Igor Campedelli is not a man who likes to tread water. When he purchased Cesena in late 2007, the club were bottom of Serie B after a disastrous start to the season and despite some improvement they would be relegated in last place. Since then, however, it has been a case of constant progress. The team were promoted straight back to Serie B, and then on to the top flight at the first attempt. There they would finish 15th last season, recording wins over Milan and Lazio along the way.
It was, by any standard, a remarkable achievement for a team who had been playing in the third tier just two years earlier. But as Campedelli looked ahead to the new Serie A season, consolidation was the last thing on his mind. “Everybody knows that we would like to do as Atalanta did a few years ago, reaching Europe with a serious project.”
Such words were backed by actions, the club moving aggressively in the transfer market. More than 20 new players arrived over the summer, including the Brazilian forward Eder, and the Udinese midfielder Antonio Candreva (on loan).Even when one of the previous year’s stars did leave, Emanuele Giaccherini joining Juventus on a co-ownership deal, the same transfer brought a replacement in the form of a year’s loan of Jorge Martínez – a man for whom the Bianconeri had shelled out €12m just a year earlier.
The most prominent new signing, however, was Adrian Mutu. The club shattered their existing wage structure for the Romanian – awarding him a salary more than twice the size of any other player in the squad and igniting the fans’ hopes in the process. Hundreds turned up to greet him at his official unveiling, where vowed to give everything he had for the cause. “I feel like [Roberto] Baggio, [Beppe] Signori or [Marco] Di Vaio,” he said. “They were all born aggain in smaller cities.”
And yet, two months into the season, Cesena seem not to have made a step forward, but instead a large one in the opposite direction. Beaten 2-0 at Siena at the weekend, the Cavallucci Marini have collected just two points from seven games and even more alarmingly also just two goals – none in their last 436 minutes of football. On Sunday they barely set foot inside Siena’s area, their best chance of the afternoon turning out to be a Candreva pot-shot from outside the area that rattled the woodwork.
The manager Marco Giampaolo sought desperately to instil some vim into his team’s attacking play, reshuffling from a 4-3-1-2 into a 4-4-2 and then a 4-3-3. “It was like showing a porn film to a 90-year-old,” wrote Nicola Binda in Gazzetta dello Sport. “No reaction.” Not from the players, at any rate. In the stands the Cesena and Siena fans – the latter having less than fond memories of Giampaolo’s time with their club from 2008 to 2009 – joined together in calling on the manager to tender his resignation.
Campedelli considers himself a fan as well as an owner, a Cesena native who grew up supporting the team and was able to amass sufficient funds from his tourism and construction businesses to fund a takeover, yet his relationship with the supporters has not always been smooth. In February a group of Ultras attacked the club’s shop where Campedelli’s wife Maria works, and threatened to return if he did not sack the then manager Massimo Ficcadenti.
Rather than back down, the owner responded with an even more drastic threat of his own, warning that: “If this sort of behaviour happens again I will stop everything. At the end of the season, whether in Serie A or B, I will sell the team’s best players, I will not register the team with the league and I will hand over the keys to the local government. The team will have to start again from the bottom of the non-league structure.”
He subsequently sought to repair relations by watching a game with the Ultras in the Stadio Dino Manuzzi’s Curva Mare, but he also stuck by Ficcadenti until the manager’s contract expired at the end of the campaign. Whether he will show similar faith this time remains to be seen, Giampaolo signed a two-year deal when he was appointed in the summer, and is set to meet with the owner over dinner tonight to discuss the situation, but many believe that he will not make it to the weekend if his team fail to get a result at home to Cagliari on Wednesday.
But if the manager’s continued failure to find a formation that gets the best out of his players, as well as his track record of producing low-scoring teams – the newspaper Resto del Carlino noted last week that since Giampaolo took over at Cagliari in 2006, his sides have invariably averaged less than onegoal per game – have hurt then Campedelli must also share the blame. He, after all, was the one who sanctioned the departures of effective players such as Giaccherini and – in January – Yuto Nagatomo and Ezequiel Schelotto.
The Mutu deal that he had pursued since January, meanwhile, has thus far brought only disappointment. When the striker finally arrived in July the only doubt expressed by most journalists was whether he could keep himself out of trouble off the pitch and – one minor incident involving what the player termed “kitchen DIY” (he spilled boiling oil on his arm while cooking) aside – he has done so. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for his time on the pitch.
Mutu promised not to celebrate if he scored against his old team Fiorentina earlier this month “out of respect” for his former team’s supporters, but sadly did not seem inclined to show such deference to their players, delivering an elbow to the face of Mattia Cassani. His subsequent red card brought with it a three-game suspension that began with the game against Siena on Sunday.
Even when available, though, Mutu has been a disappointment, scoring once in six appearances and hardly making up for that with his general play. He was booed off the pitch by Cesena’s own supporters after seeing a penalty saved by Stefano Sorrentino during a goalless draw at home to Chievo. Given the reception he had received when he first signed for the club, the speed at which the fans’ feelings have turned is alarming.
Nor is it only transfer deals that have backfired. Campedelli’s decision to install semi-artificial pitches (in which real grass is sewn into a synthetic base) at both the Stadio Dino Manuzzi and the team’s main training pitch at Villa Silvia has been widely hailed as a success, yet as the team’s injury list has grown in recent weeks, eyebrows have been raised. Even Giampaolo, who claims to prefer artificial pitches, conceded this week that muscular injuries suffered by Gianluca Comotto, Marco Parolo and Luca Ceccarelli might have been a result of those players having to adapt to the new surface.
The hope with artificial surfaces, of course, is always that they will show their worth through the winter – when weather conditions change and regular pitches deteriorate. Campedelli must hope the same is true of his team. Right now they are not even treading water, but beginning to sink.
Paolo Bandini covers Italian football for guardian.co.uk and Astro SuperSport, as well as The Score. You can follow him on Twitter @Paolo_Bandini.