With his trademark cap and his little goatee beard, Serse Cosmi is one of Italian football's most recognisable figures. His touchline energy, and excitable gestures make him a popular butt of jokes by Italian comedians, too. His provincial accent is often impenetrable for those unfamiliar with the brogue of Perugia. Cosmi is an eccentric goblin of a man, but a wily coach who is greatly liked by fans.
It was the fans of Livorno, Cosmi's latest employer in a line of Serie A clubs, who lobbied for him two weeks ago when he announced his resignation from the post of head coach at the Tuscan team, struggling somewhat at the wrong end of the table. Cosmi, appointed only three months earlier, had quit because of disagreements with Aldo Spinelli, the club president. Yet the resignation lasted only two days.
Spinelli, who seemed sensitive to supporters' criticism, resolved his differences with his coach and last weekend Livorno went up to San Siro and earned a 1-1 draw against Milan. But was Cosmi happy? Not entirely. "We should have won," he grumbled. "If only we had tried a bit harder." Tonight Livorno's guests are Juventus, the type of occasion, like the trip to Milan, that brings out the red in the club's fans.
No Serie A club's supporters wear their political allegiance more boldly than Livorno's and those leanings are strongly to the left, the city of Livorno being the birthplace of Italy's Communist party. Much of the association is more theatre than actual deeds, but it was significant that fan power was partly responsible for Cosmi's reappointment. Livorno followers like the idea that mass action can work, that the man of the terrace can collectively empower himself.
They cherish the fact that one of those men on the terrace serves them on the field. He is Cristiano Lucarelli, scorer of last Sunday's goal against Milan and cult hero with Livorno fans. When Lucarelli first played for Italy's Under 21s, in the 1990s, he celebrated a goal by peeling back his jersey to reveal a Che Guevara T-shirt. Italy's junior coaches never picked him again, but in his home city, Livorno, the gesture would never be forgotten.
Lucarelli, who comes from the so-called 'Shanghai' quarter of the port city, takes every opportunity to celebrate in the manner of those fans he once sat with. Lucarelli, the supporter who became a Livorno player and icon, even had his mobile phone ring to the tune of The Red Flag. He also put loyalty above lucre, at least for a period on his long and varied career. In the summer of 2003 he gave up better deals for the sake of joining the club he loved, exchanging life as a better-paid, wandering goalscorer in middle-ranking Serie A teams to drop a division and devote his goals to the reddest club in Italy.
He was 28 at the time, and had been playing for Torino, the latest stop on a career that had included spells at Perugia, Cosenza, Padua, Valencia in Spain and Lecce. By joining Livorno he lowered his wages significantly. No matter, he declared. His beloved Livorno had just been promoted to Serie B and he wanted to be part of the adventure. Twenty-five goals later, he had hoisted his beloved club into the top flight.
Now approaching 35, Lucarelli has had further adventures, in Ukraine, with Shaktar Donetsk and Parma, who loaned him to Livorno last summer. His mouthy, revolutionary spirit may have inhibited his international career - he won the first of his six Italy caps at nearly 30 - but his zeal has seldom been tamed. He could do with a few more goals this season - the Milan strike was only his fourth - but his loyalists will forgive him more readily than they might another forward in a lean spell.
Cosmi does, too, appreciating a character with some of the earthiness and non-conformist spirit he would recognise in himself. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org