Surprise outfit Spal are back in the top tier after 50 years, so Jamie Thorn wonders if they’ve got what it takes to stay there
You’d be forgiven for not being familiar with Società Polisportiva Ars et Labor 2013 (or SPAL for short). Despite having spent a total of 21 seasons in Italy’s top-flight, and having proudly launched the playing career of Fabio Capello, bankruptcy has blighted the Biancazzurri’s history. Its latest incarnation earned back-to-back promotions to secure a return to Serie A, pipping the much-fancied Hellas Verona to the title.
So to whom do they owe their success? It’s largely down to Spal’s new owners, the Colombarini family, who provided strong investment for a club that was in dire need of it. President Walter Mattioli and sporting director Davide Vagnati can also be credited with Spal’s change in fortunes, working in harmony with the club’s new owners to create a platform for a successful Biancazzurri future.
Like all newly promoted sides, Spal have had a busy summer. Not only have Mattioli and Vagnati made moves to form a competitive squad to avoid the drop, construction has begun on the Stadio Paolo Mazza to meet the requirements for hosting Serie A games. It’s clear that the Colombarini family intend to stay in the division this time around.
But for Spal to stand a chance, they will need to rely on the man who masterminded back-to-back promotions and earned many plaudits along the way: Leonardo Semplici. The former Fiorentina youth Coach (and lifelong Viola fan) led Spal’s remarkable resurgence from the Lega Pro right through to Serie A. Where once he aided the development of Federico Bernardeschi and Federico Chiesa, he’s now known for his swashbuckling 3-5-2 formation, entertaining a loyal fanbase who had grown accustomed to seeing their side floundering in the lower divisions.
Spearheaded by the experienced duo of Sergio Floccari and Mirco Antenucci, and flanked by local boy and fan favourite Manuel Lazzari, the Biancazzurri made light work of their more fancied opposition. After a difficult start, their resolute defence and remarkable consistency saw them worthy winners of the Serie B championship.
Although a great source of pride to its supporters last season, the club’s transfer dealings have brought an end to the all-Italian make-up of the team. Moves for Bologna’s promising Greek centre-back Marios Oikonomou, and the signing of experienced Serie A stalwart Felipe from Udinese, add some much-needed top-flight experience. Former Italy Under-21 international Federico Viviani and Atalanta youth product Albert Grassi both have to prove their potential can be fulfilled.
In attack, new signing Alberto Paloschi hopes to recapture the goal-scoring exploits from his time at Chievo after dismal campaigns at Swansea City and Atalanta.
Although the fans may have lost the high horse to sit on in having an all-Italian XI, Vagnati has created a team with a good balance of youth and experience. Expect Spal to be an entertaining outfit full of guile, grit and verve.
The transition from Serie B to Serie A is a difficult one. Massimo Oddo’s Pescara were thrilling to watch in Serie B, but didn’t win a game in A until mid-February. Semplici is ambitious and eager to prove himself, so unlikely to give up his tactical principles, but a rugged defence was always at the heart of his football too. They’ve dared to dream and have made it this far. Who dares tell them differently?
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