Novara return to Serie A after 55 years

Welcome back Novara. Sunday’s 2-0 win over Padova in the second leg of their Serie B promotion play-off ensured that the Piedmontese club will return to Italy’s top division for the first time since the 1955/56 season, ending a 55 year wait for top-flight football. In fact, the season they have just spent in Serie B was their first since 1976/77.
In winning the Prima Divisione in 2009/10 and the Serie B play-offs in 2010/11, Novara have emulated last year’s survivors Cesena in getting to Serie A with back-to-back promotions. But whereas Cesena had spent the vast majority of their time before last season in Serie B (and a handful of campaigns in Serie A), Novara have spent 33 of the last 34 years floating around the third tier of Italian football.
That means their current squad will surely have trouble coping at the top level. If a club is in Serie B for many seasons, their squad will be one with the ability to maintain their place in that division for a number of years. Unfortunately for Novara, large portions of their squad look just like one that has been in the Prima Divisione/Serie C for the last decade.
The fact that sporting director Pasquale Sensibile was in such demand tells you everything you need to know about the catalyst for their successive promotions. He managed to secure a number of players that were probably too good for the third tier , and as last season demonstrated, perhaps too good for Serie B too. That, combined with many who were successful in the Prima Divisione stepping up and continuing their good form one level higher (namely Cristian Bertani), has secured a place in Serie A for 2011/12.
But Serie A is a different ball-game, and having just a few players that can cope will not cut it. Sensibile has left to take over the same role at Sampdoria (a strange choice given he had many Serie A clubs after his services), and they are likely to lose Pablo González, one of those who looks like he could make the step up.
Of the line-up that started on Sunday, three have not played in Serie A at all, and another three have made less than five appearances in that division. Even the three players who came on have made less than 15 appearances combined (one of them contributing nothing to that total).
Their objective for the summer mercato is therefore quite clear. Cesena set the example last summer by acquiring players who had a reasonable track record in Italy’s top flight (Erjon Bogdani, Luis Jiménez, Igor Budan to name a few). Admittedly, they also saw a number of current squad members adapt very well to the demands of top-level football, but the signings of proven players were crucial. It is an example Novara would do well to follow, given the group at the disposal of Coach Attilio Tesser.
Of course, for all the issues surrounding the squad, they have a massive advantage with their pitch at the Stadio Silvio Piola, the surface of which is a synthetic, Astroturf-esque grass. A look at their home record over the last two seasons shows just how much of a benefit it can be – two home league defeats in two seasons, one in 2009/10 and one in 2010/11. Both of these defeats came in the very last game of each season, and both were dead rubbers where Novara were already guaranteed their league position at the time (and in the case of the season just gone, with no possibility of improving on that). So over the last two years they are, technically, undefeated in home league games where there is something to play for.
It is unlikely they will be able to keep that sort of ratio up next season, and they will start as one of the favourites to be relegated to Serie B, but, if nothing else, at least Novara have probably provided us with the fun of watching the established Serie A outfits kick up a fuss over playing on an artificial surface.

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