It’s what happened after we survived that ended up leaving me so deflated.
Nevertheless you’d have to consider this a successful season for our small club and it puts us in a great position to strengthen for next year, something we’re already embarking on with some early Bosman transfers and re-structuring off the pitch. In fact, I’d say we’ve had such a successful first season in Serie A that I can’t see us ever being relegated – certainly not with me in charge as I’d expect to be sacked if we under-achieved that drastically.
For now, it’s over-achieving that takes centre stage though with a quick update on season 2020/21 – when Feralpi Salò introduced themselves to the top tier of Italian football.
After that, I’ll look at the strengthening that’s taken place at the club, both on and off the pitch, as we push for an even more successful campaign – my 6th in Salò.
Take a look at this beauty:
Who would have predicted that we’d finish 7th? Certainly not the press who thought we’d end up dead last and certainly not anyone basing success on financial investment as you can see from my favourite stat of all – the salaries table.
Once again we have the lowest salary by some distance and this year it only gets better. Milan, 2nd in the table, spent exactly 10 times what we do in wages whilst Juve almost double that. Even middle of the road Empoli, who finished a point outside the relegation zone, spent £12m a year more than us. I know it’s impolite to gloat but I don’t half love that stat.
It’s probably the last time I’ll be able to claim this moral victory so I have to make the most of it. With our improved finances it’s likely that we’ll climb the salary table… and hopefully the league table too.
Although we don’t have as far to climb as I would have thought with just 6 places for us to aim for in seasons to come.
Any of those 6 places will bring us a European place, a prize that we came so close to claiming in our debut Serie A season and the reason that we ended the campaign with a sense of deflation that isn’t really justified.
Coming into the last game of the season we were 8th, facing a trip to already relegated Cagliari and hoping that Roma would slip up in Brescia and Catania would do us a favour in Genoa against Stramaccioni’s Sampdoria.
Everything went our way on the day and we leap-frogged our more illustrious opponents to finish 7th. With Milan sure to beat Roma in the Coppa Italia final, the Europa League place attributed to the cup would transfer to the league and we’d be heading on an impromptu adventure next year.
Of course, form went out the window and the team from the capital produced the goods to steal both a 2-0 win and my hopes of a reputation boosting European campaign. Not to worry, gives me a straight-forward target for next year.
I kept faith with the usual strikerless tactic, relying purely on in-game shouts and manual changes to counter-act the opposition.
What I see as my strongest eleven is shown to the right and my targets for next season will be based on improving this general shape. I did briefly consider changing it up a bit but I’ve decided that any amendments will be minor tweaks rather than a wholesale shake-up.
Why change something that is working and with the best defensive record in Serie A, it’s clearly working. Conceding 42 in 38 games might not be classic catenaccio but it’s not bad for a promoted side and is there to be improved upon.
Needing more improvement, though, is the offensive side of our game. We scored just 54 in the league and only had two players break into double figures – van Duren and Dyusekeev getting exactly 10 each.
Our success this season was based primarily on our defence, particularly against the bigger sides with some of our best results coming against top half sides:
- 4-0 H v Atalanta
- 3-1 H v Napoli
- 1-1 A v Inter
- 2-1 H v Milan
- 1-1 A v Napoli
11 unexpected points that pushed us 5 places up the league.
Conversely we had some poor results against teams fighting relegation:
- 0-1 A v Empoli
- 1-3 A v Udinese
- 0-0 H Brescia
- 1-2 A and 2-3 H v promoted Paganese
5 more points from those games and I wouldn’t have been relying on Milan to gift us a back-door into Europe.
We’ll have an opportunity to strengthen the squad over the summer, though, and a few players in the right areas should see us consolidate our position as European challengers next season. But what are the right areas?
Well, we could do with general strengthening throughout the squad but with the quality that some of my players have shown this season then it really should be a case of adding depth plus a few key signings. As with our tactics, I don’t think wholesale changes are required.
To start with, the spine of the side is very good. Chavarria, the ‘keeper I picked up on a free from Real Madrid last season, has proven to be a huge bargain – keeping an impressive 12 clean sheets and making a strong of excellent saves. He’s protected by an absolute beast in Okoye (more on him later), then a solid midfield diamond of Dolk, Magliano, Piacenza and Gramaccia. Strengthening here would be a bonus to add to the necessity of investment on the flanks.
