Welcome back to chapter 2 of my ‘Forza Siena’ series. If you missed chapter 1 then please catch up here and if you’re completely new to this then here is a link to the introduction.
After winning Serie C last season I had to get us ready for a challenging campaign in Serie B, in reality a good season would be staying up even if that were to be by the skin of our teeth however with this being FM I was looking to do more than just that and was intrigued to see how far I could get us up the table. I’ll start this post by revisiting the 3 parts of our club culture and updating where we are at with each one.
1) Smart Recruitment – Focus on signing players who can be sold for a profit and fit the clubs style of play
With 10 loan signings having been at the club when I arrived and a lot of our older players either retiring or being released following the expiration of their contract it was a huge summer of recruitment, so huge that I actually signed 19 players, all permanent transfers, none of them were loans. I’ll cover them off by breaking down the different elements of recruitment that I’ve been looking to establish and how each signing fits in. Before I do that here is a look at the players who have left in order to make it possible for me to make so many signings. The only exit that I hadn’t actively looked to make happen was that of Michael Fabbro, a striker who had been underwhelming last season but I still had hopes of him coming good. When an offer came in from Pisa, I managed to negotiate a higher figure and £300k was just money that I couldn’t turn down.
Italian players – We need a strong core of homegrown national players, signings must have potential to improve in order to generate a greater resale value
Seven new players fit this category, centre back Mario De Marino is the man I want at the heart of my defence, a solid defender who I think will be a real asset. Young Antony Angileri has great potential, him and Thomas Schirò could both go straight into my starting eleven, Schirò is the only one I paid a free for, 19.25k from Crotone. The other six were all free transfers having been released by their clubs however none have come from the top echelons of Italian football. Luca Gagliano, Alessio Rasi, Simone Auriletto and Alessandro Garattoni all come in as squad players trying to break into my first choice line up.
The best cheap young foreign talent – This will be done by establishing a world class scouting network in nearby Eastern European countries such as Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia and Bosnia to sign the best talents they produce. We will create affiliate club relationships as part of this. Once established in Eastern Europe we will look to move focus into other areas of the world, primarily South America
The board gave us some great news at the start of the summer as they upgraded our scouting network to cover Europe which enables us to put part of the plan into action. Currently the board only allow us to have 2 scouts so its very early days but as we progress as a club we should be able to put more focus on this one.
With this only being in its infant stages only 2 signings were made in this area with only 1 really meeting it properly. Marko Roginić joins for 35k from Katowice and Luka Marković for 2k from Kustošija with 30% of his next transfer fee going to them. The latter is exactly what we want, young with the potential to grow. I also went for Roginić as he was cheap and I think we can sell him on for more but going forward I’ll be looking at younger players than him from abroad.
Youngsters not wanted by top sides – Youngsters are regularly transfer listed or released by the top sides, we want to give an opportunity to them on the cheap and show clubs they were wrong to let them go
First of all I made 2 loan signings permanent. Salvatore Pezzella, last seasons Serie C player of the season, joins for 12k from Roma with a clause that 20% of profit made on his next transfer will go to them. Christian Mora arrives for free from Atalanta with a clause that 20% of his next transfer fee will be retained by the Bergamo based side. Claudio Spinelli was signed by Genoa for 3.2m in 2018, he never made an appearance for them and spent his entire time out on loan, he leaves on a free and although slightly older than ‘a youngster’, I believe I can show that they’ve made a mistake. Lukáš Červ and Nikola Sekulov were let go by Slavia Prague and Juventus, both come in as squad players with potential to make it into the first 11. Teenager Denis Franchi was released by PSG, he will be mentored by Ivan Lanni with a view to becoming my new number 1 in the not to distant future. Francesco Nunziatini and Iva Gelashvili will both spend the season out on loan to allow them to develop.
Experienced players to help with mentoring – They must only be signed on free transfers, fees shouldn’t be paid
Simeone Sini knows Serie B inside out and comes in to play on the left hand side of my back three. Alberto Gerbo offers great versatility, both will help to develop the array of young talent I have brought to the club.
