San Marino Challenge Part 6: Goodbye Sweet Prince(s)

2022/23: Serie A

Despite significantly upgrading my facilities off the pitch at the end of last season I still had a larger transfer budget to use going into my second season in Serie A. I boosted this further by selling off over £1 million worth of squad players before disaster struck. My Italian/Sammarinese wonder kid from last seasons youth intake, Giovanni Chiappini, attracted a significant bid from PSG. This kid was going to be a serious talent and i was going to struggle to keep him at the club after this bid. Sure enough my board predictably sold him for £2.5 million rising to £6 million with add on’s. My greatest national team hope would be developing out of my control with me having no realistic chance of buying him back any time soon. I was heartbroken. Goodnight sweet prince.

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Recovering from this huge loss I used these boosted funds to break the £1 million barrier for the first time by signing young German defender Simon Hubner. This finally provided long time CB De Santis with a quality partner in defence as well a buying both a solid LB and RB from Lyon. Striking options were also improved by raiding the Portuguese league for a young striker for the second time in as many seasons.

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This time a whole £450k was spent to bring Nicolau Taipa to Calcio but it was money well spent. A little on the short side but made up for this by being an incredible finisher who could get in behind the defence and even provided leadership on the pitch. He was an absolute steal.

Having signed all of the players I needed I decided to approach the board with a request that would significantly grow the club off the pitch, it was about time to move Calcio away from their spiritual home at the San Marino Stadium. Despite being in a picturesque location the 5500 capacity ground wasn’t bringing in the ticket revenue needed to grow the club as quickly as I wanted. I was surprised when the board approved my request straight away and took out a £40 million loan in the process. I can only assume that after the repeated sale of top players the board must have felt a little guilty. Either way I had to wait until 2025 for our new home to be ready!

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Goodbye Sweet Prince……

Still using the same direct counter attacking style from last season, the signings made had significantly improved the team. Calcio were much more able to defend as a whole and did well to restrict goals against compared to last season. The opening month of the season was a little odd as every game either finished with a 2-1 victory or a 1-0 defeat.

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Consistency at last…..sort of

This pattern continued into the season with the Portuguese forward pairing of Taipa and Marques able to cause problems for even the best opposition and a defensive unit that performed with much more consistency. San Marino kept well clear of a relegation battle and even had a decent chance of snatching a Europa League spot going into the January transfer window.

For the first time this career i didn’t feel the need to sign any players during the January transfer window which represented how much my team had progressed this season. Despite Taipa and Marques picking up several injuries between them during the course of the season they were both contributing a good amount of goals and Tamagnini performed well after being recalled from a loan spell in Serie B when needed to cover them.

Calcio continued to tick over well for the remainder of the season only recording five losses after christmas, one of which was a total collapse against Palermo.

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Goodbye sweet points…….

Putting this poor performance aside Calcio managed to clinch 6th place after ending the season with back to back wins against AC Milan and Cesena, representing a huge step forward for the team and Sammarinese football as a whole. Juventus continued to dominate Serie A securing their fifth title in seven years with a significant lead over second place.

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Securing Europa League football would provide a nice bonus to my funds for next season and with the improvements to both the youth and training facilities completed as well as a new stadium on the horizon significant growth was underway for Calcio. This could only benefit the national team further down the line!

  • Average Attendance – 5486
  • Biggest Win – 3-0 v Spezia
  • Biggest Defeat – 0-4 v Udinese
  • Top Scorer – Nicolau Taipa, 19 Goals
  • Most Assists – Alessandro Francini, 14 Assists
  • Player of the Year – Alessandro Francini
  • Highest Rated Player – Alessandro Francini, 7.25

Best Eleven

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National team winger Francini continues to develop at this level with another player of the year award and a good number of assists. Despite not making the team of the year Tamagnini stepped in well during the second half of the year to cover injuries and scored a handful of goals. The defence was significantly boosted by Hubner at CB and young Serbian LB Bojovic finally being ready for the first team.

Youth Intake

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The first CB that would play a part in the national team. Tall, good in the air but with few other positives and as a result never really got close to the Calcio first team. Has spent several seasons on loan in Serie D but has performed incredibly poorly barely averaging over a 6 rating most seasons. Has picked up 16 caps in seven seasons which highlights just how short on quality CB’s San Marino are.

