Luca Ferrato

It's not a Lionel Messi led Barcelona, or a Wayne Rooney inspired Manchester United, or even Jose Mourinho's Inter. None of those three, despite their brilliance, can lay claim to still being unbeaten in their respective leagues this season. And when Bayer Leverkusen lost their unbeaten record at Nurnberg in March there was just one side standing in all Europe's professional leagues without a loss to their name this season, and that club is Novara.

Currently sitting on top of the First Division of Lega Pro (the former Serie C) in Italy, Novara come from a town of around 100,000 people, in Piedmont, not too far from the Lombardy border. Novara have always had a reasonably competitive team, but their last spell in Serie B came in the 1976/77 season. Since then the club have struggled in Italy's lower leagues, principally in Serie C1 and C2, not managing to make it back to the country's second tier.

In the first half of the twentieth century though, the club's faithful could enjoy watching a top class team. Novara played their first Serie A season in 1914/15 and their last in 1955/56. Key to Novara's early success was Silvio Piola, a striker born in nearby Robbio Lomellina. Piola turned out for the club between 1947 and 1954, scoring 86 goals in 190 games. Having joined the Biancazzurri off the back of spells with Torino and Juventus amongst others, Pinola remains the highest goalscorer in Serie A history with 247 goals. The striker picked up a World Cup winners medal in 1938, but never managed to win the Serie A title with any of his clubs.

Four years ago, the De Salvo family bought Novara and set about forming an impressive series of plans. True to their word the family have invested in the club, building a state of the art training base at a cost of more than €7M. Now, despite being a Lega Pro side, the club can almost compete with the best in the country in terms of the facilities they possess.

This season, managed by Attilio Tesser, they sit clear at the top of the league and are certainties for promotion. The town are practically preparing a promotion party with fans and citizens alike dreaming even further than Serie B, wondering when their exile from the country's top flight will finally end.

Tesser owes much of his team's performance to a raft of talented stars. Forwards like Nicola Ventola (ex-Inter and Torino) and Pablo Andres Gonzalez have been crucial. The latter, an Argentinian, has an interesting and fairytale-like story to tell.

Born in Tandil, Argentina, the same city that spawned Juventus star Mauro Camoranesi, in 1985, Gonzalez first turned out for Racing Club de Avellaneda. In 2007 the striker set out on his European adventure, arriving in Switzerland with Locarno. However, he did not impress and just one year later found himself back in Argentina. For Gonzalez his footballing dreams seemed shattered and he found work as a postman in Tandil, while still playing for his local side Grupo Universitario de Tanil. While there the striker rediscovered a rich vein of form and began to score once again – 17 goals in 28 games. The club's president Osvaldo Zarini decided Gonzalez deserved another shot at glory in Europe and spoke to Novara's board, who decided to accept the gamble.

This season Gonzalez has shone. The Argentine is not the only non-Italian in the squad however, he is joined by French defender Jean Christophe Coubronne (bought from Sochaux), midfielders Brazilian Elizeu Vicentini Juliano, Bosnian Elmian Kurbegovic, Argentine Emmanuel Jorge Ledesma and Swiss Rijat Shala.

Novara's heroics in this campaign have not been confined to the lower leagues, and on 13th January they became the talk of all Italy. After beating Serie A side Siena away (helped by two Gonzalez goals), Novara came up against the mighty AC Milan in the San Siro. It was the Round of 16 in the Coppa Italia and every shop and school in Novara closed as a huge 13,000 supporters travelled to Milan. The atmosphere in the San Siro was surreal, with just 17,000 fans inside the ground Novara's faithful outnumbered Milan's. For the Biancazzurri the tie seemed and felt like playing at home.

Milan took the lead in the first half through Filippo Inzaghi, but at the beginning of the second period Gonzalez beat Georgian defender Kakha Kaladze to the ball and volleyed a wonderful strike into the back of the Milan net. The San Siro exploded and for a brief moment the Novara fans dared to dream the impossible.

It was not to be however, and ten minutes before the final whistle Mathieu Flamini bagged a second for Milan and ended Novara's Coppa Italia dreams. But while the dream may have died, the Novara faithful had enjoyed the journey and applauded their stars off the pitch.

With promotion to Serie B all but assured it can be safely assumed that Italy's second tier is merely the starting point for Novara's ambitious De Salvo family. In a few years the club hope to play regional derbies in Serie A against Juventus and possibly Torino. If the team continues in the same vein then few would bet against that happening. For Novara the dream of a return to the top flight is no longer an impossible one.


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