Looking back on our 2010-2011 Serie A preview to this point, it is interesting to see the number of teams that have failed to actively work the transfer market for improvements to their clubs, even though they are in danger of finishing at the bottom of the table. Whether due to money or management, some clubs sit back and hope that they are doing just enough to survive. But this has not been Chievo Verona’s style over the past decade – careful management of the transfer market by acquiring veteran Serie A players or low-cost young players that are a steady and long-term presence for the club. The result has been success in the early part of the decade, and survival in the latter half.
Last season, Chievo finished fourteenth in the standings, an impressive finish for such a small club. It was their second year in Serie A and the second year they had to battle late into the season to remain in the top league. It is hard to believe that since 2000-2001, the club has spent only one season in Serie B after taking 71 years to reach the top flight. Based simply on their creative management and smart signings, Chievo excelled in Serie A at the beginning of the last decade, but it will be interesting to see if their moves this year can keep them in Seria A.
Management: Because of the names that have managed Chievo this decade, saying that Domenico Di Carlo was the best is high praise. Di Carlo took over the club during its Serie B season and led them to a second place finish and promotion, then over the past two seasons helped the club stay afloat in Serie A. He has moved on to coach Cassano and Pazzini at Sampdoria, and his replacement is Stefani Pioli. Pioli was the former manager at Parma who coached them near the bottom of the Serie A table and has been in Serie B ever since. Despite his lack of success at the top level, he is well regarded in the sport and has promised the club will play “beautiful calcio”.
The transfer market: Rather then trying to buy one or two big name players or rising stars, Chievo has been stocking the club with veteran Serie A players and holding on to their best players. A perfect example of their acquisition strategy is Mariano Bogliacino, a Uruguayan midfielder who has spent the last five seasons in Napoli and was acquired on loan in July. His numbers are ok but he has played in 130 plus Serie A matches the past five seasons. Another loaner is holding midfielder Roberto Guana, who started thirty-four matches last season for Bologna on loan from Palermo. Their biggest move, however, may have been the permanent acquisition of defender Gennaro Sardo, who came over at the beginning of last season on loan from Catania and excelled for the Flying Donkeys.
The players: The name mentioned most this offseason was keeper Stefano Sorrentino, a first class keeper who excelled in his return to Serie A last season. He appeared in thirty-eight matches and was rumored to be a potential call-up for Lippi’s national team. Despite this, he was almost sent to Genoa in a deal that would have netted the Flying Donkeys striker Riccardo Meggiorini and freed the club to sign Rubinho.
The almost-acquisition of Meggiorini highlights the club’s need for offense this season. Last year’s leading scorer was captain Sergio Pellissier with eleven goals – the player with the second most had four! The Chievo captain is truly the backbone of this club – he scored 22 goals when they were promoted in 2007-2008, but struggled to score the beginning of the next season when the club looked headed back to Serie B. His dedication to the club and success since 2000 in Serie A was rewarded with a national team call-up in 2009.
The most consistent part of this club is the backline, manned by Andrea Mantovani, Nicolas Frey, and Gennaro Sardo. Mantovani has played with Chievo since 2005 and Frey (brother of Fiorentina’s keeper) since 2008. The Flying Donkeys allowed 42 goals last season, but only scored 37.
Outlook: Chievo has a history of being well managed and playing well, the only way a club from such a small town can consistently compete with some of the best clubs in the world. Based on their last ten years, it would be a mistake to simply assume the Flying Donkeys are doomed to spend the entire season near or in the relegation zone. However, looking at the roster and their lack of scoring ability, the club looks in danger of returning to Serie B. In order to excel this season, they need the veterans they acquired to produce (preferably with some goals) and the club needs to repeat its September 2009 form, where they had two wins and two draws to give their season a good start. With their first five matches against Catania, at Genoa, versus Brescia, at Napoli, and hosting Lazio, a similar start is possible and needed.