Hello again! This is the 3rd chapter in my Forza Siena series, if you’re new to this or would just like to recap then please use the following links to visit the previous chapters – Intro, Chapter 1, Chapter 2.
Apologies for the delay in getting this post out, I’ve been away with the family for a few days for a friends wedding in Italy where we had a great time, although unfortunately we didn’t make it to Siena! My friend Fran who was also at the wedding spent a bit of time travelling around and did make it there so I asked him to do a bit of research for me. He informed me that the training ground doesn’t need addressing, I just need to make the players do more shuttle runs as its very hilly so they’ll be fitter than all the other sides in no time. Its safe to say Fran won’t be getting a permanent position on the non playing staff any time soon.
Anyway enough waffling, lets get back to the football. After the heartache of losing in the playoffs last season we set out to go one step further and achieve promotion to Serie A. Like last season we were predicted to come rock bottom, I’m not sure why having done so well last time around but I was happy that the media were focusing their attention elsewhere allowing us to go under the radar. The main obstacle between ourselves and promotion were our finances or should I say lack of them. I’ve mentioned in previous posts how we are making a loss despite spending less than any side in the division. As the season kicked off we were firmly in the red, had no transfer budget available and an increase of just £1k to the wage budget. My hands were well and truly tied.
Having assessed the squad I felt I needed to make 5 changes to it but I wanted to make 6 in total. Any changes would have to be carefully planned as wage wise I was having to replace players on like for like money. I got the 5 changes done that we needed but my 6th desired change wasn’t possible as I simply couldn’t find anyone better to come in and replace back up attacking midfielder Nikola Sekulov. The below screenshots show those that left the club, a few players were released, some went for a fee and those who went out on loan were youngsters in the need of development.
Those who are eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed that Francesco Nunziatini has again joined my affiliate club Grosseto, he is a youngster I signed from Inter last season and I hope may develop into a first team player one day. I’ve previously spoken about how Grosseto were an ideal affiliate club having good training facilities and being in Serie C which is a good level for players to develop at. Unfortunately the board chose to cancel this relationship as they didn’t see it being financially beneficial, I requested a new feeder club to replace them but they refused. This leaves us with Uerdingen as our only affiliate side, this is one I can’t cancel despite never using as both clubs share the same board.
Onto the 5 new signings and I’ll start off with a few defenders. We needed some solid back up at the heart of the back 3 and Alessandro Pilati fitted the bill on a free transfer from Sassuolo. The left sided wide centre back role was a position I really struggled to fill and ended up splashing 25.5k on Mattia Capoferri from Brescia as I simply couldn’t find anyone capable of filling the void who was available for free. That would be the only money we spent. The final defender who arrived was left wing back Davide Zugaro who had been released by Inter Milan.
In midfield I wanted a new first choice carrilero to play alongside my star man Salvatore Pezzella. Fellow Serie B side Avellino had released Antonio Matera and I snapped him up, slightly older than my other signings so far but he was by no means old. Even at 26 he had a lot more experience than most of my squad which I felt was needed. My final signing Alessandro Gabrielloni, who had just left Como, brought even more experience with him. He plays the deep lying forward support role and will challenge Erik Gerbi for a starting berth. I see both of these players as being able to help add a bit of know how to the squad and help with mentoring the youngsters.
None of my signings looked anything but special but were all marginally better than who they’d replaced. With a young squad I expected some players to improve on last season and with a slightly stronger squad I felt we could certainly challenge for automatic promotion. The signings were all in line with the culture I am trying to engrain at the club but no changes could be made to our facilities due to the financial constraints.
In the previous campaign we’d got off to a strong start and we did so again winning 9 of our opening 11 league games prior to the end of October which sent us straight to the top of the table. A common theme had been late goals, we’d been 1-0 down at Venezia after 88 minutes but won 2-1, 2-1 down at Genoa after 84 minutes but won 3-2 thanks to a 93rd minute winner and scraped a 2-2 draw with Lecce after Dominik Mulac thumped a header home in the 94th minute. The stand out player so far had been Marco Meli with 6 goals in 10 games from attacking midfield. I picked Meli out when I first took over as our best youngster but also stated that wasn’t really a compliment due to the lack of prospects. He’s done really well and definitely exceeded my expectations.
We then went unbeaten in November, the only issue was we didn’t actually win any games, drawing all 3. Last season we had drawn 17 league games and I was concerned we were about to pick up the mantle of draw specialists again after it had looked like we’d successfully managed to drop it. We were still scoring goals but struggling to keep clean sheets and defeat in our second game of December to promotion rivals Salernitana meant it was 6 games without a win and the alarm bells were starting to ring.
I decided to dive into the data hub and see if there was any explanation as to why our good form had come to such an abrupt halt. Two key things stood out, opposition players were getting a large amount of assists through the centre of the park whilst most goals were coming from near the penalty spot. I therefore changed the team instructions to force the opposition outside and pushed the defensive line higher up.
It worked! We won our next 3 league games although a disappointing defeat on the last day of the year at home to Ascoli had the potential to knock us off our stride. We also exited the Coppa Italia away at SPAL, last seasons nemesis in the playoffs, however I had made 11 changes to the side as I was solely focused on getting promotion. This left us 3rd and still in the hunt at the turn of the year. The stand out player during this period was right sided centre back Dominik Mulac. Despite us conceding more goals than I’d like it wasn’t down to him, the Croat had been outstanding and was one of the first names on the team sheet. I’d made him captain in the summer and his form showed my decision had been vindicated.
