2008/09 – Last year gave us a season of inconsistent highs and lows for Sampdoria. The constant injuries in their defensive sector meant that we seldom saw their ideal starting XI. As importantly, Walter Mazzarri, their Coach for that campaign, was quite dull as a Tactician, and his under-par management of the Blucerchiati culminated in a result crisis twice during his management (the beginning of the season and of 2009). Sampdoria did pick themselves up both times, mainly thanks to the impetus offered by the newfound chemistry between Antonio Cassano – finally at his scintillating best – and newly acquired forward Giampaolo Pazzini from Fiorentina. While it was too late for great pay-offs in the league, the new drive fuelled Sampdoria into the epic feat of a Coppa Italia final. Their loss of the trophy to Lazio was not enough to rob the Blucerchiati of a standing ovation.
2009/10 – The frustrating execution of a team on paper as talented as Sampdoria led to the exoneration of Mazzarri and the hiring of a new Coach, Luigi Del Neri. Del Neri is expected to renovate the team’s game, adding greater tactical flexibility and multi-layered solutions (primarily offensive ones). On the mercato front, the great question hung over Cassano, but management did well to hold on to him. Similarly, the permanence of Angelo Palombo with the squad is good news. Unfortunately an important loss was suffered in the sale of Argentinian central defender Hugo Armando Campagnaro to Napoli, and the purchase of Dario Dainelli from Fiorentina is unlikely to represent an adequate counterpart. Sampdoria are mostly the same group as last year, but they have a new Coach and some promising youngsters on the way to maturation to help them achieve their targets.
Transfer Campaign – All supporters of la Samp were in dread that the summer might take Antonio Cassano away from them. While this problem was eschewed, the team did lose a very important element in the sale of Hugo Campagnaro to Napoli, perhaps the best of their central defenders. Dario Dainelli will likely be brought in from Fiorentina as a replacement (the operation has not been made official at the time of writing), but the man has some pretty big shoes to fill in. Daniele Mannini, incoming from Napoli in exchange for Campagnaro, will give some pace on the wings. The arrival of Fernando Tissone from Udinese is the only other important piece of news. Even though the ex-Zebrette player failed to impress last year (only six games played), he may add some very welcome depth to the Sampdoria bench.
Daniele Mannini – Napoli – €2m
Emiliano Bonazzoli – Fiorentina – end of loan
Andrea Poli – Sassuolo – end of loan
Alessandro Romeo – Cavese – co-ownership (€200,000)
Luciano Zauri – Lazio – loan
Marco Rossi – Parma – loan exchange
Fernando Tissone – Udinese – €2.5m
Hugo Campagnaro – Napoli – €7m
Gennaro Delvecchio – Catania – €2m
Vladimir Koman – Bari – loan
Mirko Pieri – Livorno – €500,000
Daniele Padelli – Bari – loan
Antonio Mirante – Parma – loan exchange
Massimo Volta – Cesena – loan
First XI – Del Neri should bring about a change from the 3-5-2 predominantly used last year. A 4-4-2 retains the Cassano-Pazzini duo up-front, whilst adding stability in the wide areas with full-backs protected by wide midfielders.
21 Stankevicius – 6 Lucchini – 5 Accardi – 8 Zauri
7 Mannini – 17 Palombo – 34 Dessena – 19 Franceschini
99 Cassano – 10 Pazzini
The Coach – Young Luigi Del Neri is known primarily for his astonishingly successful work with Chievo in the years between 2000 and 2004. While the man was propelled to instant fame that season, he has since failed to truly push forward his career. A brief stint at Roma saw him walking into a crisis which was too hot for him to handle, and he has since managed lower weights Palermo, Verona and Bergamo. His contract with Sampdoria represents his opportunity to prove that Chievo was not a coincidence – Sampdoria are very imbalanced and will require careful internal compensation and management. They need a good tactician – Del Neri needs to show that he is just that.
Team/reliable player – This category of player normally includes the silent engine of the team, but it is hard to be the unsung hero of a squad when you are also its captain. Angelo Palombo is one of the top names in Sampdoria, having been sought by Inter some time ago and frequently called up to the national side over the last year. His role is essentially that of a destroyer in the kin of Gennaro Gattuso, compensating for Sampdoria’s lack of coverage on the flanks, though he also does some important work in directing game. He is indisputably their best midfielder and can be expected to lead the Blucerchiati into the coming decade.
Creative force – This one writes itself. Antonio Cassano is the only player from Sampdoria who not only gathers as much media attention as the great champions of the largest teams in Serie A, but also matches them in terms of talent, class and execution. Having ended up with the Blucerchiati after an unfortunate series of twists in his career, Fantantonio is finally back in Italian football and at his brilliant best – his passing skills and ball control in particular are breathtaking. As importantly, he appears to have found serenity and peace of mind, and his willingness to impress Italian Coach Marcello Lippi in light of the World Cup suggests one thing only – we have seen nothing yet.
Youth prospect – We are going to assume that Daniele Dessena, the obvious choice for this section, will automatically affirm himself under Coach Del Neri since the latter can exploit young guns better than his predecessor Mazzarri. With the waste of Dessena at an end, the question mark shifts over Andrea Poli, the other excellent young midfielder amid the Blucerchiati. Like Napoli’s Luca Cigarini, the kid has been called the heir to Andrea Pirlo. He is definitely a more creative force than Dessena, but he has a lot to prove. Competition is not too stiff amid the Blucerchiati, so hopefully he may start shining from this season.
The fixtures – Sampdoria start out with a string of four easy games, which is excellent. The key is the second fixture (30th August), which pits them against Udinese, a team torn to shreds by last year’s events and the mercato. Beat Udinese, and they may even gather up a full twelve points, given the Blucerchiati’s already impressive form. Week 5 represents the first real challenge against Fiorentina (23rd September), instantly followed by another crusher against Scudetto favourites Inter (27th September). One draw from these two games would suffice. Week 8 pits them against direct competitors Lazio (18th October) – a crucial game in terms of assessing the team’s ambitions for the league on the long run, especially since Sampdoria’s calendar becomes very even from there onwards. By the time they reach Week 14 (29th November) and the challenging trio of games against Genoa (derby), Milan and Roma, their position in the league should already be well-defined and the return legs may be faced correspondingly.
Home-grown players – 85% of Sampdoria’s squad are Italian, a tremendous figure and one of the best in the league. Whilst there are precious few that have come straight from the club’s own academy, it can be forgiven for the sheer number of opportunities Italian’s are given at the club.
Predictions – Sampdoria had a shot at a real bound forward this season, what with the maturation of some of its members and the promising new Coach. Unfortunately, the loss of key player Campagnaro to Napoli is likely to prove too important an handicap on the long run, meaning that Sampdoria are unlikely to achieve a great deal more than they did in the past year. Their starting XI have some elements of true class, especially in the attack – if Pazzini can keep the promises he sowed last year, we can expect pyrotechnics upfront. But the backline lacks depth and the midfield lacks experience. Assuming that Del Neri does a good job – and our prediction is that he will – Sampdoria will start strong but end up 7th at best, 9th at worst, directly competing with Lazio, Palermo and their own neighbours Genoa.