The Bandinis 2013: an utterly exhaustive review of the Serie A season | Paolo Bandini

From shocking misses to screamers, the best games and the worst dive, it's our end-of-season Italian football awards

They say that those who laugh last, laugh loudest. But what about those who laugh first and then forget to stop? In bulldozing their way to a second consecutive Serie A title, Juventus held top spot (or at least a share of it) from the opening day of the 2012-13 season right through to the last. Despite losing five games, the Bianconeri somehow appeared even more dominant than they had while going unbeaten a year previously.

Juventus started as they meant to go on, beating Napoli at the pre-season SuperCoppa in Beijing. Unfortunately, that match also set the tone for a year of bitter controversy. Enraged by a string of perceived refereeing injustices, Napoli's players refused to attend the post-game medal ceremony. The club's owner, Aurelio De Laurentiis, rewarded them with a bonus and threatened to boycott the competition in future.

Nine months later, an Italian referee would take charge of the Champions League final at Wembley, yet the consensus on the peninsula was that this had been one of the worst officiated seasons in Serie A's recent history. In April two officials, Paolo Tagliavento and Andrea Gervasoni, had to be suspended for mishandling high-profile fixtures. Mauro Bergonzi's performance in Milan's crucial final game against Siena was equally calamitous .

The Catania president Antonino Pulvirenti had already lamented the "death of football" after his team had a perfectly good goal disallowed in their 1-0 defeat to Juventus in October. Adding insult to injury, their opponents' winner was set up by a player in an offside position. Even the Bianconeri, though, would get their turn to feel aggrieved. In January, their manager Antonio Conte claimed to have heard the referee Marco Guida saying that he "didn't feel up to" awarding Juve a penalty during their draw with Bologna.

This season also reminded us, however, that Italian football has bigger problems than poor officiating. Four teams were docked points as a result of last summer's match-fixing investigations, and further high-profile cases will play out over the next few months. Conte himself received a four-month touchline ban after being found guilty of omessa denuncia – the failure to report an attempted fix – a charge dating back to his time at Siena.

The issue of violent fan behaviour was also to the fore. Shortly before the Coppa Italia final, police in Rome seized a cache of weapons that might not have looked out of place on a medieval battlefield. The Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani was forced to flee the tribuna d'onore at Fiorentina's Stadio Artemio Franchi in the middle of a game in April after being targeted by fans throwing coins and other missiles.

And then there were the racist chants that blighted so many games. This will be remembered as the season in which Milan abandoned a friendly in protest at monkey noises launched from the stands, before having a league fixture suspended for much the same reason . Neither gesture seemed to have any lasting impact. Mario Balotelli was routinely abused at games where he was not even present.

Despite it all, there were still some bright notes to be found. Vincenzo Montella's Fiorentina provided a great number of them. At a time when crowds have been dwindling across the country, the Viola increased their average attendance figure by almost 20%, drawing fans in with their entertaining and optimistic approach. They fell just two points short of a Champions League berth, and scored more goals (72) than every other team except Napoli.

Roma's directors might regret passing up the opportunity to name Montella as their full-time manager following his caretaker stint in 2011, but the Giallorossi themselves enjoyed a brief spike in attendances after re-appointing Zdenek Zeman last summer. The manager was fired in February with his team struggling in eighth, yet he did get some things right. At their best, Zeman's Roma were scintillating. Francesco Totti credited the manager with helping him to find his best form in years.

Milan did not play with quite such attacking verve, yet the emergence of such players as Stephan El Shaarawy, Mattia De Sciglio and M'Baye Niang was nevertheless thrilling. To finish third despite the departures of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Alessandro Nesta and the rest was remarkable. The addition of Balotelli in January lent fresh star appeal to both their team and the league.

And then there were the top two. Napoli never quite looked like title contenders, but they did reassert their quality in moving back ahead of the rest of the pack. It will be fascinating to watch how the newly-appointed Rafael Benítez fares next season, with or without Edinson Cavani.

Juventus, meanwhile, unleashed Paul Pogba on the world, adding yet another string to an already potent bow. Their comprehensive Champions League defeat by Bayern Munich was deflating, but the Germans were operating on a different plane this year. It should not be forgotten that Juventus also eliminated Chelsea while going unbeaten through their first eight games of that competition.

The champions are certain to strengthen once again this summer – indeed, they already have with the capture of Fernando Llorente on a free transfer. The rest of the division will have to work hard simply to keep up.

