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Catania’s Australian-led fairytale magnifies a despairing reality for the A-League

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5th May, 2023

Italian football, known for its financial hardships, has experienced many famous clubs leading down the unwanted path of entering administration and ultimately becoming bankrupt and extinct.

From Parma facing insolvency and relegated to the fourth tier to Chievo Verona suffering extinction just two years ago, many lower teams both well-known and unfamiliar are struggling nowadays to survive.

It was just over a decade ago that a small city by the name of Catania on the beautiful Sicilian coast boasted some talented players such as Alejandro Gómez and Maxi López, coached by up-and-comer Diego Simeone, who represented the club in Italy’s top division between 2006 and 2014.

After years of endless financial turmoil, relegations, and an eventual decision to declare the club bankrupt last year, Catania finally celebrated promotion to Serie C on Monday morning with an unassailable 31-point lead.

The masterminds behind the Sicilians’ success include an Australian-based owner and two Socceroos legends part of the golden generation.

Part of the Pelligra Group, Ross Pelligra’s acquisition of the club last year stemmed from his Catanian roots and passion for football in Southern Italy.

Financial stability has obviously helped, but behind the scenes is where the real work has been done to steer Catania back to the top.


Pelligra appointed Vince Grella as the club’s new CEO and vice president, ultimately needing little convincing. Grella carries pivotal experience from his playing days in Italy with Torino, Empoli, and Parma before sharing his knowledge post-retirement in stints involving player-manager roles and working as a football agent.

The 43-year-old is accompanied by Marco Bresciano, who is currently offering expertise and advice, another player no short of experience thanks to his playing days with the likes of Empoli, Parma, and Lazio. The Catania project was too good to turn down that Bresciano switched alliances due to his playing days with Sicilian club Palermo.

So far, their ideas are leading the club to a sense of direction and an identity lacking for over a decade. They share an ambitious but achievable goal to have Catania playing in Serie A in five years’ time.

Seeing all this unfold from abroad begs the question, why aren’t any of these former Australian talents involved in the grassroots and structuring of our game here?

Bresciano is currently part of Football Australia’s board of directors, but is expected to officially join forces with Catania on a permanent basis once his deal expires. Sadly, an imminent departure proves the dire state in which Australian football finds itself.

Back during the lockdown phase caused by the pandemic, Optus Sport reunited six players from the golden generation to discuss the problems facing the game in Australia: John Aloisi, Mark Schwarzer, Craig Moore, Mark Viduka, Josip Skoko, and Vince Grella shared some interesting insights and opinions.

John Aloisi

John Aloisi (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)


Grella expressed his frustration in regard to the junior development: “It (Australian Institute of Sport) needs to be born again, it was the foundation of the success of the majority of players who went on to play at the top level. Somehow, some way, we need to get that program up and running again. No doubt my time in the AIS built the foundation for the success I had in my years after.”

Some of these players like Grella and Mark Viduka are now living their best life in Italy and Croatia respectively, but could Australia have possibly done more to attract former players who possess the competence and calibre that the current board of Football Australia and the APL could ever dream of having?

Grella made only one appearance for the then-Melbourne Heart, but Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill’s return to the country to end their careers perhaps should’ve led to more of a push to advocate a potential role higher up on the board.

Going back to Italy for a moment, a relatable example involves the legendary Paolo Maldini. After his playing career ended at AC Milan, he was ousted by the club which he was very much the symbol of, not offering the former defender any sort of position up top, which was laughable considering the poor state the club has found themselves in for the past decade.

He was then offered a sporting director role in 2016-17 but opted to decline the proposal and wait until the club sorted out its ownership. In 2018, he took on the responsibility knowing he would contain high control, building a sustainable project which led to the Serie A title last season.

Former Sydney FC marquee Alessandro Del Piero has been surrounded by rumours involving a potential return to Juventus as club president, but he too is also taking a cautious approach and waiting until the board sorts out their issues.

You can’t help but think that the people currently in charge of running football in Australia are what’s ultimately killing the opportunity to attract high-profile Australians. There’s simply no hope.


This is not to suggest that Grella, Bresciano, and Viduka will come in and make an instant impact. However, the level of expertise and experience we are blessed with is, unfortunately, being wasted as the years pass by.

Tony Popovic and John Aloisi have proven their worth on the bench in managerial roles which have propelled them to new heights.

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The next step has to be trying to negotiate with those former players mentioned throughout and make them an offer they can’t refuse, just like Catania.

With the current state behind the scenes looking bleak, that act of persuasion will prove to be the most challenging.