Cagliari will begin the new year with many positives to take into the second half of the season; while the Sardi were very frugal in the summer transfer window, their six game unbeaten run prior to the winter break saw them earn 10 points from a possible 18, and they currently sit in 12th position with 20 points, level with no less than four other teams, reaching as high as 8th placed Parma.
One of the main triumphs of the previous window was that President Massimo Cellino managed to keep hold of some of the club’s best players, with Davide Astori and Rajda Nainggolan both remaining in Sardinia, and their presence has been invaluable so far this campaign.
The only purchase made by the Isolani came in the form of 24-year-old Brazilian left-back Danilo Avelar, who arrived for €1 million from Ukranian side Karpaty after a successful loan stint with the Rossoblu during the 2012/13 season. He has been a solid but unspectacular addition, and has proven to be both strong in the tackle and a good crosser of the ball, offering coach Diego Lopez a valuable option on the left flank.
Young Greek defender Marios Ikonomou and Real Madrid ‘keeper Adan also arrived on free transfers, but have not featured so far this term, while Macedonian attacker Agim Ibraimi has been an underwhelming addition since joining in September on loan from Maribor, failing to make the desired impact.
A great strength of the current squad is that the players know each other very well, having grown together for the past three or four seasons; The main core of the squad has remained largely unchanged, but this is not likely to be the case come midnight on January 31, with the 2014 winter transfer window set to be one of the most eventful in recent memory for Cagliari.
Dubbed as the next Zico, talented Flamengo playmaker Adryan had been a target for Italian champions Juventus, but the 19-year-old sealed a switch to the islanders in December. The Rossoblu will initially take the player on loan for around €400,000 with the right to buy at the end of the season for €2.5m. It remains to be seen if he will become the heir to veteran trequartista Andrea Cossu, but he will surely inject some youth and creativity into the starting-11.
Another Flamengo player tipped to touch down at the Stadio Is Arena in the near future is centre-midfielder Luiz Antonio De Souza Soares, or simply Luiz Antonio; Still only 22, his dynamism and aggressive style of play in the centre of the park make him the ideal replacement for departing centre-midfielder Radja Nainggolan, but the Brazilian’s lack of a European passport could complicate matters.
Meanwhile, Trapani striker Matteo Mancosu tops the Serie B Capocannoniere charts going into the new year, with 14 league goals, and 16 in all competitions. He would undoubtedly give the Rossoblu more of a goal-scoring threat, but with his contract expiring in the summer of 2015, his agent Valentino Nerbini says it would be difficult for him to arrive in January. Catania’s Maxi Lopez is a viable alternative, but it is not likely that a new forward would arrive unless one of Nene or Mauricio Pinilla were to depart.
Juan Carlos Paredes of Barcelona Guyaquil has also been linked, and despite the Ecuadorian international being a right-sided defensive player, he is skilful, and would provide the team with some much-needed versatility and unpredictability. He has also been of interest to Udinese, Sassuolo and Torino in the past, and would cost in the region of €3m, but is another player who is not in possession of an EU passport.
Veteran defender Marco Capuano of Pescara is also rumoured to be a target for the Rossoblu, while Bari and Modena midfielders Daniele Sciaudone and Andrea Mazzarani have been paired with the club in recent times.
26-year-old Portuguese midfielder Rui Sampaio has already left the club, having had his contract rescinded in November, however there are a number of the Sardi squad who could leave before the window slams shut at the end of January.
The most talked about outgoing transfer is that of Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan, who is being linked with an imminent move to any of six different sides; the closest-linked club are AC Milan, who are offering half of young starlet Bryan Cristante plus €6.25m for half of the player’s contract. Juventus are also known to be interested, and are prepared to hand over €16m in addition to one of Simone Padoin or Federico Peluso, while Inter would part with promising goalkeeper Francesco Bardi in part-exchange. Paris Saint-Germain, Napoli and Roma are the three other sides keen on acquiring the services of the €20m rated Belgian international.
Another key player linked with a move away is 26-year-old centre-back Davide Astori, with Milan, Juventus, Southampton and a host of Russian clubs chasing his signature. His sale could bring in around €9-11m in transfer revenue, but would leave a gaping hole in the Rossoblu defence, and with Lorenzo Ariaudo a reported target for Torino, Cagliari could soon find themselves with a shortage of defensive options.
Brazilian forward Nene has under-performed so far this term, and could leave the club if reported interest from Portugal comes to fruition, freeing up a non-EU place in the process.
The axe might also fall on ‘keeper Michael Agazzi, who is interesting Sampdoria despite his recent erratic form which has seen the 29-year-old lose his place in the side to Serbian custodian Vlada Avramov. Agazzi is now on the fringes of the squad, and is keen to complete a move away from Sardinia in order to secure first-team football.
What needs to happen?
While there is a chance that Astori could remain until the summer, Nainggolan’s days with the Isolani appear numbered, and the biggest challenge of this transfer window will be to adequately replace their key performers in order to galvanise the squad ahead of what might be a difficult second half of the season.
If Cagliari supremo Massimo Cellino can raise between €20m and €35m in funds from player sales, this should be reinvested to bring in promising players not only for the future, but also for the present, as their main objective will now be to avoid the drop come mid-May.
Nainggolan will be the most difficult player to replace, as the Belgian midfielder plays such an influential role in the side. There is no shortage of potential replacements, but Cellino should go for quality rather than quantity, and try to spend his money on a young, promising player such as Flamengo’s Luiz Antonio, who could grow and develop with the side before being sold for a healthy profit in a few years’ time.
A centre-back is also high on the agenda if Astori does leave, as 21-year-old Marios Ikonomou is untested as yet, so a move for the experienced Marco Capuano should prove to be a good stop-gap solution until the summer at least.
The position of right-back needs to be addressed, with neither Gabriele Perico nor Francesco Pisano really making it their own, so a move for Juan Carlos Paredes would be very welcome, as he is naturally right-sided, and can play in several positions both in defence and midfield.
Finally, having already covered the role of trequartista with the signing of young playmaker Adryan, a proven goalscorer is needed in order to enable the Rossoblu to turn their draws into wins, as they have tied more games (eight) than any other team in the league thus far.
Marco Sau is currently the highest-scoring forward in the squad with four goals, but the other Sardi strikers have not been at the races so far this season. Therefore, if Cagliari can sell Nene or Pinilla, they will be able to free up a valuable non-EU place, and sign a striker such as Matteo Mancosu or Argentine hit man Maxi Lopez as a replacement.
Whatever happens, Cagliari need to spend wisely in this transfer window, as they have done in recent seasons. If they can fill the void left by their outgoing stars, they should succeed in avoiding relegation this term, but to lose such influential players at this point of the season is no doubt very disruptive to the team’s progress.