Cagliari ended season 2020/21 with a gigantic sigh of relief after managing to maintain their Serie A status after they had looked odds-on for relegation for the majority of the campaign.
Casteddu eventually wound up in 16th place on 37 points – level with Torino – and four points above the drop zone, thus drawing to a close a campaign that started with high hopes but ended with a sense of liberation considering that the Sardinian side had gone on an abysmal 16-game winless streak in the league, spanning from the end of November to the final day in February.
There weren’t too many positives to take, aside from the chaotic 4-3 win against Parma in Round 31, when two stoppage-time goals from Gaston Pereiro and Alberto Cerri dramatically flipped the relegation six-pointer on its head, and in doing so probably mentally condemned the Crociati to relegation then and there – something which was not long after made factual.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON: Diego Godin
The veteran centre-half arrived on a free transfer from Inter and was immediately lauded as a ‘super signing’ by those on the island of Sardinia, who certainly expected more from the squad on the whole.
The 35-year-old defender was arguably amongst the many underperformers during the first half of the season, however, really came to the fore when it mattered, commanding an otherwise weak defence that lacked confidence and also helping youngster Andrea Carboni to grow alongside him as an assured defender.
Often an understated and unsung position, the role of the central defender is easy to overlook but Godin’s experience was one of the reasons why the team will once again line up in Italy’s top flight next season.
Other notable candidates would be captain Joao Pedro, who adversely was the only stand-out performer during his side’s terrible run but faded somewhat as the season went on. The Brazilian finished with 16 Serie A goals.
BEST SIGNING: Razvan Marin
Arriving for a fee of €10 million from Ajax last July, the central midfielder who is somewhat diminutive compared to others in that position, was one who didn’t really set Casteddu fans’ pulses racing upon the announcement of his capture.
Fast forward to the present day and you’ll be hard pushed to find a negative word about the 25-year-old Romanian ball-winner. He started 35 of the 38 games in Serie A, bagging three goals and getting six assists, although that isn’t what won the fans over.
His important goals and assists in the 4-3 and 3-2 home wins against Parma and Roma respectively were vital but his overall performances that included lung-busting runs to recover lost balls, his willingness to do the opposite as an attacking outlet and his general tenacity are what he quickly became adored for.
That’s not to say that Marin doesn’t possess all the quality attributes of a top-notch ball-playing midfielder too, because he does, and they began to shine through when the overall spirit of the squad lifted and he was allowed more freedom.
Next season should be a great one for Marin with the return of Marko Rog – out for the entirety of this one – which should enable Marin to leave the ‘Rog role’ to the man himself and really show what he’s capable of.
THE COACHES: Eusebio Di Francesco and Leonardo Semplici
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Cagliari went into the season with so much hope after the announcement of Eusebio Di Francesco as coach, with fans buoyed by the thought of seeing their side play potentially super-exciting football in a forward-thinking 4-3-3 formation.
It never materialised and Di Francesco’s 23-game spell was nothing short of disastrous. Radja Nainggolan was often seen spending more time in trying to organise the shambolic system on the pitch as opposed to concentrating on his own game, while others seemed bemused as to what their roles were in the side.
With just three wins and a 16-game run in which they couldn’t buy one, the manager was relieved of his duties after Cagliari’s 1-0 home loss to Torino in February – despite being given a new contract the month before – with the team already condemned to the drop by many fans and pundits.
In came former SPAL coach Leonardo Semplici who wasted no time in endearing himself to the locals by immediately breathing hope into the side and the situation with two wins in his first two games, a 2-0 win away at fellow strugglers Crotone and a 1-0 home victory against Bologna.
The 53-year-old endured tough times himself, winless in the following five games before managing four wind and three draws in the last eight games to do the unthinkable and save Cagliari.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: The Cerri on the Cake
Already a minute into stoppage time and 3-2 down in their vital survival clash at home to Parma, Cagliari turned their season around in the space of the remaining three added minutes to win 4-3 thanks to goals from the hardly-before-seen Pereiro and the much-maligned Cerri to not only flip the game but the season on its head and in doing so, doing the same in a negative manner for their opponents.
Pereiro whipped a lovely effort into the top corner before teeing up Cerri – who is somewhat a cult hero in Sardinia, often mocked for his apparent lack of ability – to head home at the death.
With not much to choose from in terms of positives, this section could be taken up by a number of dreadful performances during the first half of the season, but off-field proceedings were arguably even more questionable with one, in particular, taking precedence.
Matchday 19 signalled not only the halfway mark in terms of the number of games played for Cagliari and the rest of the sides in Serie A but also 12 games in which Di Francesco had failed to win a game in the league, and his reward, a new contract.
The decision was announced the following day and sent Casteddu fans wild. Owner Tommaso Giulini at the time put his faith in the failing coach with a bizarre decision and stranger announcement that included the admittance that Di Francesco would be the coach ‘even if the side got relegated to Serie B’.
Whatever happened, he soon changed his mind and sacked him four games later in what was a really ugly period.