2) High intensity, possession based football – Work harder than the opposition out of possession to then take advantage when in possession
Players required to have high levels of work rate, determination and natural fitness
With my recruitment I’ve tried to focus on players that possess at least 10 for each of these attributes, there have been a couple of exceptions however only by a minor amount. This may seem low but we aren’t at a level yet where we can attract players with a high level of these attributes whilst also being technically good. As we progress as a club I will increase this from 10, those players that are struggling in these areas have an individual training focus to improve.
No set formation but style must remain
For the coming season I will be sticking with the 5212 formation that got us promoted however I have added another version of it which we can use against lesser sides that is more in line with how I want us to be in the future. Please see our main tactic below and slide right for the new version.
All staff must fit with this style to ensure coaching is as effective as possible
I made the decision when I took charge last season to not remove any existing staff due to the compensation that has to be paid as part of this. With 6 members of staffs contracts expiring I was able to bring in 6 new members of staff that fit in with how I want to play. I won’t go through all of them but I will call out our new Head of Youth Development. Luca Berti arrives, he is a big upgrade on our previous HOYD (slide right on the image to see) and will hopefully improve our youth intakes, he doesn’t fit perfectly as 5212 isn’t his preferred formation however I’m quite relaxed on this as I’m open to changing formation in the future. If my scouts recommend players or youth players come through that are better than what I have but play in other positions then I would look to change in order for them to fit. All the staff that were signed have a passing preference for playing style.
Focus on youth development – Developing a clear pathway from the youth team to the first team
Regular upgrades to youth facilities, youth coaching and youth recruitment until they reach the maximum level
Currently the club simply don’t have the finances to be able to make improvements, despite promotion we still sit in the red. I don’t think we will be able to do any of this until we reach Serie A which hopefully will be sooner rather than later.
Youth coaches signed that fit with clubs style of play
All youth coaches signed have a passing style preference however they do cover a range of preferred formations which as mentioned earlier I’m open to as we look to be flexible with how we line up in the future. The issue I’m having here is that the quality of youth coaches I can attract is really poor, my HOYD is decent but other than that its really scraping the barrel as you can see below with the new coaches I’ve signed this summer. What I have done is try to sign coaches with a low level of qualification so that by putting them on courses they can improve.
Once players reach the age of 18, those with first team potential must be playing first team football whether that is in our first team or out on loan
Outside of the first team squad, new signings Iva Gelashvili and Francesco Nunziatini have gone out on loan from my under 20 side. From the first team I’ve sent back up keeper Paolo Bastianello on loan to Serie C side Vicenza, he is very similar to our experienced number 1 Ivan Lanni, I tried to give him first team football last season but he just didn’t play as well. He’s still only 24, I see him and new signing Denis Franchi battling for the number 1 spot next year. I did want Franchi to go on loan after signing him from PSG but there was no interest so he’s playing in the cup games but to ensure he doesn’t stagnate I will also be giving him some starts in the league.
No loan signings allowed, focus on developing our youth not our competitors
Having arrived at the club with 10 loan players here I’ve managed to reduce this down to 0 in just 12 months. Admittedly this may slow down our progress in terms of moving up the league as often loanees can be of higher quality but it will allow us to focus on developing our own players.
Create affiliate club relationships with teams lower down the pyramid that have good training facilities to help aid our players when out on loan
In the last chapter I spoke about how I had reduced our affiliate clubs down significantly as a lot didn’t have facilities of high enough standard. This has changed further, I have removed Sassuolo as our parent club as I don’t want to sign any loan players and secondly Uerdingen were our parent club however this has now changed following our promotion. They are owned by the same board as ours but we are now seen as the senior club.
Mentoring set up to aid transition to first team
Following the summer transfers the average age has gone from being above 30 to right down to 24. As part of this I have ensured there is still some experience in the squad in order to help mentor those who haven’t had much first team football before. This should aid their transition and help them develop their ability further.
The 2022/23 season
We were predicted to come bottom and by a long way but by the midway stage we found ourselves 3rd having only lost 2 games and any thoughts about relegation were long gone. We’d started well using the momentum from last season before a lot of draws started to creep in. We were losing touch with the top 2 having been up with them, turning these draws into wins would be vital if we wanted to stay in the promotion race at the top. The highlight had been an away win in the Coppa Italia at Serie A side Hellas Verona albeit on penalties and we’d run Fiorentina close in the next round but went out after a 2-1 defeat.
