U.C. Sampdoria: Serie A club and subject of ridiculous espionage. (Carlo Baroncini/AP)
First, a bit of background.
The intra-city rivalry between Italian clubs Genoa and Sampdoria isn't the most well-known of the Italian derbies, but it certainly doesn't lack for intensity. The conflict has all the right ingredients - new vs. old (Genoa is among the most elderly clubs in all of Italian soccer, Sampdoria is one of the newest), geographical separation (Genoa supporters generally come from the center of the city, Sampdoria's from farther out), a shared stadium (the 102-year-old Stadio Luigi Ferraris), and of course an excellent name for the game itself (Derby della Lanterna, meaning "Derby Of The Lantern," after the ultra-historical Lighthouse of Genoa).
When the teams play each other, their supporters look like this:
And that was when they were in Serie B. They're in Serie A now.
OK, history lesson over. Here's the story at hand, as first reported in the Italian Gazzetta Dello Sport and then in English many places (like here). With the first Derby della Lanterna of the season coming up on Sunday, yesterday Sampdoria held what was almost certainly their final training session before the big match. Usually, it's this session where teams really try to drill in the tactics and instructions that their players will utilize for the upcoming game. Tactics and instructions that could be of use to their opponents.
This is Sampdoria's training ground (via Steven Chiefa):
See that wooded area in the distance? Sampdoria fans observing the training reportedly witnessed a strange rustling in the foliage and informed team staff of the disturbance. Sure enough, two Sampdoria staff members investigated, and found themselves chasing a man through the woods, eventually finding him hiding behind a tree in full military attire.
But wait, they said. That guy looks familiar. And he should have. It was Luca Da Pra, a youth team coach for Genoa, descendant of the rival club's greatest-ever goalkeeper, and a generally well-known face around town. Naturally, they escorted him from the premises...but not before snapping a picture.
That's the image Sampdoria posted on their official web site, along with possibly the greatest official press release in the history of professional sports:
That the derby is a question of nerve, tactics and strategy we already knew, but frankly we could never expect that it could turn into an scene of espionage.
Like Rambo hidden among the branches on the hill, Luca De Pra, Genoa goalkeeping coach and man of noble footballing ancestry, failed to overcome Sampdoria's intelligence and counter intelligence operations.
However, no prisoners were taken, and no blood was shed. Once tracked down and caught red-handed, the opposing side's soldier was let free to return to base. You should always forgive your enemies, as nothing annoys them more.
For what it's worth, Genoa claims that De Pra carried out his mission of espionage entirely on his own volition and has been suspended indefinitely. Which is too bad, because I really liked the mental image of the chairman handing his loyal coach a set of old fatigues in a smoky room, saying "You're the last one, Luca."
Sampdoria takes on Genoa Sunday at 2:45 p.m. ET on BeIn Sport. It might be entertaining.