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If you look at the Serie A table for the first time right now, you will definitely be surprised to see Bologna in fourth place, only behind Inter, AC Milan and Juventus. However, the Italian side has worked hard in the past years to reach this level, and even if this is still something surprising, it shows that the long-term vision of the club is paying off. But how did this happen?

Bologna are currently fourth in the Serie A table and fully in the race for a Champions League spot, especially when you consider that Serie A will likely have an extra spot for the biggest European tournament next season. Potentially, Bologna can also qualify for the Champions League if they land in fifth place, with six more games to play between now and the end of the 2023-24 season. Thiago Motta's side currently have 59 points after 32 games played with 16 wins, 11 draws and only five defeats. Bologna up to now scored 45 goals (like Juventus for instance) and conceded 25 goals (only Inter and Juventus have a better record). 

The Italian coach was appointed in September 2022 by the club to replace the former coach Sinisa Mihajlovic, who sadly passed away a few months later. For Motta, who before only coached Genoa and Spezia in the Italian league, it wasn't an easy task at all. Mihajlovic was more than a manager for the whole Bologna community. The Serbian coach, after a very positive first season at the club, in July 2019 shocked the soccer world and announced that he had been diagnosed with leukemia. He never left his role as manager and continued to work from the hospital. He decided to surprise his team and the whole soccer community and was on the bench for the first match of the 2019-20 season against Hellas Verona, despite his physical condition. After a positive course of treatment, he came back to the bench the following year until he was fired in September 2022 after a poor start and sadly passed away in December 2022. 

The team and some key players like Riccardo Orsolini were really close to the coach, the fanbase loved him and the owners of the club as well. The decision to fire Mihajlovic was definitely one of the most difficult to make for the owner of the club, the Canadian businessman Joey Saputo, who also decided to appoint Motta to replace Mihajlovic. In this kind of environment, the Italian coach was able to recreate a good spirit inside the dressing room and results quickly improved. In his first season at the club, Bologna ended ninth, in a solid place but also close to reaching a European spot. Thiago Motta had a strong impact with some key players such as current Inter striker Marko Arnautovic, who was benched and excluded from the team for some time due to a difficult relationship with the manager, and later on was sold to Inter in the summer 2023. 

Big changes since 2014

Saputo, a Canadian businessman who is also the owner of the MLS side CF Montreal, acquired the Italian team back in 2014 but became the sole owner one year later. It took some time for Bologna to achieve success, but they were able through the years to improve their performances on and off the pitch. Under Saputo, Bologna were never relegated to the Italian second division but also never qualified for any European tournament, though that is about to change. However, it wasn't only the incredible work of Thiago Motta that made this possible. 

A lot of the success of this season has to do with a key figure inside the team, Giovanni Sartori, the head of football. Sartori, who previously worked at Chievo and most notably at Atalanta, signed with Bologna before the summer of 2022 with a clear target to improve the team and possibly repeat the success he had at Atalanta, where he brought the team to the European competitions multiple times. Thanks to his ability to find young talents around the world and also his way of dealing with players in the transfer business, he quickly improved the team, mixing some young talents with players with more experience. 

Appointing Motta was a smart decision, but not an easy one. Apart from the Mihajlovic situation, it's kind of usual in Italian soccer to appoint managers with more experience when things are not going well for a team. Before Bologna, Motta only coached the PSG academy, Genoa (where he was sacked after 10 games) and did well at Spezia, saving the team from relegation during the 2021-22 season. Despite the interests of many European clubs, like PSG for example, where Motta is deeply appreciated by president Nasser Al-Khelaifi himself, he decided to start a new adventure at Bologna. It's gone so well that there will be many suitors. Juventus, in particular, are looking for a new manager and saw in Thiago Motta the perfect profile to start a new cycle in case of a separation with the current manager Massimiliano Allegri. 

On the pitch, incredible development and performances have seen this team's expedited rise. In particular, Joshua Zirkzee, the star of the team, has built a reputation as a budding superstar. After a disappointing in his first Italian stint at Parma, the former Bayern Munich player decided to try again at Bologna, where he was signed in the summer of 2022 for €8 million from the German giants. After a good first season, the performances completely changed this campaign when Motta decided to give him a central role in the attack. So far, he scored already 11 goals in all competitions and has already attracted the interest of both Italian and European clubs. Apart from Zirkzee, Motta was able to obtain the best from players like Lewis Ferguson, fullback Stefan Posch and Italian national team winger Riccardo Orsolini, who scored 10 Serie A goals this season up to now. 

Despite what will happen between now and the end of the 2023-24 season, Bologna are now finally competing for something big and this is not a coincidence, but the reward of some difficult years of hard work. Even if the coach might leave, or some key players, Bologna fans know that now there is a place where dreams might become a reality thanks to a club and a team that want to keep working to make this season only the start of a new and successful cycle.