You could be forgiven for mistaking the Presidents of the clubs involved in Serie A’s relegation battle for a group of beleaguered gamblers at a casino desperate to make a quick buck in order to keep their heads above water.
While the likes of Torino, Parma and Verona patiently and strategically built up their hands over time and have played them to perfection this season, the League’s bottom five have repeatedly panicked, rolled the dice and spun the roulette wheel in the hope they would stumble across a quick-fix.
Sassuolo are one such team. Having hit the jackpot big-style last season in securing the Serie B title and a first ever crack at Italy’s top-flight, the little club from Emilia-Romagna - currently ground-sharing with Lega Pro outfit Reggiana - were never going to be in a position to produce a royal flush against the peninsula’s major players. A season of struggle was always on the cards.
At the end of January the Neroverdi predictably found themselves in the relegation zone, but they remained well in the game and lay only a point from safety. Club President Carlo Rossi’s response however to a 3-1 defeat to rivals for the drop Livorno was to succumb to the pressure and fold. Coach Eusebio Di Francesco, the man responsible for delivering the historic promotion, was fired despite having just overseen the club’s activities during the transfer window of that month.
Rossi then took a punt on Alberto Malesani in the race for survival, but five defeats in five ensured that the 59-year-old’s tenure fell flat on its face at the first hurdle. Once again, the Neroverdi chief cut his losses, dispensed with the services of his tactician and recovered what little of his stake he could.
With Sassuolo bottom of Serie A and in danger of being cut adrift, it is fair to say Rossi was now down to coppers in his bid to keep the club in the top flight. Rushing back to Di Francesco, still on the pay-roll at the Stadio Tricolore, he invested what few remaining chips he had in the hope that the 44-year-old could come up trumps after all.
Fortunately for the President, the slots were extremely kind to him. Nine pulls of the lever during Di Francesco’s second tenure have yielded a return of 14 points, including 10 from the last five. It is a run of form that has seen the Neroverdi cash in on the shortcomings of others and with two matches of the season remaining, they are now in a position that would have seemed unthinkable a couple of short months ago. Their destiny is back in their own hands and one win against either Genoa or Milan should be enough to keep them up.
The ace in Rossi’s pack has undoubtedly been 19-year-old forward Domenico Berardi. The rookie, on-loan from Juventus, has belied his age to produce some truly sensational form when it has mattered. He scored his third hat-trick of the season in Tuesday night’s vital and thrilling 4-3 win at Fiorentina, a result that lifted his side out of the drop zone. If the Neroverdi do defy the odds to secure a second season of Serie A football, it is difficult to imagine how they could have done it without him.
With rivals for the drop Bologna and Catania going head to head this weekend, Sassuolo now have all the cards up their sleeve to ensure survival. Should they do so, it will rightly be hailed as a remarkable achievement for a team who had never even played in Serie B before 2008.
There is however a lesson to be learned. Had Rossi not panicked and prematurely sacked Di Francesco in the first place, the Neroverdi may well have already removed themselves from the relegation equation. He may get away with it this time around, but if he wishes to make a habit of mixing it with Serie A’s high-rollers he must ensure he arrives at the table better prepared in future.
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