Just look at Okoye’s stats!! 401 interceptions – averaging nearly 10 a game! 214 key headers, more than quadruple any other player. I could go on. Cut a long story short – he’s an absolute beast. Oh and he did it all without collecting a single yellow or red card, winning the Fair Play Award.
Kaba and Omic took it in turns to partner him depending on form and availability whilst I was very happy with Codreanu’s performances at right back. Although his defensive performances weren’t amazing, he wasn’t what I might class as a liability and provided a constant creative outlet going forward – topping our assist charts with 11.
Sadly, the same could not be said of Desole on the opposite flank. Despite assisting our first winner in Serie A, he failed to set up another goal in the whole season and his defensive performances weren’t so impressive that I could put up with the lack of offensive productivity. With his contract expiring, I’ve let him leave the club after 8 seasons at the club. It will come as no surprise, then, that left back was priority number 1.
As I said above, I’m reasonably happy with the centre of the pitch. Dolk did rather well for a £500k signing that my coaches don’t think is good enough. Protecting the back four well with 131 interceptions and 4.26 tackles per game, I’d only look into replacing him if there was a special, long-term option available.
In front of him, Magliano and Piacenza were joined in the box-to-box roles by Shô Haryû, a Japanese midfielder who I managed to pick up on a free from Tokyo Metro Feliz (not sure if they’re a real club) in December.
With stamina and pace to make the necessary running, I like having a bit more creativity in these positions. In line with the rest of my squad, he’s only young and has plenty of development left whilst I was hoping that his signing would bring increased marketing income from the Far East although I can’t say I’ve noticed much of an impact.
The major negative with Haryû is his finishing, something I am desperately trying to increase through targeted training. He has a major advantage over Piacenza in the form of his pace meaning that he can get into shooting positions that the Italian can’t; he just can’t finish them as well. Merging the two would be ideal but sadly isn’t an option.
In my last update, I complained that I didn’t think I was getting the best out of Gramaccia – my first choice trequarista – and this is still the case although it has now extended to any player I use at AMC. Gramaccia scored 5 and assisted 3 in 20 starts, a return which I think, given his clear talent, he should be bettering.
As my primary playmaker, I’d expect him to get more than 1 assist every 6 and a bit games. I’d also prefer him to play more than 2 key passes per game. With over 50 passes per game average, he’s clearly seeing enough of the ball but he is consistently playing too many backwards passes – the problem is that I’m not 100% certain on the reason why.
Is he too advanced and therefore isolated with no-one to play a forward pass to? Are my runners too deep / too conservative and not providing adequate support (a subtle variation on the first option)? Are his instructions restricting him or making him too selfish? Is he simply the wrong player for this position? Is he not good enough? A combination of all of the above?
I’m fairly convinced that he’s good enough and that the fault for the ineffective performances from AMC lies with me. Therefore I’ll be giving Gramaccia (and his primary back-up Cosentino) another season at AMC whilst experimenting with various alternative approaches – starting with a simple switch from trequarista to advanced playmaker. I’m sure it will simply be the first of many.
The wider positions are easier to fix – we simply need better players. Dyusekeev and van Duren ended as our joint top scorers with 10 each – hardly what you might consider acceptable for a side with aspirations of European football. This is a key area that we need to improve.
Looking back at the midfield stats screenshot, we made over 200 key passes – averaging over 5 a game. Not fantastic and in need of improvement but good enough to create some decent chances. It’s our shooting accuracy that’s the main problem – under 50% for the 3 most commonly used inside forwards and only Gramaccia bettering 1 in 2 on target. If I can combine an increase in key passes with an improvement in finishing then we’ll be on to a winner.
However, I didn’t want to just get rid of van Duren and Dyusekeev. They’re both still young with potential to develop into very good players indeed. Dyusekeev, in particular, has been developing well:
They’re performances weren’t exactly catastrophic either. 10 goals from the wing would be a decent return in a formation which had a goal-scoring striker. We just require a little more from the inside forwards as I foresee them (and potentially the re-styled AMC) being the main goal threats. Ideally, I’d like 18-20 each from the inside forwards, 12-15 from the AMC and 10-12 from the box-to-box midfielders. Ambitious targets but that’s the ideal.
