Football: Cudicini Playing Family Catch-Up ; Chelsea's Italian Keeper Is a Chip off the Old Blocker. Andrew Longmore Meets a Rising Son
Longmore, Andrew, The Independent (London, England)
Neither Carlo Cudicini nor David Seaman will be the most celebrated goalkeeper at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday. That distinction will fall to a man once nicknamed Il Ragno Nero, the Black Spider, who will be sitting in the stands.
The FA Cup final will be a rite of passage for Carlo Cudicini, a chance for him to place a medal of his own alongside the full house claimed by his father, Fabio, in a glittering career with Roma and Milan. Fabio Cudicini won the Fairs Cup with Roma in 1961, and the Italian Cup, the championship, the Cup-Winners' Cup and the European Cup with the great Milan side of Rivera, Prati and Schnellinger in the late Sixties.
One night at Old Trafford in 1969 Cudicini's heroics kept the United of Law, Best and Charlton at bay in the semi-final of the European Cup. Cudicini, in black shorts and black jersey, earned his nickname and Milan went on to beat Johan Cruyff's Ajax 4-1 in the final in Amsterdam.
It is a measure of the son, though, that, he talks eloquently and without weariness of his family heritage. "Maybe one of the reasons I came here to England was that in Italy I was always being compared to my father," Carlo Cudicini said last week. "When I was interviewed in Italy, the journalists would talk only about my father. People would look at you like they were saying: `Your father was better'. Maybe subconsciously that affected me. When I came here very few people knew my father was a great goalkeeper, so I could play knowing that I was playing as Carlo, not the son of Fabio."
This season, the Italian has been a revelation, a candidate for Chelsea's player of the year. In his first nine games, Chelsea conceded just a single goal and an inspired Cudicini saved penalties from Kevin Phillips and Gary McAllister on consecutive Sundays. "After the game against Liverpool, the Chelsea fans chanted my name for the first time," he recalls. "That was a thrill."
Like his father, whose career flourished when he joined Milan at the age of 32, Cudicini has had to number patience among his virtues. Given that he made his debut for Milan nine years ago in a Champions' League match behind a central defence of Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta, Cudicini's path to the top has been slow. A wrist injury hampered his development at Milan, a knee injury at Lazio, and it was not until he was shipped out to the Serie C side Castel di Sangro, whose rise from obscurity to the second division of the Italian league was so memorably recorded by Joe McGinniss in The Miracle of Castel di Sangro, that the bigger clubs began to look again at the figure in goal with the deceptively slight frame and the famous surname.
Cudicini still recalls with fondness his time at the village club in the mountains of central Italy. "It was snowing all the time and really cold," he laughs. "It was just a village, 5,000 people maybe, very friendly and they knew they had just their football to enjoy every Sunday. …