San Marino Challenge Part 5: Serie A Survival

2021/22: Serie A

Despite winning Serie B last season Calcio were relegation favourites going into their debut season in Serie A. It would be an uphill task to stay in the division given the very limited resources i would have to work with to improve the team. I decided to alter my tactics from the more controlled passing game i had used for the past season and a half and switched to a counter attacking, long ball tactic (sorry football purists).

This was possibly my most important transfer market so far with a lot of strengthening needed and a lot of my top players from last season only there on loan deals. I was given a budget of only £2 million and a modest increase in wage budget, i would need to sell off players or find bargains in the transfer market to survive.

One of my main prospects from last season Lorenzo Menghini attracted some bids from better Serie A teams and was eventually sold for £350k to Lazio by the board (the third player they have sold in two seasons). I managed to raise a further £800k by selling off squad players and a few other fringe players to give me some more room to manoeuvre when bringing players in.

With little budget and low reputation it was difficult to attract many top players to my team and I failed to resign two of my main loan signings from last season. Gabriele Gori went to AZ on loan and Luca Biordi was stuck in Inter’s reserves as they refused to loan him to a league rival. I had to resort to finding young or pacey players to fit into my system and desperately needed a replacement for Gori.

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Radu was a steal at only £230k as he went from being Inters 3rd choice GK to being one of the better players in the squad while Nsingi provided a decent option on the left of midfield. The best signing of the window (and has to be up there for one of my best ever signings on FM) was Sandro Marques who cost a paltry £75k.

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A bargain bin Gori (or so i hoped)

With great finishing, pace and off the ball movement he was a perfect fit to chase long balls over the top and hopefully apply the finishing touch.

The season got off to a great start as Calcio won their first cup match since 2016 against Serie B side Frosinone. This small confidence boost would be needed ahead of the opening league game; Inter Milan at the San Siro. Despite being under siege for most of the game Radu was inspired against his old club and Calcio came away with a respectable 2-1 defeat. Fittingly it was home grown player Tamagnini who scored the teams first ever goal at this level as he grabbed a late consolation.

The direct, counter attacking style worked well with the strikers at my disposal as Calcio simply lacked the defensive talent to grind out results. This was opitimised by the first ever game against Juventus.

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Heartbreaking

Calcio equalised in the 84th minute after trailing 5-1 early in the second half only for Juve to deny Calcio a point in the very last minute. Despite an absolute thriller that ended in heartbreak, Calcio overcame this to beat AC Milan 2-0 the very next game.

This playing style lead to very few draws in the first half of the season causing Calcio to sit in mid table anonymity, an ideal start to life in the top flight.

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There wasn’t much need to add to the team in January just depth was needed to cover any injuries, Ryan Mason and Steven Zuber provided experience in midfield. Marques had been a revelation so far this season after being thrown straight into the starting eleven and was scoring goals for fun.

Results continued in a similar manner for the remainder of the season as goals were never hard to come by with Marques and Arenas to choose from upfront and Francini on the wing. Eventually Calcio finished their first season at this level in a very respectable 8th place, never really flirting with relegation at any point in the season. To top off an impressive season Calcio won Serie A best club of the year!

With a larger than anticipated amount of prize money coming in from the league, my board approved improvements to both the training and youth facilities as well as improving my youth recruitment. When the improvements were completed this would hopefully improve my youth intake.

Season Record

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  • Average Attendance – 3384
  • Biggest Win – 5-1 v Chievo
  • Biggest Defeat – 0-3 v Sampdoria
  • Top Scorer – Sandro Marques, 29 goals (also won Serie A foreign player of the year)
  • Most Assists – Alessandro Francini, 13 assists
  • Player of the Year – Alessandro Francini
  • Highest Rated Player – Sandro Marques, 7.49

Best Eleven

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Francini continued his promising career by developing into a good player in Serie A. Tamagnini found it hard going in the league after a goal in the opening game and was loaned out for the second half of the season. Looking through this best eleven it cost less than £500k to assemble, not bad for being the 8th best team in the country!

