x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Italy to Al Nasr, Mascara eyes latest challenge

A late developer, the new arrival in the UAE will be out to prove that age is not inversely related to excellence.

Al Nasr's Giuseppe Mascara had a knack of scoring spectacular goals during his time in Italy.
Al Nasr's Giuseppe Mascara had a knack of scoring spectacular goals during his time in Italy.

After 15 years as a professional in Italian football, a man likes to stay in touch.

On Sunday, as Giuseppe Mascara watched in Dubai a broadcast of the goals from the weekend's Serie A action, he immediately sent a message, via social media, to an old colleague and adversary. "Heartfelt compliments on a great goal, Fabrizio Miccoli," wrote Mascara.

The compliments were well received. Miccoli, the former Italy international, was also thinking about Al Nasr's new signing, "Peppe" Mascara, as he celebrated a hat-trick for his club Palermo against Chievo.

The goal Mascara was praising was a fabulous volley, launched by Miccoli from over 40 yards away from the Chievo goal.

It was the kind of strike that is always speculative and that can seem like a fluke. Miccoli assures it was nothing of the sort, and offered as a comparison a famous goal scored at the same Sicilian stadium, Palermo's Renzo Barbera, in 2009.

That was why he was thinking of Mascara. That was why Mascara knew Miccoli would appreciate receiving congratulations from a player who knows what it is like to convert such a goal.

Italian fans remember clearly Mascara's long-range effort in the Sicily derby of March 2009 (video below). It put his team, Catania, 3-0 up away at Palermo.

It was an even more spectacular goal than Miccoli's, struck from even greater distance.

Mascara found himself only a few metres inside the Palermo half when, with his right foot, he struck his volley high and looping in the direction of Marco Amelia's goal.

The goalkeeper had been off his line and flapped hopelessly at the ball as he backtracked after it.

The trajectory had been perfectly measured. An excitable commentator declared that Mascara had joined the likes of Diego Maradona and David Beckham in that part of football's Hame of Fame reserved for aeronautic excellence, goals from great distance.

The strike would be named Serie A's Goal of the Season. Miccoli's might gain the same recognition in 2012/13.

Miccoli smiled on Sunday when he said he hoped his fabulous effort would help to "erase from the memory of Palermo fans that Mascara goal".

That Mascara goal is his most famous legacy to Serie A, a souvenir of a player widely liked and admired for his willingness to take risks, confidence on the ball and his eye for the spectacular.

His long-range prowess was certainly not a one-off. Two weeks after Mascara stunned Amelia in Sicily, he struck another long-remembered goal from well over 30 yards out against Udinese.

His Serie A highlights also include a remarkable lob, from a difficult angle and following a spot of keepy-uppies, for Catania against Inter Milan, as well as several scorching direct free kicks.

Walter Zenga, the Al Nasr coach who brought Mascara to the Pro League after the club's pursuit of Miccoli floundered, coincided with what was probably Mascara's peak season in Serie A.

He always credited Zenga's encouragement, as a former goalkeeper, for keeping an eye on when an opposition net-minder might be off his line and be surprised by an unexpected long-range punt.

It was at the end of Zenga's Catania spell that Mascara earned his one call-up to the Italy national team, for a friendly against Northern Ireland in the summer of 2009.

Mascara is 33 now, and probably past his peak, although he has been something of a late developer, which sometimes means a career is elongated.

He was into his 30s when he was headhunted by Napoli, and given the chance to play in club football's most elite environment, the Uefa Champions League.

In Naples his role would be as an understudy to the club's so-called Three Tenors, the front trio comprising the prolific Edinson Cavani, Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi, but Mascara did get occasional outings in Europe.

By last January he felt frustrated at being a cameo striker and joined Novara for the second half of the season.

He remained demonstrably fond of Catania. He was born there and, like many Sicilian footballers in Italy, suffered some unpleasant comments from fans on the mainland for his origins - there is a strand of unattractive snobbery in Italy towards the south.

He won promotion with Catania and was 28 when he made his Serie A debut, emerging as a figurehead as the club established themselves in the Italian top flight.

Used variously as a central striker, playing just off a target man or cutting from the left of a front three - he is right-footed - his close control and gift for the unexpected earned him the nickname "Mascarinho", as if there were some Brazilian in his DNA.

Sicilian newspapers also referred to him as the "Treasure of Etna", with a nod to the volcano that is the island's landmark. For his friends, he is plain "Peppe", the little trickster with, from time to time, a giant shot in him.

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