Forever grateful, Mister!

First Team - 21/05/2024

Coach Ranieri bids farewell to Cagliari: in his two experiences with the club, he always managed to lead the team to the final goal. Already the author in the past of two promotions (from C to A) and one salvation in the top division, in the last year and a half he has accomplished yet another masterpiece with the playoff victory and the conquest this season of permanence in the top league.

‘We will rise again, Claudio Ranieri said so’. It was the summer of 1988 when a barely 37-year-old Roman coach arrived in Sardinia to take up a heavy inheritance: to lead Cagliari, the team of an island, a noble but decadent club that had slipped into Serie C and found itself on the verge of bankruptcy. It had been an intuition of the then president Tonino Orrù and the sporting director at the time, Carmine Longo, who saw in him the right man to plan the ascent. So young, but at the same time mature, he spoke with the confidence of a veteran: as captain of his teams he had already been a coach on the field, under the guidance of coaches such as Gianni Di Marzio and Carlo Mazzone. His determination, charisma, polite manners, availability. Always a ready wit, a good word for everyone: his professional and human qualities made an immediate impression on the environment. The Sardinians immediately fell in love with him, he fell in love with the island.

‘We will rise again,’ the coach told the team, a tam-tam that soon spread among the fans. It was the beginning of a successful cycle: immediately two consecutive promotions, from C to B and then from B to A. Something that happened only a few times in the history of Italian football. The 1990-91 season, with Cagliari back in the top flight, got off to a bad start: the team struggled and finished second to last. From there, another feat: the group in the second half of the season grinded out play and points, even saving themselves with one day to spare.

The paths of the coach and Cagliari parted there, but with the promise to meet again one day. Claudio Ranieri embarked on a coaching career that led him to sit on the benches of the most important clubs in Europe, to chalk up successes. Without, however, ever losing sight of ‘his’ Cagliari. So when he won the 2015-16 Premier League with outsider Leicester, performing an authentic sporting ‘miracle’, his thoughts immediately turned red: ‘Leicester gave me much of the world fame that I have now, but my dream as a coach remains Cagliari, that’s where it all started’.

Here is that promise, those roads that for years have walked in parallel are destined to meet again. It was the 2022/23 season: Cagliari was once again in trouble, mired in the quicksand of Serie B. As years before it was for Tonino Orrù, today the intuition is of the president Tommaso Giulini, with the sporting director Nereo Bonato: Claudio Ranieri is the leader to guide the ascent. It is not, however, so simple: ‘I was afraid of soiling that beautiful memory,’ the coach later confides. Gigi Riva came to his rescue: ‘Claudio is one of us, I would be delighted if he came back’, the words of the legend to break the deadlock once and for all.

A new beginning, a new adventure in red-blue. ‘Give me time,’ the coach begins immediately, but above all to the fans he says: ‘Blow us away always, alone we will not make it’. It is a crescendo: from January 2023 begins a ride that leads Cagliari to conquer position after position in the standings up to the 60 points that are worth fifth place and the play-offs. The red and blue team beat Venezia at home, won the double-header against Parma and in the final match in Bari they conquered the A league.

A piece has been placed, Cagliari is back where it deserves to be. But now the top series must be defended. Just as 31 years ago, in coach Ranieri’s first season in Serie A with Cagliari, the team struggled at the beginning, not finding continuity of results: but at the helm there is a sure guide who knows well how to bring the boat into port, overcoming the ‘libecciate’. Because in the meantime, the fans never stop ‘blowing’ and everyone – club, team, staff, environment – is always rowing in the same direction. When, on 22 January 2024, the world comes to a standstill and all the great family of Cagliari, astonished, mourns the passing of its Hero, the promise is to do everything to conquer salvation.

The team changed its pace in mid-February, producing a series of prestigious results and victories – such as the one against Atalanta and the draws against Inter and Juventus – that moved it away from the hottest areas of the league table. Salvation is there, within reach, but you have to take it. Cagliari flies to Reggio Emilia to play against Sassuolo, the match worth a season, the decisive one, not to be missed. ‘Just before the match I repeated to the team what I had already said in the dressing room in Bari, when our Gigi Riva called me on the phone: “Remind the boys that there’s a whole island behind them”. In Reggio Emilia there were four thousand, filling a Curva that overflowed with Rossoblù passion. All the Sardinians are there with their hearts at the Mapei Stadium. Prati scored, Lapadula doubled the score as time expired and the party could begin. Coach Ranieri was carried in triumph by the team under the Curva and celebrated with the fans together with president Giulini. Cagliari is still in Serie A, even that promise has been kept: salvation is for Gigi.

It is thus the closing of a circle. The stay in A, exactly as 31 years before, came on 19 May, again in Emilia, with a day to spare. The sensation is that of living through a film, one of those Oscar films, which captivate you because of their perfect script: one of those that makes you laugh, but which also knows how to move you. These are tears of joy and gratitude towards those who have been able to write some of the most beautiful pages in Cagliari’s history: because what they have done will remain indelible in the hearts of every fan.

Cagliari is and always will be your home. Forever grateful, Mister.

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