A wet, blustery night in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. Not exactly the setting you’d expect to bump into a former Montreal Impact striker.
But there he was as coach, shaking hands with his Albanian counterpart and marching across Portadown FC’s Shamrock Park pitch to the heat of the dressing rooms...
I’d bumped into a long-lost friend at half-time. Norman Cowie, a former UEFA referee was officially observing in the stands at the Albania v Italy u17 Euros qualifier....
“Hello Norman!” It had been 20+ years...
“Where do I know you from?” his face grimacing and eyes ferociously squinting at me while furiously challenging his powers of recollection.
Disappointingly I was forced to end his misery, but at least the mention of my name swiftly unlocked a host of memories and names of mutual acquaintances from younger days...
“So who’s over with the Italians then Norman, anyone interesting?”
“Yeah the big guy from Manchester City is their coach - Gilardino. Centre-forward he used to be...”
Wrecked my brain. Gilardino? Manchester City? Didn’t sound right.
I threw a few random names out, none of which really made much sense either. Norman tried again. Slight variation. “No. I told you Gilliano (sic). Used to play for City. Sure you remember him...”
Names were never my friend’s strong point...
It was only as the teams left the field I realized the name that was proving so elusive - “Corradi” - the Manchester City reference finally making perfect sense.
The first-ever striker to score in three consecutive MLS games for the Impact is now coach of the Italian u17 team, which recently impressed in the round robin qualifying Group 12, hosted by Northern Ireland.
Corradi’s team was undoubtedly the most impressive of the quartet which included the hosts, Scotland and Albania.
You knew when the Albanians (4th seeds in the group) went two goals down by the 20th minute it would be a long night for the men in white, and so it proved, Italy running in another three after half-time without reply.
Defensively, the Italians looked, well... just how very good Italian teams look defensively. With Werder Bremen’s Fabio Chiarodia and Filippo Calixte Mane in the centre, they shut-out all three opponents, scoring 10 goals at the other end.
Fellow qualifiers to the elite round Scotland were despatched 3-0, also at Portadown and Northern Ireland 2-0 at Larne.
Corradi must now oversee Italy’s progress through the Elite Round where they will be drawn in another round robin group, the winner of which automatically qualifies for the 2022 finals in Israel. Second-place is likely also to be good enough with only the Elite Round group runner up with the worst record not making the finals.
The Italians are seeded in Pot A of the draw scheduled for the spring and thus will avoid the likes of Holland, Germany, England and Spain.
Corradi’s team played smooth, slick football and simply looked ‘different planet’ to the other sides in the group. They had six different scorers with Luca Di Maggio (Inter), Giacomo Marconi (Parma), Alessandro Bolzan (AS Roma) and Valentin Carboni (Inter) each claiming two.
After the 3-0 defeat of Scotland in the final game a smiling Corradi said, “Our aim was to win all three games on this trip in order to finish top and be in pot one of the draw for the next round.
“As well as qualifying, we were interested in how we did it; playing great football, plenty of possession of the ball and as a united group. The boys have grown a lot since June and they all have the chance to play and win together.
“Thanks also to those who are accompanying us, who have contributed in creating this atmosphere.”
Corradi’s seven games in charge - there were four friendlies prior to this qualification campaign - have yielded 5 wins, a draw and a single defeat to Switzerland whose winning goal is the only one this group of players have conceded since the former Impact man took the reins.