10 Things In Italy: Racism, Juventus Crackdown & League Leaders Inter Milan

As usual, the action on the field struggled to keep up with the incredible news happening away from the pitch, but fear not, because “10 Things” is here to keep you up to date with the most important moments from the last seven days in Italian football.

1. Racism Is In The Headlines Once Again

Another weekend of thrilling Serie A matches was undermined by institutionalized racism when a TopCalcio24 pundit discussed Romelu Lukaku’s performance for Inter. 

"If you go one-on-one with him he will murder you,” proclaimed Luciano Passirani on live television. "The only way to come up against him is maybe give him 10 bananas to eat..."

I mean, really? For once, however, the issue was not swept under the carpet, the show’s director Fabio Ravezzani ignoring an apology from the journalist and instantly dismissing him from his on-air role. 

"Mr. Passirani is 80 years old and to compliment Lukaku he used a metaphor that turned out to be racist," Ravezzani said. "I think it was a terrible lack of momentary lucidity, but I cannot tolerate any kind of errors, even if momentary.”

2. Juventus Ultras Arrested

A second moment of Serie A finally standing up to be counted came on Monday morning, as 12 leading Juventus Ultras were arrested after a year-long investigation by the authorities in Turin. Working undercover, police tapped over 225,000 phone calls between leaders of the “Drughi,” “Nucleo 1985,” “Tradizione-Antichi Valori,” and “Viking” groups, establishing evidence of conspiracy, extortion, money laundering, and violence.

The issue came down to those Ultras threatening racist chanting in the stadium if the club’s management did not supply them with tickets that they could then sell on for a profit; Juventus decided enough was enough and took the matter to the local authorities. 

3. Inter Go Top Of The Table

While Juve made the right move off the field, their issues on it saw them relinquish top spot in Serie A for the first time in over 550 days, overtaken by Inter after Antonio Conte’s men maintained their 100 percent record. The Nerazzurri were made to work hard for their 1-0 victory over Udinese, but Conte relished his side moving into first place. 

The game changed when Rodrigo De Paul was given a red card for slapping Antonio Candreva, but his coach knows the importance of grinding out wins in difficult matches. 

“I read too much rubbish in the papers, but the truth is nothing is easy and we will never take anything for granted,” Conte told DAZN shortly after the final whistle. “Every game is a battle and the level of Serie A competition has definitely improved.”

4. Juventus Flop In Florence

The slip from Juventus that allowed Inter to overtake them came against Fiorentina, the Tuscan side working incredibly hard to secure a 0-0 stalemate at the Stadio Artemio Franchi. Vincenzo Montella has taken more than his fair share of criticism in recent weeks and months, but the coach had his side employing the perfect game plan, denying space in wide areas and forcing the Bianconeri to play through the middle of the field. 

With Sami Khedira and Blaise Matuidi there, the lack of creativity hurt Juve, while La Viola’s shift to a 3-5-2 formation not only nullified the threat of Cristiano Ronaldo but unleashed Franck Ribery; the Frenchman certainly enjoyed his afternoon far more than CR7. 

“It was risky to use this defense, as they only had one and a bit training sessions together, but I felt it was important,” a delighted Montella told Sky Italia. “We created problems for Juventus and there is no greater victory for a coach than seeing the players follow his guidance.”

5. AC Milan’s Struggles Continue

If seeing Inter go top of Serie A was bad for Juve, it was worse still for beleaguered crosstown rivals AC Milan who struggled away at Hellas Verona. Despite their opponents seeing a player sent off in the first half, the Rossoneri continued to labor under new boss Marco Giampaolo, eventually managing to score at take the points after another subpar performance. 

“I won’t just brush the dust under the carpet. I know full well we need to improve and there are issues we have to deal with,” the coach told Sky Italia at the final whistle. “We must be honest; I don’t hide. This team is trying and is accustomed to playing as individuals, whereas I must get them working in the service of the collective. We must learn to attack better . . . that is true.”

They will certainly need to improve quickly, Inter waiting for them in next weekend’s latest installment of the Derby della Madonnina. 

6. SPAL Shock Lazio

Serie A’s bigger teams certainly didn’t have things their own way last weekend, and nowhere was that truer than in Ferrara, where minnows SPAL fought back from a goal down to earn a 2-1 victory over Lazio. 

“It’s a bad defeat and we weren’t the usual Lazio in the second half,” boss Simone Inzaghi told Sky Italia following the home side’s injury-time winner. “A team like ours with the ambitions we’ve set ourselves cannot concede goals like that. We stood off the SPAL players and allowed them the space to finish both goals. It’s sad, because four points do not reflect our performances in the first three rounds, but again, it’s our own fault.”

7. Duvan Claims Zapata Family Bragging Rights

Few players will be hurting as much this week as Cristian Zapata, struggling for Genoa as he marked his cousin. With the score tied at 1-1, the Colombia defender – who had already conceded a penalty – allowed Atalanta striker Duvan Zapata to snatch a winner, and the latter clearly enjoyed beating his relative on the field. 

“It was a tough game, we needed the three points and never gave up to the very end in our search for the victory,” Duvan told DAZN. “It seemed to be over with the penalty, but we wanted that win. It was a good forward move, the ball came to me and I put everything into it.

“[Cristian] had a great game, but these three points are fundamental for us. I wish him all the best for the season going forward!”

I’m not sure that will make him feel better.

8. Atalanta Unveil New Stadium

As if Duvan Zapata beating down his own family wasn’t enough, Atalanta are now set to return to their own home after hosting their recent games at the Stadio Ennio Tardini in Parma. After a summer of renovations, the newly renamed “Gewiss Stadium” will reopen to the public and should host its first Serie A game next week. 

The Bergamo-based club have invested heavily in the new arena, and work should be fully completed by June 2021, giving Atalanta and their fans yet another reason to boast.

9. Parma School Initiative 

Another piece of good news came in the city Atalanta are just leaving, Parma taking on a new school initiative that involves the club donating a kit to every child that starts school in the town and local province.

The venture is known as Forma la tua passione – “Cultivate your passion” – and is made in collaboration with kit sponsor Erreà, handing out almost 3,000 shirts this week in conjunction with vastly reduced ticket prices.

10. Bologna Fight Back, Then Visit The Boss

Having started this week’s “10 Things” with some seriously troubling stories, let’s end on the highest possible note. Bologna took on Brescia this weekend and were 3-1 down at halftime, eventually fighting back to win 4-3 despite boss Sinisa Mihajlovic still being in the hospital as he prepares for the second course of chemotherapy for his leukemia.

He still ripped into his players during the interval. 

“Mihajlovic was furious at halftime,” striker Rodrigo Palacio revealed following the end of the game. “We tried to use that mentality when we got back out there. It’s thanks to his approach that we play like this.”

Not content with giving him the credit, the players convinced the team bus driver to stop off at the hospital when they returned to Bologna, disembarking to give a rousing chorus of “Forza Sinisa” under his window.

Adam Digby is an Italian football writer for FourFourTwo, The Independent, and elsewhere. Author of "Juventus: A History In Black & White." Follow Adam on Twitter.

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