I am about to try to find out. My name is Rob Ridgway. I'm 36 years old and I'm an American far from home.
In trying to perform my task, I am faced with a number of handicaps that are sadly becoming too common in the modern game. Calcio Padova, of Italy’s lower league known as Serie C1A, is not a club with unlimited resources – in fact, money is pretty tight for a club of its ambitions.
The senior squad roster is filled with players in their thirties and there isn’t a young player under my contract who is ready to step up and carry the club forward in a meaningful way.
If we are to achieve the success the board craves and the supporters desire, we’ll have to do it with old players and then buy or sign younger ones who can cement any success gained by the current group. It’s not an optimal way to do business.
But that’s football. You do what you’re told or they’ll find someone who will.
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Italian football is unlike any other type on the planet.
English football is known for power and physical play. Spain’s is known for exquisite skill. Germany’s is known for free-scoring matches and a wide-open style. But Italy? Well, Italy is different.
Italian football is known for its technical excellence, its flair and quite frankly, its theatrics. The national side got a huge amount of criticism worldwide for the behavior of some of its players during the 2006 World Cup and I can certainly understand why.
One of the Azzurri’s preliminary matches came against my nation, the United States, and the result was not an artistic one for the beautiful game. A nine-man American side held on for a highly credible 2-2 draw that was thrilling to watch but which I felt was abominably officiated. Italian players seemed to writhe in agony on the pitch at every passing breeze while two of my compatriots saw red.
And I say this as an American managing in Italy. So much for being afraid to express an opinion.
Italy went on to claim the Jules Rimet Trophy after the infamous Zinedine Zidane / Marco Materazzi head-butting incident in the final against France, but won itself few friends worldwide in the process. Not that this matters to the hardcore Italian fan, of course. Winning is the only thing that matters here.
The Italian game is recovering from one of the biggest scandals in its history, with the “Old Lady” itself, Juventus, having won its way back to Serie A after implication in the 2006 match-fixing scandal. The implication of Juventus and several other clubs saw Juve stripped of three Scudetto championship titles and kicked out of the Champions League.
That is part of life here, where doing anything and everything you can to win is considered part of the ethos. They say if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere, and in this game if you can make it in Italy, you can make it anywhere.
That is not to take sides in the “which nation has the best league” debate. It depends on what kind of football you like.
England has powerhouse teams and is known for strong, physical play, but Italy seems to do better in European competition. Germany has a few giants and some technical aficionados say Spain’s La Liga is the best football going.
At this point, who’s best doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that I’m in the game, and looking for my chance to show what I can do.
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My career in this game lasted sixteen seasons and ended just last spring. I spent time in Scotland, England and the United States before coming to Italy to finish my career.
I started in the States, before earning a contract with Falkirk, then in Scotland’s lower leagues.
I spent two seasons there before being snipped by Rangers for £1 million. I spent three tremendous seasons there and genuinely loved every minute of the “Ibrox experience”.
But it wasn’t going to last forever, and with a rising reputation as a central defender I wound up going to Reading, then of the English First Division. I spent six seasons there before returning home to the new Major League Soccer, where I played three seasons with the Chicago Fire.
But at that point in my life, at age 33, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to get into management and returned to Europe to try to do the impossible. I was financially secure, and wanted to try to get into the business in the best place I could.
I played my final two seasons at Frosinone, a solid Serie B side here in Italy, while studying for my UEFA coaching badges. I retired in the spring, just before my 36th birthday, with a bevy of experience in four different countries under my belt. I felt I was ready to get started, and so did a club named Calcio Padova.
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Author's notes: This story is a daily diary written using FM08, which remains probably my favorite version of the CM/FM series. All Home Nations and major European nations are loaded. See some of your favorite players of today when they were young pups, or simply enjoy where this career save takes them. Enjoy!