At the start of the noughties, a young striker was receiving plaudits from across the football fraternity for his outstanding displays, with a club made famous by American author Joe McGinniss in the late 90s. Alessandro Noselli was that striker and the team was Castel Di Sangro. After one season with Sangro, and following a short spell with Avellino, he moved to the Sud Tirol to play with third division outfit Alto Adige where, in two seasons, he pretty much scored in every other game. Triestina then took a gamble on the youngster but after only one goal in 17 games, he was shipped out to Mantova where he spent a further three seasons. His star was on the wane and in the summer of 2008 Sassuolo, a small provincial Serie B club 17km outside of Modena, acquired a player many thought surplus to requirements.
In his first season with the Neroverdi, he notched up just five goals under the tutelage of Andrea Mandorlini as his club came desperately close to snatching a play-off spot. The outstanding form that season of his strike partner Riccardo Zampagna kept Noselli warming the bench rather more than he would have liked. It seemed the club would dispense with his services at the end of the campaign as they looked to take that giant step into the promised land of top flight Italian football for the first time in the club’s history. Surprisingly, it was Coach Mandorlini who received his marching orders last summer and Noselli remained to try to discover the form everyone at the club knew he was capable of. Stefano Pioli arrived from Piacenza to take charge of the Neroverdi at the start of the current campaign and a change of Coach breathed new life into the man from Udine. Currently, Noselli sits in second spot in the Serie B goal scoring charts with 12 goals and has formed a superb relationship with his strike partner Daniele Martinetti. Last weekend’s 2-1 triumph against Vicenza saw both men on the mark in the opening 25 minutes to fire the club from Emilia-Romagna into second place in the table. The whole town is awash with Noselli fever as the unthinkable creeps ever closer. Could this really be the season that a town that comprises of around 42,000 inhabitants, hits the big time and gets the chance to terrorise defences in Milan, Turin and Rome?
Pioli has galvanised the squad into a hard, clinical unit. Primarily he has made them difficult to score against and it is no surprise that his side boast the best goals-against record in the whole division. Walter Bressan has been given the chance to impress in goal and he is joined by a back four of Tiziano Polenghi, Swiss stopper Jonathan Rossini, Mauro Minelli and Gianluigi Bianco. Whilst none of these are household names, as a unit they are a force to be reckoned with. In midfield his troops are marshalled by Emiliano Salvetti, a Serie B legend who served Verona, Bologna and Cesena admirably before joining the Sassuolo in the summer of 2008. He oozes class and glides around the field effortlessly – he is the heartbeat of this team. This season, Pioli has deployed Salvetti to sit just behind Noselli and Martinetti and it has worked to perfection. Three experienced campaigners who have led by example. Across the centre of the field there is the Australian Carl Valeri, who prior to joining the Neroverdi spent five seasons in Tuscany playing for Grosseto. Alongside him is another seasoned campaigner Luigi Riccio, who has also spent the last decade gracing the field of many a Serie B outfit, and Francesco Magnanelli, a 25-year-old who has also played for Chievo.
So the omens look good and much credit must go to club supremo Carlo Sassi, owner of the highly successful Mapei organisation who produce materials for the building industry. Sassi is infatuated with his club and alongside his son Sergio, is dreaming of bringing top-flight football to the town, even though at present the club has to ground share with Modena as their home at the Stadio Enzo Ricci does not meet the capacity requirements for Italy’s top two divisions. Should the fairytale take Sassuolo all the way into Serie A, then funds will be in place to extend the capacity and bring some of the world’s top talent to this industrial part of the peninsula to showcase their talents.
Sassuolo’s story is one to warm the heart of every football supporter – a President who has the passion for his club and the business acumen to make it successful, a Coach who has scoured the country for experienced players and made them feel comfortable, giving them an opportunity for one last shot at the big time. Could Noselli and co be part of the next miracle of Italian football?