This article by Angelo Palmeri was the second unreleased part of a two-chapter articles about the adventure of Italians into Estonian football.
The first part, appeared on Estonian magazine 'Jalka' (issue of February) is available here with an interview to Franco Pancheri, Levadia coach in 2003.
Cover picture from Nõmme Kalju website
Part 1 here
Damiano Quintieri, the Italian ‘truck’ in Premium Liiga
In February number of Jalka we talked to Franco Pancheri, the first Italian football professional to touch ground with the game in Estonia as a coach at Levadia (2003).
Since a couple of years, we are acquainted to see another Italian involved into the Estonian action, at Nõmme Kalju: Damiano Quintieri.
Damiano is about to kick off his third season running on the Baltic Sea and he is taking stock of his experience.
The 23-year-old from Terranova da Sibari, a village boasting among his honorary citizens Argentina striker Diego Milito, landed in Tallinn at the end of 2011 to trial for Kalju at the Aastalõputurniir.
The impression was good as Kalju decided to sign Damiano for 3 years (his contract is until the end of 2014). His nickname is ‘Il T.I.R.’ as Italians commonly refer to a big truck. As a T.I.R. truck, he made his trip from Calabria to Estonia to bring his load of football skills and experience.
Quite curiously, Damiano, as Franco Pancheri, comes from the FC Internazionale environment.
In fact, his career kicked off in a juvenile club in Calabria region affiliated to ‘Inter Campus’ project, the same project that brought Pancheri to Tallinn in the summer of 2002.
After being noticed by scouts, Damiano was brought to ‘Interello’ (the youth teams training camp) to join the Milano club at youth level where he played from 11-year-old of age until the U-16.
He did not play with Inter at ‘Primavera’ level (the one before the first squad, same level where Frank Liivak is at SSC Napoli today) and had Balotelli as an opponent: ‘'he was already a personage back then’’ recalls Damiano who challenged Mario with Pisa Primavera ‘’however, if he wants, he can make you win games by himself’’.
When season 2014-15 will kick off, the Italian football pyramid will lose a tier: from 10 to 9. It will be the result of the re-organization to reduce the professional levels. ‘Lega Pro 1’ (3rd tier) and ‘Lega Pro 2’ (4th) will re-merge to re-create a unique 3rd tier, Serie C. In Italy there are four Leagues governing tiers: Lega Serie A , Lega Serie B , Lega Italiana Calcio Professionistico (or simply known as ‘Lega Pro’, will govern the new ‘Serie C’) and Lega Nazionali Dilettanti (governing ‘Serie D’, the first level of semi-pro football and the remaining 5 tiers of the pyramid organized at regional level). There are two ‘scudetto’ assigned in Italy: the professional one in Serie A, and the ‘dilettanti’ one in Serie D. The ‘Scudetto Dilettanti’ is assigned after a final game following a title-fight group stage formed with the best clubs from the regular season. The best club comes out of 162 clubs from North to South. Serie D has also its own national team side with players selected from within the tier. Moreno Torricelli, a coach and former Juventus fullback, is one of the most striking examples of a footballer who made it from Serie D to Serie A, from one season to the other: he was noticed in 1992 during a friendly game between Juventus and Caratese, his Serie D side. Coach Trapattoni wanted him to join Juventus for the 1992-93 season. From being a warehouse worker with the football hobby to being a regular in the biggest Italian club.
Damiano’s career at professional level continued with Montichiari in ‘Serie D’ and a year later in ‘Serie B’ in Pisa, the pending tower city. Under the guidance of Giampiero Ventura (nowadays Torino FC coach) he collected just one appearance behind more experienced players. It was the 2008-09 season, not one of the luckiest ever seen at Pisa Calcio as the Tuscany club first was relegated to ‘Lega Pro’ and later on was excluded from professionalism due to financial problems. Damiano returned to Montichiari in ‘Serie D’ (see box on the left about the Italian football system) the season after. It was a successful one as he collected more appearances and won the ‘scudetto’ for the semi-pro category and was called up by the ‘Serie D’ national team. After that season, he left Lombardy to return to his Calabria and join Valle Grecanica (still 'Serie D').
Unexpected move considering the great season he had, Damiano explains why: ‘’I don’t know what happened in Montichiari, they didn’t rely on me any longer. I was disappointed’’ says bitterly the 23-year-old. ‘’I went through a hard period and I even flirted with the idea of quitting the game’’ confesses ‘Il TIR’ ‘’however, with the help of family I managed to come out of the hardships’’. This was the reason that pushed him to leave Lombardy in the last months of the season and return closer to home by joining the small club of Valle Grecanica on a lower tier.
He did not collect many appearances there however, with family and closest friends’ support, he decided to give a turn to his career and accept the challenge calling him from Tallinn. Franco Pancheri himself supports the idea of Italian youngsters trying the experience abroad. Despite the fact it might bring you far away from home and in a cold land like Estonia: ‘’it is part of their future career’’ claims Franco with no shadow of doubt ‘’I’d absolutely suggest that considering the situation unfolding in Italy (professional football tiers shrinking due to financial problems – A.P.). It is the good time to ‘find a job’ abroad for our players, as Italy is full of footballers. In general, our footballers are used to train hard and give their best.’
