1991. The blue half of Genova had its big party night after winning the Scudetto with 3 games to spare. But most surprisingly of all, it was an unexpected title win. A side that had never finished higher than fourth in the Serie A, was coming up against Diego Maradona’s Napoli, Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan, Giovanni Trapattoni’s Internazionale and a new-look Juventus who had just splashed big cash on Baggio, Hässler and Julio Cesar. With odds stacked against them, Sampdoria managed to win the league by a margin of 5 points losing just the 3 games, and only conceding 5 goals in 16 league matches with three games left to play. With huge thanks to Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini, Sampdoria was the league’s top-scoring team – both players grabbed 19 and 12 league goals respectively, their next closest was Marco Branca who had 5.
Italian football was extremely popular around the world, and with the world watching on, could Sampdoria defend their crown as champions & make waves in Europe? The 91/92 season started off brightly with a Supercoppa victory over Roma and many fans thought this was the beginning of something special. A European dream was on the cards after qualifying for the Group Stage of the European Cup, but Barcelona proved their might in extra time to win 1-0 at Wembley. The up-and-coming Parma ended the dreams of a Coppa Italia victory at the semi-final stage, Sampdoria lost the first leg in Parma 1-0, before Parma held out for a 2-2 draw in extra time. Which just left the league, and the title defence had not gone to plan. AC Milan had gone the entire season unbeaten, amazingly recording 12 draws along the way, and claimed their 12 title – Sampdoria fell short of European football by 2 points, finishing in 6th. 16 draws proved to be the fatal blow to their dreams of European football, and championship-winning manager Vujadin Boškov left his post following a disappointing season.
With Sven-Göran Erikkson at the helm until the end of the 96/97 campaign, immediately he and Sampdoria had to cope with the loss of Gianluca Vialli following his transfer to Juventus. Unfortunately, Sven’s first season in charge was not much better than the previous, and Sampdoria were beginning to come back down off their title-winning high. Exit in the second round of the Coppa Italia to the hands of Cesena sparked the end of that campaign, and even though Sven introduced a more defensive style of play, Sampdoria did not improve on their defensive antics; they went on to concede 48 goals in that league campaign. However, with the departure of Vialli, a lot of speculation was surrounding how they would fare without his goal input. Well, they managed 50 goals in that campaign, only bettered by AC Milan (who retained their crown), Internazionale, Juventus and Lazio.
93/94 saw the arrival of Rudd Gullit and David Platt, and Sampdoria lay down their intentions for the season. They wanted in on the action, but could they go all the way? Following a disappointing exit from the Coppa Italia, the first task was to have a marked improvement on this front, and Sven got exactly that. Many pundits would say they rode their luck en route to the final; a 3-1 penalty shootout victory in the second round, a 7-6 penalty shoot-out win in the third, a slim 2-1 victory on aggregate, a 3-1 victory on aggregate over Parma in the semi-finals, before dismantling minnows Ancona 6-1 in the two-legged final. Their 4th Coppa Italia in their history and there was some joy to be had this season – but could Sven deliver more? In short, no. AC Milan’s bizarre season of only scoring 36 goals was enough to award them with 19 victories and only 3 defeats, as they went on to with the league by 3 points over second-placed Juventus. Our team in focus finished 6 points off the pace, the superb exploits of Gullit (15 league goals)and Mancini (12 league goals) were not enough to push them closer to Capello’s Milan side.
3 years on from their title-winning season, there was only a Coppa Italia to show for it and no real title defence. Many would view this as a missed opportunity, and whilst the Sacchi/Capello crossover worked wonders and miracles for Milan, it was still disappointing to see Sampdoria be so far off the pace, to begin with. Which got me thinking. Would it be possible to rewrite history with Sampdoria in those 3 seasons? Would it be possible to disrupt Capello, and show him who runs Italian football? Let’s find out!
Season 1 for me was always going to be about building the foundations for the next season, whilst trying to remain as competitive as possible. Boškov led the team to the league title playing a 4-4-2, and whilst I wanted to try and play a typical defensive structure, the team still has Mancini and a young Chiesa:
The primary focus going into the summer transfer window was firstly to replace star striker Gianluca Vialla. I also felt we were lacking a bit of quality in the middle of the park, Jugović was going to be the only current player to keep his place in a midfield three. With £25 million available to spend, and no wage budget, I had to shift a bit of finance around to allow for these three signings:
Given that the purpose is to achieve glory once again, it was only right that players of this quality are our transfer targets. Šuker joins from Sevilla in a deal worth £12.5 million and fits the bill of the DLF even though his dribbling is on the low side. Freddy Rincón joins from América de Cali for £2.5 million and comes into the squad as our main CM especially with the right skillset technically and mentally. Finally, we broke the bank a bit to sign the creative talent in Valdo. PSG parted ways with the Brazilian for £7.5 million, and I know that Mancini, Chiesa & Šuker were going to thrive off Valdo’s passing ability.
