Self-confessed Inter fan Tommaso Giulini bought the club at the end of June from Massimo Cellino, who had been at the helm for 22 years. Cellino was accused of disowning Cagliari last season, as he fought to complete his takeover of Leeds United, but Giulini, now the youngest President in Serie A, hopes to bring calmness back to Sardinia.
Giulini has no previous experience of running a football club in Italy but did serve as a board of director at Inter. Massimo Moratti was in charge during Giulini’s time at Inter and the 37-year old has nothing but praise for the former Inter President. “I owe him so much,” Giulini told Gazzetta dello Sport. “He always told me that the team was for the fans. For me, it will be the same with Cagliari.”
The Rossoblu began last season playing in Trieste, 665 miles from home, but Giulini has moved fast to resolve the stadium issue by expanding the Stadio Sant’Elia to a capacity of 12,000. The new President has also acted quick to appoint Zdenek Zeman. The 67-year-old’s last job in Italian football at Roma was in fact ended by Cagliari, after the Rossoblu marched away from the Stadio Olimpico with a 4-2 victory in February 2013. Roma’s hierarchy had lost patience with Zeman’s all-out attacking approach and defensive vulnerability, but the veteran tactician is now expected to bring the same style to Sardinia despite his critics in the capital.
In keeping with the club’s tradition and the manager’s philosophy, Cagliari have raided the transfer market for Serie A’s young talents. Most exciting are the trio from Giulini’s former club Inter. Central defender Simone Benedetti was bought for €4.4 million, while 21-year-old midfielder Lorenzo Crisetig and striker Samuele Longo arrive in Sardinia on loan. “When I heard Cagliari were interested in me, I was overjoyed,” Longo told Sky Sport Italia. “But when I heard of Zeman’s appointment I was even more pleased. We are all prepared for Zeman’s methods.”
Another promising acquisition is that of 18-year old Alessandro Capello for a bargain price of €1.1 million from Bologna. The young striker is backed by an impressive primavera goal-scoring record and under new coach Zeman he could be ready to take Serie A by storm with his raw talent.
As mentioned above, Zdenek Zeman was quickly appointed soon after Giulini took control of the Rossoblu. ‘Il Boemo’ has never won a major trophy in Italian football, and while that is unlikely to change at Cagliari, he is famed for making his sides punch above their weight, especially in Italy’s lower leagues. Both Foggia in the 1990s and Leece in the 2000s enjoyed great success under Zeman’s tactics, and most recently Pescara in 2011-12 won Serie B with the Czech-born coach in charge.
The Italian national squad also have Zeman and his Pescara side to thank for some of their younger talents. Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile and Marco Veratti all had breakthrough seasons in Pescara’s title-winning side of 2012 and it was widely believed that Zeman deserves all the praise for giving them the first-team opportunities to thrive. Recently, Zeman spoke of his pride as the trio headed out to Brazil with Cesare Prandelli. “They are my pride of today, because there are also many who flourished in the past. I was honoured to be at Foggia with Signori and Baiano,” Zeman told Gazzetta dello Sport. “And not to mention Totti, Di Biagio, Tommasi, Negro, Favalli, Nesta, Fuser. These latest three are the little brothers of a beautiful brood.” It is not outrageous to say that Cagliari has the foundations to produce more members of the Zeman and Italy litter.
It is likely that spectators at the Stadio Sant’Elia will see plenty of cavalier attacking football as Cagliari line-up in Zeman’s 4-3-3. But the 67-year old’s attacking style is often paired with defensive negligence. The Rossoblu have already shown signs of vulnerability at the back during pre-season after suffering heavy defeats against Spanish sides Getafe and Celta Vigo. Although Zeman’s footballing approach may not wield the best goal-difference or results at times, what can be guaranteed is fast, entertaining football that brings a slice of Premier League chaos to Serie A.
Giulini and Zeman have a clear plan for Cagliari, something which was lacking last season. Although using the Mercato to sign Serie A’s youngest and most promising stars is risky for a side that usually plies its trade in the bottom half of the table, Cagliari have a coach who will give them the right tactical tools and guidance to surprise many watching. If Giulini remains patient with Zeman in the early months of the season while his side adapt to his rigorous training methods, the Rossoblu should easily replicate last season’s 15th place and could threaten to break into the top-half of the table.
Cagliari have gone through a very necessary summer of change and can now be considered in transition. While Zeman comes with a strong reputation in Italian football, it will take time for the players to adapt to his training methods, tactics and man-mangement. Therefore patience is needed. Cagliari have made smart, but risky, moves in the transfer market and will be heavily reliant on the fresh talent and exuberance of their youthful squad. But they have the right man at the helm to deal with such raw ingredients. In theory, Cagliari are still a bottom-half side but should be looking more up than down.
Where will they finish? 12th
Follow Sam Brownsword on Twitter at: @SofaFootball