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Save Reveal - Catania, FM24

November 5, 2023


 


 

As is customary, feel free to play the following whilst you read the prologue.


An alluring scent of zesty citrus groves fills the air, intertwined with aromatic oregano and fresh seafood sizzling on grills.


Through the towns, narrow cobbled streets wind like meandering rivers. Flotsam of Vespa scooters flow down past billowing laundry to bustling markets. Here, echoes of passionate conversations resonate with melodic folk music, and you could be forgiven for thinking these places had a life of their own.


Here, ancient traditions have survived as long as the architecture they are practiced alongside. Roman amphitheatres, intricate Byzantine mosaics, remnants of once-majestic Greek temples, and Arabic relics all whisper stories of the past. However, do not be mistaken. Time here has not stood still.


This is a land that has changed hands many times, that has been known by many names. Wars have been fought, blood spilled and treaties signed. It has been invaded, occupied and emancipated. Many kingdoms and empires have laid claim to its fertile soil, but none survive longer than the customs and culture of its people. They are defiant, proud. Through tragedy and times of strife, they have prevailed.


Not all see this as a land of beauty. True, this is the realm of the mafioso. They are the most recent claimants to the throne of this kingdom. There are those who would denounce, condemn. They say this is a land of savagery, a hive of villainy and breeding ground of malcontent. To them, I say, what is a man without a past? A land without ruins is a land without memories - a land without memories is a land without history. Without history, we are like a tree without roots.


As the sun sets upon this enchanting land, casting a golden hue upon the rolling hills and glistening azure sea, one thing becomes abundantly clear. We stand on the shores of the jewel of the Mediterranean. We are in Sicily, and it is captivating.

 

Introduction


More specifically, we're in Catania.


It's perhaps a little more urbanized than the idyllic Sicilian countryside I alluded to in the prologue, but nonetheless it is a stunningly beautiful city.


There's a lot of things that go into me picking a new save. Often, the game itself falls to the wayside a bit. It is not, and never will be, the most visually impressive game on the market. That means you have to use your imagination a bit. For me, the visualisation of my club and its surroundings is what really gets me going.


And when I say catania is beautiful, well...

Need I say more?

I could go on about Sicilian history and culture until the cows come home. Unfortunately, I have other commitments, as I'm sure you do too. If you want to know more, here is a list of books you can read, if you're that way inclined.


We're here to talk about football and Football Manager. So, shall we?


 

Rossoazzuri

Football clubs are a reflection of the people who make them. Far from separate entities, their location, and the culture within it, are inextricably linked.


And if Sicily has had a turbulent history, Catania FC has had a hurricane.


Like many places, football was brought here by the undisputed world champions in cultural dissemination, the English. The earliest Catania team can be traced back to a match in May 1902, against Messina, with the Catanian team made up from local sailors of the Royal Yacht Catania.


In its infant years, football in Italy was more developed in its northern regions, in another example of the mirrored nature of clubs and their environment. Southern clubs did not compete in the Italian Football Championship, the precursor to Serie A, until much later. Catania survived both world wars, although its disputed if the team that was disbanded by the fascist government and reformed into Societa Deportivo Catania and its post-war iteration were one and the same. It was a messy time.


They managed to climb up to Serie B in 1934, and floated around there and Serie C until the 1950s. This was the golden era of Catania, and they managed to reach Serie A on two occasions. In 1965, Catania recorded their joint-highest Serie A finish of eighth place. From here, they floated around Italy's top few divisions until the 1980s. They were never great, but respectable nonetheless.


However, what would Italian football be without riveting scandals?


Controversies


The first sign of trouble came in the 90s, shortly after demotion to Serie C. Catania was in a spiral of decline, and in 1993 their participation in that year's league was suspended due to Italy's footballing hallmark, 'financial irregularities'. They were reinstated in the end, but it was a sign of things to come.


Ten years later, they were involved in a controversy known as 'Caso Catania', which led to the enlargement of Serie B from 20 to 24 teams. I'll spare the details for brevity, but essentially they accused Siena of fielding an ineligible player in a match which saw them relegated. As it turns out, he was ineligible, but also an unused subsititute. Cue a drawn-out legal battle, and eventually Catania, Genoa and Salernitana were all allowed to stay in the league - hence the expansion.


Two years later, and Catania once again found themselves in Serie A. This was a great time for the club, and in their first season back they peaked as high as fourth after 20 games. However, they would soon be embroiled in a controversy that would not only tarnish this season, but perhaps the clubs lasting legacy.