Player of the season

It has to be Edinson Cavani. The Napoli striker led Serie A with 29 goals in 34 league appearances this season, yet the most telling statistic of all relates to the brief period in which he stopped scoring.

Perhaps distracted by events off the field (he had just begun the process of getting a divorce from his wife Maria Soledad), Cavani went eight games without a goal in all competitions between early February and the middle of March. Napoli won just once during that spell, and were eliminated from the Europa League by Viktoria Plzen. The extent to which this team had been carried by their striker was brutally laid bare.

Cavani has scored a remarkable 78 league goals in three years with Napoli. He is also the first player in the history of Serie A to score hat-tricks against Juventus, Milan and Inter. This was his greatest season yet. No wonder the fans in Naples built a cage to stop him from leaving.

Goal of the season

5) Antonio Cassano's swerving 30-yard strike against Fiorentina was as glorious as it was futile. His team were 4-0 down at the time, in the 86th minute.

4) Josip Ilicic ultimately came up short in his one-man crusade to save Palermo from relegation, but he scored some very pretty goals along the way. Against Sampdoria he ran half the length of the pitch, outfoxing opponents as he went, before clipping the ball past Sergio Romero.

3) Overhead kicks department: Amauri against Pescara, Fabio Quagliarella against Chievo, and my favourite: Enzo Maresca against Atalanta .

2) Panagiotis Kone's scissor kick against Napoli was so good that Gazzetta dello Sport suggested its image could one day replace that of Carlo Parola on packets of Panini stickers.

1) A late entry, but a brilliant one, from Massimo Gobbi, who met Jaime Valdés's cross with one of the most perfect outside-of-the-boot volleys you are ever likely to see.

Honourable mentions: Paul Pogba, Fabrizio Miccoli and Facundo Roncaglia.

Own goal of the season

The Roma goalkeeper Mauro Goicoechea helped to seal Zeman's fate with his spectacular mishandling of a Danilo Avelar cross.

Honourable mention: It would be harsh to blame Zeljko Brkic for this slapstick moment against Fiorentina, but you would have been hard-pressed not to chuckle.

Penalty of the season

Arturo Vidal's spot-kick against Milan was so perfect that the newspaper La Repubblica devoted an entire article to its majesty. "There are lots of ways to hit a penalty: with power, off the post, with a chip," wrote Alessandro Vocalelli. "But one like this has probably never been seen before."

Game of the season

It is easy to forget that Inter were at one point considered serious title challengers this season. "Now we know who the anti-Juve are," wrote Luigi Garlando in the Gazzetta Sportiva on 4 November last year. "It is this possessed Inter team who [just] desecrated their front room."

Garlando was writing in the heady aftermath of Inter's 3-1 victory over Juventus in Turin, at a time when the Nerazzurri had just closed to within a single point of the league leaders. Six months and one catastrophic collapse later, Inter would finish the season down in ninth, 33 points off the pace.

But subsequent events should not diminish Inter's performance at Juventus Stadium . Within 20 seconds of the kick-off they found themselves a goal down to opponents who had not lost a league game in 538 days. Worse yet, Juve's goal ought not to have stood – Kwadwo Asamoah having provided the assist from an offside position. And yet, rather than losing their heads, Inter stuck resolutely to their attacking game-plan, claiming their reward in the form of three second-half goals.

It was a game high on tempo, tension and chances at both ends. Most of all, though, it was the game that proved Conte's Juventus could indeed be beaten – even if wresting the title from their grasp would turn out to be another matter altogether.

Honourable mention: Napoli's 5-3 win away to Torino had it all: goals, penalties, comebacks and even a Blerim Dzemaili hat-trick.

Vital statistics

1: Number of Udinese fans who showed up for their game away to Sampdoria in December .

2: Points collected by Pescara since 7 January.

44: Managerial changes at Palermo during Sir Alex Ferguson's 27-year tenure at Manchester United.

12: Age at which Francesco Totti claims to have lost his virginity. "It was in Tropea with a 17-year-old Roman girl called Simona," he told an interviewer from Rai's Radio2 earlier this year. "But I didn't understand a thing [about what was happening]."

Team of the season (3-4-2-1)

Federico Marchetti (Lazio); Hugo Campagnaro (Napoli), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus); Alessio Cerci (Torino), Borja Valero (Fiorentina), Arturo Vidal (Juventus), Erik Lamela (Roma); Marek Hamsik (Napoli), Francesco Totti (Roma); Edinson Cavani (Napoli).