Dyusekeev and van Duren would definitely still feature in the squad though, with the more marginalised Garcia and Nuccetelli likely to be sold on. The German can play on both flanks and his blistering pace can be a devastating weapon; whilst van Duren can revert to a defensive winger role when required and this versatility is vital in our relatively small squad.
Of course, any improvements to the playing staff was going to cost me and I had my concerns when I received two news items at the end of the season advising me that the board had decided to expand the stadium and improve the youth facilities.
Neither are decisions that I disagree with but I was worried that this would sap my transfer budget and enforce another close season of thorough bargain hunting.
I needn’t have worried, though, as my chairman continued the trend of being a thoroughly top bloke by granting me a near £20m transfer kitty and improving the wage allowance to £240k a week. It certainly meant I was busy. It’s now Friday, I finished last season on Monday. I’ve spent the time in-between doing this:
Time well spent.
Quick word on the coloured circles to the left of the players names – they’re a key. Red means tutors only; blue are youth prospects only; green are first team squad members and yellow is just back-up.
I love tutoring and I love finding proper tutors. I see properly applied tutoring as an absolutely vital exercise in ensuring that you get the most out of any youth prospects that you are lucky enough to have in your squad. As they aren’t going to spend much, if any, time out on the pitch then I won’t bother going into too many details – suffice to say they were all bought for either their personality or their PPM’s. Nothing more.
As an example. Emmanuel Ledesma – the Argentinian midfielder formerly of Genoa… and Walsall… – was signed with the sole intention of being Giancarlo Amici’s tutor:
The San Marinese (is that right?) youngster has potential but his “balanced” personality gave no clue as to his ambition or professionalism – key hidden attributes which increase the chances of a player meeting his PA. Ledesma, on the other hand, is “ambitious”. A match made in heaven!
The tutor, though, has 4 PPM’s that I don’t particularly want passed on – shoots from distance, argues with officials, dwells on ball and tries to play way out of trouble. By using the “tutor him off the pitch” option, Amici will learn from Ledesma’s personality but not inherit his PPM’s. Sorted.
Of more immediate interest were the offensive signings. Which is where I should probably admit to an embarrassing gaffe on my part.
This fine young gentleman was all set to join Feralpi Salò for the princely sum of £6.5m. In fact, he’s still set to join only, as you’ll notice, in the summer of 2022 instead of now. Why? Well Italy has a rule whereby clubs may only sign 2 non-EU players from outside Italy per season. Last season, I had already signed my allocation in Okoye and Haryû. Therefore, I chose to sign González using the “end of season (Italy)” option, believing this would bring him to Salò in July 2021… I was wrong.
So not only am I now missing a player and £6.5m; I’ve also committed to bringing in a player that will definitely be part of the first team which would seem to prevent me bringing in a similar option in this window. My initial thought was to loan someone in to fill the gap but I couldn’t find a suitable candidate and with the board’s generosity, permanent options were still available to me.
Therefore £6.25m was spent on bringing in Argentinian Paolo Funes Mori from Lanús. I had my eye on Mori before attempting to sign González – the combination of dribbling and agility immediately standing out. Although both Mori and González are naturally AMR’s, I see both as viable candidates for alternative roles – both capable of switching to the left flank (with re-training) and the Chilean can also slot in at AMC with his creative ability.
It also gives me the chance to try out a “wrong-footed” winger for a full season before deciding which one to switch to the left flank. Up until now I’ve largely employed right-footers on the right flank and vice versa. The merits of playing a wrong-footed inside forward such as Robben or even Messi are well-known but it certainly isn’t a requirement of the role. By using a left footer such as van Duren on the left, I also get an orthodox winger effect from time to time with the inside forward able to go outside his man should the space be available.
With Mori recruited for the right flank, and González on his way, I’ve decided to leave Dyusekeev and van Duren as my left-flank options – a right footer and a left footer. This decision was also influenced by my fruitless search for a suitable attacking left wingback, eventually leading to me using this lad:
Even the least perceptive of you will notice that Gallo is neither left-footed; nor even a fullback. He is, however, my attempt to implement an inverse wingback as detailed in this excellent thread on Supports Interactive. Employing van Duren in front of Gallo to hug the touchline and leave the space inside for the wingback to exploit, it should provide an alternative to the more orthodox inside forward / over-lapping wingback on the right-flank.
