In the summer of 2008, former Roma legend Giuseppe Giannini took over the reigns at Gallipoli, a club that only six years previously had plied its trade in the amateur ranks of the Italian game. In that short space of time, the club had a meteoric rise into Lega C1, and was just one small step away from playing in the second tier of Italian football for the first time in its history. Giannini had cut his teeth in management at Serie C sides Foggia and Sambenedettese, but had found it hard to galvanise his squads into the style that he himself had produced in Italian football’s most evocative eras, the late 1980’s and early ‘90’s.
A disastrous switch to Romania, where he coached Arges Pistesti, was followed by another unsuccessful return to lower league Italian football, this time with Massese, where he left after an acrimonious falling out with the board of directors. When he took over at Gallipoli there was little to encourage the local population that here was the man who could bring them glories never seen in this part of Italy. Still, 12 months later, Giannini had completed the club’s fairytale rise from amateur level to Serie B participants and the whole town went out to party. As the players danced in the warm seas that are just a stone’s throw from the stadium, little could they have foreseen the turbulent summer that lay in wait. Boardroom wrangling dominated the close season in Salento, as President Vincenzo Barba put the club up for sale. Their Antonio Bianco Stadium was declared unfit for Serie B, and Giannini decided enough was enough and quit whilst his star was at its brightest.
As the new season’s fixtures were announced, the club had just three players still under contract – David Mounard, Francesco Di Gennaro and talisman Ciro Ginestra. Indeed the magnitude of the club’s staff shortages was so great that in the club’s opening Coppa Italia game they were forced to field their Under-19 team. But salvation lay around the corner as an Udine-based consortium took over the club from Barba and Giannini returned as Coach for the start of the league campaign.
The Giallorossi were forced to play their home fixtures in Lecce at the Via del Mare and many experts gave them no chance of staying in Serie B for longer than one season. After a poor start, hampered by the fact that Giannini had to work with a group of players who were practically strangers to one another, results have now improved dramatically. The Southerners have been this season’s draw specialists with seven of their opening 16 fixtures ending with a share of the points. But the recent victory over Frosinone, and last weekend’s derby win in Salerno against Salernitana, have propelled Giannini’s team into mid-table security as they attempt to prove all their doubters wrong. Ciro Ginestra is the club’s iconic striker – with his bald head and bearded face, he is the team’s focal point, the fulcrum of all that is good about Gallipoli. The spine of the side is completed by defender Matteo Abbate, and midfielder Alex Pederzoli who, along with Ginestra, have been almost constant fixtures in the side this term.
It is no surprise that playing their home games in the unfamiliar surroundings of the Via del Mare has hampered the team’s progress, as they have currently only won two of the fixtures at their adopted home. Ironically, the successes have come against former table toppers Frosinone and current league leaders Ancona. As the season progresses, Giannini will hope his players can acclimatise to their new surroundings and pick up valuable home wins to aid them in their quest for survival. Credit must also go to the new club directors who have shown patience and allowed Giannini to turn the club’s fortunes around, unlike a whole host of other Serie B supremos, who have had knee-jerk reactions to their club’s poor form.
As we come up to the winter break, no fewer than eight clubs have changed coaches – Salernitana are on their third Coach of the season, Albinoleffe, Brescia, Triestina, Reggina, Piacenza, Ascoli and Torino have also had changes in personnel as trigger-happy Presidents become impatient in their quest to reach the promised land of Serie A. The recent announcement that from next season, Serie A will be modelled on the English Premier League and become totally self-sufficient, has given cash-hungry bosses even more sleepless nights as they try to get their clubs an invite to Italy’s top table. Serie B will not receive the bonuses and incentives from the peninsula’s top division that it has relied on for so long and many people fear for the future of lower league football in the country.
Serie B will be renamed as part of the overhaul and at the moment the country’s state TV network Rai is running a poll to find out what supporters would like the league to be known as from next season. So far, the popular vote seems to be for either Lega A2 or Lega Pro Championship. For now though, Lega Calcio chiefs would be well advised to focus more on getting a sponsor to pump some much needed cash into an ailing league that deserves to be far more than just a player feeding frenzy for Italy’s Serie A heavyweights.