Ultras are often glorified in football. I'm among those who find that aspect of Italian football fascinating, with violent clashes and opposing ideologies in stark contrast to the tamer nature of the modern sport in England. Palermo is the other big city on the island of Sicily, and its capital. Palermo and Catania ultras hold a vehement hatred for each other, and the Sicilian derby is often regarded as the most heated rivalry in Italy.


Throughout their history, they clashed regularly, as they did in February 2007. Palermo fans fired tear gas at the home support, and choking players fled the pitch. The game was suspended, but the violence continued outside. Here, Catania fans showered police with rocks, flares, and a small explosive which, sadly, struck and killed policeman Filippo Raciti. Things had gone too far. This incident caused FIGC commissioner Luca Pancalli to cancel all footballing activities in Italy for a period of time.


During the course of this save, I will reference the rivalry between the two clubs often. It's an integral part of both of them, and it would be remiss of me not to focus on it as a key part of my playthrough. However, it would also be remiss of me not to mention this incident, as ugly as it may be. Naturally, I don't condone the murder of a man with a wife and children in the name of something as minor as a football rivalry. It's not something that should ever happen again, nor is it something I think Catanians are proud of. When I write about the rivalry between these two great clubs, know that this aspect of it is not one that I endorse.


El Cholo



The next period of success in Catania's history came several years later, in 2011. After a poor start to the season by manager Marco Giampaolo, the club removed him from his position. His replacement would be an up-and-coming Argentinian manager, who you might associate more with another club who play in blue and red. The last great rise before Catania's collapse would come under the tutelage of Diego Simeone.


The appointment was logical. At the time, the Catania squad contained no less than 12 Argentinians. What's more, it featured players who had played under Simeone before, in Mariano Andújar, Alejandro Gómez and Pablo Álvarez.


It was an incredible time for the club, and one that Simeone remembers fondly. It was here where he perfected many of the managerial hallmarks he would show at Atelitco, like fostering a them-against-us mentality and a never-say-die attitude. At the end of the season, Catania not only survived the drop, but recorded their best ever Serie A points haul of 46. Greg Lea provides an excellently written history of the time in a 2019 article for The Guardian, which I couldn't possibly match, so I won't! You should absolutely read it, however. There's a link to it here.


Crash and Burn



Simeone left Catania after four months, leaving a legacy of success and hope for the future. His replacement, Rolando Maran, would actually fare even better, breaking the record set previously with a 56 point finish in the 2012/13 season. They even finished above Inter, a very impressive feat.


But, as we've come to expect with Catania, this was not to last. What happened following this can only be described as a death spiral. After a disappointing showing in the 2013/14 season, they were relegated to Serie B, and as of yet have not graced Serie A since.

Things went from bad to worse. The following season, they were relegated again. This is not a good position to be in as a club. To compound the misery, in this season, head coach and owner Antonio Pulvirenti admitted to fixing five matches.


The club stayed in Serie C for a while, before being purchased by a company called Sport Investment Group Italia in 2020. In 2021, a preliminary purchase agreement was signed between them and an American company. This never went through. in January 2021, the club was declared insolvent and entered administration procedures. Following several failed takeover offers, the administration tribunal wound up in April, and Catania were expelled from Serie C. Shortly after, the Italian FA completely expelled the club from Italian football, releasing all their players and coaching staff.


Catania, a club who had survived two world wars and over 100 years in existence, was gone.

Sadly, this is not a rare tale in football. I can only imagine how it would feel to be a fan at this time. You've gone to games with your grandparents, parents, friends, lovers. You've had ups, downs, highs and lows. You are a part of this club, and it is part of you. Now, because of some greedy owners and bad luck, it's gone.


Thankfully, that wouldn't be the end. The rights to Catania FC were purchased by Italian-American businessman Ross Pelligra, and the club was admitted to the 2022-23 Serie D season. After a stellar campaign, they were promoted, and at the time of writing sit comfortably in mid-table in Serie C.

 

The Save



So, we’ll be trying to follow in the footsteps of El Cholo, and propel Catania to new heights. However, I wanted a bit more flavour. To me, Italy is the home of cult football. It gave us Italia ’90, Batistuta's golden years and some of the best kits ever made. I want my Catania team to have a distinctly cult feel. I’m not sure exactly how that’s going to pan out, but I’m quite happy not setting parameters. Adding restrictive barriers like that would take away from the essence of what it is to be a cult hero. Above all, it’s about the feeling. That little nudge and wink when someone mentions a baller that you know the streets could never forget. With everlasting rivals Palermo being incorporated into the mechanistic hegemony of footballing power, City Football Group, we can become the antithesis of that empire. Our Catania will be by the people, for the people.


