So, Serie B. Almost immediately my office was filled up with disgruntled players ready to move back to the top flight. Having only spent a few short weeks with the team I wasn’t particularly attached to many of the players who had taken us down.
Almost immediately my office was filled up with disgruntled players ready to move back to the top flight. The only issue being they didn’t see it being with Hellas Verona. Having only spent a few short weeks with the team I wasn’t particularly attached to many of the players who had taken us down, so I was willing to listen.
While the waiting room was full, I was able to tie up a few deals to start to mould the squad. With the transfer budget uncertain but knowing there would be plenty of wages coming off the books I focussed on players with their contracts ending.
First agreed was Tim Ehnert, a long-term target from the Barnsley days. Back in those days I never pulled the trigger on a deal as we had plenty of options. At 24 with some very solid attributes, he was absolute the right choice for Hellas. He came in from Stuttgart and has the ability to play centre or attacking mid.
The next two signings were to build up the defence. We only had three centre-backs in the squad to end the season, one of which returned after a loan spell so it was an area to strengthen. First to agree was Ben Gibson, 32-year-old who had finished a couple of years in the Championship with Cardiff. Despite his age, he was still looking in good physical shape and still with some quality.
Next in was Tomas Wagner, signed from Inter. 24 years old and with 16 caps with the Czech Republic, Tomas looked another solid option to play across the back.
It was time to hit pause on the signings as we waited to see who would walk out the door and what that would leave us in finances. Horrible mistake.
My personal assistant failed to mention that weekly wage cap on contracts in Serie B. Having been my experience mostly in the English leagues I was completely blindsided and left a number of options on the cutting room floor. After picking myself off said floor, it was time to deal with the wantaways.
Deals were agreed for the following players
- Massimiliano Cangino – 18-year-old striker sold to Cesena for 170k, never played with better options on the way.
- Gianluca Belfiore – 25-year-old full-back sold to Bremen for 275k, brought in the previous season for 500k but only played once.
- Jean-Christophe Bahebeck – 32-year-old winger, Udinese for 400k, happy to move on the age and wage.
- Filip Helander – 32-year-old central defender, Nottingham Forest for 3.9m, club captain, 11 seasons at the club but not willing to stick around to bring us back up.
- Mauro De Lucia – 25-year-old keeper, Villarreal for 2.3m, first team keeper
- Jean Marc Favre – 27-year-old centre mid, Cesena for 450k, was really hoping to keep him as a solid option through the midfield, primarily as a DM.
- Bart Lachowski – 27-year-old central defender, Lazio for 750k, 19 caps for the USA and was another I was really hopeful of keeping
- Andrea Campagnolo – 25-year-old striker, Pescara for 1.8m, another who I thought might grab an opportunity in Serie B but Pescara came in.
- Alessandro Tripaldelli – 26-year-old left back, Sassuolo for 230k, the final player I wanted to try and keep.
With a 4k per week salary limit, the options were very limited. We only brought in one young keeper Martin Eistel from Hoffenheim for 24k and Arne Puschmann, 19-year-old central defender on a free. It’ll be touch and go as to whether they have a role with the first team.
With transfer options not availing themselves, the loan market took a pounding.
- Erik van Driel – Juventus, will play defensive mid or central mid
- Miguel Angel Galiana – Southampton back up left back
- Giuseppe Grande – Roma, central defender
- Alex Jones – Everton, keeper
- Nazario de Fretes – Club Brugge also defensive mid or central mid
- Alex Sekyere – Man City – promising young forward
- Nicola Galli – Inter – central mid
- Serkan Bilir – Red Bull Leipzig – clear first choice option upfront.
Whilst we weren’t locking players in long term, we were using significant wage savings to bring in players that would hopefully help to guide us back up. The plan is to then use those savings to reinvest in the squad when better wages can be offered.
So off we went on friendly season, the focus being some softer games to build confidence.
The theory was to play a 4-4-1-1. It was likely that Ehnert and Lanzini would be the keys which would that this just wasn’t going to work. Nil all draws against Foggia and Benevento both in Serie C/C. I think I was trying to play too solidly in the stereotypical Italian style and it just wasn’t working.
The solution was to whip out the old Barnsley notebook and a change to a 4-3-2-1. This set up was insprired by FM Samo. My Barnsley sides had used this set up to good success in the Championship.
What I found best about this set up is that there was plenty you could tweak depending on circumstance. The original set up sees the full backs bomb and inside forwards jumping into the box but this can be all tweaked depending on personnel. One of my better runs saw a winger playing on the left and an inside forward on the right. The flexibility is very attractive.
Despitelimited training, the results immediately changed.
We got what we were after with comprehensive wins. I was pleased to see a couple of older players lead the performances in Antonio Milic, our first choice left back and Juan Iturbe, the now 32-year-old who was playing wide right. Iturbe uses his left foot to cut inside time after time and if we can hold onto him is likely to be a critical player to us this season. Both players have Serie A clubs floating around them.
As preseason drew to its close, it wasn’t just Milic and Iturbe drawing interest, there was probably half a dozen players with either intentions to move on or with clubs lurking. The highest profile was Clayton, our Brazilian front man. With a prefence to play as a treq, something I hadn’t worked with before and at 29 years of age, I was comfortable to let him go if the price was right.
A daily occurrence was also rejecting bids for young striker Yuri Varesco.
He is highly rated by the coaching staff and certainly has some promise about him.
In the lead up to our first competitive game against Ascoli, I wiped clean the white board in the office and put the first choice team up
GK: Alex Jones
DL: Antonio Milic
DC: Tomas Wagner
DC: Giuseppe Grande
DR: Lorenzo Dickmann
DM: Erik van Driel
MC: Tim Ehnert
MC: Nicola Galli
AML: Manuel Lanzini
AMR: Juan Iturbe
The fullbacks have roles as wingbacks. To compensate van Driel plays as an anchorman. Galli plays box to box whilst Ehnert is an advanced playmaker. The two wide men come inside to play as inside forwards. Clayton will play as a deep lying forward but there is some flexibility in role upfront.
In the warm days of mid-August, my first full season in Italy started in earnest.