Sampdoria - the Blucerchiati heading back to glory under madcap Mihajlovic, the reborn coach
The return to action of Sampdoria following the Serie A winter break couldn’t have been more emphatic. In the match with Lazio on Monday night, 10 red shirts of Sampdoria stood along the half-way line as they kicked off in the Olympic Stadium, making their attacking intentions clear from the very first whistle. They would not score in Rome, but they would concede three, a result that would sum up the eccentricities of manager Sinisa Mihajlovic rather neatly.
“We deserved the defeat,” said the Serbian, “we were not aggressive enough.”
One is not quite clear how Sampdoria could have been more aggressive than the tactic of all-out attack that Mihajlovic tried in Rome, but this is the same coach who had fined himself back in December for getting sent off.
Since taking charge of the Genoa-based club in November 2013 Mihajlovic has gathered a reputation for marking his press conferences with literary references and following a 3-0 defeat to Atalanta in March, he accused his players of having “no balls” before forcing them to re-watch the game in full while he headed outside to run laps.
In true Mihajlovic fashion- an uncompromising defensive midfielder who was feted with controversy in his playing days- his time with Sampdoria has been entertaining, rather the opposite of the “one-dimensional” reputation he picked up during his stints with Bologna and Fiorentina. Most importantly though this 13-month spell has been very successful.
Positioned 18th when he took charge, Mihajlovic led the club to the safety of mid-table before launching a challenge for Champions League qualification this time around. I Blucerchiati currently sit 5th in Serie A, 3 points off third place Lazio, the club who on Monday evening subjected Mihajlovic and Sampdoria, now morphed into a fiery and resilient side in reflection of their coach, to only their second defeat of the campaign so far.
The last time the club competed in Europe, back in the summer of 2010, director of sport Giuseppe Marotta and coach Luigi Delneri would both depart, sending Sampdoria on a period of decline which saw them relegated in 2011.
They would return at the first attempt but with the club shambolically going through 5 managers in just 2 years, stability would elude them. Under the guise of a reborn Mihajlovic and the ambitious ownership of movie producer Massimo Ferrero, they look to be back on an upward curve.
Ferrero’s grandiose plans have included proposals to build “the biggest stadium in Europe” by the sea in Genoa, but he will be aware the club must compete with the elite if those plans are to come to fruition. However, progress has been sensible in terms of finance, the club operating a shrewd transfer policy that is based on a deal of risk, but is beginning to reap a proven record of profit. In recent years Mauro Icardi, Andrea Poli and Simone Zaza have been taken from the rough and moulded into profitable assets, Shkodran Mustafi was taken from Everton for free in 2011 and sold to Valencia last summer for just short of £8 million.
Another successful deal came in the form of Manolo Gabbiadini, whom Sampdoria acquired 50% of registration rights from Juventus for €5.5 million in 2013. Having scored 10 goals in his first season in Genoa, the 23 year old would again be prolific this term, top-scoring with 7 before Napoli prised him away with €13 million, to be split between Juventus and Sampdoria, this January. The move is likely to come as a blow to Mihajlovic who has seen his team struggle to hit the net- their tally of 22 is the lowest in the top 8 and Gabbiadini departs having accounted for a third of their total. Brazilian Eder, most at home on the wing, is the second highest scorer with just 4 goals and further troubles are indicated by the fact they have managed just 11 goals from open play, only 6 teams have fewer.
Joaquin Correa has been signed from Estudiantes as a potential replacement but, with a record of 3 goals in 53 games, he has been far from prolific in Argentina. His capture however is likely to facilitate a shift from Mihajlovic’s 4-3-3 to a potential 4-2-3-1, his favoured system last season, with Correa in support of Stefano Okaka, the striker who lurched from loan to loan whilst at Roma but has developed into Mihajlovic’s most-trusted attacking option.
In midfield Pedro Obiang and Roberto Soriano offer craft and boundless energy alongside the experienced head of Angelo Palombo, the tenacious defensive midfielder who boasts 12 years of loyal service. Elsewhere there are good squad options at Mihajlovic’s disposal in Djamel Mesbah, Matias Silvestre, Alessio Romagnoli and captain Daniele Gastaldello.
Most importantly, Mihajlovic continues to show he now has the skills to keep them motivated. Bizarre attacking lines of ten aside, this could be the formula to return Sampdoria to the upper echelons of Italian football.