When Chievo beat Parma by a single goal on Sunday to go top of Serie A, an extraordinary story entered its latest phase. The suburb of Verona – population 2,700 – is the smallest community ever to have had a team in Italy's top division, and the 1-0 victory put them at the top of the table.
"We still need 24 points to save ourselves from relegation, we should not get over-excited," the club's coach Luigi Del Neri said. However, with 16 points in seven games Chievo are confounding the experts.
When Verona were overcoming the loss of Joe Jordan to win the Scudetto in 1985, Chievo were still amateurs. The following year they ascended to Serie C2 and the professional ranks. Serie C2 has three parallel divisions, from where clubs are promoted to Serie C1, which has two divisions of equal status. Alberto Malesani, who later coached Parma, led Chievo from Serie C1 to Serie B.
Del Neri, an expert at gaining promotion – he has achived the feat five times with different clubs – took over at the start of last season and lived up to his reputation as the club finished third in Serie B. A disciple of the zonal game, Del Neri demands hard work from his players and believes in cultivating a strong sense of camaraderie.
After an average attendance in Serie B of 4,000, they attracted 9,000 spectators to their first home match, 50,000 fewer than watched Inter open their campaign and 60,000 fewer than saw fourth-placed AC Milan begin their season.
Such figures limit Chievo's spending power and their record transfer outlay is £500,000. Compare that with Juventus, five places beneath them in Serie A, who paid £32m for the Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Yet a narrow defeat in Turin is Chievo's only blemish on their league record.
Those victories were not achieved with desperate rearguard actions – 15 goals in the "for" column testify to their positive approach. One man to have trodden the path all the way from Serie C2 is Maurizio D'Angelo, the defender who has spent 12 years at the club.
Not so long ago a recreational club with a parish playing field reliant on the sponsorship of a local Christmas cake maker, the club began life as OND Chievo in 1929, an after-hours factory team. Their first proper home came in 1957 when Fr Silvio Venturi offered the parish grounds, called Bottagisio. Club lore has it that half of the hamlet's 3,000 inhabitants turned out to spruce it up. Decades of anonymous Sunday games passed until the breakthrough in 1986 – since when good housekeeping and a willingness to progress steadily have aided their rise.
Roma are said to be in advanced talks with Chievo for their star winger Christian Manfredini but for now they can rely on a full complement.
"I would like this to set an example for all the little clubs paddling around out there in the football world," Luca Campedelli, Chievo's chairman, said. "We are living proof that nothing is impossible."Reuse content