Ex-Chelsea striker Gianfranco Zola mistreated, as Cagliari go into meltdown

With 12 games left in the Serie A season, Cagliari have made the drastic decision to dismiss manager Gianfranco Zola – and replace him with the man who was sacked at the end of last year after only six months in charge.

With the Sardinian club sitting perilously in 18th position, experienced Czech coach Zdeněk Zeman has been brought back with immediate effect and will be charged with keeping the side in the Italian top flight.

Interestingly, Cagliari sat in the very same position, 18th, when the 67-year-old was relieved of his duties two days before Christmas last year, while Zola was only given ten games in charge of the Stadio Sant’Elia outfit.

The Rossoblu are a proud footballing side, with the side representing the whole island of Sardinia – a passionately Italian part of the country but also a place that takes fierce pride in all things Sardinian.

The age old virtues of respect and loyalty are synonymous with the club and everyday life in that part of the world, but have not been afforded to Zola.

The retired striker finished his playing career with Cagliari, playing 74 Serie A games and scoring 22 goals for the outfit between 2003 and 2005.

He is remembered fondly by the Stadio Sant’Elia faithful for his technique and craft on the pitch, and his undignified dismissal will hurt the Cagliari fans due to Zola’s role as a former fans’ favourite.

Zeman is vastly experienced having coached Roma twice, Napoli, Lazio and a host of other sides, but has a real job on his hands to save Cagliari from the drop this season.

The current squad lacks real quality, with the club paying the price for offloading their best performers in recent seasons.

Zdeněk ZemanIn Duje Čop they have a striker that has potential but is untested in Italian football, while promising Ghanaian midfielder Godfrey Donsah at 18 years old already looks like a star in the making but is still only young.

Promising midfielder Paul-José M’Poku was signed in January and has shown glimpses of his ability in three starts for his new side, but also needs time to adapt.

If Cagliari are to perform a miraculous escape, the team will rely on some seasoned campaigners, a combined work ethic and a fair share of luck.

Looking at the players to leave the Stadio Sant’Elia in recent times that have not been adequately replaced gives an insight into why Cagliari are in their current predicament.

The Rossoblu have a working relationship with Roma and have seen arguably their best three players head to the Stadio Olimpico in the last year.

The most prominent of this triumvirate is Radja Nainggolan, who has evolved into one of Serie A’s most complete midfielders at Roma after impressive showings in Sardinia.

Davide Astori also swapped the island club for the Italian capital and robbed Cagliari of experience, leadership and a solid presence at the heart of their rearguard.

Finally, powerful attacking midfielder Víctor Ibarbo was inexplicably allowed to go on loan to Roma in January after proving a driving force in the Cagliari team over three-and-a-half seasons.

Add to this the exit of Mauricio Pinilla in the summer and there is a recipe for disaster. The Chilean attacker is no world-beater but he offered flair and a sprinkling of goals in the Sardinian attack – something that is lacking currently.

Zeman could well turn the club’s fortunes round with inventive management but the way Zola was dismissed leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

One way or the other, the days of famous former Cagliari stars such as Luigi Riva are long gone and the Sardinian outfit have their work cut out to stay in Serie A this season.

By
I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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