I’d just enjoyed a summer of soaking up the rays in the beautiful surroundings of my new home in Sardinia. But there was plenty of work to be done in the summer of 2031 to rebuild a Cagliari side lacking quality and, importantly, money.
I set about removing the club’s negative bank balance by selling a host of ageing, not very good players that had been lingering in the first-team or were out of contract next summer.
But the big money came in with the sale of English striker Jim Wilkes to Nottingham Forest for a club record £35 million. He’d scored a few goals in my time at the club but looked really inconsistent and that kind of money was impossible to say no to. We also sold young striker Alberto Tenconi, who I didn’t think had close to the quality to play in the first-team, to Roma for a huge £7.5 million.
We began the summer with four exciting youngsters coming into the club. The best of the lot is 19-year-old Argentinian attacking midfielder Demian Aime, who looks like a real talent and only cost £2 million. We also brought in a compatriot for him in left-back Federico Pusineri, who cost just £750k.
I also used my international knowledge to snap up a few potential Danish starlets. Winger Kristian Dalsgaard is the pick of the bunch, while midfielder Kasper Greve and goalkeeper John Bagge look decent too. I also snapped up Serbian attacking midfielder Nenad Jovicic, who cost just £1.2 million.
With a lack of finances available to bring players in I took advantage of Serie A’s lack of loan regulations to bolster our squad. First, we brought back last season’s Inter loanees midfielder William Zanella and centre-back Lindani Marengo, while we also brought in Inter midfielder Antonio Giusti.
I improved the defence with Real Madrid centre-back Miguel Angel Mba and Roma right-back Andrea Esposito. We also bolstered the midfield with Man United wonderkid Matteo Cristofari, Chelsea’s Joao Vieira and our former Valencia player Femi Okonkwo. And we boosted our attacking options with Real Madrid’s young Brazilian striker Dimba. That’s a lot of loanee, and I’m very much aware it might not be the best idea, but needs must.
In total, we brought in £83 million and only spent £10 million, while I reduced our monthly wage spending from £1.2 million down to just £890k.
Serie A gets underway
We began the new season at home to newly promoted Parma and in sensational style. Striker Thomas De Lucia got us off to the perfect start by scoring after 5 and 10 minutes, his strike partner Gianluca Scamacca made it three on 38 minutes, then Vieira scored a debut screamer on the verge of half-time. De Lucia completed an opening day hat-trick just after time as we went top of the table with a 5-0 victory.
A repeat of my first game in charge of Cagliari saw us earn a respectable 1-1 draw at Sassuolo. Then two great finishes from Vieira and left-back José Gabriel Gutiérrez eased us past an inept Udinese side that didn’t even have a shot until the 83rd minute. Our unbeaten start came to an end as we were unlucky with a harsh penalty that resulted in a 1-0 loss at Genoa.
Two huge tests
That first loss wasn’t ideal as we went into two tough games at home to Roma then away to Inter.
Roma had a strong side that remains fairly recognisable even 12 years into the save, and were very much the favourites. But we put in a superb performance that saw De Lucia open the scoring with a great strike from just outside the box 10 minutes after missing a penalty. They got back into it just before half-time after a wasteful Vieira pass, but we kicked on after the break through Zanella’s first of the season and another from De Lucia.
But Inter away was a much tougher test as they dominated us throughout. They rightfully led 1-0 at half-time but De Lucia used his height to grab an equaliser out of nowhere. However, Vieira then got himself sent off and Inter unsurprisingly put 3 goals past us late on. Vieira is proving to be a bit of an idiot.
That left us in 7th, just behind Inter in the league. But interestingly, Milan are next to bottom of the league and sacked manager Jorge Sampaoli in early October.
Slipping after strong early form
We seized control of a home clash with Torino – now managed by Moussa Sissoko – as corners from either side were nodded home by our two central defenders. Loanee Dimba came off the bench to score his first goal for the club and round off a 3-0 win late on.
We then threw away a lead to lose 2-1 at Bologna, despite De Lucia missing with a ludicrous 11 shots. Then my 600th game as a manager was not a happy occasion as we also lost 2-1 at Napoli, although we got absolutely screwed over with a ridiculous 2 red cards and an injury-time winner. Then late goals also denied us in draws with Atalanta and Bari, but a late goal of our own sealed a lucky 1-0 win over high-flying Empoli.
We then earned a 1-1 draw at Pescara – who were considered the favourites and managed by Ciro Immobile – before recording a 1-0 win at home to struggling AC Milan. And that was vital as we then went away to Juventus and somehow only lost 2-1 despite being battered by 45 shots to 1.
That took us into the winter break down in 10th place in Serie A with 22 points from 16 games. We’re relatively goal shy with just 23 scored, of which De Lucia has scored more than half and 5 came in the win over Parma. But we are pretty solid at the back with 17 conceded, which will please the board.
However, we do need to see some improvement and have a decent run of games at the start of the New Year that we need to build into a strong run of form.
Join us next time to find out how we get on in the remainder of our first full season in Sardinia with Cagliari!