Juventus Coach Ciro Ferrara’s turbulent reign came to an abrupt end this afternoon, with the Old Lady’s management finally wielding the axe after another competitive defeat, this time to Inter, which saw them tumble out of the Coppa Italia at the Quarter-Final stage yesterday evening.
The beleaguered Tactician was a dead man walking after last weekend’s excruciating injury-time loss at home to Roma, and while many across the peninsula pleaded with him to do the right thing for the club he loves by resigning, he stayed to oversee yet another defeat which in turn meant the Bianconeri failed to meet another one of their objectives. The Bianconeri management – Roberto Bettega in particular – had been actively looking for a replacement, and hoped that either Russian national Coach Guus Hiddink or current Liverpool Coach Rafael Benitez would free themselves to take over from Ferrara immediately. With neither available to assume control at this point in time, it was decided that the ex-Udinese and Milan Coach Alberto Zaccheroni be handed a four-month contract to steer them to a top-four finish in Serie A and salvage a season which started with such promise. The Emiliano-Romagna native will take over coaching duties from this afternoon in preparation for the Old Lady’s clash with Lazio on Sunday evening.
Ferrara left Juve with a record of 15 wins, 5 draws and 11 losses – not the greatest of achievements given the squad at his disposal, despite the injuries suffered throughout his reign. While it was all too easy to blame the Juve management who purchased the players for Ferrara to work with, the real problem lay with the affable Neapolitan’s ability to manage a club side – let alone a great one – and his inability to manage high-profile signings…and friends. His work in the Azzurri set-up under current national Coach Marcello Lippi, coupled with his stint as Coach of Juve’s Primavera side gave him a sound understanding of the basic principles of modern-day coaching and with his apprenticeship served, he took on the mantle of salvaging the Bianconeri’s faltering bid of capturing one of the automatic Champions League berths. This he duly did, with two vital wins to guarantee a reasonably successful end to a hard-fought campaign for the Old Lady, which also added credence to his claims of becoming the next permanent Coach of the club he served with such distinction as a player. His subsequent instalment as permanent Coach in the summer heralded a fresh, vibrant Juve – a world away from the predictable and quite baffling approach of previous incumbent Claudio Ranieri – with many hailing the club legend as Italy’s answer to Barcelona’s Josep Guardiola.
Warning signs were already beginning to appear at the start of the summer with Azzurri Coach Marcello Lippi pulling the strings, which in turn influenced Ferrara’s way of thinking. Italy Captain Fabio Cannavaro was brought in against the wishes of the Juve tifosi, with fellow Nazionale Fabio Grosso drafted in to replace the hapless Cristian Molinaro. While it was accepted that they would bring some much-needed experience to protect Gianluigi Buffon in goal after Juve’s shambolic defending last season, many thought the real reason for the duo’s return was to give them enough games in the run-up to the defence of the World Cup. But Ferrara denied doing his mentor a favour, insisting they would be the perfect acquisitions to shore up the defence in his side’s pursuit of silverware. Meanwhile, in other areas of the pitch, more players were brought in to add some much-needed quality. Brazilian playmaker Diego was the first to arrive to add the creativity that the Juve Coach wanted in his new formation, with fellow Seleçao member Felipe Melo following close behind. Perhaps his inability to convince the Juve hierarchy that the purchase of Udinese’s Gaetano D’Agostino instead of the former Viola midfielder proved to be the catalyst of his downfall, as it showed that whatever the Coach wanted, the management would do otherwise.
The 2009/10 campaign started off with a bang. After back-to-back wins against both the Roman teams – in their own respective back yards – and sparkling performances to boot, many experts proclaimed the Bianconeri to be the team to halt Inter’s domestic dominance. Cannavaro was starting to win back the fans he alienated with some great performances, Felipe Melo was keeping things tight in midfield, and Diego was in sublime form. Added to the mix were the inspired form of Vincenzo Iaquinta, Mauro Camoranesi and Martin Caceres and the ‘new Tardelli’ Claudio Marchisio, and everything just clicked into place. But then Diego picked up an injury and everything started to unravel.
With the in-form Brazilian now out for a while, who would take on the mantle of creator-in-chief? Starlet Sebastian Giovinco reluctantly stepped forward. Playing for a Coach who believed he wasn’t the equal of the ex-Werder Bremen playmaker, the young maestro failed to deliver during the Brazilian’s absence, thus highlighting cracks in the Bianconeri camp, and Ferrara’s style of management. His unswerving faith in his favoured starting XI somehow dented the confidence and alienated other members in his squad, highlighted by his relationship with Alessandro Del Piero which was becoming increasingly fractious to the point where the club captain probably thought he was playing under Fabio Capello again.
When things went well, they went very well, but when certain elements were taken out of the equation, the Juve Tactition was left exposed as not actually having a ‘Plan B’. His inability to stick to a preferred formation not only baffled his players, but it allowed them to play in a confused manner, not actually knowing what their roles were. It even came to a point where opinions via the media influenced Ferrara’s decision-making (including the outburst by Melo where he criticised the Coach for playing him out of position), which is never a good sign for any Coach.
With his side incapable of keeping a clean sheet it was suggested in various journals that he should adopt a more pragmatic 4-2-3-1 formation to get the required results and restore some much-needed confidence in the process. Neither worked, as his instructions in training at Vinovo and during matches only heightened the players’ confusion and frustrations. More worryingly, a trend soon emerged as the Bianconeri either constantly failed to hold onto a lead, or ran out of steam in an attempt to salvage a result. Occasional wins would paper over the cracks, but more defeats followed. A much-needed win over Inter helped to restore confidence as they went into their ‘winner-takes-all’ Champions League clash at home to Bayern Munich which ended by being unceremoniously dumped out of the competition, courtesy of a shambolic 4-0 reverse – their worst home defeat since 1962 – and a result which sent shockwaves around Europe. His inability to recognise when certain players were out of their depth or out of form, allied to his lack of tactical knowledge and motivational skills, contributed to a sharp decline in form, and it was a surprise his side were still in the top four in Serie A even by mid-January – until recently.
Having failed to deliver on any of their three primary objectives, and with the very real prospect of finishing outside the four Champions League places, the Juve management had a very important decision to make. Would they bring in an interim Coach to steady the ship and guide them safely to next year’s Champions League and pocket the both the Europa League and Coppa Italia along the way before making way, or do they plan for the rest of this season and beyond by bringing in one of their targets now and purchase the players he asks for while the January transfer window was still open? While it was reported that Bettega favoured the ex-Italy Under-21 Coach Claudio Gentile, Juve President Blanc and patron John Elkann both wanted Zaccheroni, and it was the latter who finally won the day. Zaccheroni will look to add a fresh impetus and attitude to the Old Lady’s season, and end it on a high before leaving it in the hands of Benitez – many people’s favourite to become the next permanent Coach.
However, the Old Lady are at a major crossroads. In Zaccheroni, the current management have now hired their fourth manager in as many years, and this period of turbulence echoes the late 80’s after the departure of legendary Coach Giovanni Trapattoni. Back then, Juventus were still regarded as one of the truly great clubs in world football, but now, they are classed as just another European club embroiled in turmoil year after year. They are a club which has always had a winning mentality in its DNA and was driven by individuals with both hearts and minds in tandem – by people who really knew the game. Unfortunately, the Bianconeri is now mired in mediocrity which has enveloped the club from top to bottom, and while this great club has all the ingredients in place to be amongst the best in Europe again, they need to be as ruthless as they once were. To go forward, they will need to look back for inspiration, and only then will they find the direction they need.