Gianluca Festa, he got them promoted, he got us promoted, he helped his hometown get promoted.
Gianfranco Zola isn’t the only Sardinian to leave behind a very favourable recent impression on English football. His fellow islander Gianluca Festa put in five years solid service through the many ups and downs of the Middlesbrough revolution and then helped Portsmouth force a way back to the Premiership.
He joined Boro from Inter Milan with a big reputation as an Italian Under-21 cap, although he was never able to make the jump to the senior squad. Before moving to Northern Italy he had helped Sardinian side Cagliari to successive promotions to Serie A.
Festa has described the Boro side he first played in as ‘mad’; he struggled to impose some defensive discipline on a team that could produce performances of brilliance and awfulness in equal measure. When relegation came he stayed with the club and helped them back up to the top flight, although he also suffered cup final losses in both the FA and League Cup too.
It appeared Festa would leave for a bigger club – there was particular talk about rejoining former boss Claudio Ranieri at Chelsea but when Festa did go it was to Portsmouth for an excellent year at the back.
He made his debut against Watford in August 2003 keeping a clean sheet as Pompey won 3-0 and followed that up with another in a 1-0 win at Grimsby. At that particular match his former Middlesbrough team mate Massimo Maccarone watched him from amongst the Pompey fans in the away section. He proved a popular figure at Fratton Park both on and off the pitch. His defensive qualities were much appreciated by the fans although he did gift Sheffield Wednesday a last minute winner late on in the season.
It was fitting that Festa should end his Pompey career in the final game of the season at Bradford having already helped the team to the Championship title. In honour of him the entire team that day wore his own brand of boots.
There was also heavy betting amongst the Pompey fans that he would score the first goal of the match. As the odds were 33-1 against him many took the local bookies on. It took a slight deflection and just twenty minutes for him to beat Aidan Davison in the Bradford goal to put Pompey into the lead. Unfortunately I was one of the few who didn’t lay money down! Needless to say the bookie in the ground wasn’t there at half time when most people went to collect their winnings although he did eventually pay up I’m told.
In the summer Festa left the South Coast and joined Gianfranco Zola for a final season at his hometown club Cagliari in Serie B, when the two prodigal sons helped the club back to the top flight as Champions.
In 2004 he joined then-Eccellenza side F.C. Nuorese Calcio, serving as team captain and leading the club to two consecutive promotions and an unsuccessful appearance in the Serie C2 campaign playoffs in his third season. He agreed to leave Nuorese by mutual consent in September 2007.
Having helped both Middlesbrough and Pompey to promotion, I’m sure Gianluca Festa will be watching this game with interest from his home in Sardinia.
Written by The Rabbi.
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