On 30 May 2010, Pierpaolo Bisoli led his Cesena side out in Piacenza for the final game of the 2009/10 Serie B league season. The air was tense with the possibility of achieving top flight football through automatic that day.
Cesena sat in third place, one point behind an experienced Brescia, so a win against Piacenza was necessary if Bisoli wanted to stand a chance of going up. A mighty seven thousand away fans travelled to see Marco Parolo’s strike decide the match, but fate would decide the day.
After the final whistle silence fell upon the stadium. The players and staff remained on the pitch, huddled around a small radio, and the crowd sat tensely awaiting the final whistle in Padova. When it finally came, the ground erupted. Brescia had lost.
Cesena had achieved successive promotions, and were now heading to the promised land for the first time since Marcello Lippi had managed the club in the 1990/91 season. The euphoria from both the players and fans was uplifting, scenes that make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.
The honeymoon period continued in their first two Serie A games, drawing 0-0 away to Roma, and humiliating a star-studded Milan side 2-0 at home. Since then, things haven’t been plain sailing and the fans have had to endure seven and nine game win-less spell. Last Sunday, though, they were able to secure Serie A safety with a win at home to already relegated Brescia.
What had started out as an adventure in Paradise, turned out to be a miracle on a shoe string. Cesena’s squad has cost their chairman a meagre €8.3 million in wages. To put that into context, it is €0.7m less than Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s annual salary and one sixteenth of Milan’s €130 million wage budget.
So, how have they done it?
First of all, astute dealings in the transfer market have provided a solid foundation for the season ahead. Cesena was able to retain the more important members of the promotion winning squad. Keeping the likes of Giaccherini, Parolo and Schelotto wasn’t easy, as they had all been coveted by other Serie A sides. But it proved worthwhile, as they all have made vital contributions in their Serie A return season.
They also added depth to the squad, picking up Bogdani, Budan, Caserta and rescued Luis Jimenez from third tier Ternana. One of the stars of the Serie A season was picked up in the far east, Yuto Nagatomo cost a mere €300,000.
While Ficcadenti had a useful squad at his disposal, he still had to squeeze every last drop out of it if there was to be any hope of surviving in the top flight. Cesena played a 4-3-3 with their three central midfielders – usually, Caserta, Colucci and Parolo – who provided enough energy to make up for their technical limitations.
But the real key has been their front three. Before the winter transfer window it had been Schelotto and Giaccherini playing in wide roles, showing a great deal of hunger to attack their opponents full backs as well as tracking back to muck in with the dirty work of defending.
After Schelotto’s transfer to Catania in January, they switched to a 4-3-2-1 but maintained width with Jimenez and Giaccherini featuring behind a target man – typically, Montenegrin, Erjon Bogdani. The three have contributed 22 of Cesena’s 36 goals scored this season.
Despite being low scoring, Cesena’s willingness to play rather than stifle other teams has been refreshing. Especially when compared to the likes of Bari, who have been depressed and deflated all season.
The final piece of the puzzle has been their home ground. The Dino Manuzzi, holding just shy of 24,000 spectators, isn’t very big at all compared to the likes of the San Nicola or the Bentegodi. However, the lack of an athletics track creates a menacing atmosphere where the crowd can let the opponents – and the officials – experience the full extent of their ire.
As well as snatching a point against both Fiorentina and Juventus, seven of their eleven wins this season have come at their home ground. Most of these have been against the teams in and around the relegation zone, but a win against Lazio in November and an inspiring victory against A.C. Milan will have provided their supporters with some magical memories to look back on wistfully for years to come.
After a season of salvation and revelations, there will be no time for the side to rest on their laurels. The transfer window will no doubt see a number of clubs attempting to tempt Cesena’s players away, and reinforcements are always necessary to ensure that the club doesn’t stagnate.
Massimo Ficcadenti will be leaving the club at the end of the season, after taking offence to some of the fans reactions to poor results earlier in the season.
Whoever does replace Ficcadenti will have a clear mandate to keep the side in the top flight for as long as possible, on an incredibly tight budget with the newly promoted sides snapping at the Cavallucci‘s heels. However, if you’ll allow me to quote the leader of the Chinese revolution:
“Once all struggle is grasped, miracles are possible.”