The Last Word: Title race - Boil down gently to a finish, add Italian seasoning

In confronting protest, Sculli’s stand was gripping and, on the face of it, inspiring

It misrepresents the denouement of the football season to speak of the temperature rising to a searing, scalding intensity. The attrition that has shaped both ends of the table sooner reflects a long, slow, low heat; a casserole that reduces and sheds all the fleshy cushioning of bluff and bluster, and now discloses the bare bones.

No neutral, accordingly, could possibly quibble with Manchester City as deserving champions, should they win their last two matches. For they quite plainly face a far harder task, at Newcastle tomorrow, than they did in the one last week billed as The Decider.

Those same neutrals, come to that, should be wishing Roberto Mancini well – because the team he seeks to depose surely cannot retain its status in Manchester, never mind the nation, after a performance so bereft of flair and ambition.

As against Basle, or the two Athletics (Bilbao and Wigan), on Monday the most accomplished British manager of the modern era seemed bereft of solutions. Seeing his men again stripped of their aura, Sir Alex was instead reduced to a tantrum with Mancini – this foppish dude, who has shocked him with a steeliness he thought patented in Govan.

In extremis, football tends to reveal character – or its lack – to the point of caricature. In this country, true, even a cosmopolitan playing population appears to adopt a suitably Anglo-Saxon stiff upper lip. Some Blackburn fans have arguably contributed to their own downfall with unsparing vitriol through the winter, but Mancini will testify from recent events in his homeland that even the gravest crisis here is received, relatively speaking, with sangfroid.

Fiorentina have just sacked their manager, the seasoned and respected Delio Rossi, after his spectacular response to insubordination by one of his players: 2-0 down after half an hour, at home to Novara, Rossi had seen enough of Adem Ljajic. As he gave way, Ljajic gave his boss sarcastic applause and then, dropping into the dugout, a thumbs-up. Rossi went berserk. He leaned down and grabbed at Ljajic – 31 years his junior – before falling into the dugout, where he tried to push away various restraining hands so that he could aim a proper haymaker at the insolent boy.

His predecessor, Sinisa Mihajloviæ, might reproach Rossi only for undue restraint; the fans chanted their own support for his actions, and the team rallied for a draw. Some might even yearn for the relentlessly decent Roy Hodgson to do something similar with one or two of his new charges this summer. But Fiorentina's owner, while acknowledging that "months of stress came out in a few seconds", reluctantly felt he had no choice but to dismiss Rossi straight after the match.

In Serie A, however, the relegation run-in is a tale of two Rossis.

The previous week, a few dozen ultras managed to stop play at Genoa – a team in even deeper trouble than Fiorentina – after seeing a fourth goal conceded at home to Siena. They climbed into the family enclosure and threw fireworks on to the pitch. After the Siena players retreated from the field, the Genoa captain went to speak with the ringleaders, who had clambered on to the tunnel canopy. Marco Rossi was told that he and his men were not fit to wear their blue-and-red shirts, and so to remove them. Astonishingly – such is the meekness with which the Italian game, in too many respects, has failed to haul itself out of the Bad Old Days – Rossi consented, and went round asking his men to surrender their shirts. One was sobbing as he added his to the pile.

Only Giuseppe Sculli refused. He marched over to the protesters, confronted them with animated words and gestures, and eventually climbed on to the canopy himself. You feared for his safety. Instead he pulled the ultras' spokesman close, and whatever he said appeared to prompt a change of heart. Jumping down, Sculli told his captain to redistribute the shirts. After a 45-minute delay, play resumed.

Sculli's stand was gripping and, on the face of it, inspiring. Inevitably, Italy being so incorrigibly Italian, some discover grounds for unease in the footnote that his grandfather was for many years a fugitive from police investigating a crime syndicate in Calabria; or that Sculli was once banned for alleged involvement in match-fixing. One way or another, however, Sculli preserved his dignity in a way that shamed others.

Enrico Preziosi, the Genoa president, had certainly been unable to do so. And he himself scarcely has an unblemished past. (Preziosi, in turn, would fire his manager after the game.)

Meanwhile the whole calcio community seems braced for another traumatic series of corruption revelations. Yet among those of us who remain helplessly infatuated with the game in Italy, however troubled, it must simply be admitted that sport is always most engrossing when it divulges the man within.

Whether or not it is too simplistic to discern some national character within that man, the climax of the season has a uniform effect throughout Europe. For better or worse, richer or poorer, all pretence has been gradually stewed away.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week