The Journeyman | Cagliari Calcio: Part 1 – Soaking in Sardinian Sun

It’s March 25th 2031 and I’ve just landed at Cagliari-Elmas International Airport. I’d boarded in Copenhagen so the warm climate suddenly struck me as I stepped off the plane to a crowd of surprisingly well-dressed, sharp-looking paparazzi lining the runway.

It had been 10 months since I was very dubiously given the sack after leading Valencia to two successive La Liga titles. But needless to say, the mass of journalists decked out across the sun-soaked runway were keener to focus on the failures that led to our quick decline. That said, they were quick to point out that I was “quite the coup” for Cagliari and “appeared to be a good fit for the club’s current vision.”

Unusually, the board want us to be defensively solid as well as making the most of set pieces and signing youngsters from Italy. They also want us to qualify for the Europa Conference League then work towards becoming the “best of the rest” in Italy. Worryingly, they have expectations for me to do well in two competitions they’ve already been knocked out of, which I’m assuming we won’t be judged on?

From a personal perspective, I could certainly get used to the heat of southern Italy after a long hard winter in Scandinavia. But first, I’m sure we could all do with a bit of insight into this new club, which isn’t quite as familiar as our former sides Sporting and Valencia.

Who are Cagliari?

Cagliari is a municipality and the capital city of the Italian island Sardinia. In Sardinian, the city is called Casteddu, which translates to ‘castle.’ The ancient city was home to numerous historical sites, including a large Carthaginian necropolis, a Roman amphitheatre, three Pisa-era towers and the prehistoric Domus de Janus.

Cagliari Calcio was founded in 1920 but did very little before becoming the first outright champions of Italy’s Serie C in 1950. After dropping back into Serie C the following decade, the club enjoyed a meteoric rise up to the top flight, which culminated in its one and only Serie A title in 1970.

Cagliari slumped back to Serie C in the 1980s and very nearly dropped out of the league altogether only for Claudio Ranieri to take charge in 1988 and lead them to two successive promotions. They yo-yo’d a little through the 90s and 2000s but were relegated in 2015/16 and stayed in Serie A ever since.

Perhaps the most notable player to have pulled on the famous red and blue shirt is Luigi Riva, who was considered one of the greatest players of his generation in the 1960s and 70s and is still the club’s all-time record goalscorer with 164 league goals. Other famous players include Davide Suazo, Gianfranco Zola, Davide Astori, Radja Nainggolan, and a personal hero Julio Dely Valdes.

During the course of our time in Football Manager 2020, the club has never finished lower than 14th and finished in a high of 6th in 2027/28. Last season they finished 7th but as we take over they are languising in 10th in Serie A.

The club has set its transfer record during this period, signing striker Gianluca Scamacca for £21.5 million from Sassuolo in 2024 – and he’s still at the club. While its record sale remains that of Nicolo Barella joining Inter Milan for £31.8 million in 2019.

Current Cagliari squad

The first thing I noticed looking at the Cagliari squad page for the first time was that they have plenty of youth with a fair amount of potential. Which is music to my ears!

Cagliari also have the third-highest scorer in this season’s Serie A in 6’5″ Thomas De Lucia, who’s bagged 15 times in 28 games. Having signed for £175k in 2026, he’s scored 40 goals in 85 league games, and he looks like a great striker at just 21-years-old.

It looks like our star player is another forward in Manchester City youth product Jim Wilkes. It looks as though Cagliari have been playing him on the right wing, but I think he might be best off up front.

Another key player is loanee midfielder William Zanella from Inter, who I’d been chasing for a few years with Valencia. And we have an exciting young talent in 22-year-old Colombian centre-back Harlin Cardona, who joined for just £1.7 million a few years ago.

Record signing Scamacca is still a solid option, but he’s also a striker so I’m not sure how we’ll fit him, De Lucia and Wilkes into the same side. And another noteworthy member of the squad is former Milan goalkeeper Alessandro Plizzari, who’s now 31 and joined Cagliari in 2025.

And there’s plenty of young talent in attacker Fuseini Ibrahim, right-back Fabio Pezzotti and midfielder Erik Argiolas.

Other club info

Financially, things are not looking good at Cagliari. We are currently £10 million in the red and have basically no transfer budget, which I’m not sure how they’ve managed to achieve after so many years in Serie A.

An interesting element to this is that Inter, who have one of the best youth systems I’ve seen on this save, are our senior affiliate and can send their youngsters on loan to us, which we’ll definitely try to tap into.

Getting started with Cagliari

We took the reigns at Cagliari with the club lodged slap-bang in the middle of Serie A. We’re currently 10th on 43 points, 4 behind 9th-placed Napoli and 6 ahead of 11th-placed Bologna. The chances of European football are basically zero as we’re 7 points behind 7th place, which I’m presuming will eventually become a European qualification position.

Our first game was a rather tricky test at Sassuolo for which, annoyingly, De Lucia picked up a knock a few days before. In a bid to shoehorn as many of our striker talents into the team, I’d gone with the 4-3-1-2 formation below, which can easily switch into a 4-4-2 Diamond. There are issues, namely the lack of an effective ball-winning midfielder and the full-backs aren’t really natural at the up and down wing-back roles I want them to play. But hopefully training will help with that!

But life in Italy began in very Italian style as we claimed a smash-and-grab 1-0 win at Sassuolo. Zanella did well to break up an attack then slid the ball through for Wilkes to coolly slot home which, apparently, ended his 13-match goal drought! Sassuolo dominated and wasted several chances, with Plizzari stepping up to make 10 saves – which still only earned him a 7.1 – but we held on for a huge three points.

Things didn’t get much easier in our second game as AS Roma came to town. We again got battered a bit but again showed our resilience. Roma got in front in first-half injury-time, which was a bit annoying, but we got level through De Lucia’s 16th goal of the season. Scamacca had a chance to nick it then got injured, which suggests to me that he is not good enough for us. But 4 points from teams in the top 7 was a great start to life in Italy.

Youth intake

We also had our first youth intake appear in early April and it delivered a few exciting prospects, for a change. The Youth Candidates side thumped the Under 18s 4-0! The star of that show was left-back Gianluca Albertini, who scored twice, however the best prospect looks like striker Filippo Bonci.

My youth system also poached a youngster from another club, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen happen before!

Join us next time as we push ahead with Cagliari’s final six matches of Serie A in 2030/31!

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