The Derby della Lanterna: Italy’s low-key great derby

Words By Blair Newman Illustration by Philippe Fenner
April 11, 2018

The Derby della Lanterna is one of the most eagerly anticipated matches in the Italian football calendar. Central to its lustre is the fact that it still belongs to calcio. Unlike other ‘bigger’ derbies, with ‘bigger’ teams, such as Inter versus AC Milan, or Lazio versus Roma, Genoa versus Sampdoria doesn’t possess a global fandom. The fervour around the match is much more compact, with most of the attention coming from the peninsula. This lends to the derby an exciting feeling of something special happening that no-one else truly understands.

Helpfully, the match itself is virtually guaranteed entertainment. Very rarely does it finish in a 0-0 draw – including the latest clash between the two sides, the Genoa derby has ended goalless just twice in the last 20 meetings. Fans can expect the net to ripple, then, whenever these city rivals get together. They may also reasonably expect wonderful games with great moments, such as Sampdoria’s 3-2 win in 2015/16 that saw Antonio Cassano come alive for the last time. The fading fantasista set up two goals with exquisite through balls as Samp surged into a three-goal lead. Then, just as the match seemed over as a contest, Genoa struck back twice through Leonardo Pavoletti.

That night in January 2016 was one brilliant example of the beauty, constant momentum shifts and never-ending intrigue that the Derby della Lanterna, at its absolute best, can provide. And behind the footballing display were two sets of raucous, passionate supporters, desperate for their team to secure local bragging rights, at least for a few months.

Genoa and Sampdoria share the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. The stadium is the ideal home for a colourful and noisy derby affair – its rectangular build, along with the closeness of the stands to the pitch, ensures the fans and players are connected throughout the 90 minutes. With each match comes an opportunity for both groups of supporters to demonstrate their perceived superiority through menacing choreography and electric anthems. In doing so they aren’t simply fighting for a stadium, but for a city.

The two clubs have vastly divergent origins. Genoa are the oldest of Italy’s football clubs still around today. Founded in 1893 by British expatriates, they won the first Italian championship in 1898 and went on to become the country’s earliest dominant force. They were, and are, the originals, with all nine of their league titles coming in the first three decades of their existence.

Sampdoria, on the other hand, are a relatively new club. Formed through the merging of two clubs – Sampierdarenese and Andrea Doria – in 1946, they are over half a century younger than their fierce local competitors. They also took longer to succeed, only rising to national prominence in the late 1980s thanks in part to sizeable investment from then club president Paolo Mantovani. They won Serie A in 1991 and almost became continental kings a year later, only losing out in the European Cup final to Johan Cruyff’s legendary Barcelona side.

As a result of the two club’s beginnings and histories, the derby is punctuated by the theme of old versus new, something that breeds a uniquely poisonous type of resentment that manifests itself on match day through the aforementioned sights and sounds. And, after both teams spent time in the footballing purgatory of Serie B in the 1990s and 2000s, their resentment-filled rivalry has returned to its best in recent years.

The match has become relevant once again primarily thanks to distinct strategies on the pitch. Tactically, Genoa have been associated with the Gian Piero Gasperini way for much of the last decade, with a 3-6-1 system, rigorous man marking and intense pressing at the core of their style. Meanwhile, under the auspices of Marco Giampolo, Sampdoria have asserted themselves as Napoli’s little brother, with a game built on an extremely high defensive line and centralised possession within a 4-3-1-2 shape.

Intriguingly, both teams have methods that tie in with their histories. Genoa’s use of man marking has enabled them to stand out by utilising a tactical scheme that underpinned calcio’s dominance in the 1960s and 70s, while Samp’s more attacking zonal approach represents the future of the Italian game. In this sense, the Derby della Lanterna, and its battle of old and new, is alive and well.

Genoa Sampdoria Serie A
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