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Monday, September 15, 2003
The modernization of Modena

Roberto Gotta

As someone correctly pointed out last week on the thorny issue of building sites in Italy, starting them is not a problem. Closing them is, as some public interest works - like bridges, hospitals and highways - have taken years to be completed.

So it was a surprising story, and one worthy of regional headlines, that a whole stadium, Modena's Braglia, could be refurbished in 100 days in order to bring it in line with Serie A's regulation requesting a minimum 20,000 capacity.

On Sunday, the Serie A club from the Emilian town unveiled their new home, dubbed Modena's 'Old Trafford' for reasons I have not been able to understand: perhaps the (relative) proximity of the pitch, which used to be miles away from the stands and is now only few yards from the ends, or the curved (and thus un-Old Trafford like) roof of the East stand, opposite the main one which, as a listed building, could not be touched, or perhaps the blue seats that spell out 'Modena FC' on the East stand itself.

Whatever the reason for this bizarre monicker, the new Braglia gave authorities a scare on the day of its official opening, last Wednesday, when one of the renewed banks of terracing suddenly shifted by less than an inch, enough to send some of the guests running for their lives, fearing a collapse.

No, it was a natural 'adjustment' by the new structure, one of the architects, probably bathing in cold sweat, explained in a letter to the local council.

Serves them right for not calling up a batallion of soldiers, a la Wembley 1923, to march up and down the terraces in order to test them, and it would have been easier here than just about anywhere else since Modena is home to Italy's most famous officer academy.

Perhaps such a test will take place when work is fully completed, as the two ends are still uncovered and each of them has two steel beams coupled together sprouting out from the top - surely a structure that one day will provide support for a roof, but on this day they looked more like some piece of post-modern, and thus incomprehensible, art.

It may then have been a festive day for the new stadium, but Modena fans only found a little solace in the announcement - a must in a town only a few miles from Ferrari's headquarters in Maranello - that Michael Schumacher had won the Monza Formula One Grand Prix.

That was quickly forgotten, though, as soon the supporters' minds were again focused on the task at hand. Supporting their team? No. First things first, so the whole home end started shouting slogans against one of Modena's new shareholders, Enrico Preziosi, Mr. Everywhere in Italian football as he's also a former president and current part-owner of Como and last year purchased Genoa.

Preziosi is not as welcome as it was under his stewardship that three years ago Como player Ferrigno nearly killed Modena player Bortolotti in a locker room punch-up, an event which still has fans of the two teams at odds.

The announcement of Preziosi's involvement caused a commotion which held up the first day of pre-season training, and Modena fans had staged a protest during the team's opening game of the season at Inter on week one, keeping their mouths shut for the first 18 minutes - the same two digits as the percentage of shares Preziosi has allegedly bought.

So, the day will be probably remembered by local fans more for their bewilderement at sitting in the same place with different surroundings than for the result, a dull 1-0 win for Udinese which exposed the same old problems for Modena, their inability to score goals, which plagued last year's edition, coached by Gianni De Biasi, and has apparently carried over to this year's team, managed by Alberto Malesani.

The 'Canaries' had only 30 goals last year, only one and seven more than relegated Como and Torino respectively; they lost promising striker Giuseppe Sculli, a Juventus player loaned out to Chievo this year, and did not replace him until a few days ago, when former Juventus striker Nicola Amoruso joined from Como.

Hardly the bulking centre-forward type, Amoruso was deployed as a lone striker supported by Diomansy Kamara, just back from Senegal's friendlies in the Far East, and Riccardo Allegretti, but Modena were only dangerous when Udinese defenders sliced clearances (which happened a few times too many for a Serie A team who are in the Uefa Cup) and could not seriously threaten visiting keeper Morgan De Sanctis, one of about 1,000 goalkeepers Arsenal targeted in the summer, even with the advantage of playing against 10 men for more than an hour, after Alberto had received his second yellow card (while on a stretcher!).

Udinese, defeated at home by Roma in week one, never looked uncomfortable after losing Alberto and reorganized, bringing Jankulovski to the right flank to replace Alberto in a 3-4-1-1 setup, and scored the only goal of the game eight minutes from time: Modena failed to clear a free kick, Jankulovski miskicked his attempted volley from outside the area but the ball flew straight to Chilean international Pizarro, who was brought down by Milanetto and fired home the subsequent penalty.

This sets up next Saturday's clash between Ancona and Modena at the Stadio Dorico, the only two teams in the Serie A squaring off at 8.30pm for the dubious pleasure of a television (non-)audience.

But watch it if you can, it will bring you back down to Earth after those intoxicatingly good Champions League evenings.

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