Coppa Italia: Third Round / Team rating: 5 / Top scorer: Pinilla (7)
Relocation controversy, ownership issues and the loss of key players midseason threatened to derail years of hard work in only a few months, but a late show of solidarity presented a welcome end to a tempestuous campaign, writes Livio Caferoglu.
Even before a ball had been kicked in 2013-14, Cagliari’s problems were already beginning to simmer. Picking up from where the previous season had left off, the Rossoblu were left with no choice but to temporarily continuing playing home matches in Trieste, some 665 miles away from the Sardinian capital.
Meanwhile, Massimo Cellino seemed to be more interested in completing his takeover of Leeds United than concentrating on his first love, but he sent out an early signal of intent by retaining Michael Agazzi, Radja Nainggolan and Davide Astori for at least a few more months.
On the pitch, Cagliari were forced to begin the new campaign with the humiliation of shock giant-killing defeat to Lega Pro outfit Frosinone, albeit in the last minute of extra time, but they quickly bounced back to winning ways by kicking off the new Serie A term with a 2-1 victory over Atalanta.
The squad’s experienced spine carried Diego Lopez and his troops through the first half of the season, and with their lack of firepower in attack successfully swept under the carpet, their ability to grind out results allowed them to stay adrift without ever truly excelling.
A run of three consecutive defeats between October and November threatened to drag Cagliari into the relegation scrap, before an unbeaten run of seven matches, including two last-gasp wins against Genoa and Torino, propelled the team into mid-table.
Beset by financial problems, Cagliari were unable to offer goalkeeper Agazzi a new contract, and he was frozen out of the side in the weeks leading up to his switch to League rivals Chievo in January. Worse yet, they would end the season without their midfield dynamo, as Nainggolan made the switch to Roma.
The side won just twice more under Lopez’s charge, and previous boss Ivo Pulga was reinstated in April – two months after being dismissed from his role as assistant Coach. Fortunately for the Sardinians, two crucial victories ensued to secure their top-tier status for another year.
Former Uruguay defender Diego Lopez was fast-tracked into the position in July 2013 but became the 36th coaching change of Cellino’s reign, with the Sardinians sliding into freefall. His predecessor returned in April and had a galvanising effect on the club’s fortunes, as he guided them to safety.
Not a day goes by without the centre-back’s future being splashed across the back pages, but his performances this season suggest that a big move awaits him. Although surprisingly not named in Italy’s World Cup squad, his loyalty and dependability over 38 games, demonstrated by his five man-of-the-match awards, means that he is Cagliari’s Player of the Year by a considerable margin.
- Cagliari won the joint-lowest number of matches out of the 17 teams that ultimately preserved their top-flight status, as well as the joint-lowest number of goals scored.
- They emerged victorious just once on their travels all season – an unwanted statistic shared only by relegated Catania.
- The Rossoblu registered Serie A’s worst home attendance during 2013-14, a result of the early-season trips to Trieste followed by only a partial reopening of stands at the Sant’Elia.
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