Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

Owen Neilson On January - 19 - 2012

Serie B Focus : Sampdoria’s Sensibile Season

Sampdoria director SensibileWhen Pasquale Sensibile arrived in Genoa following a triumphant two years as Sports Director of Novara, Sampdoria seemed to have invested wisely as it sought to wake from a nightmarish nine months.

Sensibile’s CV was fat with success after presiding over the arrival of coach Attilio Tesser and a number of productive signings including Samir Ujkani, Michel Morganella, Marco Rigoni and Francesco Marianini. Tesser put together a 30-game unbeaten run in Lega Pro in 2010, and last year led the Biancoazzurri to a play-off final win over Padova, ending a 55 year absence from Serie A. So the Sampdoria appointment was not only sensibile by name, but seemingly, sensibile by nature.

Before unveiling new coach Gianluca Atzori, the Lecco native told, “It will be hard to get used to Serie B after so many years [in Serie A]. It is a different league in length, and with different commitments that need particular attention. We will see if we are ready for Serie B.”  It was the cautious rhetoric of the unknown, as if Sensibile was clambering onto the plateau of a lost world, not the division Sampdoria had spent four seasons from 1999 to 2003. He went on to entreat the fans to judge only what they see, only the facts; perhaps aware of the troubled road ahead.

Two days later, he appeared before the press again flanked by Atzori, fresh from guiding Reggina to play-off semi-final defeat against Sensibile’s former employers, and representing a forward thinking option instead of lifelong fan Giampiero Ventura who took the reins at Torino. The 40 year-old had twice tasted the Serie B championship as a player, with Empoli in 2002 and Palermo in 2004 and according to the Sporting Director, also 40, was appointed “for his personality and courage…for his values.”

All of which he needed as half the first team was sold, sending Sensibile into the market to strengthen the squad as Sampdoria looked for an instant return to the top division. High hopes were placed in Federico Piovaccari after he was top scorer in the league for Cittadella in 2010/11, Pasquale Foggia came on loan from Lazio, Sergio Romero replaced Gianluca Curci in goal, while club captain Angelo Palombo agreed to drain his final drops of loyalty despite interest from clubs in Serie A.

A 2-2 draw with Padova in the first game of the season after twice leading was a signal for the difficulties to come and that was followed by a 0-0 with Livorno.  However, after six games the Blucerchiati were still unbeaten and there was promise in Pedro Obiang, the 19 year-old Spaniard joining up with Palombo in midfield and Cristian Bertani performing in front of goal since being lured from Novara.

Yet the fragile confidence forged from fifteen defeats in the second half of last season soon reappeared. A narrow home loss to promotion rivals Torino began a spell of inconsistency and frustration that forced some fans to take Sensibile at his word, analyze the facts, then attack the returning players at the Christopher Columbus Airport after losing 4-2 to Nocerina.

Such chaos saw Atzori gone by mid-November, with a contrite Sensibile saying, “His defeat was my defeat, as Atzori was my choice…For him Samp was a great opportunity. We all share responsibility.” Of course some share it more than others.  Atzori was Sampdoria’s fourth coach in 18 months, precisely the sort of instability Sensibile was brought in to halt, and considering he had a raft of new players, 7th in the league wasn’t as desperate as the other relegated sides, Bari 9th, Brescia 14th, but after a coordinated assault it’s clear patience had worn out.

Following the failures of Domenico Di Carlo and the misery of Alberto Cavasin’s cruddy pragmatism in 2010/11, that saw Sampdoria go from Champions League qualification to relegation in a season, fans hoped for a reliable but impressive appointment. After scouring the coaching graveyard Beppe Iachini was dug up, still fresh from his part in relegating Brescia the season before, a sign that progressivity had again lost to fear.

Yoked with the same difficulties that ended Atzori, a lack of cohesion, Samp drew the first four games under Iachini and only won their first in nine away at Padova last Sunday. The club now sit 9th three points off the play-off zone and fourteen points behind Sassuolo in 2nd.

More concerningly is the draft coming from the transfer window, as speculation courts Palombo and Piovaccari. The 26 year-old striker has been a disappointment, scoring twice and missing two penalties, but has appeared as a substitute in eleven of his sixteen games. Chances wasted in the win over Padova irritated media and fans further but selling a proven goalscorer that they’ll surely need if Iachini manages to build on the weekend’s result seems counter-intuitive. More so is selling Palombo who’s featured in 20 of the 22 games this season and offers more than the value of a January sale to Lazio, Juventus or Fiorentina. Iachini has wielded some influence over acquisitions with Brazilian striker Eder, formerly of Brescia but now playing for Cesena tipped to join, following Swiss defender Gaetano Berardi and Argentine Juan Ignacio already arrived from the Rondinelle.

If Sensibile is going to live up to his onomatopoeic billing he needs to give Sampdoria stability, build his midfiled around Palombo and not consign the club to another season in Serie B in January.

But despite the lack of continuity the 1991 Scudetto winners still have one of the best squads in the division and by far the best support, though October’s attacks indicate the wounds from last seasons debacle are yet to fully heal. In a sign of the gulf between the league’s clubs, media fell over itself as 17000 crammed into the Stadio Adriatico to watch Pescara beat second placed Verona, yet the Stadio Luigi Ferraris has the top ten attendances this season, with an average of over 21000.

A solitary win is small indication of a genuine recovery, but signs of change appeared against Padova with a new look defense featuring Berardi, and summer signings Jonathan Rossini and Paolo Castellini. With only one clean sheet in eight it would be wise for Iachini to settle on a back four, as he’s used eight defenders and three different centre-back pairings since arriving.

Obiang continues to show his class in central midfield, and has spent the week batting away questions of his suitability as Palombo’s successor, while Nicola Pozzi and Bertani are potentially a dangerous pairing, more so if Iachini can wedge Piovaccari in-between them for a run of games to shake off his slow start. Next they meet a Livorno side also on the road to recovery after Armando Madonna was parachuted in following five consecutive defeats under Walter Novellino. Madonna’s last act as a manager was relegating Piacenza to Lega Pro in May, but has taken four points from his first two games and will see Sampdoria as a scalp for the taking.

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