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Sunday, April 28, 2002
Escape from the 'Black Spider'
By Malcolm Folley

Carlo Cudicini admits he had to come to London to escape the shadow cast over him by the goalkeeping legend that is his father.

Carlo Cudicini
Carlo Cudicini: In inspirational form for Chelsea
But on Saturday Carlo's parents, Fabio and Serena, and a host of family and friends from Italy will take their seats in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium for Chelsea's FA Cup Final against Arsenal and see for themselves the success of Carlo's mission.

Not since Peter Bonetti has a goalkeeper won so much affection and acclaim from Chelsea's supporters.

Yet when Cudicini arrived in London, on loan from Castel di Sangro, a provincial town in the mountains of central Italy, he knew he was destined for the bench as understudy to Ed de Goey.

What mattered most, however, was that in exile Cudicini was offered one final opportunity to be recognised as his own man; not the son of Fabio, a giant of a goalkeeper with Roma and Milan.

'When I came here just a few people knew my father was a great goalkeeper,' said Cudicini. 'It is one of the factors I considered most important when Luca Vialli called. It may have been a gamble, but I also knew it was a big chance.

'Subconsciously being in England had made my job easier, because in Italy everyone always compared me with my father. They looked at me and thought, "Ah, but your father was betterî.

Carlo, 28, is not exceptionally big for a goalkeeper, not much taller than 6ft, slim and with a pianists' fingers. His positional sense and reaction speed have made him second only to Liverpool's Jerzy Dudek in the Premiership this season.

He understands now, after making a niche for himself in England, that fate conspired against him making his career in Italy, where his father's height, agility and all-black kit earned him the nickname 'Il Ragno Nero', the black spider.

Fabio is a member of the small club of players who have winners medal from the three major European competitions, having won the Fairs Cup (now the UEFA Cup) with Roma in 1961, and the Cup Winners' Cup and European Cup with AC Milan, in 1968 and '69 respectively. In sharp contrast, Cudicini jnr is about to play his first-ever cup final.

But while his father had a charmed career, Cudicini's own presence in the game has been twice threatened by serious injury. As an AC Milan player, he injured his wrist so badly in 1993 that he missed two seasons. When it became clear to him that there was no serious hope of creating a Cudicini dynasty in Milan, he joined Lazio. An injured knee meant he missed another six months. Not long after he regained fitness, Lazio acquired a new coach called Sven Goran Eriksson.

'He arrived, I left,' explained Cudicini. 'He preferred a goalkeeper with more experience.'Yet when Cudicini accepted an offer to join Castel di Sangro, he could never have supposed that he would ever be contemplating taking part in the showpiece of the greatest domestic cup competition in the world.

After working in the citadels of San Siro Stadium in Milan, and the Olympic Stadium in Rome, for Cudicini this was the equivalent of being sent to Siberia. 'Castel di Sangro is a village close to the mountains and in the winter it was snowing all the time,' recalled Cudicini. 'But the people were friendly and lived to enjoy the match every Sunday.'

Cudicini went there because no one else wanted him - until Vialli rang. At last he was propelled him from darkness into light. Yet when Vialli left, new Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri hardly demonstrated great faith in Cudicini by signing Mark Bosnich from Manchester United on a free trafer. Yet when Bosnich lost his place through injury, Cudicini's form was of such a high consistency, the Australian banks his reported £50,000 a week salary without getting near the team.

Ranieri, trying to win the Cup for Chelsea for a third time in six years, explained: 'No one has to be assured of a shirt here, I like competition. But Carlo has had a very good season.

'Maybe when he was young in Italy he was in the shadow of his father. Now he is Carlo Cudicini, not the boy of Fabio.' Cudicini remains modest in his achievements - 'I am not a star after one good season' - but smiled at the thought of Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink turning his guns on Arsenal on Saturday.

'After a long season on the training ground facing Jimmy, my hands are destroyed,' said Cudicini. 'Arsenal are favourites. But the favourite team does not always win.'


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