their mid-morning snack. We got a bonus snack at halftime, when stewards shared out baskets of chocolate-covered almonds to mark the New Year. All part of the hospitality at San Bartolomeo.
Official Lega Pro video highlights of the week 18 win v. Chieti: