Most casual soccer fans in America are probably unfamiliar with Sassuolo — a small club from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Even some Serie A fans are probably unfamiliar with their extraordinary club history. From their humble beginnings, the team has now become a familiar name in Italy’s top competition.
Originally formed in 1920, the team played in the amateur leagues for almost half a century until earning promotion to Serie D in 1968. Merging with two other local teams, the current Unione Sportiva Sassuolo Calcio was officially founded in 1974. The club took a monumental step by reaching the ranks of professional football in 1984, when they were promoted to Serie C2. So, how did a club from a town of only 40,000 people become a mainstay in Serie A?
Squinzi Buys The Club
The most consequential step in the long journey was Giorgio Squinzi’s decision to buy the club in 2003, when Sassuolo was still in Serie C2, the fourth division. Squinzi is the CEO of Mapei, an Italian company founded by his father, known for producing construction products. Since Squinzi’s acquisition of the club, Carlo Rossi has served as club president, providing some impressive stability for Italian soccer.
Promotion To Serie C1
A breakthrough came in the 2005-06 season when the current captain Francesco Magnanelli joined the club and Sassuolo achieved promotion to Serie C1. After losing in the promotion playoffs, the club appointed Massimiliano Allegri in July of 2007; he brought immediate success. With a point total of 63 in the 2007-08 season, Sassuolo earned promotion to Serie B for the first time in club history. Unfortunately for the Neroverdi, Allegri moved onto greener pastures, taking a job with Cagliari in Serie A. He now, of course, leads Juventus.
However, promotion to Serie B created another problem for the club as the Stadio Enzo Ricci was too small. With a capacity of only 4,000, the grounds did not meet the second division requirements. For their five-year stint in Serie B, Sassuolo shared the larger Stadio Alberto Braglia along with Modena.
The following season, Andrea Mandorlini was brought in to succeed Max Allegri and the team missed out on the promotion playoffs by just four points. Despite a successful first season in the second division, Mandorlini left the club by mutual consent and Stefano Pioli became the new head coach. Another successful season with a first-year coach saw Sassuolo reach the promotion playoffs, only to lose to Torino in the semifinal.
Following the loss, Pioli was poached by Chievo Verona, marking a third coaching departure in just as many years. From June 2010 to June 2012, Sassuolo went through another four coaches and mid-table finishes before appointing Eusebio Di Francesco. Seeming to continue with club tradition, the first-year coach brought impressive success.
Serie B Champions
Posting a 25-10-7 record, Sassuolo earned 85 points to be crowned Serie B champions and earn automatic promotion to Italy’s top division. Di Francesco brought a refreshing attacking style of play, led by 18-year-olds Domenico Berardi and Leonardo Pavoletti, who both scored 11 goals.
In preparation for their inaugural Serie A campaign, Sassuolo moved their home venue to the Città del Tricolore in Reggio Emilio. By December 2013, Squinzi’s holding company Mapei bought the stadium, making Sassuolo just one of four Serie A clubs to actually own their home ground.
It took over 90 years for Sassuolo to reach the top of Italian football and it was a struggle to prove they belonged there. A rough start to the season saw Di Francesco sacked in late-January of 2014 as the club was sitting at the bottom of the table. The experienced Alberto Malesani was brought in to provide a spark, but after five consecutive losses, Di Francesco was brought back in. Despite these dismal times, three wins in the last five matches of the season were just enough to earn salvation, avoiding relegation by two points.
Europa League Berth
Di Francesco steadied the ship the following season as Sassuolo achieved a comfortable 12th-place finish. It was the 2015-16 season that really put the little club on the world football map. Finishing above stalwarts Milan and Lazio, the Neroverdi maintained consistent performances, finishing in sixth place to earn a Europa League berth.
In the span of a decade, Sassuolo went from the fourth tier in Italian football to qualifying for European competition — quite a remarkable feat by a club from a town whose population would fill only half of the San Siro. A trove of both coaches and players have made names for themselves along the way, with many moving on to larger clubs. Giorgio Squinzi and Carlo Rossi deserve enormous credit for building a sustainable project and creating a competitive team in Serie A.
Another young coach looking to establish himself is currently in charge of the club. Roberto De Zerbi was appointed this past summer and has implemented his preferred 4-3-3 system well. A season-opening victory over Inter was a promising start to the current campaign. The squad has a healthy mix of experience and youth, already seeing 10 different goalscorers. Currently on 25 points, Sassuolo are in 11th place at the moment hoping to rally for the second half of the season.
Alessandro is a passionate fan of Italian calcio and the editor-in-chief of Get Italian Football News.