San Serse? Cosmi performing a miracle in Siena
Troubled club Siena were staring into the abyss well before the season even started. Due to their involvement in the Calcioscommesse scandal that rocked Italian football over the summer, Siena were facing massive penalties both on and off the pitch, including talks of automatic relegation, a fate that befell fellow implicated side Lecce. The final verdict and punishment saw Siena escape that fate, ending up with a six point penalty to start the season.
As a result, Siena became one of the favourites for relegation at the start of the season, especially after losing manager Giuseppe Sannino. Enter Cosmi, as much a journeyman in the managerial realm as his players are. The Umbria-born manager is known more throughout Italy for his caps, facial hair, and his distinctly raspy voice than any sort of on-pitch success.
It was his time with his hometown side Perugia that put Cosmi on the map, guiding the provincial club to a series of three midtable finishes, including an UEFA Intertoto Cup win in 2003. Cosmi helped Genoa earn promotion in 2005, however, due to match-fixing charges, the club were relegated to the third division, nullifying their first-place finish and Cosmi’s achievement.
After unsuccessful stints with Udinese, Brescia (who he failed to obtain promotion with), Livorno, and Palermo, Cosmi was tasked with saving dead-last Lecce from the drop last December. Cosmi nearly did just that, missing out on salvation by six points; a string of poor results to end the season did not help, but it did help the equally woeful Genoa avoid the drop.
Cosmi has taken a Siena side mostly comprised of Serie A veterans and journeymen and coaxed some solid performances out of them, most notably a 2-0 victory over Inter at the San Siro on the fourth matchday. The average age of the side that defeated Pescara 1-0 last weekend was 29 years old; only two out of the 11 starters were under 25, defender Neto (24) and Francesco Bolzoni (23).
As is the trend nowadays in Italy, Cosmi ultilises a three-man defence, comprised of 34-year-old Massimo Paci, Felipe, and Neto, who signed with the club this summer over from Nacional of Portugal. Gianluca Pegolo has assumed the number 1 spot after being current Udinese keeper Zeljko Brkic backup last season and has performed admirably. Cosmi’s Siena is a typically stingy side built for battling relegation, allowing 14 goals in 13 matches, good for the fifth fewest in the league.
On the attacking side, Emmanuele Calaio continues to lead the line for the Robur, leading the team in goals with four in 13 league appearances. The oldest player on the team, 36 year old Simone Vergassola, is pulling the strings in midfield, notching two goals and two assists in addition to a pass completion rate of 83.3%.
While Siena’s defense is in the top five in Serie A, their attack is, coincidentally enough, among the worst in the league, finding the net only 13 times in as many matches. Players such as Alessandro Rosina (zero goals and zero assists) and Ze Eduardo (one goal, no assists) will need to step up and contribute as the season progresses.
Were it not for the six point penalty to start the season, Siena would be in a very comfortable 10th place heading into Sunday’s match against Chievo. A win in Verona could see the club emerge from out of the relegation zone for the first time this season.
Should Siena’s defence remain miserly and its attack continue to do just enough, remaining in Serie A for another season is a distinct possibility. It would undoubtedly be the biggest salvation story since Reggina overcame an 11 point punishment to obtain salvation by a single point six years ago. For Italy’s other Bianconeri, their task is a little less difficult than Reggina’s, but no less an achievement should they emulate their performance.