Chievo Club Focus: Is it time for the Flying Donkeys and Sannino to aim for more?
There has always been something a little out of the ordinary about Chievo Verona being in Serie A.
For a time, at the start of the century, they felt like impostors in the top-flight only to remind people that the city of Verona still existed and marking the years until Hellas Verona could assume their rightful place.
More recently, Chievo seem to be becoming an institution as a well run club with few stars that play in front of relatively small crowds. Each year they are predicted to struggle and fall, but each year able to punch above their weight no matter who is in the shirt or who is in the dugout.
This year, the honour of keeping the Flying Donkeys airborne falls to Giuseppe Sannino.
Sannino’s coaching career to this point has been mixed. He worked his way upwards, bringing the reward of a spell with Siena and a seat on Palermo’s merry-go-round for a short while last season, earning the former role after a successful three-season stint with Varese.
It is difficult to judge the impact he had at the Rosanero as a result of the short time he spent in both spells, but he performed well with the Robur, keeping the newly promoted side comfortably in Serie A on the back of some magic from Mattia Destro and the goals of Emanuele Calaio.
Given the financial problems that have unravelled Siena since Sannino left the Bianconeri, it is reasonable to assume that it was his spell in Tuscany, rather than Sicily, that earned him the opportunity at the Stadio Bentegodi. Chievo may be well set in Serie A, but they are not among its wealthier clubs, nor likely to become so.
Luca Campedelli runs a tight ship in Verona. High transfer fees are rarely paid; the €500,000 that went to Standard Liege for Yohan Tavares being this season’s big purchase. Low fees going out are typically combined with players being sold on, which more than covers the transfer bill each summer.
That said, he has put together a squad that has performed well in Serie A recently and in Alberto Paloschi, Serigo Pellissier and Cyril Théréau, have a variable attack that is more than capable of troubling any defence they’ll come up against.
The Gialloblu typify the philosophy of teams who seem to be more than the sum of their parts, and have been able to maintain the quality of their squad even when the more highly-rated players have moved on; Francesco Acerbi to AC Milan and Kevin Constant to Genoa, for example.
The current intention is to ensure that Thereau does not leave the club (or more likely, to ensure that when he does leave, that his value is as high as it can be) but when he does, Chievo will look to bring another striker in for a small fee, and hope their hunger ensures they are a success. It is, in the original Michael Lewis sense of the word, Moneyball.
As a result of knowing that Chievo will sell any player who commands a large fee, it is relatively easy to keep expectations low amongst the fans. Other clubs might try and sell the dream of returning to the Champions League, or even the Europa League, both tournaments that featured the Mussi Volante during the century’s first decade, but Chievo operate more pragmatically.
Sannino joined the club with unsurprising rhetoric about his priority being to avoid relegation. It is a mindset which appears a little negative for a team who have finished twelfth, Tenth and eleventh in the last three seasons, respectively. Although they still drew (far) smaller crowds than their city rivals, even when Hellas were a division below.
The charismatic Sannino, whose family were one of many who moved to Turin to work for FIAT, perhaps developed his predilection for hard work from seeing his father’s job as a child. Certainly, it is something he will be instilling upon his team during the season, saying before play started that he had inherited, “One of the best groups of players I’ve ever worked with because they have a culture of exceptional work.”
Indeed, most of Sannino’s interviews before the start of the season stressed that he would be trying to ensure his team were training and working as hard as they could, because they had a squad that would always be playing against teams that contained better players.
Chievo, he said, ‘cannot go into a match thinking they are a stronger than an opponent before the game’, only look back afterwards and say that they were better.
This season, the Gialloblu are set up in a unique (within Serie A) 4-4-2 formation, with Thereau partnering either Paloschi or captain Pellissier in the front two. It isn’t a great change from the way they played last season, despite the new coach.
Sannino made a point of claiming before the start of the season that ‘football is art’ and that he hoped his team would become great artists. Setting up in a traditional formation is, in that context, perhaps an unlikely move. It is a formation based on defence rather than flair – more the canvas itself than the oil painted onto it.
It might have been the use of a formation heavily associated with British football that prompted the Gialloblu’s trip to Cardiff over the summer. Their friendly ended in a narrow 1-0 defeat for the visitors, but the coach was happy with the way his side defended and how solid they looked in the Welsh capital.
That sturdiness was something they took into the first game of the season at Parma. After matching the Ducali on almost every statistic, the two sides drew a blank and both collected their first point of the season.
It represented a triumph for the new Chievo coach as his low-key approach should produce a team who keep games as compact as possible and rely on magic – the ‘art’ he talked about – to take them ahead of their opposition.
That difficulty to beat is something he incorporated well at Siena, who only conceded three goals or more three times during his season there, while inflicting that fate on five other teams; not a bad record for a team in fourteenth.
Sannino’s Chievo, then, are going to be ‘tricky’ this season, and the Stadio Bentegodi will be the typical ‘tough place to go’.
If they lose, they’re unlikely to be out of touch with their opposition, but perhaps just lacking of a little of the something that could see them level.
It may well be enough to keep them in Serie A again, though aiming to ensure three teams are below them, as Sannino himself stated is his aim, is a little below Chievo now. Expectations within the club may remain low but there’s no reason they couldn’t end the campaign pushing for a top-half spot again.
If Giuseppe Sannino keeps Chievo Verona in Serie A, he might well count it as his greatest art-work yet.
For the Gialloblu themselves, it will hang on a wall of very similar paintings.