Having ventured into Week 28 under a cloud of disappointment and negativity following the midweek Champions League humbling at the hands of the English Premiership, there was a depression lingering around Calcio akin to that of Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Triad (negative feelings of the self, of the world, and of the future). Fortunately, young Sebastian Giovinco turned in a performance to lift Italian football out of that cycle.
Taking the place of the injured Pavel Nedvěd, the youngster played on the left hand side in Juventus’ 4-1 victory over Bologna. Far from being restricted to that role, he was also given license to roam inside and cause havoc in the centre. What resulted was a marvelous solo display from a player who, along with Mario Balotelli, could potentially be one of the most talented to emerge from the Peninsula in a long time. His creativity, awareness and ability to run at and commit defenders ensured the Rossoblu back-line did not rest until he was substituted towards the end of the match. He rightly received a standing ovation for his efforts from the home fans, who have not witnessed an attacking display like that from any of their players at all this season. A basic ingredient that ‘Atomic Ant’ added to the Bianconeri mix was pace. Having changed their attacking strategy against Chelsea on Tuesday night with his appearance from the bench, he did exactly the same on Saturday from the start simply through his willingness to accelerate with the ball. His passing did at times leave something to be desired, at times gifting possession back to the opposition with a sloppy pass, but that will improve with regular playing time.
This does, rather nicely, highlight the issue of the lack of games this young talent has been given this year. In short, he has not been given enough. The Turin native is 22-years-old, the right age to be playing regular football, so that cannot be used as an excuse. He clearly has the talent, but he does not appear to have the trust and faith of his Coach. His appearances have been hit-and-miss, every sublime 30 minute cameo has been followed up by one lacking in effective play and full of disinterest. Yet how is he meant to develop a consistency of performance when he is not given minutes on the pitch? It is not as if the pressure of “leading” the team would be placed on his shoulders, chances are he would be playing in the same line-up as either Nedvěd or Alessandro Del Piero, who would shoulder this burden for him.
Further transfer talk this week of Antonio Cassano and David Silva arriving as the departing Czech’s replacement will hardly give the player the impression that the management believe he has what it takes to step into his shoes. Coach Claudio Ranieri has stated before that he sees Giovinco as the heir to il Pinturicchio, as opposed to the No.11, but whether a player who could easily have been in the Italy squad by now had he been given regular action will be willing to hang around until he retires remains to be seen. Unless the situation improves, or he receives some sort of encouragement as to his future, it would be no surprise to see him consider his career once the season is over.
Then again, he could always hope for a change in Coach, but the chances of the Juventus hierarchy considering this are incredibly slim. In saying that, Napoli President Aurelio De Laurentis and his Lecce counterpart Giovanni Semeraro had no second thoughts in dismissing their respective Tacticians, Edy Reja and Mario Beretta, last week as both clubs continued their poor run of form. Any hope that their replacements, former Italy Boss Roberto Donadoni and Gigi De Canio, would kick-start a revival was quickly dispelled this week with both teams suffering disappointing results.
I criticised Lecce last week for their quite unbelievable lack of adventure in what was a key clash against Reggina. This week however, the Salentini looked like a side who understand the position they are in and played with urgency and above all, adventure. Unfortunately, in the Renzo Barbera, they chose the wrong place to display this and were thrashed 5-2 by Palermo. As crushing as that score line is, it is important that De Canio ensures lessons are learnt, taken forward and applied to the remaining 10 games of the season. In particular, playing this sort of football at the Via del Mare and repeating their 14 shots on goal (which incidentally was two more than their Sicilian opponents managed) in the five home games left on their fixture list will garner more than the one solitary point they picked up in front of their fans last time out.
Roberto Donadoni’s return to management with Napoli failed to inspire victory, as they drew 1-1 with Reggina. That takes their winless streak to 10 games now, while for Reggina it was their 7th draw in eight games. The general consensus of Donadoni’s time in charge of the Azzurri was that he failed to deliver with what was a reasonably talented squad at his disposal. Dire performances and bizarre selections and for his final squad at last year’s European Championships ultimately led to Italy’s demise, and his eventual sacking by the FIGC. Despite his reputation being somewhat tainted and boasting only a modest record at club level management, he was still linked with various jobs whenever a Coach’s position was under threat, including the Milan, Chelsea and West Ham hot seats. It is then surprising that a club of Napoli’s stature chose to hire a man whose only achievement to date is leading Livorno to 9th place in 2005/06.
The former Milan winger has a tough task to lead the club back into Europe this season, especially with the current form of the team. Realistically, his thoughts will be directed towards future campaigns, using what remains of the current Serie A season to formulate strategies to ensure demands for success are met. One problem that must be solved is the form away from home, which has been utterly dismal for two seasons now. Last year, they achieved three victories on the road, with 12 losses. The story is similar this time around, with only two wins from 14 away games so far. It is increasingly difficult to pinpoint the reasons behind this struggle outside of the San Paolo. In 2007/08 a porous defence was the clear culprit, 37 goals conceded away from home was the worst in the league that year. This campaign seems to be the opposite – the 19 goals conceded is roughly that of those teams around the top spots in the table, yet only 11 scored places them with the relegation strugglers.
Ball possession does not seem to be an issue, they had 68% of it at Stadio Granillo on Sunday, yet failed to convert that into goal-scoring opportunities with the underworked Christian Puggioni in the Reggina goal only having to save three shots. Whether Donadoni is the Coach to change this is debatable, his 4-3-3 system that has lingered around the national team since his departure was wonderfully negative, yet incredibly ineffective going forward, exactly what the Partenopei do not need at this moment. What may be of use is the direct style that accompanied that method of play, as it could well suit a team who appear to be unsure of what to do with the football when they are in control of it. With both club and Coach looking to propel themselves into the upper echelons of Calcio, this could prove to be a successful partnership.