“Whatever happens now it will have been an excellent year,” Nicola Legrottaglie informed Tuttosport in late March. Oh how he must cringe when reflecting back on those earlier comments regarding Juve’s current campaign.
March 21 marked a glorious day in Juve’s push for their 28th Scudetto. With a spectacular five goal thriller which saw Juve score four in Roma’s backyard, the Bianconeri were on their way back to the golden paved path towards the helm of Serie A, on the heel of Inter and brimming with confidence. Unbeknownst to their supporters, that was to be their last moment of brilliance in this current season. Since then, something has happened that has gravely unhinged the team leading to a subsequent collapse in their battle for the Scudetto.
Juventus players gleefully departed for international duty soon after the thrashing of Roma with the intention of injecting some of their confidence into their respective national sides. Upon their return, their breakdown ensued. Juventus’ first match was at home to Chievo Verona with many having already predicted a favourable result. But a poor defensive line and a shaky Gianluigi Buffon saw Juve only manage an embarrassing draw and conceding what appeared to be an obscene amount of goals. A defensive slip up by the sleeping Olof Mellberg allowed Antonio Langella to snatch the ball and send it towards Sergio Pellissier to score a fantastic last gasp header and ensure a hat-trick was recorded against his name in the Stadio Olimpico. This game went on to be the first sign of the imminent fall of Juve.
The next week saw their first defeat since the last day of January away to a Gian Piero Gasperini coached Genoa. Controversy was the name of that game with a possible offside goal by Genoa and a debatable penalty awarded to Juve. Later, a Thiago Motta goal was allowed to stand regardless of the whistle that was heard a split second before and a red card for Mauro Camoranesi’s tackle. Onwards and downwards a week later, carrying the burden of bitterness, Juventus had a game at home to Inter in a match that could have proved vital in their bid for the coveted Scudetto. Once again, Juventus was forced to stand aside and watch a game controlled by the newly unstoppable Inter. Thankfully, due to a defensive hiccup, Inter conceded a last minute equaliser to restrain the wrath of the enraged Juve ultras.
However, it was the Coppa Italia semi-final game at home against Lazio that was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. The Old Lady’s dismal performance and desperate game led the fans to jeer their players off the pitch and insult their now worried Coach. In the following days, the fans demanded a response and called for the heads of all management, claiming that the new Juve board had turned their much-loved team into a provincial club.
With scores of irate fans and a backline that leaked goals quicker than a Serie C1 team, Juve found itself on the brink of a total meltdown – and one that was not restricted to the pitch. David Trezeguet, a loyal Juventino, is presently threatening to abandon the club should Ranieri continue to coach his team – something he didn’t consider at the height of the Calciopoli Scandal. After being substituted in the game against Chelsea in the second leg, it seems the Frenchman cannot forgive and forget. And now the Bianconeri may have to face a future without Camoranesi who is also reportedly pondering a move out of the Turin outfit due to tension in the dressing room and yet Ranieri’s position appears to be secure as Coach.
In their subsequent two fixtures, both against relegation battling sides, Juve went on to concede further goals, maintaining their path towards total destruction by only collecting one point from each match. One cannot help but feel lost for words when asked about Juve’s inexcusable form in the past five weeks. Has Coach Ranieri lost control of the dressing room? Have the fans destroyed the team’s morale beyond repair?
Most worryingly after Sunday’s game in which Juve conceded a stoppage-time goal at home, was Buffon’s reaction to his side’s performance against Lecce. The Bianconeri icon refused to spend the half-time break with his teammates in the locker room and was seen walking up and down near the pitch, a solitary figure muttering under his breath in visible rage. Without uttering a word, he left the stadium quickly after the match ended. Reports are now linking the irreplaceable Juve shot-stopper with a move to rivals Milan as he simply cannot remain with a club that he now deems to be a disgrace. This follows on from his recent comments in which he claimed that his allegiance to Juve would only be pledged once he sees how the impending transfer campaign will be conducted. Considering the recent Bianconeri breakdown and should the management not manage to bring in appropriate and necessary additions to the team, Buffon may leave to join a winning club, a term no longer used to describe the Juve of today.
There are certain elements and members within a team that are always considered replaceable and certain others that are highly irreplaceable. Should Ranieri resign or get sacked, there will be many hungering for a chance to take charge of the Bianconeri reigns with the objective of being the Coach who successfully navigated the team back to triumph. A few names have been thrown in the mix, with recent results all but guaranteeing the axe for the replaceable Tinkerman – namely Bari Coach and Juve legend Antonio Conte, Gian Piero Gasperini and Roma’s under fire Coach, Luciano Spalletti.
A poor month should never be enough of a reason to dismiss a Coach but should tales of dressing room rebellion prove true then the respect of the squad would take too long to earn back and thus dismissal may be the only option. If he does indeed depart then Conte appears to be the choice of the Bianconeri faithful. He has had an undeniably impeccable season with Bari, guiding them to the top and a return to the top flight for the next term. In addition to his proven success as a Coach, he knows the true value of the Bianconeri stripes. With his irrefutable coaching skills coupled with nostalgic memories of his time spent with the Old Lady, Conte should help to construct a winning side ready for the next season. However, as much as the fans are desperate for a new Coach to pin their hopes to, one cannot brush over the fact that Conte has no experience in coaching a Serie A side. Furthermore, Juve is not any Serie A side, but the most successful team in Italy in domestic competitions, followed by die-hard fans who will wield an immense amount of pressure to ensure results.
He may be able to construct a winning side, but should it falter, will Conte manage to sustain his authority or will he surrender to the jeers of his fans? Please note that this is a Tactician who will not only have to guide his team to another Scudetto but towards at least the final stages of the Champions League to earn the respect of the Juve ultras. Conte, with his inexperience and young age, may just not be the man for the job. Other alternatives, such as the great Gasperini of Genoa should be considered more seriously assuming that recent rumours of him joining Milan are false.
The man is one with unrivalled love for Juve and recently confessed that he would never say no to the Bianconeri. Growing up in Juve’s youth sector, Gasperini’s ties to the Old Lady date all the way back to when he was a nine-year-old player. Having failed to achieve noteworthy accomplishments as a member of the squad, he was loaned out to Reggiana and then subsequently sold to Palermo in Serie B. In 1994, Gasperini reunited with his old flame but this time as a Coach, finally leaving the Bianconeri in 2003 to gather much needed varied coaching experience. His heart belongs to Juve and his experience is now affirmed. He has done spectacular things with Genoa this last year, guiding them to fifth place and with a final season push, could even see them qualify for the Champions League.
But all of this does not matter and the next campaign should not even be given another thought. Juve find themselves in an unfathomable state of affairs and major repair works are essential to ensure they do not lose their third place spot in the current league. A message to the fans – please support your team. To Ranieri – please restore order and respect in the dressing room. To the Bianconeri symbols – please be patient and lend a hand. And finally to the management – produce results or leave.
Jose Castillo’s late stoppage equaliser was like a dagger in the heart of many Juventus fans as yet again the Bianconeri could only manage to muster another draw to add to the seemingly endless string of winless performances. This article was written as an appeal aimed at Juve’s management and the Juventus heir John Elkann to highlight the team’s demise in hopes of finding a way to turn this situation around and restore dignity to this demoralised Old Lady.