Substitutes: Samir Handanovic (Inter), Mattia De Sciglio (Milan), Riccardo Montolivo (Milan), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Stephan El Shaarawy (Milan), Stevan Jovetic (Fiorentina), Antonio Di Natale (Udinese)

Manager of the season

Vincenzo Montella did not begin the season fretting about Champions League qualification. Asked towards the end of 2012 whether his team was capable of qualifying for Europe, the Fiorentina manager simply replied: "I have a team full of quality footballers. The only route we can take is to try to put on a show."

That they most certainly did, playing some of the most entertaining football in the division. Montella's preferred starting midfield of Borja Valero, David Pizarro and Alberto Aquilani was unique for its lack of a tough-tackling enforcer. He challenged his teams to outwit and outmanoeuvre their opponents; more often than not they succeeded.

In the end, Fiorentina finished fourth – above such rich and illustrious teams as Inter, Lazio and Roma. The show that Montella had promised turned out to be a glorious one.

Assist of the season

Alberto Aquilani's spinning backheeled through-ball for Stevan Jovetic against Inter was so good that Francesco Totti staged a re-enactment a month later.

The Handball Maradona award for services to videogaming

Andrea Pirlo sent corks flying at Sony's marketing HQ back in April, writing in his autobiography that: "After the wheel, the best invention is the PlayStation." He followed up by estimating that he had played at least four times as many games of football on consoles as he had in real life – and most of them against Alessandro Nesta.

His comments stood in stark contrast to those made by Montella earlier this season. "The other day my son said: 'Dad, if you knew how to play PlayStation you'd be a perfect father,'" the Fiorentina manager told La Repubblica back in September. "I took that as a very great compliment."

Worst substitution

When the Lazio manager Vladimir Petkovic pulled Miroslav Klose out of his team's rout of Bologna with 24 minutes left to play, he thought he was doing his striker a favour. Klose had already scored five times, and this way he could enjoy a standing ovation from the fans before putting his feet up and reflecting on a job well done. What Petkovic didn't realise is that Klose was just one strike away from breaking Serie A's all-time record for most goals in a single game.

The Ned Stark award for taking the moral high ground

Klose talked his way out of a goal on 26 September, informing the referee Luca Banti that he had used his hand to score for Lazio in the third minute of their game away to Napoli. He was rewarded with a firm handshake from the official, who had previously awarded the goal but now disallowed it. Klose walked away with his head held high. His team walked away with a 3-0 defeat.

The Petyr Baelish trophy for getting the job done

Klose's Lazio team-mate Sergio Floccari showed no such qualms four months later, claiming, somewhat implausibly, to be unaware that he had handballed before scoring his team's opening goal against Atalanta . The goal stood, and Lazio won 2-0.

Miss of the season

Andrea Ranocchia was four yards from goal as he ran on to a cross in the dying seconds of Inter's game against Atalanta in April. He placed his shot so far off target that it didn't even go out for a goal-kick .

Honourable mention: Ranocchia's then team-mate Marko Livaja hit the post from a yard out in the 90th minute of Inter's 1-1 draw with Genoa .

The Ann Timson award for have-a-go heroics

Footballers are a consistent target for criminals in Italy. In the last three years, Edinson Cavani, Samuel Eto'o, Wesley Sneijder and Mario Balotelli have all had their homes broken into, while Marek Hamsik has been robbed at gunpoint. But when a crook waved a pistol in Leonardo Bonucci's face last October, the Juventus defender punched his assailant twice before chasing him up the street. "I am no superhero," insisted the Juventus defender afterwards, but Gazzetta dello Sport's cartoon sure made him look like one.

Worst dive

Bonucci did not seem quite so tough when executing one of the most preposterous tumbles you will ever see during his team's game at Palermo.

The Lemmon-Matthau certificate for best Odd Couple

In October Inter's Japanese full-back Yuto Nagatomo revealed that Antonio Cassano had become his best friend at Inter. The forward concurred. "We are great friends, because we don't understand a thing that we say to one another," said Cassano. "From dawn to dusk we tell each other how much we like each other, because I don't have any other alternatives."

Most shameless volte-face

7 January: The Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi describes Mario Balotelli as a "bad apple" during a televised interview, adding, "I would never accept him being a part of our changing room."

31 January: Signs him.

Worst transfer strategists

Only Inter could sell Wesley Sneijder for substantially less than his market value, then bring a retired and out-of-shape John Carew in for a trial just a few weeks later.

