Carpi Diem: The Unlikely Summer of Serie A’s Newest Club

Even as the players of Serie B minnows Carpi FC celebrated the unlikely title win which carried them up into the Serie A limelight, its scouts and corporate setup were gearing up for a crucial summer. The club’s performance during its first transfer window as a member of the Italian top flight would make or break the season at large, and a vast amount of work was needed in order to generate even a slim chance of staving off relegation. With a team budget that more closely resembled the transfer fee for a washed up 30-year-old, Carpi could not compete with fellow promoted club Bologna nor any pre-existing Serie A club for purchases. Alongside the departures of many important loanees, among whom were Milan’s Gabriel and Palermo’s Aljaz Struna, the biancorossi had a towering mountain to climb even before their debut Serie A campaign got off its feet.

Carpi players celebrating their historic promotion to Serie A

Fortunately it would take more than a financial disadvantage to breaked the spirited little club, and sporting director Sean Sogliano, who previously orchestrated Hellas Verona’s spectacular transfers, bringing in the likes of Juan Manuel Iturbe and Luca Toni, was determined to mold the unlikely Serie B champions into relegation survivors. Partnering with hero manager Fabrizio Castori, the dynamic duo set out to craft Carpi into something spectacular. Lacking the resources to purchase anybody worthwhile, the unpredictable route of free transfers and loan deals remained the club’s only solution to avoiding the dreaded drop back to Serie B.

Two weeks into July, Carpi was already making major inroads into fixing the gaps and problems that peppered the squad. Bringing in two new attacking outlets in Fiorentina’s dynamic Brazilian Ryder Matos on loan along with reigning Polish Ekstraklasa top scorer Kamil Wilczek on a bosman came as statements of intent that Serie A’s newest guests were not planning to go out as pushovers. A goalkeeper was signed to begin to fill the void left by Gabriel, and Hellas Verona’s veteran Francesco Benussi arrived in Modena via “parametro zero”. Though not the best option in his position, Benussi’s signing signified Carpi’s dedication to filling in what needed to be buffed up. The most important of the opening series of signings was club’s first headline-catching acquisition: Luca Marrone of Juventus travelled to Carpi, penning a one-year loan arrangement. Marrone’s fine form when he spent a year on co-ownership with newly-promoted Sassuolo two seasons ago was not enough for him to break into Massimiliano Allegri’s first team last season, and the decision to send him out for playing time seemed the best solution for all parties. With Carpi, Marrone both has the ability to stake his claim for a spot in Juve’s team next season, and contribute to bringing his temporary club the defensive stability it sorely needs.

Luca Marrone and Ryder Matos presented as Carpi players

More wheeling and dealing on the transfer front soon followed. Not satisfied with only bringing in Benussi as a goalkeeper, Carpi took in Udinese’s Serbian international Zeljko Brkic until the end of the season. Although enduring a torrid 2014/15 campaign, first sitting on the bench in Udine and then conceding goals left and right while on loan at Cagliari in the second half of the season, Brkic showed before that on his day he can be a valuable asset between the sticks, and his temporary deal means his new club do not lose much if he doesn’t live up to expectations. Another Serie A player, Fiorentina’s Andrea Lazzari, joined Carpi on a free transfer after a disappointing year in Firenze. Though he barely featured for the viola in his brief time there, his successful two previous seasons with Udinese indicate that the 30-year-old still has plenty of fight in him, and likely should challenge his positional compatriots within the squad for coveted spots in Castori’s starting 11. Possessing a good eye for finding his teammates, Lazzari will function as Carpi’s poor man’s Pirlo, albeit with a little more fire in him. Plying his trade in the center of the pitch, he would be responsible for distributing the ball further up the pitch, while also maintaining a high standard of defensive contribution when opposition attackers inevitably get through to Carpi’s half of the pitch.

Likely both the most surprising and well-known of the club’s transfers was also one of utmost importance. Chelsea FC’s Brazilian right-back Wallace joined the newly-promoted outfit on a season-long loan, filling the yawning gap on the right side of the defense left by Aljaz Struna’s return to Palermo. This move put Carpi on the map for many supporters of world football who were not yet familiar with Italy’s most heartwarming team, as people flocked to find out the details of the unknown club which the mighty Chelsea determined worthy enough to send a player to. Two more central defenders, Igor Bubnjic and Nicolas Spolli of Udinese and Catania, respectively, arrived shortly after the closing of the Wallace deal. Further reinforcing Carpi’s backline, the biancorossi could now field a defense consisting entirely of new acquisitions. With Spolli possessing the experience of nearly a century and a half of top flight appearances with Catania, he and Marrone seem locked into the two starting center back spots once the season kicks off.

Still not content, Sogliano and Castori poached Gabriel Silva on loan from Udinese, sealing the deal for a left back who was one of the league’s best two seasons ago. In mercurial form during the 2013/14 campaign, injuries in last season’s opening stages kept Silva from making much of an impact, limiting the Brazilian to just eight league starts. An exciting attacking fullback, he and compatriot Wallace will likely function as faux-wingbacks, heavily contributing to key attacking plays and relying on the defensive duo of Spolli and Marrone to cover for their defensive shortcomings.

Whilst possessing one of, if not the smallest, budgets in the entire league, little Carpi managed to have one of Italy’s best transfer windows in recent memory. Without spending so much as a penny on purchases, the biancorossi not only brought in an entirely revamped defense, but a back line that would make the mouths of well-established Serie A sides like Genoa and Chievo Verona water out of jealousy. Keeping most of the club’s key players and importing several exciting foreign attacking talents, Carpi’s wizardry in the transfer market has given the club which FIGC president Claudio Lotito labeled a threat to Serie A TV revenue a fighting chance at staying up in its first adventure in the top flight. Carpi has captured the hearts of the Italian support much like Palermo and Sassuolo did in years past, ushering in a new era for the Serie A debutantes and bringing to light a heartwarming story of a club which gave a new angle on the phrase “Carpe Diem”, not laying down and giving up, but seizing their opportunities and fighting with all their might for survival before league play has even begun.

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