Ciao, and welcome back to my first review of my time as Genoa CFC Mister. Below, you’ll read of the nuovi inizi (new beginnings) and how I’ve already begun to assert my way on the club both on and off the field.
Staff and Transfer Dealings
Assessing a new club is never easy. Taking the time to consider your options tactically given the make up of the squad, how that tactic will inform the training schedule, considering the positions and ages of players you want your scouts to be looking for, not to mention the locations you wish to send your scouts to are all lengthy and considered tasks. One thing at Genoa, however, was a simple task – one look at our coaches and I realised quickly what needed to be done – every one of them bar the assistant manager was dismissed. They were well below the standard I wished for to help improve my players on the training field, and certainly not good enough to be offering me advice on the qualities of my playing squad. In came Dennis Bergkamp (Coach), Glynn Snodin (Coach), Grégory Coupet (Goalkeeping Coach), Alberto Andorlini (Fitness Coach), Giorgio Bianchi (Goalkeeping Coach), Massimo Lo Monaco (Coach), and Roberto De Bellis (Fitness Coach), and various other members of the backroom staff to help fill appropriate gaps within our organisational structure.
If evaluating the coaching staff was relatively easy, then assessing an unfamiliar squad that is new to the league it finds itself in, and with low squad morale as a result is considerably harder. With no clear idea as to how good, or otherwise the squad is, there will need to be an initial period of establishing who is right to help this club return to Serie A and who needs to move on. Having said this, I do have the advantage of knowing who some of the players are through their reputation.
Kevin Strootman for example is a fine Dutch footballer – if prone to cruciate ligament injuries. He is with us on loan from Marseille. Yet at £49k/week I questioned whether or not to keep him around given the potential ~£2.3m saving that could be made by cancelling his loan spell. It’s not as if we are short of players for the central midfield berth either. With other options for the same position including Stefan Ilsanker, Abdoulaye Touré, Stefano Sturaro and Milan Badelj, all players I’ve had dealings with in squads in previous teams I’ve managed, there is a need for rebalancing. This list doesn’t even include Manolo Portonova, Pablo Ignacio Galdames and Morten Frendrup who also play in the same central positions.
Taking this into consideration, and with the opportunity to operate within the initial Summer transfer window, I set about putting my stamp on the side and began to look at offloading some players, and bringing in players who I felt we could develop and then sell on for a profit, as per one of the objectives the board have for the club.
Out went Abdoulaye Touré, who was already transfer listed on my arrival. As were Galdames and Filip Jagiełło, yet another central midfielder, so they both left too, after being deemed not sufficiently skilled enough to operate in my side.
The other big outgoing transfer was that of ex-Juventus player Stefano Sturaro. On very high wages for someone in Serie B, and not being a first-team regular when his squad status was that of an important player, he was as keen to leave as I was for him to go. The £500k we received for him resulted in a booked loss given his remaining book value, but it was worth it to shift his big wages off our books, and to claw back some value on him rather than see him leave on a free and have to entirely write off his remaining accounting value.
Three midfielders having left, including two of my (relatively) younger players in this side, investing some of the received transfer fees back into buying young talent was required. I was keen to ensure that it would be for players we could provide playing time to, and offer them mentoring by the remaining experienced players within the team to help bolster their existing skills and personality.
From the get-go, my scouts were really keen on Aldo Florenzi, a 20-year-old at Cosenza, a rival of ours in Serie B. It’s not hard on first look to see why they would like him. A good price point, a range of technical and physical abilities, with the scope to improve further with the right training, game time and luck. A fee and contract was swiftly agreed, once we’d checked with his agent that he was interested in joining us.
My scouts had also highlighted 20-year-old Tim Breithaupt at Karlsruher SC very early on after I switched our focus away from just Southern Europe to include all of Europe. Whilst far from the finished article, he looks as though he could be highly mouldable into a dependable midfielder who can break up opposition attacks, whilst also being a threat in both boxes given his 6’4″ height. Breithaupt looks to be a similar player to Frendrup, in age and ability, so the two could be starting midfielders for a while to come, or more likely until a bigger club comes calling.
In analysing my squad’s depth, I also recognised how it lacked enough depth at centre back and on both wings. With deep concerns about cash flow over the rest of the season, I was keen not to spend any more cash on transfers, so I took to the loan market.
First in was Henrique Pereira, a tricky inverted winger from Benfica B, who would play a rotational option to Güven Yalçın. His general pace and technical abilities would make him a good understudy should we need him. With his contract up at the end of the year, if he’s successful here, we may well be able to bring him in permanently should we wish to.
Going back onto the loan list, I spotted someone I immediately wanted to act as back up to the central attacking midfielder and on the right wing, Samuele Vignato, who was at Monza. The 18-year-old is younger brother to Emanuele, who is a similarly talented footballer I had managed before, so I had high hopes that Vignato would prove to be an effective, cheap and versatile squad option.
Lastly, to provide cover at centre back, Parma’s 19-year-old, Alessandro Circati, was loaned in to slot into the roster behind Bani, Vogliacco and Drăgușin.
