10 Reasons why you should support Cagliari
The top of the Serie A table has an all too familiar look about it so far this season; until that is, you get down to fourth spot and see Cagliari sitting proudly in the Champions League places after a blistering start to the campaign.
The club from the beautiful island of Sardinia are winning plaudits from all over the mainland for their attractive style of play under coach Rolando Maran. The Rossoblu’s rise to prominence makes them a contender to become a popular Italian football club in 2020.
Here are ten reasons why I think you should support Cagliari.
1 – Gigi Riva
The iconic centre-forward turned 75 earlier this month and the man many feel to be the most handsome fella ever to kick a football, led Cagliari to their only ever league title in 1970.
Riva had such a powerful shot he was nicknamed “Il Rombo di Tuono” (the thunder clap) and he was part of the Italy team that reached the final of the 1970 World Cup. Riva stayed loyal to Cagliari for 13 years between 1963 and 1976 despite numerous advances from Italy’s heavyweight clubs.
Considered to be one of the best players of his generation, as well as one of the greatest strikers of all time, Riva enjoyed a remarkable scoring record for Cagliari, thanks to his composure in front of goal, powerful left foot and aerial ability. Riva remained with the Sardinian club for his entire career: he helped Cagliari achieve promotion to the Italian top-flight for the first time in 1964, and later led the club to their only Serie A title in 1969–70.
2 -The Ninja
Bringing things right up-to-date, Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan returned to Sardinia last summer to the club where he rose to prominence. It can be no surprise that their incredible upturn in form has coincided with his return and the man known as “Ninja” looks to have finally found a coach that will let him smoke his fags in peace.
Banished from the national team for having a cheeky puff outside of his hotel window, Nainggolan then proceeded to post a video of himself having a toke while wasted at a New Year’s Eve party during his time at Roma, in which he basically told the club that he couldn’t give a f**k what they did to him the next day.
He’s not your stereotypical footballer is Nainggolan; here’s a guy who prefers an afternoon in the tattooists than one playing on his X-Box and there’s no doubt that he’s the darling of the Cagliari tifosi and the hero in this incredible run they are on.
3 – Home Grown
Since 1912, Spain-based association football club Athletic Bilbao have had an unwritten rule whereby the club will only sign players who were born in the Basque Country, or who learned their football skills at a Basque club
In Sardinia, Cagliari President Tommaso Giulini looks to be making better progress based on a similar philosophy. The current plan is to take all the best talent from the island and develop it through the various age categories until there is a starting XI of players born and bred in Sardinia and while this may be seen as yet another pipe dream, the club are certainly doing their bit for the environment trying to keep their carbon footprint down to a minimum.
Sardinia is a small region with a little bit more than 1 million of inhabitants, but many good player were born in Sardinia: Gianluca Festa, Nicola Murru, Matteo Mancosu, Marco Sanna. Gigi Piras, Vittorio Pusceddu, Marco Sau, Nicolò Barella, Andrea Cossu, Salvatore Sirigu, Gianfranco Matteoli, Pietro Paolo Virdis and Gianfranco Zola.
4 – One Region, One Club
The chances are that if you were born in Sardinia then you’re a Cagliari fan. Sure, there are the glory hunters who still declare their love for Juventus of one of the Milan clubs but in the main, Giulini and company can count on the support of the locals. The 11,000 or so who make the fortnightly pilgrimage to the Sardinia Arena are some of the most passionate in Serie A, despite playing in a temporary stadium. One day they will move back to their original home at the Sant’Elia, a new stadium is approved and in 2010 the construction will start.
5 – The Stadium
The Stadio Sant’Elia lies in the beautiful setting of Sardinia and must be one of the most picturesque venues in Italy. The stadium was built in 1970 following Cagliari’s first and last Scudetto triumph and has been recorded to have held 70,000. The ground went through major refurbishing for Italia 90, when the capacity was reduced to 39,905.
In the last 20 years the club has bounced between Italy’s top two divisions and the attendances have dropped. A controversial move was made to erect two new stands over the running track in the north and south ends of the stadium so the fans had a better view. This decreased the capacity to 23,486 and effectively created a stadium within a stadium, which certainly gives it a strange appearance.