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A second CB this youth intake of similar quality to Muccioli but possessing much more rounded stats. Again has spent much of his career on loan in Serie D but has performed much better with an average rating of 6.62 so far. A much more reliable player at CB and has picked up over 50 caps at the heart of the Sammarinese defence.

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A very mediocre player with OK physical stats who went on to play twice for the senior team. Actually had a successful loan spell in Serie D but was never going to get close to the Calcio first team and was eventually released.

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Saved the best until last and oh man was he the best! Developed to be lightning fast, a great finisher and with fantastic technique he was an amazing prospect with the huge bonus of not having dual nationality. The youth facility investment was really paying off! He went straight into both the first team and the national team without any issues which really kicked off his development. He is another player who will play for both club and country until he retires. Phenomenal. A Chiappini without the baggage!

Overall an average pair of CB’s wasn’t much to shout about but Reggini had massive potential and could turn into an absolute world beater. Simply because of Reggini this has to be the best intake of the game so far.

National Team

San Marino were handed a very tough draw for world cup qualifying, being drawn with Spain, Scotland, Ireland, Romania and Estonia. The only realistic hope here was to finish above Estonia in 5th place, points against any other team would be considered a bonus even with a forward pairing of Reggini and Tamagnini. There would be few easy games this campaign.

Sure enough, the opening game away to Spain served as a reminder as to how far I needed to progress before San Marino could compete on the international stage. Spain scored goal after goal to eventually win 8-1. This match truly felt like being back in the good old days of Sammarinese football as Spain scored three late goals to demolish any respectability in the scoreline. What happened next was totally unexpected.

Ireland took an early lead and went in at half time 2-0 up. San Marino responded and came out swinging in the second half and took an unlikely 3-2 lead. A huge upset was on the cards until Liam Kelly broke Sammarinese hearts with an injury time equaliser. Late goals were becoming a theme of this campaign.

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Buoyed by this result, San Marino went into the next two games against Romania and Scotland hoping to nick more points and edge further ahead of Estonia. They responded by losing 6-3 to Romania and 3-0 to Scotland. It’s the hope that kills you.

The campaign so far exposed just how bad my academy was at producing defenders as San Marino had conceded a huge 20 goals in only four games. This was only two goals worse than my first four qualifying games in charge way back in 2016 and was somewhat disheartening.

Next up was Estonia at home, a game San Marino simply had to win or the prospect of a bottom placed finish loomed. Both sides exchanged early goals with Estonia being 2-1 up in the opening 20 minutes. As the game wore on Estonia struggled more and more to cope with the combination of Reggini and Tamagnini up top, eventually succumbing to a heavy 5-2 defeat. This was also San Marino’s first ever win in European Qualifiers!

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San Marino followed this up with respectable defeats to Spain and Ireland before drawing at home to Romania 2-2. Despite defensive frailties San Marino were proving to be a tricky prospect at home on their day having picked up five points at home. A 2-0 win in Estonia secured a comfortable 5th place in the group as Estonia struggled.

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These back to back results saw San Marino’s ranking shoot up into the top 100 for the first time ever after a slump down to 127th.

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Nineteen goals was a very respectable return for ten tough games. Less impressive was the huge 35 goals conceded. The only team to concede more in the whole of Europe were the Faroe Islands who shipped a huge 41 goals in only eight games. I needed a vast improvement in defence to progress as there was simply no way for my strikers to carry such a leaky defence. Also impressive was that out of the six goals that Spain conceded, four of them were against San Marino! (lets look past that 8-1 defeat for just a second)

Best Eleven

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Finally Francini could play in his natural position for the national team on the RW as he surpassed 50 caps in the process. Reggini and Tamagnini proved deadly together up front as they scored 16 goals between them in ten games. My defence simply wasn’t equipped to cope at this level despite having seven youth intakes to progress.

  • January 2023 World Ranking – 113rd
  • December 2023 World Ranking – 95th (new highest ranking, first time in top 100!)
  • Biggest Win – 5-2 v Estonia
  • Biggest Defeat – 1-8 v Spain
  • Highest Rated Player – Andrea Tamagnini, 7.67

Hope you enjoyed part 6 and thanks again for reading! Next time out San Marino Calcio venture into Europe for the first time and the national team attempt to gain promotion in the European League!

Alex

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