Squad Depth & Accounting Costs
After completing the player trading, the close of the transfer window saw the squad look like this (light blue means on loan with us at Genoa):
In terms of accounting costs, and a reminder there’s a focus on this because of the issues around the finances going forward this season, this sees us have a total accounting cost of £20,667,849 on player amortisation, including an additional £1,391,667 from the players purchased above, and £24,885,900 in expected basic wage expenditure over the course of the season. Net transfer expenditure, taking into consideration the remaining player book values of players sold, was -£2,516,667. A negative net transfer spend is not what we need, but the player sales did clear £3,328,000 a year from the wage costs. A more detailed overview is provided below, with out on loan players in purple and on loan at Genoa in light blue again (click the image for a new window to open and a chance to take a look at the player amortisation and basic wage costs in more detail – in fact, all images in this post are clickable):
It’s worth remembering that the accounting period is not yet over, so hopefully I can recoup more from player sales during the transfer window and resist any acquisitions, whilst also using this to consider who is worthy of retaining at Genoa. With a large number of outward and inward loans, and with more players under contract with Genoa into their final year, it will need careful consideration in the allocation of wage budget remaining as to who is retained/put up for sale/released from their contract.
With the number of defensive midfield players available at the start of preseason, it was clear sense to play with a double pivot in front of the defence. Once this was decided, I then had to choose between 424 and 4231DM. With Florenzi coming in, and Portonova and Aramu who can play in the hole in behind the striker, 4231DM seemed the obvious choice. Kelvin Yeboah showed his potential and his sheer pace in the friendly matches, so he was going to be my starting lone striker. Güven Yalçın and Albert Guðmundsson would be the initial starting choices on either flank, as an inverted winger and winger respectively.
Yet when the season began, it became obvious that this tactic wasn’t insufficiently creative, and not attacking enough – which is relatively obvious given the roles and mentality I had adopted. The xG figures were low, with a combined 3.97 xG across the first four games, and we didn’t look like we were ever going to be in a position to score goals on a regular basis. With one win, two draws and a defeat, we were too passive and too negative in our approach for a team that is odds on favourite to win the league. I had already tweaked the roles and team instructions in these games, but to no avail, so I took the decision to abandon the two deep-lying midfielders and move them up to standard central midfield players. I also made some further tactical adjustments with the team instructions, including moving our approach from ‘balanced’ to ‘positive’. If we are better than our opponents according to the bookmakers, then it was time to start playing like it – adaptation was the way forward to go forward.
The impact was immediate, and poor F.C. Südtirol felt the full force of our new tactical approach, as we galloped to a 4-0 victory. In fact, the next four games resulted in victory, with a significant spike in xG, which rose from an average of 0.99 xG/90 to 1.95 xG/90, and whilst the xgA/90 rose from 0.6 to 0.92, the net xG-xGA rose by 0.65, making it far more likely that we would be claiming the three-point win.
The main contributor to our on-field success in this period was Kelvin Yeboah. His 12 goals against an xG of 11 accounted for 41.38% of our 29 team goals. As you can see from the (clickable) graphic below, he’s far out performed his attacking peers in Serie B when it comes to xG/90 and goals/90, with only two players having a higher goals/90. Whilst not a creative attacker, I haven’t set him up to be, he’s the fulcrum of our attack – the finisher. It’s fair to say we wouldn’t be where we are without him and you’ll notice from the amortisation graphic above that he has been rewarded with a fresh contract at the club after becoming unsettled due to feeling undervalued. Given not a single other pure striker has a goal to their name yet this season, with Coda, Pușcaș and Ekuban all failing to hit the back of the net when deputising for Yeboah, I had no option but to increase his wages and provide him with specific targets which trigger bonuses. With metrics like this, I hope he stays fit, triggers these achievable targets and gains the rewards for doing so because if he does, then it’s likely we’ll be doing well in the league as a result.
It’s also worth including analysis on Breithaupt and Florenzi, as to just how well our season is doing thus far in settling in these youngsters. They’ve benefitted from game time and have been recording high scores from coaches in training, along with the other new signing, Pereira.
Playing in the central midfield role with a defensive mindset, Breithaupt was never likely to have a flurry of goals and assists to his name. However, what is both expected and pleasing in equal measure is his defensive actions in terms of his interceptions, tackles, blocks and even fouls to break up play. What is outstanding though is his progressive passing per 90 – he’s second in Serie A, second only to our left-back Czyborra. His height of 6’4″ means it’s not suprising that he’s winning plenty of headers.
Florenzi, on the other hand, has been playing in behind the Yeboah for most of the season this, so he is expected to have a greater goal involvement. 0.28 npG/90, with an additional 0.28 assists/90 (above his 0.14 xA/90 – giving you some idea how good Yeboah’s finishing has been) mean that he’s been a valuable goal contributor. Making 1.39 key passes/90, and a relatively impressive 2.63 progressive passes/90 given that he’s been part of the leading pack for attacking midfielders.
With the team second in the league at the break, behind an impressive Cagliari team, time will tell if we can sustain our run at immediate return to Serie A. Hopefully the new players continue to adapt to each other and the team in general to try to claw back the lead that Cagliari have establish. It’s been a productive few months in charge, and I hope to continue to bring about more success in forming a greater team ethic, whilst trimming off more of the unwanted players as I settle on a core squad.
That will be left for review the next episode in this series to reveal, where I will look to dive deeper into our player performances and the impact of our team on our finances – both good and bad.
I hope you enjoyed reading the latest update on fortunes on and off the playing field at the Statio Luigi Ferraris – and, until next time, arrivederci!