The atmosphere in the Stadio Sant’Elia can be quite laid back for the Italian game, although the Cagliari Ultras – especially the Sconvolts 87 – can produce some excellent choreographed displays when rival clubs visit. The form of the team has a profound effect on the feeling in the stadium, although as an island people the volume can be cranked up when necessary.
The stadium was closed in 2012 due to safety concerns, which took Cagliari to the equally unsafe Stadio Is Arenas and eventually led to the farcical games in Trieste last season. Renovations are now taking place that will make the Stadio Sant’Elia Cagliari’s home once more.
The Cagliaritani are carrying little coffins through their narrow cobbled streets mourning La Vecchia Signora (The Old Lady). After beating them to the title the fans have decided to bury Juventus. It is a typical example of how Italians often mix Calcio with religious sentiments and it also demonstrates the Cagliaritani’s sardonicism, a word entirely appropriate due to its definition and etymology; the Greeks believed eating a plant from Sardinia caused facial convulsions resembling those of sardonic laughter.
6 – Fabio Pisacane
Fabio Pisacane started his career at Genoa, where he was initially a member of the team’s youth system. At the age of 14, however, he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, which seriously threatened his career, as it caused him to experience temporary paralysis in his limbs. After recovering, he was promoted to the reserve side, where he remained from 2003 to 2005. He made his professional debut during the 2005–06 season, while on loan with Ravenna. After several seasons in Serie C, he was signed by Chievo on a free transfer in 2008, but joined Lumezzane in a co-ownership deal.
In June 2011, Lumezzane purchased the remaining 50% registration rights for Pisacane from Chievo. In his sole season with Lumezzane, he refused €50,000 to defeat his own team against Ravenna, becoming a hero of the illegal betting war; the player was later rewarded by being named FIFA ambassadors in 2012.
On 14 July 2015, he was signed by Cagliari. He helped the club obtain promotion to Serie A during his first season with the side, and subsequently made his Serie A debut in a 3–0 win over Atalanta, on 18 September 2016 the following season, at the age of 30; having finally achieved his childhood dream of playing in the top Italian division. In 2016, Pisacane was named the inaugural winner of The Guardian’s Footballer of the Year award, which is given to “a player who has done something truly remarkable, whether by overcoming adversity, helping others or setting a sporting example by acting with exceptional honesty”.
7 – The Ultra Groups
The most famous Ultra groups are the Sconvolts 1987 and I Furiosi 1989. The Sconvolts, whose name comes from the word sconvolto, which means shocked or deranged, were formed as a subgroup of both the Cagliari Ultras Curva Nord and Eagles 1985. I Furiosi on the other hand was formed by ex-members of the Sconvolts and a number of other small groups.
The Ultras of Cagliari are an unorthodox bunch and they differentiate themselves as “duro e puro” (“tough and pure”). It is an aphorism which suits them. Unlike many Italian Ultras they were renowned not for their violent nature, but for their dedication and passion, especially during la trasferta (the away day). This was largely down to geography. For many the ferry was the only viable option. Cagliari to Rome takes 13 hours and that doesn’t include travel on the mainland. Despite the long and gruelling journeys, the Ultras relished la trasferta and their stalwart support for I Rossoblu has earned them respect all over Italy.
Yet, in what is becoming a recurring theme, deep underlying divisions existed between their principal groups. This was born from a difference in mentality and ideology. While the Sconvolts remained apolitical, I Furiosi held right-wing sympathies and this meant they had their own twinnings and rivalries. Until 2012, the Sconvolts only recognised true ties with Foggia, whereas I Furiosi had friendships with the Veronese, Interisti and Wild Kaos Atalanta.
I Furiosi also developed a famous rivalry with the Milanisti after they managed to steal a striscione (banner) at one of Cagliari’s home games. Losing a striscione to a rival is shameful; it is the modern day equivalent of losing the king’s colours in battle. This shame was compounded when the Milan Ultras proceeded to reveal this banner at the next game between the two sides. One account even reports a grown man crying with despair at the sight of it.
