Has this year’s summer transfer market been tricky for Sassuolo?
Definitely. Over the last few years we have worked well and lots of people wanted to sign our star players. But Mr Squinzi has always been quite adamant on this matter: he wanted to hold onto the entire squad or most of the players and we have done everything possible to keep our best players or replace those leaving the club in the best way possible. It has not been easy”.
Mr Squinzi has also said he would like to see Sassuolo playing in the Champions League. Will you be able to give him what he wants?
“Our boss is right to be ambitious, expecting us to qualify for the Champions League within a few years. Achieving that will not be easy, but we are ready to do our very best to get the best results possible. I can only emphasise that everybody will have to work consistently hard if we are to reach such lofty goals”.
One of the best moves Sassuolo made this summer was to extend the Francesco Acerbi’s contract, the 29-year-old central defender. Francesco has been with Sassuolo since summer 2013 or, in other words, ever since the team was promoted to the Serie A. Despite offers from clubs of the calibre of Inter Milan, Zenith St Petersburg (the new head coach, Mancini, was very keen to sign Acerbi) and Galatasaray, Francesco has signed a new contract with US Sassuolo Calcio, which runs until June 2022. Galatasaray from Istanbul were particularly keen to sign Acerbi. “The Turkish management staff - so Carnevali told us - even came to our team headquarters in Sassuolo and made some financial offers that were hard to refuse. But we decided to hold onto Acerbi, who is now glad he decided to stay: once again he opted for the Sassuolo-Mapei work methods and projects.
Francesco made his decision with our help, assessing everything very carefully”. It is worth pointing out that the last few Italian national team coaches, i.e. Prandelli, Conte and Ventura, have all picked Acerbi for the Italian squad. He has already played twice for Italy. “Holding onto Acerbi is important - so the new head coach, Cristian Bucchi, noted - because, as well as being the backbone of our defence, he is an incredible team player: he knows how to create the right team spirit”.
Mr Carnevali, among the players you have kept on is the Spanish attacking full-back, Pol Lirola, born in 1997. Is Pol ready to make a big impact?
“We signed him from Juventus last summer, where he had only ever played for the youth team. With us he has played a full season in the Serie A and Europa League. It has been a “baptism of fire”, which has been extremely successful. Nevertheless, he must improve even more if he is to reach the next level, particularly as regards his creative play”. Talking about young players, Sassuolo will be without Cristiano Dell’Orco, born in 1994, for several months: at the end of last season he injured his knee, at the end of last season. “Unfortunately - so Carnevali went on to say - he will not be playing again until January. A real shame: Dell’Orco had even been selected for the Italian under 21 team. Di Francesco played him in defence against Inter Milan and other top teams in last year’s league championship. Fortunately, Claude Adjapong also decided to stay with us. Even though he is only 19 years old, he already has lots of admirers among the executive staff of many top teams. Adjapong came through our youth program and won the prestigious Viareggio Tournament playing for us. He realises he could have a bright future with Sassuolo. He is an enthusiastic player who could really help bring on other young players. The youngsters could give us that extra drive”.
Francesco Cassata, aged 20, joined the club from Ascoli and has already collected a number of appearances for Italy’s youth teams as a midfield player. This player, who was born in La Spezia, came third in the World Championship playing for the under 23 team. “Cassata - so the managing director noted - was considered to be the best player in last year’s Serie B championship, according to lots of leading experts. We believe that playing at the top level will really bring him on”.
Cassata and other young players can draw inspiration from several experienced players, including Davide Biondini, aged 34, Francesco Magnanelli, aged 32, Simone Missiroli, aged 31, and Paolo Cannavaro, aged 36. “They really wear the Sassuolo shirt on their hearts - so Giovanni emphasised -. Biondini and Magnanelli both had to work really hard in spring 2017 to recover from injuries. Particularly Magnanelli. But they are as keen as ever to perform well”.
The 2017-18 League Championship began on 20th August, very early this year. Bearing in mind all the new players, would you have preferred to begin in September to give Bucchi and the team a few weeks longer to prepare?