Youth Intake

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An ok prospect in goal though he is very short for a GK at only 179cm. Would never get close to the first team as Radu was playing far to well to risk dropping him. Bounced around Serie C clubs on loan until Real Madrid made a bizarre loan offer for him in 2026. He went on to make 13 loan appearances while there. Real Madrid had two GK injuries at the time but i still cannot figure out for the life of me why they considered him their best loan option. A great backup for the national team and eventually became the replacement for Elia Benedettini.

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The best defender to come through my academy so far in the game. Was called straight up into the national team and provided a perfect replacement for long time national team full back Mirko Palazzi as he headed towards retirement. Made a handful of appearances for Calcio in an effort to develop his low Serie A potential but his development stalled badly through circumstances out of my control. More on him in a future season!

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A second player in this youth intake touted to have low Serie A potential but started off with very low ability. Several loan spells to Serie D where he struggled justified my decision not to try him in the first team as he took a few years to blossom, finally becoming a fringe first team player in 2026. For the national team he was a bit of an oddball as he rejected my initial call up and chose instead to play for the San Marino Under 21’s. After playing just the one game in the U-21’s he then refused to play for the national team at any level until 2028 despite not possessing any dual nationalities.

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The best player to come through my academy so far by a huge distance. Good enough for Serie B as soon as he came through with a potential way higher than any of my first team players there were however, two significant problems with him. Firstly his dual nationality immediately attracted the attention of the Italian national team and he played extensively at U19 and U21 level. Now that he has aged a little i do have some hope that he may come back to the San Marino team as Italy show no signs of giving him a senior cap any time soon. The second problem is that with my board still willing to sell any players that attract bids i would struggle to hold onto him for long if he performed as well as he promised. Definitely one that got away when it comes to the national team.

Overall a great but seriously flawed youth intake. In terms of players that came through getting three Serie A potential players is phenomenal for one season however, the fact that only one of them will seriously benefit the national team any time soon is frustrating to deal with.

National Team

After an exciting campaign last year (finishing 4th in World Cup qualifying) there was a level of expectation going into the national league having being drawn in a group with Moldova, Lichtenstein and Armenia. My minimum expectation was to finish second in the group behind a strong Armenian team but there was a slight chance of being able to steal top stop if we could upset them.

San Marino started the year off with a routine friendly win against the Solomon Islands before testing themselves with a match against a superior Latvian team which ended with a tight 1-0 defeat, the first time San Marino failed to score in seven matches!

The national league campaign got off to a stuttering start as San Marino found themselves 2-0 down in the opening half hour against Moldova but a strong second half saw the game end 2-2, a fairly credible result.

Next up was an away trip to group minnows Lichtenstein. San Marino started quickly going 2-0 up in the opening 12 minutes and continued to rack up the goals, eventually finishing the game with a record 7-1 win!

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After an emphatic win, two tough away trips to Armenia and Moldova followed with these games being crucial if I were to succeed this campaign. In Armenia Henrikh Mkhitaryan proved too much for my defence to handle as he set up all three goals in a 3-2 defeat before San Marino recorded their third consecutive draw with Moldova.

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Despite only winning one of the opening four games (and dropping down to 140th in the world rankings) Moldova had an even worse start to the campaign after losing to Lichtenstein and Armenia. Giving San Marino a great chance of a second placed finish going into the final two games. Solid home wins saw San Marino finish the group in second place with Armenia comfortable winners. This marked a considerable turn around from the last round of the European League where San Marino could only manage five points.

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Best Eleven

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Palazzi enjoyed his last year as national team LB before Rossini inevitably surpassed him. I really need CB’s, CM’s and another striker if i am to kick on and challenge for qualification for anything. I am still choosing to play Francini out of position due to a lack of good strikers. Luca Tosi had a great year as the holding player in midfield along side youngster Pelliccioni.

  • January 2022 World Ranking – 111th
  • December 2022 World Ranking – 113th
  • Biggest Win – 7-1 v Lichtenstein (biggest ever win)
  • Biggest Defeat – 2-3 v Armenia
  • Highest Rated Player – Luca Tosi, 7.56
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