The first in a three-part series, Chloe Beresford profiles the sides that achieved promotion to Serie A this season, with some new faces to introduce and the return of a familiar name.
“The magic of the FA Cup” is something that is widely discussed in English football, the oldest association football competition in the world annually giving lower league teams the opportunity to pull off “giant-killings” versus other-worldly opposition from the Premier League. Those romantic stories from the tournament are well-known, but in Italy’s top division there are examples of this kind of romance on a weekly basis, David and Goliath match-ups regularly taking place in the league.
After Crotone pulled off a miracle escape in their first-ever season in Italy’s top division, Benevento are the next team to have captured the imagination of the country after their historic promotion from the second tier earlier this month. Their 1-0 win over Carpi in the playoffs was not only their first ever promotion to Serie A, but 2016/17 had also been the first outing in Serie B in their history.
It was not surprising then that their fans took to the streets in wild celebrations following this epic promotion, especially as the club had been refounded as recently as 2005 after the previous incarnation had folded. The rags-to-riches story will see Benevento become only the fourth side from Campania to have played in Serie A, along with Napoli, Salernitana and Avellino.
Those fans will no doubt be looking forward to take on neighbours Napoli next year, in what will be the first Campanian derby since the Partenopei took on Avellino back in 1987-88. “I feel infinite joy, truly,” former Juventus youth team Coach Marco Baroni told Sky Sport Italia. “It’s all incredible, but we deserved all of this. We fought hard in these play-offs and we earned our promotion.”
The Florentine boss had taken over from former technician Gaetano Auteri at the beginning of the season, presumably with no thoughts of a back-to-back promotion. But under his stewardship they achieved a fifth-placed domestic finish – allowing them to compete in the playoffs where they ultimately triumphed – and having rewarded him with a new contract, President Oreste Vigorito has no intention of letting him go.
“Our coach is and will remain Baroni, there’s never been doubt, neither when he was flying nor when he landed,” the owner told the press, acknowledging that the players would not have the technical ability to match others in the league next year. “These players aren’t Higuain and Dybala, but they have big hearts like them, maybe even more so.”
Benevento could also be an ideal side for those neutrals looking for an Italian side to root for next season, and not just because of their passionate fans or distinctive red and blue kits.
Nicknamed “Le Streghe” (the witches), the club’s official crest also displays a witch in a nod to folklore dating back to the 13th century. As legend would have it, Benevento was a meeting place for these witches, who would dance round a walnut tree in the town. The team are also sponsored by a local liqueur named “Strega” (witch), a bright yellow 40% ABV concoction that contains mint and fennel.
Amongst all the jubilation though, a word of warning may be appropriate here, as last season saw Pescara relegated with just 16 points, three of those having been awarded on a technicality. Having climbed a mountain with their two successive promotions, Benevento fans are all-too aware that the hardest task still lies in front of them.
"The largest seas are yet to be crossed,” their inspirational banner read following the promotion. “Our most beautiful child is yet to be born. Our greatest achievements are yet to come.” Staying up will certainly be a big task for the Witches, who might need a little bit of magic alongside their hard graft.