Watching the likes of Gigi Buffon issue an apology to fans after he and his teammates threw themselves wholeheartedly on the pitch against Lazio last Wednesday was hard to endure. What is even more disconcerting is watching the so called Bianconeri fans jeer their players off the pitch hurling insults at the squad, management and Coach. Some have even threatened to turn their back on the Old Lady holding banners at the club’s training ground to affirm that they had no more time to waste.
Shame on them. Supporting a team is like entering a marriage – you promise to have and to hold from this day forward, for better and for worse. Turning your back on a team at a time when they are clearly suffering does not make you a fan but a rather disloyal glory hunter who is only ever there during trophy-winning times. It is one thing to be angry and to rant and rave in hopes of willing your team to find their path, but it is quite another to decide this team is no longer worth your while and resign yourself to booing the players off the pitch. Ironic how Fabio Cannavaro is unwanted by the fans for being a traitor.
The Old Lady has found herself in terrible form of late, with recent defeats and endless draws meaning she now finds herself in third place behind both Milan outfits. The Coppa Italia was the Bianconeri’s last chance at silverware this season, but having suffered another defeat last Wednesday at home to Lazio, Juve have crashed out and are forced to end another season, empty handed. This is not quite something their fans are used to and it is understandable that recent performances would provoke anger. To make matters worse, the Old Lady was humiliated on Sunday when she was only able to muster up a draw against rock bottom Reggina.
Despite the embarrassments, Juve has come out in full force and admitted that they are suffering. They have accepted all the insults aimed at them by the fans who came to watch them play and they are trying to find a way of overcoming their recent collapse in form. By admitting current woes, Juve has taken their first step in solving this crisis.
As to be expected, Coach Claudio Ranieri has been handed most of the blame for the team’s demise in recent weeks. Many fans feel that he does not have the necessary winning mentality to push this team forward to win titles. One cannot help but wonder if these fans are missing the giant elephant in the room. How can any Coach win the Champions League and Serie A with a team that only holds a handful of talented individuals? Barring the Bianconeri icons, the rest of the team should not be gifted a chance to play for the Old Lady. Juve were likely to struggle against Reggina with a back line consisting of Cristian Molinaro, (the boy should consider alternate sports) the inexperienced Lorenzo Ariaudo and Olof Mellberg who admittedly had some promising moments on Sunday.
Now as for the fans – one can sympathise with most of them. Some ultras issued a statement to the Bianconeri management after Juve stumbled out of the Coppa Italia to express their frustration with current results. They noted the terrible transfer campaigns that Juve have undertaken and have demanded that management restores the prestige attached to their beloved club. Rightly so – the management has not done itself any favours. Nevertheless, Juve’s inability to attract foreign talents is understandable. The fans must appreciate that this Juventus no longer has the pulling power to attract major stars. However, this does not mean that they should make do with lesser players. Unless their future targets are worthy of the Bianconeri shirt then they should be left alone and only be topics of interest for smaller sides.
Regardless of this, Juve has never been a club that was interested in purchasing illustrious stars. The Old Lady has always been a team that builds – a team that has cultivated players to propel them into the limelight – Zinedine Zidane, Alessandro Del Piero, and now, Sebastian Giovinco to name a few. They have wonderful youth prospects who with a little nurturing will feature in the Juventus of tomorrow. Central midfielder Claudio Marchisio and winger Paolo De Ceglie are Juve’s future and they will be more important than any import because they realise the value of earning their stripes.
The Old Lady is well aware that there is no easy route to success and that victory can only be achieved through hard work. You cannot build a Juve worthy of their celebrated history in two years. Whilst this writer is not one to agree with most of Ranieri’s speeches, one must agree with the five year plan he has in place. This is a man famed for his ability to construct a winning team – you only need to look at the Chelsea that Jose Mourinho took over as a testament to his capabilities. This project will and should take a number of years to guarantee the results that the fans are so desperate for and ensure longevity. This is in stark comparison to their rivals Inter, who prefer splashing the cash to achieve quick results.
And what have Inter achieved with the millions they have spent? Roberto Mancini worked hard on his Inter project, bringing in key players to bolster the team and creating a family with a winning mentality. So when President Massimo Moratti ditched Mancini in favour of Jose Mourinho with hopes of winning the Champions League, most of Italy was outraged. Inter had finally begun to lay the foundations of a stable team that could overtake Europe and once again, Moratti wanted to win…now. So, with more purchases and an acclaimed Coach, has Inter won the Champions League? No, and this writer predicts they won’t for a few more years.
Management must do damage control and with new banners erected and directed at the Agnelli family pleading for change, panic may persuade the board to dismiss Ranieri. That would be their biggest mistake and further evidence of their ineptitude. No-one cares for Jean-Claude Blanc, Alessio Secco or President Giovanni Cobolli Gigli so if they were to go, Juve will cope and maybe their absence will even inspire a positive change. But losing a Coach who has managed to take this team to the top three with a less than average selection of players would be a grave mistake.
Whilst the Tinkerman has not convinced many of his abilities to lead the Serie A giants (or dwarfs in the current climate), he simply cannot guide the team back to winning ways if he is constantly wondering whether he needs to find alternate employment. The most infuriating aspect of Ranieri’s personality is the amount of time he spends thinking. The more he is given to think about, the less likely he is able to produce results. Furthermore, he really does seem to be trying everything he can to pull Juve out of their funk. He rallied his troops, changed tactics and rotated his squad against Lazio in the Coppa Italia semi-final. He embraced David Trezeguet and showed faith in Sebastian Giovinco. He introduced fresh blood after half-time and was still denied a win as it appeared the players’ psychological wounds were too deep to cope with. They desperately need stability.
Right now, the team needs to regroup and calm down. Listening to endless Juve-bashing and rumours of Ranieri’s impending dismissal will only serve to harm the Old Lady’s current fragile state. Jose Mourinho was right when he blasted Serie A for the immense, and rather unrealistic, pressure Coaches are placed under in Italy. Arsene Wenger has been at the helm of Arsenal since 1996. He did not and will not win every campaign and yet the fans are loyal and his job is secure. The Bianconeri need their fans and they need support. Regardless of the inefficiencies of current management, the board needs to stay on for the moment for the sake of their players and their stability. Should they do badly in the upcoming transfer campaign, then get rid of them. But for now, true fans will stand together with their team to motivate them, applaud and encourage them.
Rallying around the squad to deter the opposition and raise the confidence of their players is essential. Jeering has never accomplished anything and an antic that belongs to lesser teams – anyone remember Inter and Ricardo Quaresma? Encouragement has proved decisive and Bologna should be used as an example. Listening to the pleas of their Coach, the Bologna fans inspired their team against Genoa on Sunday and recorded an impressive win. One should never underestimate the power of the 12th man.