This is indeed what Damiano has been showing proudly over the past seasons: ‘’I don’t have any regrets about this experience in Estonia as it gifted me with a lot of emotions’’ says the 23-year-old Italian striker. ‘’Premium Liiga is not so easy as it seems from outside: playing each team four times it’s not simple and I agree with what coach Pancheri said, the best Estonian clubs might fight in Serie B’’ concludes regarding the level of Estonian top football.
The way Damiano jumped from the anonymous world of the Italian lower leagues he was stagnating in, to the spotlights of Estonia confirms Pancheri’s words: ‘’I was tired there’’ Damiano confesses ‘’I needed new challenges; I had gone through a period of delusions and I decided to pack and go abroad’’. As Kalju slogan says, Nõmme became his home and he would suggest a younger player to find his ‘home’ away from Italy: ''nonetheless, a youngster should be ready to face difficulties because it is not always easy. I can say my first year everything was new and nice, however during the second one differences started to surface and it became paradoxically harder'' admits Damiano.
If the language barrier represented a big obstacle in Pancheri’s work as a coach, ten years after, in the social networks era (Skype had just been released when Franco Pancheri reached Estonia), language has not been a problem for a twenty-something like Damiano. ‘'Obviously the first months were hard as I did not speak much English’’ admits Damiano ‘’however it did not take very long to understand and start to talk, internet helped me a lot’’.
The international atmosphere at Kalju also helped him settling down as English seems to be the work language at Nõmme’s club: ‘'even though we started our meetings in Estonian with synchronized translation’’ recounted lecturer and mentor Aivar Haller to October issue of Jalka ‘’we decided to switch to English’’.
Another great factor for Damiano was the presence at the club of another country fellow, Marco Bianchi. Marco reached Estonia a season earlier than him in 2011: ‘’true’’ admits Damiano ‘’however I must say that I managed to bond well with everyone at Kalju, they have been fantastic!’’.
Marco has now left Kalju to return to his home region Apulia to look for another club and Damiano is the only Italian player in Premium Liiga.
Quintieri’s acclimatization was quick and he soon became an idol of the fans.
In 2012, he scored 9 goals and won Kalju’s first title as a protagonist.
He reached the climax last summer when he scored Kalju’s decisive goal against HJK in the Champions League and added another two against Viktoria Plzen to become Kalju’s top scorer in the competition. Despite his success, he is a bit homesick ‘’they have been two great seasons, I saw all the results of my efforts coming up. I am sure me and the squad can learn from 2013 trophyless season’’ admits Damiano. ‘’However’’ wishes Damiano ‘’I hope I can get closer home, if not back to Italy’’ .
Last summer Damiano was also object of transfer rumours that have brought up a bit of mental stress. He was expecting something happening during the January window, however his phone did not ring.
Damiano is looking forward full of hope to the summer. Another European feat might finally bring him under the right spotlight.
Meanwhile, he has been fighting with a knee injury picked during the pre-season in February during an unlucky friendly game.
The Nõmme Kalju nr.9 has been suffering watching Kalju's games from the stand or from TV and training hard to come back.
His return on the pitch is expected for the end of April, start of May.
In bocca al lupo!
Whenever comparing Italian football with other countries’, Italian media and not put big stress on the tactics as it is commonly known that football tactics it is a big component of the Italian ‘calcio’. Foreign players usually admit upon leaving the boot country that they know more about how to move on the pitch than they used to when they landed for the first time. How it is for Italians to come to Estonia under this point of view? We asked both. Franco as an experienced youth coach explained how to implement tactics since early age -- ''Tactical education should be already implemented when kids are 11-12 years old. At this age, you can field the kids in a certain way and teach them to make those movements and repeat them over again. This is the best way to make them learn because kids learn faster than adults do. At 14-year-old, it is already too late to correct certain mistakes.’’ Damiano, added: ''in Estonia they do very little tactics and I would add that the season preparation period, compared to Italy, it is too long''. A long preparation period he is not used to as his Portuguese teammate, Jorge Rodrigues: ''This is a long pre-season'' wrote Jorge in his blog page for MaisFutbol.iol.pt, Portuguese webportal about the Game ''compared with a pre-season in Portugal (…).The solution (to make it shorter – A.P.) could be to make the pre-season in a warmer country (…) but the policy of the club goes through adaptation to climate and culture since the beginning''.
If Damiano Quintieri was the first Italian football player along with Marco Bianchi to win something in Estonia, he was not the first to play football in Meistriliiga. The very first was Alessandro Rottoli, another produce of the Inter academy and pupil of Franco Pancheri who brought him to Levadia: ‘’I knew Alessandro since the times of the Inter academy. When I went to Tallinn to check the facilities, I also went to watch a game. At that point, realizing what was the level of football in Estonia I thought that Alessandro could have taken the challenge’’.
Contrary to Damiano, Alessandro had problems with language.
In 2003 it was up to Franco to be like his second ‘mamma’ in Tallinn. When Pancheri left Estonia, Rottoli continued until the end of the season: ‘’he stayed at Levadia and he played the UEFA Cup qualifier (against Croatian club Varteks Varazdin – A.P.). I did not talk to him much after I returned to Italy as I did not want to disturb Alessandro: it’s true he came thanks to me, but he had to follow the course of his own career’’.
A career that lasted very shortly in Estonia as Rottoli left immediately after the end of 2003 season missing the appointment with Levadia’s title in 2004.