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Sassuolo emerging from the rocks as European dark horses in Serie A
“Sic ex murice gemmae.”
This phrase features on the Coat of Arms of Sassuolo, an Italian town smack between Parma and Bologna that is renowned as the ceramic-making capital of Italy. The city is home to little more than fifty thousand people, but as the saying goes, “from rocks bloom gems.” Sic ex murice gemmae.
U.S. Sassuolo is the latest gem to have arisen from the depths of the city. The city’s motto is embezzled on Sassuolo’s crest — think a red and green in the style of Barcelona — in the form of a handy illustration. Fittingly, the club won promotion to Serie A in 2013 for the first time in their ninety-four year history and now have emerged as dark horses for European football.
Owner Giorgio Squinzi was the man who sewed the seeds. In 2007, Sassuolo were promoted to Italy’s old Serie C1, the third tier of Italian football. Although they just missed out on back-to-back promotions, new manager Max Allegri lead them into Serie B for the first time in club history the next year. The same Max Allegri who is now managing Juventus made his name with Sassuolo, however, he moved on to Cagliari in the summer of 2008.
The club quickly rose through the league and finally gained promotion with the title in the 2012/2013 season, under the guidance of Eusebio Di Francesco. The forty-six-year-old manager built a team around young, homegrown players, though they originally struggled in Serie A. They were in the relegation zone heading into a January 2014 meeting with AC Milan, but on that fateful night all the dots fell into place. Young forward Domenico Berardi, whom it is said Sassuolo snapped up just twenty minutes into a trial at the age of sixteen, put four past Milan, including a first-half hat-trick, and sealed a historic win over the giants managed by none other than Allegri himself.
Although Di Francesco was fired in a matter of weeks, it only took six more for him to be reinstated and keep Sassuolo above the drop. Berardi had bagged sixteen goals by the end of the season and made six assists while strike partner Simone Zaza scored on nine occasions that season. Di Francesco’s flowing, attacking play became a crucial part of Sassuolo’s bid to stay above the drop. Per ESPNFC’s James Horncastle, all forty-one of their league goals that season came from Italians.
Last season, they slew Serie A titans such as Juventus and Milan, again, and barring a 7-0 trouncing at the hands of Internazionale, fared well in a twelfth place finish. Berardi scored fifteen more goals and Zaza increased his tally to eleven, earning a move to Juventus over the summer and attention from Premier League clubs.
This year, having bought the full rights to Berardi’s contract, Sassuolo have gotten off to a flying start. They beat Napoli on the opening day of the season and remain one of only four teams unbeaten after four game-weeks. Di Francesco’s men have scored seven goals so far and only allowed five goals with the assurance of World Cup winner Paolo Cannavaro at the back, an improvement on last season at both ends of the pitch.
This past weekend they drew Roma 2-2 and with a run of winnable fixtures before clashing with the league’s big boys again, the club will hope to gain enough momentum to mount a Europa League bid. Currently, they sit fifth in the table but given their astonishing rate of growth over the past few year another incredible season wouldn’t be out of the ordinary at the Mapei Stadium. A European campaign would be just the latest flower to jut from the rocks.
Homepage photo credit: By Paskwiki (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons