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Chapter 4 – That’s not the shape of my heart

Gianluigi looked across the window, his gaze lost into the darkness outside; a silent rain fell, parsimoniously, like it could go on forever and ever. In his head, a puzzle he struggled to put together, a set of pieces that could only ever match if one could cut them to the right shape. The enignma, then, was figuring out the shape.

“What’s the problem, mio ragazzo?”, his grandma asked. She looked at him like she did when he was a kid, when she could solve all of his problems with a snap of her fingers.

“The job, nonna, the team isn’t playing well enough. And I can’t seem to be able to solve it”.

“You struggle, my boy, and that’s the problem. Sometimes the boat just needs to follow the current”

Gianluigi began thiking, moving pieces around in his head. Maybe she was right. He sat down. The solutions we’re looking for sometimes are just looking us straight at the eyes.

Some may call this junk. Me, I call them treasures

How’s it going guys? Welcome to a new episode of the Livorno series. It’s a new day, a new season, and in some aspects, even a new team. I must confess I lied to you all… this episode begins a little before the ending of the last one. I know, I know, I’m an international man of mystery.

As I said, a little before last season ended I began planning the forthcoming season. The main issue was spotting where the squad’s weaknesses. A few of the players were leaving due to their loans ending, others needed upgrading. With limited transfer funds I focused on players we could get on precontracts or for free. It was a busy summer.

First order of business was improving the attack; last season we were amongst the worst teams regarding goals scored. Several key players were severely underperforming, so I looked for replacements and players that could help us evolve as a team. My first capture was former Torino player Leonardo Candellone…

I liked his well rounded game couple with decent stats physically in a position (the withdrawn forward) where we were lacking some energy. His lack of potential maybe hurt his place chances to get on the teamsheet on the long run, but for our current Serie B status he’s more than a fine catch.

Next on the order of business was improving our defensive rotation. After Luka’s exit the level for our centrebacks dropped considerably, mostly due to some less than optimal characters taking on heavy playtime. Coming to fix all that is Edoardo Lancini, on a free pre-contract from Palermo.

With 26 autumns on his back he should still have a few good seasons to give us, if nobody comes asking for my best defender yet again. Let’s cross our fingers…

So until that point everything was nice and low-cost. Signing pre-contracts, doing dirty deeds dirt-cheap…but then the proper transfers window came around and they gave me some of the Luka money to play around with. No that much, some 500k. Oh, well, Don Aldo can cover the costs…

As soon as Nicola Nardini appeared on my scouting screen I knew I wanted him. That age, that potential, that near perfect overall roundness…

Regular transfer market victims Pordenone let go of him for 300k. So far he hasn’t been progressing very well despite enjoying regular playing time, but the clock is on his side so I’m no particularly worried, especially as we still have Nicoletti on that spot. The replacement I had signed on a pre-contract went out on loan so fast it almost made me sad.

But that was it, no more ludicrous spending, we are on a shoe-string budget… oh look! A brazilian kid with enourmous potential for almost nothing… dammit.

Introducing the light of my eyes, Felipe Estrella. Formerly of A.S. Roma, I picked him up from Serie D side Ferroviario. Good techinicals, fantastic determination, decent personality… what’s not to like? Best of all, I got him for 8k. Heck, I would have taken 2 months of salary to pay for him if we hadn’t had the money.

All in all this is how we ended up when everything was said and done. With the winter transfer window round the corner and no big spending planned, we might just see another season of profit, just what this club’s economy is asking for…

Wide of the target

Now one of the things I wanted to talk about in this chapter was tactical stubborness. I don’t know if I’m the only one but earlier this season I had a severy case of it. Let me walk you through it.

As I talked about on the last chapter, the signing of Okyere Wriedt opened up some tactical tinkering, with him having such a physical presence down the left flank. A few weeks ago I read an excellent analysis of Marcelo Gallardo’s and Gustavo Alfaro’s use of tall centreforwards as wide target men (sorry, spanish only). That got me thinking… I’ve got a powerful, physical man who can play outside…

And so began my 6 month torture with the setup…

That was the first configuration and arguably the most succesful. What whas the problem? As it was quickly pointed out to me, Wriedt isn’t much of a WTM. Sure, he’s tall, and strong. But his heading ability isn’t good and all other required attributes are decent at best. I got carried away with an interesting idea and the chance of using a role I had never used, but didn’t have the players to pull it off. So of course it would fail.

Thing is… at first it didn’t.

A fantastic preseason was followed by a solid victory vs Cesena and a surprise elimination of Udinese at the Cup, and a league debut trashing of Reggina. Sure, we sort of collapsed at Virtus Entella (2 – 0 down by the 11th minute), but we got back at it. This was fine!

It wasn’t.

Calcio nullísimo

Regular readers of this blog will remember that we hit a bit of a stumbling block in our other series with the #SouthAmericanJourneyman, which I described as “draw-tastic football” as we played good matches, created lots of chances and yet struggled to profit on it and secure results. Boy was I in for a deja-vu…

September rolled around and instead of calcio bellísimo we fell into our own version of the draw-tastic syndrome. Lots of chances, domination, even goals…but no results. But even then, Okyere was scoring like a madman, we got saved by the bell vs. Salernitana, surely the bad spell was over.

Again, it wasn’t.

Winless from the last nine by the beginning of December things were looking as bleak as they could. No amount of tinkering, trial and retrial was gonna fix it. The Livorno save was once again testing my commitment to it. As Gianluigi, I stared into the nothingness, late at night, wondering, pondering…

Then someone slapped me back into my senses. My brilliant idea just wasn’t working. Wriedt wasn’t a WTM, drop the whole thing. So, I took fresh look at it, reasserted my squad’s strenghts and went in again, into the trenches.

Lo and behold, result came our way. We’re closing this episode with our first two wins since that hail-mary vs. Salernitana. I planned to go all the way till the end of December but I can’t bare the thought of being once again the bearer of bad news. I wanted to end this on a high note, can you blame me?

Our table standing as of mid December has us looking like playoffs candidates once again, after going as low as 16th. Who knows, maybe even with a few more good results we could challenge for that 2nd place spot.

I’ll be back for the end-season report, maybe a little before, depending on what the market holds for us and how the second semester progresses. Hopefully it will be a little less nerve bracking

As always, thanks for reading and take care!

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