Although players are a major factor in defining success for clubs, without a proper backroom staff setup in place, I could be potentially shooting myself in the foot. Our scouting network needs a bit of work, but with this being a short-term project, it is not at the top of my priority list. A complete overhaul of the coaching staff took Sampdoria’s team from average to the leading average in Italy:
With the foundations in place, it’s time to get tucked into football!
The 92/93 Sampdoria team could only muster a 7th placed finish in the Serie A along with a second-round exit in the Coppa Italia, so anything improving on these two markers would be a fantastic start. It wasn’t going to be easy in the slightest, but my opening 9 games would suggest that perhaps the task was not going to be as difficult as I first feared.
Enrico Chiesa had helped himself to 9 goals in as many games, as Mancini had 7 whilst new boy Šuker had found the back of the net on 4 occasions. Goals were aplenty, to begin with, which was always a positive outlook given the loss of Vialli. We were sitting pretty at the top of the league, what could go wrong?
A lot was the answer. A horrific run of games in November had allowed Milan the chance to capitalise on our defeats and storm ahead in the title race. A devastating blow to our credentials this season, but I did not want to get too disheartened at this stage; there is a lot of football to be played, and if we can keep the pressure on, it may just bode well for the next season.
Disclaimer – FM rulings have Sampdoria enter the Coppa Italia at the Third Round, which is one round later than what they entered in 92/93. This will be null and void this season.
The January transfer window was well and truly upon us, and I know I needed a couple of faces in to help with the squad depth and to push the current crop of players further:
Frank Leboeuf was first in through the door arriving from Strasbourg for £2.7 million. A comfortable ball-playing central defender is going to be crucial for rotation, to claim a starting berth of his own in months to come. On the final day of the window, Milan happily sold Dejan Savićević to us for £12 million, a bit pricier, but certainly comes in as a crucial squad player for both central midfield and for Roberto Mancini. Will these two signings be enough to keep up our momentum?
The damage was already done for our title aspirations, and the two defeats to Internazionale and Foggia were truly rubbing salt into the wounds. Fabio Capello led Milan to the league with 2 draws and 3 defeats, really setting the bar high for any potential challengers.
19 points off the pace, and only 6 clear of our closest rivals, I know that we need to get recruitment right over the summer and the lure of Champions League football will only help me in my cause. It was going to be a huge task, but with £21 million available to spend I certainly backed myself to bring in game-changers.
The attacking trio of Mancini, Šuker and Chiesa certainly lived up to the billing with 72 goals amongst them all season. In the league, we recorded 89 goals – 12 shy of Milan – but conceded 41 goals which give me a focus for the new season:
Certainly from the Data Hub, we are lacking players that can read the defensive game and that is slightly hurting our chances of seeing out games when we are just lower than the Serie A average for Goals Conceded per Game (0.45 lower) and Expected Goals Against per Game (0.29 lower). We are higher than Napoli, Roma, Juventus, Internazionale and Milan for clearances per game, which would suggest that their defensive positioning is a lot better than outs.
I want to ensure that we strive to starve our opposition teams when it comes to their shooting efficiencies – currently, our opposition on average are concerting just over 12% of their 10 shots per game against us, whereas Milan is below 10% with around 7 shots per game. That is the defence between winning a title and falling way behind in a title race. Finally, I would like to see my team engage with opposition much higher up in our half, Most of our actions happen in and around our own 18-yard box, which is then meaning opposition teams could win the second ball high into our half, or we can’t get out and need to rely on counter-attacking football. I would like to see our defensive actions happen more in the middle third of the park, or alternatively halfway into our half as a last resort.
Season 1 Review
All-in-all, I believe that this has been a successful season for Blucerchiati as we recorded runners-up in Serie A and qualified for the Champions League. I do believe that this step up in quality will be hard to adjust to immediately this season, but I am hopeful that come season 3 we will be in a far stronger position to compete.
Coppa Italia is still on the horizon. Coming in at the Third Round means each season we will do significantly better (should Sampdoria have gone out early doors), but given some of our results this season – unbeaten against Milan, Napoli, Roma & Juventus – I feel we can take on any team in Italy on our day. Knockout football is a beautiful thing.
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Back in 92/93 teams were awarded 2 points for a win and a point for a draw. However, if you factor that into the equation, you can tell that this was still significantly more successful.
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With the right recruitment drive, I truly believe Fabio Capello’s Milan side will be in for a fight next season. Perhaps we can go the distance with them and cause an upset.