Before being promoted to the Serie A in the 2013-14 season, Sassuolo fans probably never even dared to dream of their tiny club playing in the top tier of Italian soccer. Well, they, along with the millions of fans worldwide, were proven wrong. The Neroverdi seek to cap off their unpredicted season of success in a Europa League slot.
Current Sassuolo manager Eusebio Di Francesco lead Sassuolo to the Serie B championship in 2012-13, earning instant promotion to the Serie A for the first time in the club’s history. To put into perspective how small and irrelevant of a town Sassuolo is, their population size is estimated to be a fraction over four and a half percent of that of Turin, city of Serie A champions Juventus. In fact, following their promotion, many experts counted them out expecting them to be relegated after their first year. Today they sit in 7th place with 52 points behind one of the most embarrassing A.C. Milan squads ever seen.
Following promotion, Di Francesco has implemented an attacking 4-3-3 formation scoring a total forty-four goals over the span of 35 games. Among other things, Italian soccer fan can appreciate the fact that the Neroverdi squad consists almost entirely of Italian players. Nine players out of their starting eleven are Italian, including rising-star winger Domenico Berardi and the impressive Nicola Sansone.
Di Francesco and his higher-ups have capitalized on their intentions of creating an all-Italian Sassuolo, a statement made often times by other Italian teams but never fulfilled. It is refreshing to finally see an all Italian squad in Italy again. Perhaps their team chemistry can be attributed to the squads’ shared nationality and culture. Clubs like these make people cringe at the sight of other teams like Inter Milan, the scum of the league who won the 2010 Champions League final without fielding a single Italian player until Marco Materazzi was subbed on late in extra time. Of course, that is if those people do not already cringe at the sight of Inter.
Expect Di Francesco to manage bigger clubs in the future as club owners around the world are highly aware of his abilities and the success he is brought to such a small club with an even smaller transfer budget. Though it took a lot of patience and brains, Di Francesco has undoubtedly brought out the best in his players. Players who may look mediocre on paper and deemed “flops” at former clubs are having the best seasons of their career.
For example, after failing to earn a starting position, center back Francesco Acerbi was sold by A.C. Milan within six months of purchasing him in 2012. Not to mention, the center back was diagnosed with testicular cancer following his departure from Milan. The first tumor medics found was removed until another one formed; he then underwent chemotherapy. Today, he has a starting spot in a soon-to-be top six team with a fair chance of making it to Europe, along with having gained a call-up to Antonio Conte’s Italy squad. Following a rollercoaster few years, Di Francesco took a wasted defensive talent like Acerbi and unlocked his full potential. Managers like him are hard to find nowadays.
There is no question about it, Sassuolo have set an example in the Serie A. They have stood true to their Italian roots, put faith in players with small price tags, and worked their tails off to develop into a force to be reckoned with in Italian soccer. This coming match day weekend, last-place Hellas Verona visit Sassuolo after a 2-1 win over an unwatchable A.C. Milan side. Sassuolo are hungry for European soccer, I envision a solid 2-0 or even 3-0 win for the neroverdi on Sunday.