Sampdoria are prepared to release a fan favourite in order to bring in a bigger name as Coach. Rob Paton tries to understand why.
After returning to Serie A at the first time of asking, Sampdoria are in the market for a new Coach to keep them there. However, unlike Serie B champions Pescara, who lost Zdenek Zeman to Roma by popular demand, the Blucerchiati are moving out of choice, with Beppe Iachini still in the position until an alternative is found.
Indeed, Iachini, who is credited as steadying the ship last term to achieve play-off success for the Genoese outfit, is understood to have still not even been officially informed by the club of their actions. After alleged meetings with representatives to Razvan Lucescu, Mauricio Pochettino, Marco Giampaolo and Rafa Benitez through previous weeks, sporting director Pasquale Sensibile will only now this week reportedly meet with the 48-year-old current tactician to explain the situation.
The scenario is understood to be that President Riccardo Garrone and Vice-President Edoardo Garrone, along with Sensibile, do not carry confidence in Iachini to successfully keep the team afloat in the top Division. The warning signs for the former Brescia man, who was promoted in 2009-10 and then relegated in 2010-11 with the Rondinelle, were there as early as April. Even as he was guiding the team on a run of form that threatened to snatch an automatic promotion spot, the first contacts with former Romania boss Lucescu were apparently made.
The manner of Samp’s search for a successor to a Coach they are only now negotiating to pay off seems somewhat backward. Indeed, rumours that predecessor Gianluca Atzori was both better paid than Iachini and also better rewarded – in terms of promotion bonuses the two men had in their respective Samp contracts – suggests that the man now popular with the fans has only ever had a bad rap with his employers. Combined with the automatic renewal of his contract upon achieving promotion, you can understand why reports talk of Iachini as ‘disappointed’ by the club.
Rather pointedly, Il Secolo XIX referred to Sensibile’s pursuit of Benitez in particular as the ‘ultimate temptation’, a search for a former Champions League and League title winner proving too irresistible to avoid disheartening Iachini, and even perhaps other candidates in the running.
Before Benitez also came the close-run, public attempt to lure promising Pochettino from Espanyol. Sensibile spoke this week of an ‘alignment of ideas’ that the club and Benitez shared in their early talks. One of those is said to be handing the Spaniard a greater sense of power when it comes to transfers, another is providing him with the patience to allow a three-year project to fully develop.
Why Benitez and not Iachini? Despite being heralded as the key protagonist to the team’s mid-season turnaround, the reason Iachini was brought in to replace Atzori is likely to be the same reason another will come in for Iachini. In having past experience of working in Serie B with larger teams expected to push towards the top, Iachini was the right man at the right time where Atzori wasn’t. In pushing Samp on from promotion into at least mid-table security next term, with the tools likely to be at his disposal, Iachini may no longer be the right man where someone else could be.
Certainly, a glance at the unrecognisable condition of the squad since spending a year in Serie B is reflective enough of not only the task that faces Iachini or his successor, regardless of reputation and know-how, but also of the huge competitive and financial cost that relegation can have on a team.
Experiencing the drop has the club desperate to avoid it again. Significantly then, the early signs in the transfer market – where commentators claim as many as 10 reinforcements are needed, particularly to shore up a lightweight midfield – have suggested that the onus on survival first and foremost may lie with the Coach.
Whilst Iachini may feel hard done by, Benitez may be exactly the type of Coach the club need in what could be a difficult return to the top flight. As Mimmo Di Carlo and Alberto Cavasin’s attempts in 2010-11 showed, if the Coach lacks the correct experience to adapt to a difficult situation, there’s no saving Sampdoria.
However, should the club miss out on Benitez, it is widely expected that Giampaolo – veteran of struggles with Catania and Cesena – will take the role. That would be a move suggestive of a decision having been made to remove Iachini, regardless of future prospects. And if the club are still run like that, then there’s no saving Sampdoria and their three-year project from what relegated them last time – themselves.