“We would have been happy if the players could have had a couple more weeks’ holiday. Nevertheless, we are pleased about one thing: beginning early will immediately give us the chance to show how competitive we are”. Sassuolo has plenty of plans, including the construction of a new sports centre in Cà Marta (Sassuolo, in the province of Modena, Italy). “Construction work - so Carnevali assured us - will begin soon. The new sports centre will be the main training facility for both the first and youth teams”. A new miracle by Mr Squinzi and his colleagues seem to be just around the corner.
SQUINZI: “SASSUOLO, I WANT YOU IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE”
Last season, for the very first time, Sassuolo played in the Europa League as well as the Italian League Championship and National Cup. “Last season was exciting but we had no luck - so the club owner, Giorgio Squinzi, stated during a workshop organised by sponsors at Pianderna Agriwellness in Scandiano (in the region of Reggio Emilia). But the Europa League is not enough for me. Sooner or later I would like to qualify for the Champions League”. It is hard not to make comparisons with the magnificent victories Mapei achieved when sponsoring one of the world’s top professional cycling team from May 1993 until the end of the 2002 season: “For somebody who won 654 cycling races - so Mr Squinzi pointed out - just taking part is no good: I want to win at football, too”.
While at Scandiano, the Mapei boss also told us an anecdote about Massimo Allegri, who once coached Sassuolo before moving on to Cagliari, Milan and, most notably, Juventus. Allegri’s experience at Milan came to an end at Mapei Stadium in January 2013: Sassuolo beat the red-and-blacks 4-3 and Massimo was fired. “Max Allegri - so Giorgio Squinzi told us - thanked me for helping him get sacked: a few months later he got the Juventus job and the rest is history”.
BUCCHI: “WE MUST BE HUMBLE BUT FEARLESS”
The new club coach, Cristian Bucchi aged 40, has a two-year contract with Sassuolo. He was chosen as an up-and-coming manager, whose teams play attractive football. The coach is not worried about that: Yes, I am young - so the former Modena and Napoli striker told us - but let’s not forget that I have already been coaching for five years and over the last few seasons I have been working in environments that help you grow and progress. So yes, I am ready to work for a serious and ambitious club like Sassuolo”. The new head coach also has clear ideas about his targets for the 2017-18 season: “The first target is to make sure Sassuolo keeps on improving the way it has over the last few years thanks to the great work by former coach Di Francesco, who is a friend of mine. Sassuolo is a team that focuses on young players and Italians make up most of the squad. There is certainly no lack of quality players, who can help the rest of the team as they keep on improving themselves.
Bucchi knows that life is hard in the Italian Serie A: “We are expecting a very tough season, Serie A is tricky and challenging. We must be very humble but keep in mind that we can compete with anybody, without worrying about reputations. We must make sure the other teams respect us”.
CLUB RECORD: CAPTAIN MAGNANELLI MAKES IT 13
Sassuolo’s record-breaker is midfield player Francesco Magnanelli, who was born in Umbertide, Umbria, in 1984. Magnanelli has just started his 13th season playing for Sassuolo. Magnanelli, who is also the team captain, joined the Mapei-sponsored club in summer 2005. He is the only member of the current squad who has played for Sassuolo in four different leagues: Italian division C2 (2005-2006 season), division C1 (2006-07 and 2007-08), then Italian Serie B for 5 seasons from summer 2008 until June 2013 and, finally, from July 2013 in the Italian Serie A. Up until June 2017 he made 379 appearances for Sassuolo in the various leagues, scoring 8 goals, plus a further 22 games in the Italian cup (1 goal). The record-holder for appearances for the black-and-greens was unlucky last season: he snapped the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the game against Fiorentina at Franchi Stadium in December 2016.
He was back playing again in the last game of the season and even scored a goal. The team manager, Giovanni Carnevali, and the other club executives have great faith in Magnanelli: they have extended his contract until June 2019. This is what the head coach, Mr Bucchi, has to say about Magnanelli: “For us he is quite simply a permanent fixture in the team”.