Today the Sconvolts remain famous across Italy. Although their numbers have dwindled due to a large proportion of their recent home games being played in Trieste (666 miles away), their old adage of “pochi ma buoni” (“few but good”) is truer now than ever. They remain passionate and loyal and their slogan “Essere ultras esserlo nella mente” )Being Ultras is a state of mind”) is famous nationwide. This is encapsulated in a quote by a member of the Sconvolts: “Nobody in their right mind would leave their family on a Saturday to travel to Trieste to watch the last game of the season with nothing riding on it. It’s the purest of passion with no logic”.
8- Il Principe
Enzo Francescoli, Uruguayan, who is of Italian descent, was one of the most talented players to emerge from South America in the 1980s. Nicknamed “Il Principe”, his official position was attacking midfield, but like so many of the great players, it was sometimes impossible to pin down where he actually played.
His fluidity and superb movement made him idolised by many. One aspiring player who watched him avidly during the 1989-90 season in Marseille was Zinadine Zidane. The Uruguayan had so much influence on the French World Cup winner that he not only waxed lyrical about his hero in later years but he also named his son Enzo.
Francescoli arrived in Sardinia in 1990 after signing for Cagliari after Italia 90. Serie A was the world’s best league by some distance and the creative South American only added to its riches. In three seasons with Cagliari, Francescoli played 98 times and scored 17 goals. Francescoli and fellow Uruguayans Marcelo Tejera and José Herrera helped Cagliari finish sixth in the 1992-93 season and qualify for the Uefa Cup. He led by example during this period and flourished in the division, showcasing some mesmerising ability. His skill level was second to none and his quick burst of speed matched with his incredible calmness saw him glide past defenders with considerable ease.
Seeing Francescoli at this time was quite simply a pleasure and although he moved to Torino for a season in 1993, he really made his mark in Sardinia. Serie A had some of the best defenders ever seen in world football at this time and too many of them had sleepless nights thanks to Ill Principe. When Calcio ruled the world, Zidane was watching Francescoli in awe.
9 – Gianfranco Zola
Gianfranco Zola is the strongest sardinian football player of history. From Nuoro in Sardinia Zola is football manager and former footballer who played predominantly as a forward. He spent the first decade of his playing career playing in Italy, most notably with Napoli, alongside Diego Maradona and Careca, where he was able to win the Serie A title, and at Parma, where he won the Italian Super Cup and the UEFA Cup. He later moved to English side Chelsea, where he was voted the Football Writers’ Player of the Year in the 1996–97 season. During his time at the club, he won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, the UEFA Super Cup, two FA Cups, the League Cup, and the Community Shield. In 2003, he was voted Chelsea’s greatest player ever.
In the summer of 2003, amid rumours of an impending takeover at Chelsea, Zola left Stamford Bridge to join Cagliari, from his native Sardinia. Within a week Chelsea was acquired by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. It was reported that Abramovich tried to buy the entire Cagliari club when Zola refused to renege on his verbal contract with Cagliari. Zola subsequently led Cagliari to promotion to the Italian Serie A. Then he renewed his contract for Cagliari Calcio for one more year. He retired in June 2005, after ending his career in appropriate style with a double against Juventus in his last ever professional game. His number 10 Cagliari jersey was withdrawn in his honour for the season after he left but was worn in the 2006–07 season by Andrea Capone. Zola retired as the fifth highest goalscorer of free-kicks in Serie A history, with 20 goals from set-pieces, and currently sits behind only Francesco Totti and Roberto Baggio (both at 21), Alessandro Del Piero (22), Andrea Pirlo and Siniša Mihajlović (both at 28). From December 2014 to March 2015 he managed Cagliari in Serie A.
10 – The Beer
Sardinia boasts the highest consumption per capita of beer in Italy, almost twice the amount of the national average, so what better place to spend a football weekend for someone whose current ones are taken up discovering micro-breweries in Dulwich.
Despite the initial outlay for a flight over to the island, the amount of money you can save on three days on the piss makes a trip to Sardinia a must for the “I saw you coming crowd” of Temple Bar in Dublin. The most commercialised beer in Sardinia is Birra Ichnusa and a pint will set you back about three quid.