Second place was achieved at last by a scramble. Mission accomplished and the direct Champions League qualification is Juve’s. This article will delve deep into the major issues surrounding the Bianconeri’s rather disappointing season as once again they end a campaign without any silverware.
The Old Lady started the season on a positive note, picking up seven points from three games. It was not to last as she suffered a slump in the next four games, drawing twice and then losing the next two. However, it was the Turin Derby that saved la Vecchia Signora from her woes and returned her to good form. The one-nil win against Torino hugely boosted morale and the players fought their way to secure nine wins out of the next 10, faltering only against league leaders, Inter. The defeat to Inter, in the midst of their winning streak did not hinder Juve and they continued to collect full points. The start of the year was not too kind to the Bianconeri as they dropped 10 points by drawing twice and losing twice allowing Inter to get ahead. Juve overturned their luck by winning five back-to-back games thereafter until the end of season collapse that saw Claudio Ranieri get axed and Ciro Ferrara named as replacement Coach.
What any Italian in the world will know, or in fact, any football fan can deduce from this campaign or even the one before, is Juve’s management is abysmal. Sadly, without real experience sitting behind those desks at headquarters, Juve will continue to plummet. Yes, they did finish the season in second and kind-hearted souls may even congratulate the big bosses for reaching their objective of improving on their third-placed spot last season but what have they risked to get there? Of course we cannot discuss the team’s failures without mentioning Ranieri. The man went against Juve’s philosophy and simply did not possess the winning mentality that the team is famed for. He clearly illustrates his acceptance with mediocrity as demonstrated by his infuriating comments after poor performances. When asked to comment on the draw against Bate Borisov (yes you are reading correctly, Bate) in the Champions League, he replied by saying: “We knew that we were playing against a strong opponent,” frustrating is it not? He was pleased that the mighty Juve earned a draw against who was it again? Since when was a draw, such as this, acceptable for Italy’s most successful team domestically? Furthermore, if he was genuinely happy that his men managed to fight back to earn the aforementioned draw, surely he should have cracked the whip to explain why they should not have found themselves in that position in the first place. This was one of the many problems with the Tinkerman, he congratulated himself for fighting through a glitch and yet never took the time to investigate the reasons behind the errors in hopes of avoiding it next time.
His dreadful tactics remain to be Ranieri’s biggest difficulty and was the area in which he proved top level football is beyond him. Who could forget the game against Milan only a few weeks ago when the Tinkerman played for a draw and refused to boost the front line with an additional man considering Milan were a man down? Ciro Ferrara, a man who never coached a team before, changed his tactics superbly against Lazio early in the second half on Sunday. He reinforced the attacking line by swapping Cristiano Zanetti for Amauri to add even more pressure to the Biancocelesti’s defence and allowed Juve to pour forward in search of further goals. Unlike Ciro, substitutions had also long been a point of contention for Ranieri – he just did not use them all. He regularly substituted players far too late into the game, leaving fresh blood with only minutes to make the required impact and usually he would only make just the two substitutions. His tinkering always meant that Juve were left chasing the game with very little time to make up for concessions. Lest we forget his horrendous decision in leaving Alessandro Del Piero, Pavel Nedved and Mauro Camoranesi on the bench in the second leg of the Coppa Italia semi-final, their last chance at some silverware? Most fervent supporters will always support any decision to include Sebastian Giovinco in the starting line-up but why leave out the club icons?
This brings us nicely to the next point. This boring complaint has been made over and over again regarding the benching of the Atomic Ant and yes, the universal conclusion is that it is a crime to leave this starlet on the bench. Ranieri attempted to justify Giovinco’s exclusion by implying that the player did not fit into the Tinkerman’s favoured formation. Surely a great Coach attempts to field a formation that would suit the skills of the squad and not leave out major talent because they do not fit into his plan. Change the plan! Fabio Capello celebrated the fact that he found a way of playing both Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in the English team and it is this very fact that makes Capello great and Ranieri average. One cannot help but wonder whether Kaka would have found himself benched had he been a Juve player.
He was not the worst Juventus Coach and many were sad to see Ranieri go, mainly because it was rather humiliating to be sacked by a team that is renowned for infrequent dismissals. Nonetheless, we must give credit when credit is due and the Tinkerman did at times make good choices and coped well with the pressure that came with coaching a grand team and reached a respectable third place in the first Serie A season post-Calciopoli. He also did well in the Champions League and was unlucky to lose against a revitalised Chelsea. Juve were arguably the only Italian team that deserved a place in the last eight. Those who believed in him defended his case by highlighting the rather ridiculous amount of injuries the Bianconeri players sustained this year. Almost every week there was news of another wounded player leaving Ranieri in a worrying position with regards to his squad choices. In addition to this, the players, injured or not, were simply not good enough to deserve a place in the Juve squad. Management loved to reiterate time and time again that the team is a long-term project and that it will take time to return to Scudetto-clinching days. For the sake of playing devil’s advocate, surely the squad was not any worse that Fiorentina’s or Genoa’s who found themselves very close to overtaking Juve’s position in the league. Moreover, the squad was most definitely not poor enough to merit draws against relegation battling teams.
Regardless of all this, Ranieri was dismissed and management frivolously put Juventus’ reputation on the line when they decided to sack Ranieri 180 minutes before the end of the disappointing season. Where was this hunger for results earlier in the season? Ranieri should have either been let go many moons ago or kept on for the sake of preserving the Juve image. Most would vote for the former. Although the decision has brought the required results, many now see Juventus as a crumbling team living in fear of never going back to superior heights.
