Walking down the Viale della Riviera in Pescara will take in the main section of beach until reaching the newly constructed ‘Bridge over the Sea’. The 440 meter path connects the two halves of the city pierced by the Pescara River. Lit up at night time it adds a spectacular touch to the glistening coast. Continuing along the shore until Viale Vittorio Pepe, the Stadio Adriatico begins to emerge from the park it borders. On gameday activity increases considerably in the local bars littered a stone’s throw from the stadium, renovated for the 2009 Mediterranean Games. Witness to five past Serie A campaigns, the Stadio Adriatico is once again playing host to calcio’s biggest names, twenty years after Pescara’s last top-flight campaign.
Their first season in Serie A arrived in 1977-78 and after further promotions in 1979, 1987 and 1992, the blue and whites have spent the intermediate period in Serie B and Serie C1, also fighting financial issues. Their latest promotion – under eccentric Czech Zdenek Zeman – evoked memories of their last trip to the promised land, under Giovanni Galeone.
In 1991-92 the Dolphins finished second in Serie B. Reminiscent to their latest promotion they were free-scoring – 58 goals, the most in the division – but also shaky at the back, conceding the equal second highest tally of 43. It was a team built to attack.
When asked in 2011 about his greatest moment at Pescara, current Milan boss Massimiliano Allegri replied: “Without a doubt, the promotion to Serie A in 1991-92. It is an unforgettable moment, even today.” Galeone’s men would last just one season in Serie A, with the Coach replaced by Vincenzo Zucchini in March. Yet it was a memorable journey.
Pescara started in remarkable fashion to defeat Roma. Salvatore Nobile’s long-range drive earned a 1-0 win at the Stadio Olimpico. Next up was defending champions Milan, in the midst of their 58-game unbeaten streak. Pescara nearly caused a monumental upset. Allegri gave Pescara the lead but by the 40th minute scores were incredibly locked at 4-4. Marco Van Basten then netted his third and the winner with 17 minutes remaining. Galeone said afterwards: “We saw a great game and for our part we did well going forward but were poor in defence. We knew Milan are the better team but surprised them by playing a lot of direct balls. If we held on in the first half and kept it at 4-2 it may have turned out different.”
Pescara won just six matches, finishing a massive 13 points from safety (two points per win). Their attacking proficiency was clear in scoring 47 goals – the same as third-placed Parma – but their deficiencies at the other end equalled 75 goals conceded. For all their bravado, or perhaps because of it, Pescara usually ended the wrong side of high scoring matches. Losses against Udinese (5-2), Genoa (4-3), Foggia (4-2) and Ancona (5-3) were indicative of the end-to-end style of their matches.
Not every high-scoring thriller went against Pescara, as the 4-3 win versus Ancona can attest. They saved their best for the penultimate match, thrashing Juventus 5-1. Coach Zucchini would comment it was not a miracle, simply a great match from his side. Midfielder Allegri ended leading scorer with 12 goals. Others such as Stefano Borgonovo, Dunga and John Sivebaek – then a European champion with Denmark - all graced the Adriatico.
The next 15 years consisted of yo-yoing between Serie B and Serie C1. Then in 2008 financial concerns came to a head as the club was declared bankrupt. The first warning signs arrived in 2006-07. Pescara were hit with a one point deduction for financial irregularities, a punishment they would also incur the following two campaigns. They were relegated from Serie B at the end of 2006-07 after a season in which they experienced three coaching and presidential changes. By late 2008 players had not been paid for up to six months.
A group rose from the ashes to form a new club, Delfino Pescara 1936, remaining in Serie C1. Deborah Caldora’s bid of €600,000 was enough to save the club. Interestingly, she is the daughter of Armando Caldora, Pescara’s President during their first stint in Serie A.
With 2009-10 a Year Zero for the Dolphins, their aim was promotion to the second division. The feat was attained following a 3-2 Play-off Final victory over Verona. Enthusiasm in the city grew. Stadium attendances rose from an average of 4068 in 2008-09 to 8953. Upon their Serie B return the Abruzzese club averaged 8048, more than double from the last stint in the division.
Led by former Italian international Eusebio Di Francesco, Pescara proved a solid mid-table outfit to safely avoided the drop. Zeman replaced Di Francesco, welcoming Pescara to the rollercoaster ride of ‘Zemanlandia’. The veteran Czech and his all-out attacking style led Pescara to the championship.
Scoring 90 goals – 45 apiece home and away – and conceding 55, there was no shortage of action. Rising stars Marco Verratti, Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne and Gianluca Caprari blended with veterans such as Marco Sansovini to form a side brimming with talent and excitement. Pescara’s lightning-quick counter-attacks and movement off the ball delighted the Stadio Adriatico faithful and evoked memories of Galeone’s team. Even their kick-offs were a sight to behold, with up to nine players spread across the halfway line, signalling their intent. Crowds flocked to the Adriatico, with an average of 13,940 throughout the season.
However, even before a ball was kicked in 2012-13, Pescara’s task of surviving and instant Serie B return was made complicated. Zeman departed for Roma. Verratti joined big-spending Paris St-Germain for €12m. Immobile and Insigne returned to parent clubs Genoa and Napoli, while Sansovini stayed in Serie B with Spezia.
January signing Caprari remains on loan, while President Daniele Sebastiani believes they have replaced Verratti. “How will we replace Verratti? We have signed Juan Fernando Quintero. He can play in that role and therefore he should be his replacement.” Yet the capture is indicative of their summer recruitment. Pescara straddled two extremes – raw talent and journeymen. Mattia Perin, Alessandro Crescenzi, Mervan Celik, Vladimir Weiss and Quintero look promising but are mostly untested at this level. The balance comes from the latter grouping which includes Elvis Abbruscato, Manuele Blasi, Giuseppe Colucci and Christian Terlizzi. Yet fans were eager and season tickets numbers jumped from 2882 to 7400 in preparation for the top-flight return.
Giovanni Stroppa replaced Zeman, another gamble. Stroppa’s coaching career to date has taken him only as far as Lega Pro First Division (the renamed Serie C1) club Südtirol-Alto Adige. He bypassed Serie B to jump straight into the unforgiving top tier.
Stroppa has a Zeman connection, having featured as a player in the Czech’s renowned Foggia outfit of the early 1990s. While also preaching an attacking style, Stroppa insists he is not a Zeman copy-cat. “Being compared to Zeman is a great compliment. I love him to bits, but I don’t imitate him because it is quite simply impossible. You can try to imitate his style of football, but never the philosophy. His constant attacking and forward-thinking approach has a logic to it, while those who try to imitate only end up being unbalanced.” New signing Colucci offered his opinion on Stroppa and the role of the veterans: “We have been working a lot. He wants to do well and we veterans can offer a hand to the rest of the group this season.”
Their campaign started with back-to-back 3-0 losses, at home to Inter and away against Torino. That was followed by a battling 3-2 defeat against Sampdoria. It is already clear safety will be a difficult objective to reach. The President offered reassurance to Stroppa after the loss in Turin, even if reports suggest the axe is dangling above his head. “Our youngsters will grow and this challenge has just begun, so Stroppa can relax.”
While not the alluring side which took calcio by storm last term, simply being in Serie A is an achievement when bearing in mind the state of the club five years ago. However, given their summer changes it looks as if Pescara’s visit to the top flight could be as brief as Galeone’s class of 1992-93.
Follow Luca on Twitter @l_cetta.