With a rich, vibrant history to rival that of Serie A’s long-term protagonists, Cagliari have to be confident of avoiding the drop as they return to life in the top flight without Massimo Cellino.
As one of the leading figures in the development of players in Italian football, the return of Cagliari to Serie A is a welcome sight. The Sardinian side have long been an attractive destination for newcomers to cut their teeth, with a view of establishing themselves at a higher level. Recent examples to pass through have been Radja Nainggolan, Davide Astori and Federico Marchetti. After relegation to Serie B ended an 11-season run in the top flight, the Rossoblu earned immediate promotion back to Serie A and in many ways look the better for it. The reality shock of their demise has seen profound changes in the squad, the majority of which appear encouraging.
In comparison with their newly-promoted rivals, Crotone and Pescara, the squad Cagliari have put together appears better prepared for the task ahead. Among the mixture of young and talented players come experienced figures who have proven their worth in Serie A. New additions in the form of Simone Padoin and Mauricio Isla from Juventus bring their title-winning credentials, while Artur Ionita comes in on the back of an individually impressive campaign for relegated Hellas Verona. If these arrivals weren’t impressive enough, then signing Marco Borriello and Euro 2016 champion Bruno Alves were further evidence of their transfer market expertise.
Ultimately, as has been the case for many years with Cagliari, the real strength in their team will be derived from their youngsters. The potential of full-back Nicola Murru has often been commented since making his debut in 2011, but also midfield pair Nicolo Barella and Alessandro Dieola; who will be hoping to feature prominently this campaign. Luka Krajnc, who performed so impressively in his two-year spell with Cesena, is another who will be expected to play a key role. The Croatian import Marko Pajac, who in truth little is known about, could be the next in a long line of Croatians to thrive in Italy after Nikola Kalinic and Mateo Kovacic.
Aside from these wonderful additions, the squad is largely unchanged from the side that were relegated in 2015. One major difference is the absence of senior figures, most notably the captain Daniele Conti and vice-captain Andrea Cossu. The pair had a huge impact in the dressing-room, bringing their own experiences and reinforced the ideals and values of the football club. Conti himself has gone on to play a role in Cagliari’s youth system; continuing an almost romantic association with the club that began at the turn on the century. One further concern is the fitness of Federico Melchiorri, who picked up a potentially damming ligament injury the previous season.
When considering the future of Cagliari Calcio, it is certainly worth looking at the bigger picture. Perhaps the most encouraging factor has been the council’s approval to plans for a new 21,000 capacity stadium. Any calcio fan will tell you the lack of modernised stadiums in Serie A has suffocated the league, placing them further and further behind their European counterparts. The particular issues Cagliari have faced with regard to stadiums has been well documented, jumping between Trieste, the Stadio Is Arenas and their current home traditional home at the Stadio Sant’Elia. The proposed €55 million construction is likely to hinder the club’s transfer activity, but it’s certainly a necessary sacrifice and one that’s good for Cagliari and Italian football.
Despite an opening day defeat to Genoa, there were plenty of positives to be drawn for Cagliari. The golden boy Marco Sau, who opted to remain with Cagliari following their relegation, got his season off the mark with an assist. The aforementioned Borriello continues to defy expectations after positive spells with both Carpi and Atalanta last campaign; netting for the Rossoblu on his debut. One time Juventus striker Niccolo Giannetti hit the post and despite conceding on three occasions the veteran keeper Marco Storari looked up to the task. Needless to say it is difficult to draw any conclusive judgements on the team from the opening fixture.
Having owned Cagliari for the best part of 22 years, life without Massimo Cellino seems somewhat bizarre. The ‘Manager Eater’ is now causing havoc at Leeds United and the Rossoblu boss Massimo Rastelli can breath a little easier, if only for the moment. Cagliari must build on their momentum, as Serie A survival is simply a necessity.