A true underdog story comes with time. A decade ago, Sassuolo and its players were taking part in Italy’s amateur leagues, merely watching giants such as Milan, Juventus, Roma, and Inter on TV. In the years to come, the men from Modena would be in “dreamland” as they would not only host those legendary teams in Serie A, but perform well against them.
Sassuolo’s first three seasons in the top flight of Italian Football metaphorically represented its upbringings as a spirited and determined side progressing from 17th to 6th place respectively.
Before they knew it, their fate rested in the balance of Juventus and AC Milan. With the Coppa Italia Final set, if Juventus proved victorious, Sassuolo would find themselves in contention for the Europa League in the 2016/17 season. The rest is history.
Commonly compared to Leicester City for the strides taken by the club in the past 5 to 10 years, there is something different about the neroverdi. A team that seems to be in every game as soon as the match starts. With incredible young talent combined with ageless Serie A veterans, Sassuolo have created an ongoing project that is defined through hard work and high aspirations.
The man who proudly wears the captain’s armband, Francesco Magnanelli, holds the most appearances in a Sassuolo jersey and has played with the team in all four tiers of Italian soccer (amateur and professional). The back line consists of a cancer survivor and the brother of Fabio Cannavaro, who boast over 450 Serie A appearances between them. Up top, the neroverdi always seem to have a goalscorer. Whether it be Berardi, the Italian wonder kid shifting in from wide play, or Gregoire Defrel, the reincarnation of Jeremy Mendez, finishing as the sole striker.
Although they had an early exit from the Europa League, nothing can be taken away from Sassuolo. The current players, owner, and Eusebio Di Francesco will always have their names etched into the center square stone for doing their part in re-writing the team’s history.
But will it stick? Will all this hard work be materialized into another Europa League appearance or be forgotten in the lesser known leagues of Italy?
In mid-June of this year, news broke that Di Francesco would be replaced by Cristian Bucchi. Although he has a laundry list of teams he played for and managed, Bucchi impressed last season as he led Serie B side, Perugia, to a 4th place finish and a semifinal against eventual promotion candidates, Benevento.
The Italian is known for playing 4-3-3, a formation that Sassuolo players will be familiar with as it is the one they played under Di Francesco. The system that was originally built on a mixture of age, experience, and fighting spirit, will have to be re-worked as seven players are now 32 years of age or older. Players like Magnanelli, Biondini, Cannavaro, and Acerbi have dedicated everything to the club and have been under contract for a couple of years, but seem to be on their last leg as the team dropped to 12th last season.
As the likes of Juventus, Milan, and Inter attempt to pluck away some of their best young talent, will Sassuolo’s roster be able to further establish themselves or fall short in terms of depth and experience?
The team spent four years in Serie B and are coming up on their 5th season in Serie A. Everything that they have worked hard to build is on the line for this next season – Bucchi’s appointment has to work out or Sassuolo will be forgotten.