You cannot sum up Juve’s season without mentioning the fans and more importantly, the ultras. Despite their abject disapproval of both Ranieri and management, the fans demonstrated just why they can be the best when needs be. Pavel Nedved retired on Sunday and played his last game for the Bianconeri against Lazio in a match that saw Lazio defeated by two Juve goals. The fans cheered in unison as they waved goodbye to their Czech hero who gave their team so many glorious memories. The players honoured the icon by presenting him with a framed shirt signed by all the Juve players and they all ran on to the pitch at the end of the game, happily wearing identical shirts that bore the No 11 and Nedved’s name. Milan fans take note – this is how to send off a true legend.
The Juve ultras, otherwise known as Drughi, have had a tough time this campaign as they saw their team being turned into a ‘provincial club.’ Perhaps at times, their angry outbursts were fully justified but there are many negative setbacks to having such an intensely devoted team as clearly illustrated by their ignorant chanting towards Mario Balotelli. Drughi deny that the insults aimed at the Italian player were racist, explaining that it was his antics on the pitch that warranted the jeers and not the colour of his skin. Most footballing figureheads agreed that the fans were merely ignorant and not intending to be racist. Believe what you will but it is these types of devoted and abusive fans who ultimately prompt a collapse in form or drive away much needed publicity and attention. In last week’s Milan Club Focus piece, a reader, so appalled by the behaviour of the San Siro’s Curva Sud, commented that he was going to begin supporting Inter instead. This is the price teams have to pay for having ultras support their team and it is this type of hooliganism that is aiding in the demise of Serie A in Europe. Incidentally, President Giovanni Cobolli Gigli publicly condemned the act of the ultras and then appealed the punishment that forced Juve to play behind closed doors. Anyone still not convinced of their ineptitude?
Despite their somewhat ignorant behaviour, the fans have protested no end this campaign regarding current management and these complaints were deserved. Management’s incompetence was further highlighted when Del Piero seemed to have been frozen out as reported by the Turin based newspaper, Tuttosport. Del Piero, when fit, was simply outstanding for Juve this season. He singlehandedly thrashed Real Madrid and moved Juventus towards the latter stages of the Cup. Therefore the fans were rightfully incensed as it appeared that Juve’s management weas unwilling to extend the legend’s contract beyond the end of next year. The player kept a dignified silence and although it may be time for the captain to step down and offer his place to a fresh face like Diego, icons such as Del Piero should really never be made to feel unwelcome and management should be grateful to him till their dying day for all he has done for the team.
Then there is the curious case of Pavel Nedved, did he leave or was he pushed? According to his agent, Mino Raiola, Nedved only waved goodbye to the Old Lady and not to football. In fact, the player may consider a move to Lazio and the agent implied that Juve could have done more to keep him. Their supposed offer was not enough and so the Czech was forced to depart. If this is found to be true then management will have a lot of explaining to do.
Perhaps Juventus’ biggest problem in the last two years – other than the horrendous management – is their defence line. The team that has long been known to defend viciously and attack mercilessly is no longer present. Looking at pre-Calciopoli, when Luciano Moggi ruled the world and Juventus was the powerhouse of Italy, the men in black and white only conceded 24 goals in the 2005/06 campaign, the year they won the Scudetto that was later stripped. However, the present tells a different story as this season Juve’s defence line leaked 37 goals. To some, this difference is huge and to others, the rise is not that steep considering the side’s poor form (and the subsequent doubt over all Juve’s results in the 2004/05 and 2005/06 campaigns post-Calciopoli making comparisons…incredulous). To those who think the latter, some may be inclined to agree with you if the attack had suddenly begun to score double the amount of goals but this was not the case in the last two seasons. The forward line has remained much the same, still strong and still vicious with 69 goals scored this season, almost as much as the number scored in the 2005/06 campaign. But these statistics scream for a major overhaul to be made to the back line, the line that defines the very art of Italian football.
Instead of spending millions on purchasing Amauri, who may have been worth it, the funds would have been better spent on purchasing quality defenders. Let’s face it, Jonathan Zebina is lazy, Paolo De Ceglie may be a rising starlet but is seriously lacking in experience and we shan’t discuss Cristian Molinaro or Olof Mellberg as we simply cannot justify spending time discussing second-rate defenders. Juve fans cannot believe that the team that, once upon a time, boasted a defence made up of a young Fabio Cannavaro, Lilian Thuram and Gianluca Zambrotta, has been replaced by the reserve team whilst funds were still being poured into the forward line that already housed top names. Yet here we stand, with more rumours linking the Bianconeri with Antonio Cassano, Fabio Quagliarella (now with Napoli) and countless other strikers and yet no concrete moves have been made to bolster the weak back-line. What the management simply do not understand – much like Massimo Moratti – is that buying big-named stars who can score goals is not enough and not the most important factor. It is more than evident that every team requires a good goal-scorer or two but the back is what differentiates the good from the great and the runner-up from the winner.
It has not been a typical campaign for the Old Lady but then again this isn’t a typical Juventus team. Next week’s Club Focus will delve deep into the issues that need to be tackled prior to the start of the next campaign in hopes of seeing a Juve revival.