Cesena were one of last season’s most loved upstarts, but after a catastrophic second season in the top flight look almost certain to remain rooted to the bottom of the table and return to the purgatory of Serie B.
The club had not featured in the top flight since the early 90s when they were relegated while under the guidance of a young Marcello Lippi, but following two promotions in three seasons their overflowing and vivacious fans would be unleashed on Serie A once more. Whether it was after their whirlwind defeat of Milan – a club whose wage bill was over 16 times greater – or after Emmanuele Giaccherini’s scuffed, deflected, safety-securing goal against Brescia, lowly Cesena were admired by many in Serie A last season.
This season, though, has been truly awful for the Cavallucci (Seahorses). The side are anchored to the bottom of the division on 19 points, 14 points from safety with just eight games remaining, and just two points better-off than Bari’s points tally at the same stage last season. Since the change to 3 points for a win in 1994-95, only Reggiana (in that season) have done worse than Cesena’s 3 points after 10 games. The other sides also on three points after ten games were Cremonese (95-96), Venezia (01-02) and Chievo (06-07), and they were also relegated.
Cesena started the season with ambitions of safety as a minimum, and the clubs’ fans showed their enthusiasm about the upcoming season with 705 season tickets bought on the first day of sales – more than Parma, Genoa, Palermo and even Napoli. The transfer activity hinted at evolution in attacking flair, bringing in Eder from Brescia and Antonio Candreva from Parma. The marquee signing, though, was Fiorentina bad-boy Adrian Mutu.
The arrivals of Mutu and company may have caused pre-season optimism but the loss of their entire front-line was completely overlooked. Last season the trio of Luis Jimenez, Erjon Bogdani and Giaccherini contributed 24 goals – this season the entire team have only scored 18 after 30 matches. The addition of Vincenzo Iaquinta on loan from Juventus in January failed to ignite the side – he has scored 1 goal in 5 games.
Marco Giampaolo cannot be aggrieved that he was not supported by the chairman throughout the summer transfer campaign. The club chairman, Igor Campedelli, revealed last week that the club had chosen Antonio Candreva instead of Michael Bradley – who is performing very well for Chievo:
“For instance, instead of Candreva, I wanted to take Bradley, but that decision would have ‘upset’ our initial ‘belief’ on a ‘different’ playing style.”
Regardless of the summer purchases, the episode that perhaps marked the beginning of the end for Cesena in the top flight would be the parting of ways with Massimo Ficcadenti, after the coach complained about the fan abuse he had been subjected too. The club replaced Ficcadenti’s expansive, attacking football with a coach renowned for dour play and defensive solidity.
Just north of the city in Acquapartita during Cesena’s pre-season training camp, Giampaolo would drill his principles into the team using exercises to help maintain their shape, improve marking and manage the offside trap, repeated dozens and dozens of times. His staff told a Sky Italia reporter at the retreat: “The Mister [Giampaolo] work a lot on set pieces, for example, especially to ensure that the players acquire experience to react from any in-game situation”
When the season started the results didn’t arrive, but the chairman’s backing did. At the beginning of October Campedelli said that “the picture was ugly but it had a talented painter”, alluding that Giampaolo’s was painting with football. “We must all work together to improve the picture, and we will” continued the chairman, but after another month of poor results the door was shown to the Bellinzona born coach.
There was initially a small boost under Daniele Arrigoni and points per game improved from 0.33 to 2.00 initially, but the damage had been done. Cesena has been reasonably stable at the back, conceding a similar number of goals to last season (47 vs 50). Despite the influx of players of a “higher technical quality” they have only scored half as many goals as last season.
Adrian Mutu has been the club’s top scorer this season, finding the back of the net on 7 occasions, and in the six games he hasn’t featured in the team has scored one solitary goal and claimed two points. The next two highest scorers (Candreva and Eder – 2 goals each) are no longer at the club.
The lack of attacking prowess, or competence, piled pressure on the black-and-white back-line and this seems to have affected the side psychologically. After going a man and two goals up against Lazio in early February the side conspired to throw it all away and were bullied into submission, losing the game 3-2.
Cesena has the worst disciplinary record in the division, 10 reds and 76 yellows. The high red-card-count indicates panic and impatience. A double-expulsion against Cagliari came after the team were already 3-0 down, but it is the perfect example of Cesena players’ frustration over their inability to control their destinies.
The season’s outcome is nearly certain, but Cesena still wants to avoid embarrassment in their final eight games. The chairman has asked that the team “collect as many points as possible” in order to “end the season with dignity”. Campedelli also spoke of the financial burden that comes with relegation, saying: “A football team is like a company – it is clear that relegation will be economically damaging and cause heartache on a moral level. But I assure you that I’m not scared. The desire to recover through work is there.”
The moral of the story for promoted sides is that they must be more adventurous, because goals will be the key factor when the books are balanced at the end of the season.
Follow Rocco on twitter (@rcammisola).