Cagliari and Cellino rewarded for Italian job

When Cagliari finished only one point above the relegation zone in the 2006/07 season, you could have forgiven President Massimo Cellino for making huge changes to the squad for the following campaign. You would not have begrudged him dabbling in the foreign markets, especially if said squad only contained five foreign players – but Cellino resisted that temptation. In fact, he started the 2007/08 season with just five overseas players, kept the vast majority of the Italian base of the squad, and replaced the key outgoing foreigners with more Italians.
It was an incredibly brave move. David Suazo, one of the five foreign players from the 2006/07 squad and top scorer with 14 league goals, was transferred to Inter. The second highest scorer for Cagliari in the league that season contributed just three goals. Replacing Suazo was easily the most important operation of their 2007 summer mercato. Considering the success of the Honduran, Cellino could quite easily have looked abroad for a striker capable of hitting double figures – but he did not. Instead, he struck a co-ownership deal with Inter for Robert Acquafresca (part of the Suazo deal) – who was just 19-years-old at the time and had only made his debut for the Italian U-21 team in June of that year – and acquired unknown 22-year-old Alessandro Matri from Milan. It was undoubtedly a bit of a gamble, but paid off handsomely. Acquafresca returned 10 goals, Matri scored six, and together they managed to surpass Suazo’s individual tally from the previous year.
The Rossoblu struggled for the early part of that campaign, thanks largely to having two different Coaches before Christmas. They were still in trouble when Davide Ballardini was appointed towards the end of December, but once again refused to panic with foreign players. Brazilian Jeda arrived on loan, but their eventual mid-table surge for 2007/08 was given a huge helping hand by the re-purchase of Andrea Cossu, who had played for Cagliari in the 2005/06 season before being sold. Going back to a player whose previous spell did not demonstrate that he had the ability to play in Serie A was another decision that took courage, but under Ballardini he flourished, and has done ever since.
2007/08 was not a one-off – the club has continued to keep foreign players to a minimum and make up the bulk of the squad with Italian talent. They have never had more than six in the squad for any of the last five seasons, and this term they only have four, comfortably the best in Serie A. Andrea Lazzari is another example of the astute choices Cagliari continue to make in the transfer window. Acquired via a co-ownership in 2008, with the other half bought in 2010, he has improved season after season, and although he cannot get into their line-up at the moment it is a sign of how far he has come that he is currently on Milan’s radar.
It is that continued improvement of these once unknown players that must please Cellino and the Cagliari faithful. Not only has the focus on buying Italian paid off in the short term, it has benefitted the club in the long-term too. Cossu has improved to a level that saw him capped for Italy last year, along with Davide Biondini, who was only on loan during the 2006/07 season but whose move was made permanent in the 2007 summer (another wise choice). Cagliari are setting an example the rest of Serie A would do well to learn from.

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