The good news is that it’s certainly started well – first game of the season away to Genoa:
I saw Gallo as an ideal candidate for this role due to his excellent stamina, work rate and pace; along with his all-round solidity – capable defensively in positioning, tackling, marking, concentration and anticipation; able to produce going forward with creativity, technique, dribbling and finishing. Not bad for a free transfer from Milan.
Also joining on a free from the rossoneri, Mihai Ciobotariu should become Okoye’s regular partner in the centre of defence.
Seeing Okoye’s success last season, I basically used him as a template when trying to find a partner. Some people will go for a centre-half pairing with one physical defender and one quicker, covering player – like the Terry / Carvalho or Vidic / Ferdinand pairings of a few years back.
With our counter-attacking philosophy and accompanying deep defensive line, we don’t need a pacy defender and I’m quite happy to keep a physical Stoke-esque blocking two behind a more mobile defensive midfielder. Aerial prowess, marking, concentration and strength are required and Ciobotariu fits the bill nicely.
His arrival also allowed me to sell Omic for £2.3m, leaving Kaba as my primary back-up with extra cover supplied by a £4.5m signing from Romania.
I see Brasoveanu as my long-term option for the deep-lying playmaker role but he’ll be slowly integrated into the team and capable of covering 3 positions.
As Cleon’s thread on “long-term planning – the deep-lying playmaker”, click here, I like to have a succession plan worked out and there’s no doubt that Brasoveanu has potential to be twice the player that Dolk is. He arrives with a “resolute” personality so I needn’t worry too much about tutoring him to ensure that he meets his potential – game time should be more than enough.
He also has great starting attributes:
- Marking – 15
- Passing – 17
- Tackling – 16
- Technique – 15
- Creativity – 12
- Decisions – 15
- Positioning – 16
- Teamwork – 12
- Work rate – 16
- Anticipation – 12
His mental attributes are excellent, his pace is exceptional for a DMC and he only needs a little bit of work here and there. I’d like to increase his jumping a little, hopefully to 12 or so. As I’ve said before, DMC’s and AMC’s see a lot of aerial challenges from goal kicks and deep free kicks, it’d be nice to win the majority of these.
In contrast to Cleon’s approach, I’m not a big one for teaching players reams of PPM’s, even if I think they fit the role. I like to only teach players PPM’s that I feel I can’t influence with tactical instructions or shouts. It’s just a personal approach and probably derived from the fact I’m a complete control freak. Anyway, I’m currently teaching the Romanian the “comes deep to get ball” PPM so that he tries to pick the ball up from our centre halves (whom I’m teaching the “plays short simple passes” PPM) and use his superior passing ability and creativity to good effect.
Although both Brasoveanu and Dolk could conceivably cover the box-to-box roles, I only saw them as emergency cover and felt that I needed an additional first choice rotation option to go with Magliano, Haryû and Piacenza.
For £1.2m, I think Francisco Floréz could prove to be a real bargain. I concentrated almost solely on finding a midfielder with both passing ability and great physical attributes. This had proven to be effective in Magliano and Haryû but Floréz came with the added bonus of good decisions and anticipation – two attributes that are key to an effective box-to-box midfielder.
All of which has left me with a first team squad of options that I didn’t previously have:
Then there’s the distant back-up such as Pinna, tutors such as Jovetic and youth players such as Jung and Amici. All-in-all, the squad is starting to take shape, made possible by the huge improvement in finances that has come with securing our Serie A status.
Should I need it, then there’s still a handy £7.5m transfer kitty available for January whilst I’m only paying out £150k per week – half our budget.
The media reckon we’ll finish 10th and the board want a mid-table position. I reckon this is achievable. There are only two things that could get in my way – ineffectiveness of the counter-attacking tactic against the lower half teams and bigger teams poaching my players. The latter is potentially an even greater issue given our low reputation and the fact that even relatively lowly sides such as Cittadella reckon they can sign my best players.
At least I now have enough depth to cover the departure of most key players and I’ve always got that reserve fund to fall back on should it be required.
Long story short (and it’s been a VERY long story) – we’re in a healthy position to mount a challenge for a European place.
As always, thanks for reading and well done if you managed to read it all – it’s been a very long update! I look forward to any comments or questions you may have.