Best clearance

Only Philippe Mexès could have dreamed up the airborne backheel he pulled off against Atalanta.

Best Halloween gimmick

For the second year running, Juventus's marketing team did a fine job of reimagining their players as ghosts, ghouls and cinematic bad guys. Personal favourites: Gigi Buffon as Freddy Krueger and Andrea Pirlo as The Joker.

Best half-time snack

Why settle for soggy pies when you could just bring an entire panettone with you from home?

Best promise

"If I win the World Cup [with Italy in 2014] I will give myself two mohawks" – Cesare Prandelli makes a vow that must not be forgotten.

Best exploitation of a contract loophole

Among the many clauses written into Mario Balotelli's Milan contract is one that forbids him from go-karting, a safeguard presumably inserted to prevent the player from doing himself a mischief on his days off. And so, instead of breaking the rules in May, Balotelli simply drove his own Ferrari down to the go-karting circuit, and persuaded the staff there to let him take that for a spin round their track instead .

Best explanation for Antonio Conte's hair

It's actually a cat.

Greatest moment

Nenad Krsticic was not the only one with a tear in his eye after he scored his first Serie A goal for Sampdoria in December. In 2008, the player was informed that he had just 48 hours left to live after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of Burkitt's Lymphoma. Four years later, he has not only beaten cancer, but also fulfilled his dream of making it as a professional footballer at the highest level.

Most Optimistic

"Wherever he goes, Mauro [Zarate] will be loved and appreciated by the Lazio fans" – the forward's agent, Luis Ruzzi, in January.

"The true champion is humble. He goes and collects the balls when training with the reserves. He doesn't cry on Twitter, and he reduces his wages. He does not cling on to an overly generous contract. Zarate: leave" – message displayed by Lazio supporters on enormous banners at the club's next home game.

Worst bookie

During a local radio interview in January, the Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini denied claims that he was about to fire manager Gian Piero Gasperini – going so far as to offer odds of 100-1 on that possibility. His interviewer duly bet him €50 at that price. One week later, Gasperini was gone.

Most subversive news ticker

On 5 May, Sky Sports 24 HD became the first, and only, Italian media outlet to run with the breaking news story: "Scandal, Milan [are] shit!"

Chant of the year

"The ball's that yellow thing, the ball's that yellow thing …" – Fiorentina supporters offer some assistance to hapless Inter during their 4-1 rout of the Nerazzurri in February.

Worst invitation

The Cagliari owner Massimo Cellino told his team's fans to come on down to the Stadio Is Arenas for their game against Roma in September, even though the stadium had not been signed off as safe to hold supporters by the various local authorities. The game, inevitably, was abandoned with Roma awarded a nominal 3-0 victory.

Lifetime achievement award for most relentless trolling

Marco Materazzi might have retired from playing football, but his career as professional antagonist is still going strong. In November he tweeted a photo of himself smiling before a statue of the butt he received from Zinedine Zidane at the 2006 World Cup final.

Most likely to wind up playing the victim on an MTV reality show

"You reach Serie A and immediately the sexual attention you get multiplies," noted Stephan El Shaarawy in September. "I like it. But I find my women on Facebook. You can find a lot of stuff online …"

Best fan choreography

Parma celebrated the 20th anniversary of their first-ever European trophy earlier this month, inviting their 1993 Cup Winners' Cup-winning squad back to the Stadio Tardini. As those players walked out on to the pitch before kick-off, the club's supporters raised a series of banners showing the names of each player that had started the final … in the correct starting formation.

Most innovative solution to match-fixing

"What happens in the changing room ought to stay in the changing room," said Roma's Pablo Osvaldo when asked how he might react to a team-mate approaching him about a possible fix. "I will never be a grass, but I would not turn away either. In silence, I would beat him silly."

Worst parents

"If it ends badly, it will mean that our father and mother didn't bring us up right," said the Cesena president Igor Campedelli last summer after appointing his younger brother Nicola as the club's new manager in the wake of their relegation to Serie B. Igor sacked his sibling three games later.

Alphaville amulet for the Forever Young

The papers were full of pessimistic predictions regarding Javier Zanetti's future in professional football after the 39-year-old tore his Achilles tendon during Inter's defeat to Palermo last month . The player himself, however, seemed utterly convinced that he would return from this latest setback soon enough, saying: "My career is not over. After travelling so many kilometres, I simply needed a tyre change."

Guarisci presto, Pupi. We look forward to seeing you back on the field next year.


Nicky Bandini

The GuardianTramp

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