Connect in the back of the net

Upon buying the club from Edoardo Garrone in the summer, Sampdoria’s new film-producer owner Massimo Ferrero had big plans. The included proposals for a new museum in the nearby area of Porto Antico, the building of what would be the “biggest stadium in Europe” and a deal for the club’s kit to act as advertising billboards for new movies. “This project is a dream and we’ll see what happens,” Ferrero said, “we’ll build a stadium by the sea, where everyone can take their boats in and watch the game, taste the pesto and see the other attractions of Genoa.”

Ferrero’s aspirations for Sampdoria’s future do seem big and exciting for the surrounding area of Genoa and the club’s long-suffering fans. However ambition may have to sit on the back-burner for the time being as i Blucerchiati could soon find themselves back in the familiar uncertainty of their recent past with another managerial change. Sinisa Mihajlovic is the club’s seventh manager since Walter Mazzarri left for Napoli in 2009.

It will not be however, another example of the sackings that Garrone and his father Riccardo were specialising in towards the end of the family’s ownership, which ended shortly after the death of Garrone senior in 2012. Sampdoria are working hard to tie Mihajlovic down to Ferrero’s bright portrayal of the future, past next summer when the Serbian’s contract is due to expire, though are unsettled by growing interest from Inter Milan and Napoli who reportedly believe they can prise the 45 year old away.

The envious glances towards Mihajlovic are being motivated by Sampdoria’s fine start to a season in which they are still unbeaten after six games, currently sitting third in Serie A with 5 wins and 2 draws. A diminishing factor will come in the acknowledgement that they are yet to play anybody in the league’s top ten, though 14 points from their opening block of matches which has seen them concede just twice, making them the league’s joint-best defence together with leaders Juventus, is undoubtedly impressive.

It comes after a promising start to life in charge of Sampdoria where the ex-Serbia coach improved a side that won just 2 of its opening twelve matches last season enough to eventually finish mid-table. On appointment, Mihajlovic was seen as something as a gamble, possessing a penchant for controversy and a short-fuse as a player, he had picked up a reputation from periods in charge of Bologna and Fiorentina as a one-dimensional coach who struggled to motivate his players. His time with Serbia had permitted him to learn from those mistakes however, and he quickly moulded Sampdoria into a combative and aggressive side who pressed high and countered quickly from a 4-2-3-1 system.

Positive signs were in place, though finishing the season having shipped 62 goals, giving them the fifth-worst defence in Serie A, saw plenty for Mihajlovic to improve on. That the defence has managed to strengthen is remarkable given the £7 million sale of Shkodran Mustafi, one of the club’s top-performers last season at centre-half, to Valencia.

In the form of 19 year old Alessio Romagnoli, signed on a year-long loan from Roma, Mustafi has been shrewdly replaced while Gaetano Berardi, the right-back who quickly lost his place under Mihajlovic last term, was packed off to Leeds to be replaced by Lorenzo De Silvestri who joined permanently in the summer after spending last year on loan from Fiorentina.

Matias Silvestre, an Inter Milan misfit who had come off the back of an unsuccessful loan spell with AC Milan, also joined on loan and, together with long-serving club captain Daniele Gastaldello, has formed a solid partnership with Romagnoli that has seen both players thrive off Mihajlovic’s tutelage and defensive wisdom. Djamel Mesbah, on the scrapheap since a troubled spell with Milan has shown signs of rejuvenation at left-back as he competes for a spot with Fabrizio Cacciatore, now finally getting a chance to prove himself with Sampdoria after spending the last 9 years on loan at various clubs.

It has all led to a rebirth of Mihajlovic as something of a resourceful coach now capable of producing form and quality from those who have struggled at other clubs, making a mockery of the criticisms he received at Fiorentina. He has also proved tactically versatile, abandoning last term’s 4-2-3-1 to move to a 4-3-3 which revolves around the reformation of Roberto Soriano as a deeper-lying central-midfielder from his former position of a creative attacking midfielder. Playing alongside the industrious pairing of Angelo Palombo and Pedro Obiang, it has added a steely resolve to Sampdoria’s midfield, another factor behind their miserly goals-against column.

The pacey front-line of Manolo Gabbiadini, Stefano Okaka and Eder Citaden have struggled for goals but their pace and aggressive style of pressing have been a huge asset to Mihajlovic’s philosophy. The 22 year old Gabbiadini, with his 3 goals from his position on the right of an attacking three, is busy showing his vast potential and indicating why Juventus still persist to hold 50% of his ownership. Their combined form has meant that Gonzalo Bergessio, who hit 17 goals for Catania last season and became Sampdoria’s most expensive summer arrival for £2.6 million, has had to be content with a role on the bench.

Mihajlovic will be aware that the six games so far has only yielded six goals and that their currently sturdy defence will come under greater scrutiny in coming weeks as they prepare to meet with Roma, Inter and AC Milan, Fiorentina and Napoli in a sequence of games that is anathema to their favourable start to the season, though that company are likely to encounter a dogged, resilient and fiery team that is seen by many as an on-pitch reflection of their manager.

Most importantly though it will be seen by the coach as a chance to prove Sampdoria, who finished 4th as recently as 2010, are ready to return to the big-time. The year following that recent success, they were relegated to Serie B. They are now determined, under the ambitious ownership of Massimo Ferrero and the born-again coaching style of Sinisa Mihajlovic, to stay with the elite.

 

Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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