"I never want to experience that again." Those were the words of Bologna President Joey Saputo following the club's confirmation of their Serie A status, after a 3-3 result away to Lazio. The mere fact that the Rossoblu were even able to avoid the drop will be talked about for years to come and much of the praise must go to Coach Sinisa Mihajlovic.
The Serb was re-appointed almost 10 years after first assuming the reins at the seven-time Scudetto winners, following the sacking of Pippo Inzaghi in December. He promptly stormed San Siro and beat Inter 1-0 in his first game back, which was a sign of things to come. Over the next three months, Bologna would garner an impressive record of nine wins, three draws and just five losses in their 17 matches, to go from 18th place to 10th.
Mihajlovic instilled his mentality of ‘playing to win’ instead of ‘just avoid defeat’ and that set him miles apart from predecessor Pippo. The 50-year however, knew he needed help and urged the Canadian owner to jump into the Winter transfer market with the signings of Roberto Soriano, Nicola Sansone and Lyanco proving inspirational. However, it was players that were already on the books, such as the creative talent of Riccardo Orsolini and midfielder Erick Pulgar, that were finally unleashed and proved pivotal.
The fans in Emilia-Romagna were treated to an entertaining, attacking and intense team that pressed and took the game to the opposition in a complete 180 degree turn from the previous management.
Bologna certainly did not rest on their laurels however, as they confirmed Mihajlovic, extending his current contract until 2022, hired Walter Sabatini as the new technical director and purchased Orsolini from Juventus outright for a bargain price of €15m. In today's world, both in sport and in life, you either move and improve or get left behind and Bologna are showing the ambition of a club who are not prepared to settle for just a top 10 finish, almost as a mirror image to their tactician’s attitude.
We have only just begun the summer transfer window, and the club are on the verge of making three signings in Club Brugge defender Stefano Denswil, Japan Under-20 World Cup breakout centre-back Takehiro Tomiyasu and Excelsior midfielder Jerdy Schouten.
So what are Bologna's ambitions heading into next year's campaign? Could they possibly pull an Atalanta and gate crash the European battle or are their ambitions slightly more contained? In my humble opinion, they should not limit themselves at all. They have an ambitious owner, a Coach with a pro-active and modern managerial style (certain so called top level managers could take a cue from him) and a team with a great mix of youth and experience.
Mihajlovic may have inherited a team on the brink of a disaster, but he made them into a squad of believers. He made them believe they will avoid relegation. He made them believe that playing on the front foot will bear fruit. He made them believe that a top ten finish was possible. I fully believe that he can make them into a team that believes they can finish at least in the European places.
Bologna have a rich and storied history which includes seven Scudetti (tied for the fifth most in Serie A history, even if the most recent was in 1964 and only five were in what we now consider the top division), three Mitropa Cups (a precursor to the Champions League) and created one of the biggest upsets in Serie A history, when they beat Inter in a play-off in 1964 to capture the title.
Bologna breaking barriers in Serie A could very well be the story of the 2019-2020 campaign.