A moment of magic has brought Siena to the spotlight and back in with a chance of survival after a disastrous start to 2009/10.
Massimo Maccarone’s darting run down the wing, drag back then explosion of pace to cut inside the defender to unleash a curling, sublime right-foot shot over Samir Handanovic in the Udinese goal for 1-0 set Siena alight. With only one win before December, this goal put the Bianconeri on course for their second in a row this month and a step closer to climbing out of the relegation zone and the foreboding feeling of slipping back into Serie B. Alberto Malesani has enjoyed a strong start to his time as Coach but the full magnitude of the task that lies ahead has yet to sink in. Siena waited 57 years to return to Serie A in 2002, will they drop out of it all too soon?
Siena’s expectations at the start of any campaign must first focus on quite simply staying up. This small Tuscan hill town is heavily overshadowed by its flamboyant and ruthless neighbours in Florence, Fiorentina. Siena are minnows in comparison and their Stadio Artemio Franchi, Montepaschi Arena, is the smallest in Serie A. Under promising young Coach Marco Giampaolo they managed 14th place last term and were expecting a similar sort of season this time around.
A difficult start to the campaign saw the Bianconeri matched up against Milan, Roma, Sampdoria, Napoli and Juventus all within their first 10 games of the season. However, it was not the expected reverses against these teams that saw the side suffer and cost Giampaolo his job, but rather the negative results against Chievo, Livorno and Bologna. Sadly, stand-in replacement Marco Baroni did little better, overseeing a draw with fellow strugglers Lazio and defeats to Genoa and Atalanta as well as a cup exit to minnows Novara. President Giovanni Lombardi Stronati acted again and brought in Alberto Malesani to stop the rot.
The short-tempered Coach arrived with a mixed background in the top flight, impressing at Fiorentina and Parma at the turn of the century, only to see his record blemished by poor stints at Verona, Modena, Udinese and Empoli. He inherited a team strong in attack with a reliable keeper, but ultimately a light-weight defence and midfield that could struggle in the impending relegation fight. Malesani’s first game was at home to the newly-promoted and very impressive Bari and due to form they lost 2-1. However, Siena’s last two games have seen them come out with renewed vigour, beating Catania 3-2 with goals from Emanuele Calaio, Claudio Terzi and Michele Paolucci in a 12-minute period seeing off the Sicilians. Full of confidence and again at home, Siena welcomed Udinese to the Artemio Franchi for Maccarone’s cue for brilliance. Nervous stoppage time goals came from both sides but Siena hung on, 2-1. Siena are now only three points from safety with the winter break due after Week 17’s game at Palermo.
What can we make of Malesani’s impact on the side? In three games he has doubled Siena’s points tally and seemingly buoyed the players with confidence. However, games against Udinese and Catania won’t come every week, with much tougher tests on the horizon. The tough trip to Sicily to face Palermo in a hostile environment is followed with an epic Tuscan derby at home to Fiorentina. If this is not tough enough fate then hands them a double trip to the Giuseppe Meazza to face first Inter then Milan in a fixture list nightmare that would cause the even most faithful Juve or Roma fans to have sleepless nights.
It is in these stadiums over the coming weeks that Siena’s season will be shaped and Malesani will be judged. For now the year will end in Sicily for Siena before the derby and Milan await them in the New Year. Given Stronati’s lack of faith in Giampaolo – a Coach many foresee coaching the likes of Juventus one day – Malesani will do well to see out the season as Coach, let alone preserve the Robur’s Serie A status. The question for the Bianconeri faithful will be: “What is Santa bringing us for Christmas?” to which the reply will come from a rooted Handanovic: “I think you have already had it.”