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No more tuxedos for Toon

The Toe Poke

Ranieri for manager of the year?


Harsh lesson for Neil and Norwich


No change in all change of coaches

Alive - barely - and miskicking only a few weeks ago, Palermo had little trouble dispatching Fiorentina last Saturday, at the beginning of a weekend that, with the notable exception of Cagliari, seemed to prove for once that changing managers before mid-season does seem to serve a purpose.

With a swift stroke of a metaphorical sweep, four clubs had dispatched their coaches within a few days of each other, in late November, although the motives seemed to be different in each case.

On Monday, November 26, Palermo coach Stefano Colantuono had learnt that not everything decorated in the club's colours was necessarily a good think, as owner and serial manager-sacker Maurizio Zamparini handed him the pink slip.

Colantuono, in his first year on the always precarious Palermo bench, looked to have led his side out of a prolonged early-season 'crisis' - the Italian media's favourite word for any side who goes winless for as much as two matches in a row - only for the Sicilians to crash 5-0 away to Juventus on a Sunday night.

Embarrassed at the attitude of the team, which appeared to lose all the fight in them once Juventus went ahead, Zamparini added another scalp to his long and none-too-impressive collection, sacking Colantuono and recalling Francesco Guidolin for the fourth time, not least because Guidolin was already on Palermo's payroll after being let go at the end of last season.

Guidolin has had a decent start to his fourth career with the Sicilians, Saturday's win over Fiorentina being his brightest day so far, but all the ups and downs have at least taught him a lesson about Zamparini: 'He is the best owner you can have...Tuesday to Sunday. Then on Monday he loses his temper and his words undermine the manager's work'.

Bizarrely, Zamparini agreed with Guidolin, saying 'perhaps it's my fault, too, I changed too many coaches', but he simply does not appear to be able to resist his urge to make changes if things go wrong.

He's in good company this time, though. The six managerial changes so far are the highest number since the 1951-52 season, and it is not difficult to detect a common trend: most of the sacked coaches were younger types with little Serie A experience, although Colantuono - see, Palermo always seem to do things differently - had already had a successful stint with Atalanta and despite criticism by insiders that his sides rarely developed a reliable system, limting themselves within the confines of individual flashes of brilliance, he was not expected to fail so soon.

Which can also be said about Marco Giampaolo at Cagliari. Last year, the Sardinians started with Giampaolo, an up-and-coming coach who had led Ascoli into Serie A and kept them there, but replaced him in mid-season with Franco Colomba, a former player with a less than impressive coaching record, only to recall Giampaolo once it became clear the team was not improving.

Giampaolo kept Cagliari up and thought he had earned himself some breathing space, even accounting for owner Massimo Cellino's little patience, but results did not improve this season - could this have something to do with David Suazo's move to Inter? - and Giampaolo was sacked again.

He was replaced by Nedo Sonetti, at 66 an experienced campaigner who has now become a serial mid-season replacer at many clubs. This is his third time in six years with Cagliari, which makes Guidolin's quartet of stints in four years at Palermo even more impressive.

Needless to say, after a return of one point in four matches, there is already talk of a second return for Giampaolo, although Cellino remarked that he'd only go back to his former coach once ­ if ­ relegation is confirmed. Since Cagliari are in joint last place, seem unable to prevent goals or buy one despite the brilliance of young players such as Robert Acquafresca and Pasquale Foggia and are also involved in a nasty dispute with another player, Davide Marchini, it is a sure bet Giampaolo will, indeed, be back.

Among the sides who took advantage of the Sardinians' excuse for a central defence were, last Sunday, Empoli, whose 21-year old striker, Nicola Pozzi, scored four times. Pozzi is himself a funny story, as ­ in keeping with an Italian tradition of calling 'baby' any young athlete ­ he is sometimes referred to as 'Baby Pozzi'.

This, though, elicits snickers from older observers who remember that Baby Pozzi was in fact a female pornstar a few years ago, thus named for being ­ or pretending to be - the younger sister of a well known, er, colleague.

Viewer discretion, though, may also have been recommended to those watching Empoli in the first couple of months of the Serie A season. Never the top flight side with the deepest pockets or bench, they had gained fool's gold, aka a UEFA Cup place, last year with a mixture of solid play built over an ever-changing tactical set-up put in place by experienced coach Gigi Cagni.

Empoli, though, were a victim of their own success and heightened, misplaced sense of where they should be. Their first ever appearance in Europe ended immediately with a UEFA Cup first round exit at the hands of FC Zurich, and despite a 1-0 win at AC Milan back in late October ­ not the most meaningful of feats this season, though, as Milan are still winless at the San Siro in the League - Cagni was sacked and replaced by 53-year old Alberto Malesani, who had had an uneventful spell at Udinese last year, again as a replacement, for Giovanni Galeone.

Another Tuscany side, Siena, had moved swiftly to replace Andrea Mandorlini with Mario Beretta. Yes, the same Mario Beretta who had managed to keep the side up last year.

Siena's less than impressive displays in avoiding relegation had led the owners, now backed by frighteningly powerful bank Monte dei Paschi, to dispense with Beretta's services and give Mandorlini, himself an unsuccessful coach in his latest couple of stints, a chance. No chance, actually, once Siena began stuttering their way towards the bottom of the table, the nadir being a 1-3 home loss to regional rivals Livorno on November 10.

Did I mention Livorno? They were the first club to make a change, in early October ­ Reggina followed suit three weeks later, 40-year old Massimo Ficcadenti walking the plank in favour ot 66-year old Renzo Ulivieri - after an horrendous start to the season, their first since 2003 without talismanic striker and local hero Cristiano Lucarelli - now, bizarrely, a newspaper publisher while still playing for Shakhtar Donetsk.

Fernando Orsi never had a chance once the gap at the bottom between the Amaranto and other struggling clubs began to widen, and Giancarlo Camolese, a more experienced Serie A coach despite being two years younger than former Roberto Mancini aide Orsi, came to the rescue, with decent results so far.

Livorno and their ancient, mostly uncovered ground exposed to the elements seem to be stuck in the past but the side seems to have moved on in the last month, with a sounder defence, Francesco Tavano finding the net again after a nightmarish year at Valencia and on loan to Roma and Diego Tristàn showing some signs of life.

In fact, the Tavano-Tristàn partnership may be blossoming to such an extent that they are becoming one single player: that is according to the Sky Italia commentator who greeted the Spaniard's goal against Roma last Sunday with shouts of 'Tavàn!'.

Mis-spelling aside, Livorno improved after changing managers, and the same seems to apply to Siena (4 points in three matches), Empoli (3 points in two, plus a Coppa Italia win over Juventus) and Palermo (a defeat at Catania then the home win against Fiorentina), but storm clouds may not have left the Serie A.

Mimmo Di Carlo, 43 and a good four-year stint at Mantova under his belt) has been questioned week in week out at Parma, while Napoli coach Edy Reja has been under scrutiny for an even longer time in a situation where high expectations are always going to clash with the reality of a policy of small steps.

Elsewhere, Walter Mazzarri was bizarrely thought to have saved his job when Sampdoria beat Reggina 3-0 on December 1 ­ the Genoese then produced a brilliant display in a 3-2 losing effort at Udinese last Sunday ­ and despite his brilliant production last year, Lazio manager Delio Rossi may still feel like asking owner Claudio Lotito for a comforting word.

Not a vote of confidence, mind. Because we all know what comes next, usually.

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