Our form had been remarkable considering how we’d been expected to finish rock bottom and had a wage budget considerably lower than the rest of the division. Despite spending nowhere near as much as anyone else we still had insecure finances and the board had to inject money on multiple occasions throughout the season to keep us a float.
In January an offer came in for our first choice keeper Ivan Lenni for 27k, with his contract being up at in the summer I decided to let him go and promote summer signing Denis Franchi to number one, he’d already made 6 league starts and done well.
Before the window shut I made another big call, Alberto Paloschi had started the season on fire but his form had fallen off a cliff. He was one of our highest earners and still had 18 months to run on his contract which would take him to the age of 34. His attributes were starting to decline so when Serie C side Cosenza came in for him I let him go for 70k and replaced him with young Erik Gerbi from Sampdoria for free.
Back to the league and there was a change in our form and unfortunately not a good one. During January, February and March we only lost twice, the issue was that we only won twice, drawing 7 times. I played about with the tactic until I found something I was comfortable with. The formation remained the same but a few of the roles tweaked.
This saw an improvement in our form although 2 defeats in our final 3 games of the season at home to sides near the bottom of the table were very frustrating. It was enough to see us finish 6th in the table which saw us qualify for the playoffs but we were some 16 points off the automatic spots having fallen away in the second half of the season. Having said that I’d have certainly taken 6th if I’d been offered it before kicking a ball.
We had a one legged preliminary round match against Avellino who we’d beaten in the Serie C Super Cup last season. Again we were victorious, a 2-0 win setting up a semi final to be played over 2 legs against 3rd placed side SPAL.
Having beaten SPAL 4-3 away in the penultimate game of the season I fancied our chances but they were all but gone by half time of the first leg. Despite being at home we found ourselves 3-0 down and needed a miracle to get back into the game. Fortunately we got one and with 84 minutes gone it was 3-3, a remarkable comeback but we let ourselves down as they got a 92nd minute winner to give them the advantage heading into the 2nd leg.
We had nothing to lose in the second leg so went straight out to attack and it paid off as we found ourselves 1-0 up and level 4-4 on aggregate at half time. First choice attacking midfielder Marco Meli was missing with a knock so back up Nikola Sekulov was playing and he took his chance making it 2-0 in the 64th minute. As the clocked ticked over 90 minutes the score remained the same, we were 5-4 up and had one foot in the final. They were throwing everything at us including the kitchen sink and it looked like we were going to hold out before Alessio da Cruz grabbed a last minute goal to make it 2-1 on the night and 5-5 on aggregate.
Extra time? Penalties? Neither. In Italy the highest ranked team goes through if the game ends a tie, that last minute goal had won it for them as they’d finished higher in the league. Our season was over, what a ridiculous rule? Angry didn’t cover it.
Once I’d calmed down I was able to reflect and it had still been a great season. Predicted to go down we’d made the playoffs and been 1 minute away from the final. We improved after the tweaks to the tactic and my young squad is starting to develop. I have certain players I know I can trust and then others that I know I can’t which makes it clear to me where I need to make changes in the summer however there won’t be 19 new faces like this season. If we turn draws into wins next season we will certainly be up there as we only lost 6 league games all season.
Over the course of the season our best player was again Salvatore Pezzella, he’s the one that makes us tick and I’m so glad we were able to make his loan move permanent. Claudio Spinelli was our main man up top with 18 goals in 32 starts, he improved as the season went on. The same can be said for attacking midfielder Marco Meli who got 15 goals this season, 7 more than last year despite going up a division as he continues to develop.
Our under 18s are in the top division after their strong performance last season and finished 7th in a group of 13 which wasn’t enough to make the playoffs but a great effort all the same. The under 20s are in the 4th tier and after winning their group made it to the final which they won 5-0 meaning they are now into the 3rd tier.
The youth intake preview told us that a mediocre group of players were coming through and they weren’t wrong! The one player described as an elite talent is anything but elite, its disappointing following the appointment of the new Head of Youth Development however he has his hands tied until we can improve the infrastructure and unfortunately we simply don’t have the money to do that right now.
Thanks for taking the time to read chapter 2, hopefully we can get promoted next season but its going to be difficult as the club is in real financial mess!
The Last Throw.
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