Luigi Del Neri this week signed a two-year deal to take over as head coach at Juventus, leaving a club that finished fourth and in the Champions League, for one that finished seventh and in the Europa League. The draw of the Old Lady lives on despite a horrific season.
By the time Ciro Ferrara was dismissed in January, after ten months in the job, Juve were already out of the Champions League, out of the Coppa Italia, and virtually out of the title race, floundering in sixth position. Alberto Zaccheroni replaced the former Italian defender but failed to resurrect a meaningful tilt at the top four. They went out of Europe altogether with defeat to English minnows and over-achievers Fulham, with talisman Fabio Cannavaro’s personal struggle against Bobby Zamora a snap-shot of the whole Juve 2009/2010 experience.
The announcement of Del Neri as head coach puts to end to months of speculation surrounding the post, and the candidate who will fill it. Rafael Benitez was widely expected to take the role, and suggestions even existed that the Liverpool coach and some of his staff had already began drawing up a transfer hit-list for the Turin giants. Other names such as Giovanni Trapattoni, Cesare Prandelli and Azzurri boss Marcello Lippi also filled the back pages of the newspapers, but it is Del Neri that was given the nod.
The man from Aquileia has a good recent track record as coach, though the top position with Juventus may be the crowning glory of a relatively successful career thus far. Prior to leading Sampdoria to the Champions League this season, he kept struggling Atalanta in Serie A on two occasions and was at the helm when Chievo entered the Italian top-flight for the first time. He has also had spells throughout the Italian league system before coaching Roma, Palermo and in Portugal with Porto. He was also named Migliore Allenatore (Coach of the Year) by the Associazione Italiana Calciatori in 2002 for his achievements at Chievo.
The 59-year-old admits that the challenge will be a great one, considering that the Bianconeri have a record of 27 scudetti, the highest in Italian football. However, having gone seven years without winning Italy’s top prize, with the pressure for the Turin club to recreate their prestigious history, and finally end the aftershocks of the Calciopoli scandal earthquake. Del Neri is happy to place pressure on his shoulders. In an interview with Tuttosport, he defiantly declared, “I will have to be demanding with the players, with the club and with myself. It’s always a club that makes a coach great, not the contrary” , before going on to explain how he wants to recreate a winning mentality amongst the players.
One expects a reaction next season from Juventus. A seventh-placed finish is simply not good enough for the most successful domestic club, and even a Coppa Italia or Europa League victory will do little to appease the Juve tifosi, nor will it be sufficient for Del Neri.