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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 January 2007, 11:34 GMT
Montella has lift-off at Fulham
By Charlie Henderson
At Craven Cottage

Vincenzo Montella
Montella was an instant hit with the Fulham faithful
The sight of Fulham new boy Vincenzo Montella warming up on the pitch at half-time elicited a swooning response from two rows back.

"We'll be all right now the Italian stallion is coming on," said a female voice in the Craven Cottage crowd.

However, it was not immediately apparent that the striker would be the saviour and fire Fulham into the fourth round of the FA Cup at the expense of Leicester.

Within a minute of the 32-year-old's introduction the Cottagers had gone 3-1 behind to the Foxes and the Italian was all in a flap.

Was this the response of a prima donna suddenly realising his loan switch from Roma was a massive January transfer window mistake?

After all, Fulham is an unlikely venue for a player with, to quote manager Chris Coleman, "an impeccable pedigree".

Montella's career prior to this English experience has taken him from Empoli to Roma via one productive season at Genoa and three years with their city rivals Sampdoria.

Roma forked out 17m to take him to the Eternal City in 1999 and he has since helped Italy reach the Euro 2000 final, won a Scudetto with the Giallorossi in 2001 and played in a World Cup.

He has scored 137 goals in 263 Serie A games, more than 200 in all club football and three for the Azzurri, including two against England in March 2002. "It's an incredible record," stated Coleman.
MONTELLA FACTFILE
Vincenzo Montella
Born: 18 June 1974
AKA: L'Aeroplanino - Little Aeroplane
Previous clubs: Empoli, Genoa, Sampdoria & Roma
Italy: 20 caps & three goals
Second to Enrico Chiesa in the list of Serie A leading scorers still playing
He has been signed by Sven-Goran Eriksson (Sampdoria) & Fabio Capello (Roma)
The man is plane crazy! His website doesn't load, it lands!

And then there's the goal celebration that has earned him the nickname of the Little Aeroplane, an idiosyncrasy first launched at Genoa after a spell on the sidelines.

"I was so happy that it seemed to me to be like flying, so I opened my arms, miming a glide," he has explained.

But here he was sharing striking duties with Heidar Helguson instead of Francesco Totti. On a wintry Wednesday evening by the Thames. Against Championship opponents. With Fulham two goals down and heading for the FA Cup scrapheap.

This was not the home debut of dreams and Montella was flapping his arms on the halfway line in frustration at the goal conceded by his new team-mates.

But before long those arms were perpendicular to the body and parallel to the ground as he celebrated his first strike in English football.

The comeback was on. L'Aeroplanino was flying - and so were Fulham.

Having already turned and snapped a shot on to the woodwork, Montella was on hand to tap in a cross from Michael Brown.

He doubled his Fulham tally and squared the match after 15 minutes of his arrival when he met Wayne Routledge's corner with a spring-heeled header at the far post.

At 5ft 8in he has a slight, angular frame but do not let that deceive you.

He has a pick-pocket's presence in the air, a poacher's poise in the box, and, as well as the array of tricks and flicks that go with a player with 360 vision, he showed power in possession and bite in the tackle, harrying and hassling the visiting defence.

Montella had laid the foundation for a fine comeback, which was capped by Routledge's injury-time winner. There was no doubting the man of the moment.

"Vincenzo's technique is fantastic," reflected Coleman after the 4-3 victory.

"There's the timing of runs across defenders, he's always moving in the box, he is never standing still and that is very hard for defenders.

"And he has that knack of being in the right place at the right time. His record shows that. He has scored one in two in Serie A, which is the hardest league to score goals in."

606: DEBATE
Charlie Henderson

Coleman was in the right place at the right time to land the striker on loan ahead of other suitors and, while he concedes there are fitness issues to iron out and is unsure whether the player will be at the Cottage come the 2007/8 season, he has been impressed by the new acquisition off the pitch as well.

"All we've seen from Vincenzo so far is absolute professionalism, no ego and loads of enthusiasm," he added.

"He's a big name and it was important he came here and had to fit in, not the other way round, and he has been terrific.

"He wanted to come over, he wants to play football and his attitude is fantastic. He says he wants to stay here for four months, he doesn't want to stay in Italy and he's working with an interpreter three days a week to try and learn the lingo.

"Will we keep him? We'll have to see how it goes - and it will be a lot of money.

"The only problem at the minute is his fitness but I think he'll be quick to adjust.

"He was tired out there in the last five, 10 minutes and he needs games.

"The pace between here and Italy is chalk and cheese and there's nothing quite like the Premier League where it's 100-mile-an-hour going on around your ears, but he will get up to it quickly because he's a quality player."

Everyone knows that now L'Aeroplanino has taken off at Fulham.



SEE ALSO
Coleman backs Montella to shine
18 Jan 07 |  Fulham
Fulham 4-3 Leicester
17 Jan 07 |  FA Cup


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