As Chievo start plans for their 10th season in Serie A, Rob Paton takes a closer look at whether Stefano Pioli will still be the Coach
Even as Udinese left the Stadio Bentegodi with the points, attention for Chievo and their fans has been on off-the-field matters amid uncertainty over Coach Stefano Pioli's future.
Arriving off the back of bringing minnows Sassuolo into the Serie B play-offs, Pioli has been able to further not only his reputation as an up-and-coming tactician, but the Flying Donkeys' progression in their second stint in Serie A.
Pioli has furthered Mimmo Di Carlo's teachings that left the team educated in more than one formation, developing it to an in-game variation that has consistently surprised. Out of possession in a conventional 5-3-2 shape, when Chievo pick up the ball, first-choice left-back Bojan Jokic then shifts to midfield and a nominated central midfielder moves to the trequarti, seeing the side tactically transform to a 4-3-1-2.
The team has also benefited from Pioli's willingness to experiment with players, alongside Jokic's movement, happily using conventional centre-midfielders Kevin Constant and Mariano Bogliacino in the trequartista role. In all, Pioli's work has seen another season of highlights amid a comfortable mid-table position. Wins over Napoli, Genoa and Inter, plus a come-from-behind draw with Roma, all sit as highly as Week 36's 2-2 draw at Juventus that ultimately secured the team's Serie A status.
His players have spoken of the relaxed atmosphere Pioli both works under and maintains at the club as having been crucial, keeping the dressing room happy even when early-season praise turned to mid-season concern amid a downturn in form. To put Chievo's continued success into perspective, only Cesena have a smaller budget in the top flight, and only Udinese's rise and Sampdoria's decline rival their work as anomalies in statistics that otherwise suggest squad budgets mirror League standing.
In the days since the draw in Turin, talk has naturally been of Chievo and Pioli's intentions for continuing for another year. It has been well-publicised for a while that there is an option for a second year if both parties are happy, but Pioli has refused to be drawn. The situation has added emphasis amid rumoured interest from Genoa and Palermo, whilst the Bolognese Press believe he is a target for their club too.
As well as this, Chievo are believed to be considering alternative options should Pioli walk. Sporting director Giovanni Sartori was in Bergamo recently to watch Stefano Colantuono's work with newly-promoted Atalanta, whilst it is thought Pierpaolo Bisoli, Marco Giampaolo and Vicenza Coach and former Chievo player Rolando Maran are all on a list of possible candidates. Colantuono and Giampaolo were both even considered for the job 12 months ago when Di Carlo left.
Where the first move - preliminary talks with Sartori and President Luca Campedelli this week - were most expected, Pioli can be forgiven for delaying any decision should he chose to, given predecessor Di Carlo's similar work in Verona a year ago was awarded with an opportunity to boss Champions League-qualified Sampdoria. However, just like Di Carlo's subsequent managerial suffocation and sacking, Pioli will be equally aware of the unique set-up Chievo offers its Coaches.
Sartori and Campedelli's combination of patience in Coaches and an ability to provide a conveyor belt of low-cost talent to work with is unique, and intriguingly, this could be one situation where the Coach's decision may have more bearing on his career path than the future output of his team. Where Pioli's input has been significant to the cause, he is still the fifth such Coach to have kept the Mussi Volanti in Serie A.
The club have reached a stage under Sartori and Campedelli where continuity can be offered to Coaches, rather than necessitated by them. Whilst Pioli may feel he has achieved all he can with the club, the greater certainty is not in his future success, but in Chievo's for finding a sixth man to repeat the trick, should they need one.