Leonardo Semplici has worked wonders at SPAL and what he has achieved can be seen as a minor miracle in the shadow of Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta.
Semplici was appointed in December 2014 with the club struggling in the third division and has since played a pivotal role in helping turn their fortunes around.
Promotion to Serie B followed his first full season in charge and then at the first attempt they achieved what was deemed unthinkable, a dramatic promotion to Serie A for the first time in 49 years.
The fact that the Biancazzurri were on the brink of administration in 2013 makes this story all the more special. SPAL’s presence in Serie A was expected to be short-lived, but Semplici had other ideas. Not only have they secured safety for a second consecutive year, SPAL have sat soundly in mid-table during recent weeks.
Adopting a familiar 3-5-2 formation, SPAL are a team with variety. Out of possession they are prepared to press bravely and intensely, but are equally happy in retreating into a compact block, showing tactical discipline with a tireless work ethic. This togetherness and cumulative working underpin their success. However, they are far from a team that relies on defensive solidity to pick up points.
Gli Spallini are expansive when going forward. Using width and depth to stretch the opposition, they favour short, sharp vertical passes to progress play through the pitch. This commitment to a dynamic attacking style in possession makes for enjoyable viewing.
Wing-back Manuel Lazzari - who has been at the club since its merger with Giacomense in 2013 - has continually progressed under Semplici. Lazzari’s eight assists from the right flank are equal to that of Cristiano Ronaldo and Papu Gomez.
Another player also benefitting from playing under Mister Semplici is Andrea Petagna. Signed in the summer he has registered an impressive 16 goals – four times his tally last season with Atalanta.
SPAL have the second lowest wage bill in the league and have acted frugally on the transfer market, bringing together a nice blend of youth and experience. Former Fiorentina academy tactician Semplici is perhaps not the most glamorous option for Coach of the Year, but he is as deserving as anyone else in Serie A.
Impressively completing a double over Roma whilst also beating Juventus and Lazio at the Stadio Paolo Mazza, SPAL are punching well above their weight. The side from Emilia-Romagna are a rarity in modern football, a small club rescued from obscurity that are now mixing it with the big boys. Intelligently run by President and passionate fan Walter Mattioli, he will be hoping Serie A’s giants do not come calling for the accomplished Leonardo Semplici.