When AC Milan man-of-the-moment Stephan El Shaarawy became the Serie A top scorer by pushing the ball into the Chievo Verona net, when Napoli crackerjack Édinson Cavani gave his terrific performance in the Europa League match against Dnipro, all Italian football fans were going into raptures – except a closed group of young and old men based in Viareggio, on the northern shores of Tuscany. It was here that the two current Serie A most prolific forwards began to get fame as they participated in the Coppa Carnevale, the prestigious world youth football tournament yearly held in this 60,000-inhabitant seaside resort since 1948.
El Shaarawy belongs to the golden generation of Genoa which won all but one of the main leagues and trophies dedicated to Primavera academies. Coached by Luca Chiappino, that team won the Coppa Italia in 2009 and even the Supercoppa and league one year later, but they failed to lift the cup in Viareggio. El Shaarawy, who had already made his Serie A debut, and his team-mates started with a cracking 2-2 draw against Anderlecht and future Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku. He subsequently contributed to a tight win over Lazio and finally scored a brace in a crucial game against Racing Club de Bobo, a team from Burkina Faso, which qualified Genoa for the round of 16. Nevertheless, Genoa were immediately eliminated and the same, disappointing outcome took place on the following year.
Cavani was even more unlucky. He participated in the 2006 edition with Montevideo-based side Danubio, a club where many Uruguayan talents have blossomed throughout the years. Their opening match was a tremendous encounter with Torino, one of the most renowned names of Italian football, but it ended in a goalless draw which kept Danubio’s hopes of progressing through the tournament still alive. Cavani, erroneously quoted as Cabani in official match scores, failed to score also in the second match, a comfortable 2-1 win at the detriment of Pistoiese. It was just a matter of patience, though, and the future Napoli star achieved his goal against Messina, another 2-1 success which did not suffice for Danubio to advance to the round of 16. On the contrary, three matches were quite enough for Cavani to entice several representatives of European clubs. Palermo signed him on the following year and the rest of the story is already worldwide known, with his dazzling shot which marked his Serie A debut and the fundamental move to Napoli.
Just behind these two talents there is a tiny forward from Southern Italy who, despite being 35, still knows how to flash a ball into a net. His name is Antonio Di Natale, a true living Udinese legend, and he has really fond memories of his only season spent in Viareggio playing for the local side. It was in October 1998 when Di Natale agreed to join Viareggio in Serie C2, the fourth flight of Italian football, on loan from Empoli. Arrived as a youngster who had to show his potential, he gradually became one of the most lionised players by Viareggio fans and not surprisingly Empoli wanted him back at the end of that thrilling season.
The name of Viareggio echoed also in last weekend clashes for the Serie A top positions like Atalanta-Inter Milan, AC Milan-Fiorentina and Pescara-Juventus. Giacomo Bonaventura scored the opener in the match between the two teams who wear black-and-blue jerseys, whereas Roma academy midfielder Alberto Aquilani and former Atalanta striker Giampaolo Pazzini were among the scorers of the San Siro match. Moreover, Naples-born forward Fabio Quagliarella was the hat-trick-hero in the thrashing 6-1 victory by Juventus at Pescara.
Just sticking at Napoli and Naples, the Azzurri won 4-2 in Genoa against the homonym side. Cavani scored one goal and he was emulated by team-mate Lorenzo Insigne, who took part in the Coppa Carnevale in 2010, but also by rivals Andrea Bertolacci and Ciro Immobile. The former had a lacklustre experience of the tournament with AS Roma, the latter, born near Naples, became the only one to score 10 goals in a single edition and to match Renzo Cappellaro’s record of 14 total goals in the Coppa.
The game which really embodies the link between Viareggio and the Serie A, though, was that between Chievo Verona and Udinese. Marco Andreolli, who took part in the Coppa in 2006, gave Chievo the lead, but defender Gabriele Angella soon levelled. He was a runner-up in 2008, when Empoli lost on penalties to Mario Balotelli’s Inter Milan. In the same year AC Milan featured promising striker Alberto Paloschi, who converted from the penalty spot in the 89th. Once again, however, Angella equalised, celebrating his first two goals in the Italian top division.
Perhaps, it is not hard to figure out many Viareggio-located sportsmen claiming in some bars “I told you that that guy would have made it!”.