Our youth intake preview arrived and it was a promising one, described as an ‘Excellent intake‘, we were due a decent one but I wasn’t going to get carried away until the actual intake arrived.
During January no new players came in but I did allow veteran midfielder Alberto Gerbo to leave for Serie C side Vibonese for £10k. He hadn’t featured much and was moaning about a lack of game time.
During January, February and March our away form was exceptional as we won all 5 games. Our home form started well with a 4-1 win over Frosinone before a defeat and 4 draws soured it. Luckily due to our wins on the road we still managed to head to the top of the pile, a 3 way title race was emerging between ourselves, Salernitana and Avellino. Only 2 could go up automatically, hopefully we wouldn’t be the unfortunate ones who missed out! My vice captain and star man Salvatore Pezzella really stepped up during this period and played exceptionally, having won player of the year 2 years in a row these performances were putting him in line for a third.
At the start of April the youth intake arrived and it had gone from excellent to below average!
None of the players really stood out but I’ve picked the 3 who had the most about them although I can’t see any of them ever making it into the first team. There was a temptation to dismiss my Head of Youth Development but I need to improve the facilities, recruitment and coaching before I properly judge him.
Back to the title race and we suffered a double setback, losing both of our opening games in April demoting us to 3rd. Out of my first 11, 5 players were injured and we had some tough games coming up so I was starting to fear the worse. An away trip to Monza was next and we got back on track with a 3-2 win that was much needed as we had top of the league Salernitana next. We were at home but having not won any of our previous 6 home games it seemed anything but an advantage. Fortunately the form book went completely out of the window and we absolutely smashed them 4-1 and with back to back victories were back top of the league.
Vicenza away offered us the chance to make it 3 in a row but an abject defensive display saw us fall to a 4-2 defeat. Somehow we still sat top, all 3 sides were bottling it but it meant there was only 1 point in it with 2 games to play. We had the advantage but could we see it home?
In our penultimate game we faced Avellino at home, if we won they couldn’t catch us and we’d be promoted. Salernitana had Cosenza away, a great opportunity for them to seal a vital 3 points. Our game was on the Saturday whilst they didn’t play until the Sunday. We struck first blood through Marco Meli on 21 minutes but Jacopo Murano cancelled it out 10 minutes later and that’s exactly how it would stay. Could Salernitana take advantage a day later? No! They drew 0-0 meaning that with a game to go we were still top by a point, we could win the league but could also miss out on automatic promotion all together! It was going to be a nerve racking final day.
We had a trip to the city of Genova to face Sampdoria who after an awful first half of the season had been resurgent since Jon Dahl Tomasson had taken charge. Avellino were at home against 19th placed Südtirol, a game you surely fancied them to win whilst Salernitana hosted the other side from Genova, Genoa.
We were the first side to blink, Filip Rønningen Jørgensen scoring a thunderbolt to make it 1-0 Sampdoria at the break whilst the other 2 games were both 0-0. We had been awful and 1-0 actually flattered us, we weren’t even putting up a fight, surely the other 2 would come good in the second half and we’d be resigned to the playoffs.
I got stuck into them at half time in hope of a reaction but I didn’t get one, a late Valerio Verre condemning us to a 2-0 defeat. Our game ended first and the players sat in anguish waiting for news from elsewhere. There had been goals in the Salernitana – Genoa game, 3 of them in total but thankfully 2 of them had gone to Genoa meaning we were promoted and to make matters even better Avellino had been held to a stalemate by Südtirol resulting in them moving level on points with us but thanks to a better head to head record we were champions!! Anguish turned to euphoria, despite only winning 2 of our last 8 games we’d won the title, it was done with anything but style but we couldn’t care less, we were into Serie A!!!
What a season it had been, having won Serie C in my first year in charge we’d now won Serie B in my third. Dominik Mulac had been outstanding and was my player of the season with a 7.56 average rating pipping Salvatore Pezzella to the award who had also been outstanding. Pezzella actually won the divisions player of the year award meaning he’s won it in every season so far although this was the first time I didn’t think he actually deserved it, it should have been Mulac. Right wing back Christian Mora had a great season getting 9 assists and an average rating of 7.38 and for the second year running Claudio Spinelli was my top scorer with 18 league goals.
Despite not having any real first team prospects my under 20s had another fantastic season, after promotion to Primavera 3 last season they didn’t hang about, winning the league by 15 points meaning that they will be playing in Primavera 2 next time.
The under 18s are already in the top flight and finished a credible 10th out of 14 in their group. The intakes really need to improve if they want to have any chance of making the playoffs in the future. Now that we are in Serie A I should finally be able to start making improvements to the clubs facilities although that won’t be until after the first season as all the money this year will be going into achieving survival. The board have given me £2.7m to spend and a wage budget of £94k which certainly won’t go far. To put this into context Serie A champions Roma have 7 players who earn more than this alone.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and I’ll be back soon to let you know how we get on in Serie A.
The Last Throw.
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