The second element I want to incorporate as I build my team is to use Sicily’s position in the centre of the Mediterranean to my advantage. As it turns out, the descendants of the great empires who have ruled over Sicily have produced some pretty good footballers. From old Carthage to Athens, we’ll be welcoming the sons of the Mediterranean with open arms. In other words, recruitment will be focussed around the Med, particularly North Africa, Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans. This is befitting of Sicily’s position in the region, but it hasn’t escaped my attention that some of the best cult heroes have come from these lands. Think Hakan Suker, Adel Taarabt, and Georgios Samaras. That will be the focus area, but again I won’t be too restrictive. All are welcome to bid for a place in our team of cult heroes, providing they have the requisite je ne sais quoi.


There’s also one more element I want to try and incorporate, and that’s to do with the staff. Catania's new owner, Ross Pelligra, has ties to Australian football. Coincidentally, my manger will also be an Australian-Italian, one Melezio 'Mel' Taurellio (absolutely in no way influenced by Ange Postecoglou). I’ve often wondered if the clubs ownership and staff had an effect on the nationality of the newgens that come through. When I checked the Catania squad at the end of my FM22 cycle, they had three Australians in their youth team – a lot more than anybody else at their level in Italy. So, to test my theory out, I’ll be trying to stack my coaching staff up with as many Aussies as possible and… seeing what happens. If I can get a Cristian Volpato through the youth system I will be over the moon.


Tactically, I haven’t finalized yet. I'm torn between a few philosophies for this one. Part of me wants aggressive, physical Cholismo. I'd also like to include a traditional number 10, like Simeone did at Catania. Another part of me is inclined towards replicating Allardyce's Bolton. Ever more, I'm drawn towards the nonconformist revolution of Fernando Diniz's relationist ethos. More than likely, I'll have a little bit of each of them. This save is about individuality, flexibility, and above all else - freedom of expression. We'll see how that works out in the match engine.

Club Infrastructure

Lastly, I wanted to touch on the stadium and facilities we’ll have available to us.


Well, the Stade Angelo Massimino is a cracker. Built in 1935 and capable of holding 23,000 spectators, it has admittedly seen better days. The ovular design is the cause of many complaints from those who sit on the longer ends, who can barely see a thing. Add the extra distance of the running track to that, and you can understand why. I also can’t imagine it’s a particularly great experience when it’s raining either, with just one stand partly covered by a roof. Still, this is our cathedral, and the Catanians our choir. No matter how rocky things have gotten, they have shown undying loyalty to this team. There are loose plans to renovate or rebuild the stadium, which had been in process but stopped following the dissolving of the club. New owner Ross Pelligri has revived the idea, so it’ll be interesting to see if this is implemented in-game. Thankfully, it’s not all crumbling columns and rusting corrugated roofs. We have the pleasure of training in the Torre del Grifo training centre, inaugurated in 2011. For the time, this was a state of the art facility and to this day is still exceptional. One of the problems I noticed in my time at Compsotela was, despite us having some talented players, they weren’t getting any better until we upgraded our facilities. Well, hopefully the Torre del Grifo should alleviate that issue, and give us a leg-up to the higher divisions.

 

Conclusion



It’s Catania’s first time in a Football Manager game since their reformation. After their brilliant performance last year, it only felt right to seize upon the opportunity to take the newly promoted club to glory. As I mentioned at the start of this post, a lot of factors go into me picking a save. For this, the inspiration started with the thought of 23,000 loyal Catanians turning up to games in Serie D. It was the thought of Diego Simeone having his career catapulted at this relatively obscure Sicilian club. It was the history, the culture, the visions of success. It was the new owner, the old guard, the Sicilian derby and the biggest rivalry in the country. It was Italian football itself – its icons, cult kits and scandals. It was knowing that the rest of Italy look down on Sicily as backwards. It was the thought of triumph despite the odds, and rubbing it in the face of the rest of the country. It was the dream that, someday, with a bit of luck and a helping hand, the Elephant of Catania might sit triumphantly next to the Scudetto. I can’t wait to get started.


As always, thanks for reading.


 










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