Genoa – Naples celebrating for the Scudetto, Sampdoria relegated to Serie B for almost a month: when Dejan Stankovic sat on the bench last October 6, he imagined a totally different season and ending. And instead it ended like this, 241 days later, with a bitter farewell, in some ways liberating, with a Stankovic grappling with many mixed feelings. First out of Maradona, went to sit alone on the bus that took the team to the airport to let the many emotions flow before indulging in many hugs with staff and players, especially with the younger ones.
Relegation is a wound that hurts. Partially anesthetized for the fans by the good news on the corporate front, where the worst was feared, averted by the advent of Manfredi and Radrizzani. So far, the two new owners have not yet begun their round of talks with those already in the club, from managers to players, including the coach. But Deki has a strong, proud character and without waiting for the official choice of the club he decided to say the end to Maradona: “He will be my last Sampdoria bench. I won’t be there next season.” Someone tried to tell him to wait some more, but his move didn’t arouse particular surprise. Indeed, in recent weeks it was a bit in the air for a Deki who gave his all, who loved Sampdoria, but who appeared tested by a championship full of setbacks, of blows taken on all fronts. And even in Bogliasco, before leaving for Naples, he had already said goodbye to everyone.
Without 12 players in Naples, Stankovic honored the blue party with a more dignified Sampdoria than ever, with many young players, close to the advantage 3 times. Before the kick-off he had spoken of the two types of emotion that filled his heart: happiness for the company’s salvation of Sampdoria, affection for the fans, “the only ray of sunshine in the tunnel”, but also professional disappointment, for a January in which the need to safeguard the club had prevailed over those of reinforcing the squad with a market that he himself defined as “corporate reparation”. “If in December it was difficult to save oneself – he said – at the end of January it had become very difficult”.
Already in the previous weeks, the Serbian coach had made it clear that, despite being aware of Sampdoria’s problems as early as last October, he later found himself facing a worse situation than the one that had been envisaged. Coming in the wake of Boskov and Mihajlovic, Stankovic dreamed of saving Doria and to relaunch it, to repeat what Sinisa did 9 years ago. He also wanted to dedicate the victory on his debut to him, against Bologna who had replaced him with Thiago Motta, resulting in a 1-1 draw. And then his life would have hit very hard, with the disappearance of Sinisa, last December 16th. A strong pain for all the sampdorians, to which that for Vialli was soon added. But an even greater pain for Stankovic who lost “a brother, in fact, I called him dad and he got pissed”, a teacher who had suggested that he accept the Sampdoria challenge because “one has to repent of what has not been done, of what has been done”.
From January onwards, Stankovic he almost always fielded a Sampdoria that stood up to their opponents. And that she deserved more points, penalized by referee wrongs and errors in the final matches. Then in the climax came the knockout of Sampdoria-Cremonese and there the light went out, even if only in Florence and San Siro did it end in a goal.
With his fighting attitude, Stankovic won the esteem and respect of the fans. In the toughest months, his grit was one of the few things to hold on to. Even if the relegation five days from the end, despite many alibis, has instilled some doubts even in his supporters. And he too, who had said he was ready to stay in Serie B as well, appeared empty, exhausted. And so, before choosing the Manfredi-Radrizzani duo, he preferred to be the one to cut the bull’s head off. Without salvation, the renewal did not take place. And now Stankovic will try to make up for it somewhere else, tempered by this experience.
The last evening began with the farewell announcement on TV. Then on the pitch he embraced Spalletti, with whom he joked: “Can you lend me a player? You are a master, stay close to me tonight that I want to learn”. Compared to usual, Deki remained seated for a long time, with Sakic standing. He got up at the end, for a very long hug with Gabbiadini and another with Quagliarella after Maradona’s ovation. Then the joy for the Serie A debuts of his compatriot Ivanovic, Segovia and Ntanda, close to scoring like Malagrida before. Three guys who made their debut with him, like Paoletti and Turk, starters yesterday and Montevago protagonist with the Under 20 World Cup.
At the triple whistle, Stankovic rushed into the locker room. No press conference, quick shower and rush to the bus which was to bring the team to Capodichino. Dejan is placed there alone, sitting, immersed in thoughts of him. A choice that brought to mind the Nerazzurri’s Mourinho in Siena in May 2010, only that there, Special One was exhausted after winning the Scudetto (with Deki starring on the pitch). This time however there was a coach who was sorry for the relegation, serene with himself because he was convinced he had given everything, but who dreamed of a different ending, perhaps of staying in Genoa for many years, where he got on well. Then the arrival of Sakic and the rest of the staff, with more hugs and moments of emotion.
Even for Nenad, a long-time former blucerchiati, already relegated as a player in 1999 but protagonist of the 2014 comeback as vice-Sinisa, it’s tough. Finally here are the players who emerge from the belly of Maradona and especially in front of the younger ones, Deki’s face relaxes. Back pats for everyone. “The future doesn’t scare me,” he said a few weeks ago at San Siro. Now is the time to go on holiday, to cheer on Inter coached by his friend Simone Inzaghi in the Champions League final, in which his son Aleksandar also plays. And then he will leave again, for a new adventure. With Sampdoria always in my heart, despite the bitter farewell.
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