Archive for the ‘Juventus’ Category

w640xh480_470763219

Paul Pogba is destined to be a superstar. At the tender age of 20, the French international (which is an incredible accomplsihment in its own right) is already a vital piece of a Juventus side that is well on its way to a third consecutive Serie A title.

Manager Antonio Conte knows it - Pogba has started 22 of the club’s 26 Serie A games so far this season.

President Andrea Agnelli knows it – he continues to work on extending the youngster’s contract, telling reportersduring a recent UNESCO event that he has absolutely no desire to see the midfielder wearing another kit.

Unfortunately for both men, the rest of the world knows it, too.

Read the rest of this entry »

Juventus' Vidal heads to score against FC Copenhagen's goalkeeper Johan Wiland during their Champions League soccer match at Juventus stadium in Turin

Through two Scudetto-winning seasons, it was said to be Juventus’s only flaw. For all the evident quality in Antonio Conte’s team, the Bianconeri still lacked a certain something up front – a truly great centre-forward who could unpick a defence on his own.

The club’s general manager, Beppe Marotta, had recognised this need, but did himself no favours by throwing out the phrase “top player” to describe the striker that he sought. The longer he failed to deliver such a talent, the louder the complaints from the club’s supporters became. There was much derision in August 2012 when the club, having failed to land a more exciting name, bought back Sebastian Giovinco from his co-ownership at Parma instead.

Everything changed this summer, with the arrival of Carlos Tevez. The player might have earned himself a reputation as a ne’er-do-well during his time at Manchester City, but not even his most strident critics could question the player’s talent. He had scored 58 goals in 107 Premier League games for City and provided a good many assists, too.

Better yet, Juventus got him on the cheap – paying just €9m up front, plus potential bonuses that have variously been quoted at somewhere between €3m-6m. By also capturing Fernando Llorente on a free transfer, Marotta had managed to completely transform Juve’s attack for less money than he paid for 50% of Giovinco’s rights a year earlier.

Nevertheless, some still asked why he had not gone further. Marotta’s transfer budget had been set at approximately €30m by the club’s board in June. Why not go after a younger player than Tevez – one who could lead the line for years to come? Many fans had been hoping that the club would pursue Gonzalo Higuaín, who instead wound up signing for their title rivals Napoli.

But Conte had never been that keen on the Real Madrid player, believing him to be a little too one-dimensional. He was more enthusiastic about Stevan Jovetic, whose ability to play out wide would have allowed Juventus the option of switching into a 4-3-3 formation, but Fiorentina had no intention of selling the player to such bitter rivals.

Juventus could not really have afforded him in any case. Manchester City would eventually pay €26m for Jovetic, with potential bonuses to follow, more than Marotta had left over after the Tevez deal. In truth, Juve already had another €13m committed to resolving co-ownership deals for Kwadwo Asamoah and Federico Peluso. The team also wanted to improve its cover at centre-back, and would need another lump sum to procure Angelo Ogbonna from Torino.

Instead of making any more immediate additions up front, then, Marotta set his sights on the long-term. Together with Juventus’s sporting director, Fabio Paratici, he began to orchestrate a series of transfers designed to get the next ‘top player’ on his club’s books – without even knowing for certain who that person was just yet.

The process had begun a year earlier, when Juventus bought a 50% share in the 20-year-old Atalanta striker Manolo Gabbiadini. Together with Ciro Immobile, whose rights they already co-owned with Genoa, that gave the Bianconeri an investment in two of the most promising young forwards on the peninsula. Gabbiadini had scored 10 goals in 15 appearances for Italy’s Under-21s; Immobile, at that time still just breaking through into the same national team, had set a new record at Italy’s Viareggio youth tournament two years earlier by finding the net 10 times in seven games.

But football’s history is littered with stories of players who excelled in the academy before failing to replicate such success at the senior level. To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, there’s genius everywhere, but until they turn in 15 goals in a top-flight season, it’s like popcorn in the pan. Some pop, some don’t.

For that reason, Marotta was eager to continue spreading his bets. And so, this July, he acquired Simone Zaza from Sampdoria for €3.5m, taking advantage of the fact that the player only had one year left on his contract to land him on the cheap. The 22-year-old had been Serie B’s top scorer last season, finding the net 18 times in 35 games while on loan at Ascoli.

Zaza was still too raw to get a game for Juve, but that was never on Marotta’s short-term agenda. Instead he wanted to use the player as leverage to help him acquire a fourth young striker: Domenico Berardi. The 19-year-old had scored 11 goals for Sassuolo the previous season as they earned promotion to Serie A for the first time in club history.

First Juventus sold Zaza on co-ownership to Sassuolo for €2.5m, making back more than half of what they had paid to buy the player outright, but more importantly establishing a good relationship with the Neroverdi, who had desperately needed another forward. Marotta was then able to persuade them to swap 50% Berardi’s rights for an equivalent share in the Juventus midfielder Luca Marrone. Both would play for Sassuolo this season, along with Zaza.

Nor did the trading end there. In the same transfer window, Juventus acquired the remaining 50% share in Immobile from Genoa, and then gave it to Torino as part of their deal to sign Ogbonna. Similarly, they bought out Atalanta’s half of Gabbiadini before selling it to Sampdoria, a move which helped grease the wheels of their deal to sign Zaza in the first place.

It was enough to make even the most seasoned observer’s head spin. Marotta had exploited the benefits of Italy’s co-ownership mechanism to its fullest. Gazzetta dello Sport’s Carlo Laudisa described Juve’s transfer campaign as being, “as complicated as it was long-sighted”.

The champions had walked away from the summer transfer window holding a share of four of the most promising young strikers in Italy. Each of Berardi, Zaza, Immobile and Gabbiadini would now get regular first-team football with a top-flight side, and Juventus could sit back and wait to see which of them would emerge.

So far, Berardi has been the most eye-catching, finding the net seven times in just 10 Serie A appearances for Sassuolo. His goals make up more than 40% of Sassuolo’s entire scoring output this season. Although four of those goals have come from penalties, it is also true that he earned three of them himself.

But the others are not doing too shabbily, either. Immobile has five goals for Torino, and Zaza has the same number for Sassuolo. Gabbiadini only has three for Sampdoria, but that is in part reflective of the club’s all-round struggles so far this season. Just like Immobile and Zaza, he is the second-highest scorer on his team.

Each player, furthermore, brings something slightly different to the table. Berardi has often played out wide in his brief career to date and could be deployed on either side of a front three; Gabbiadini is a tall and powerful player who knows how to hold the ball up; Immobile is a fine dribbler who can shoot with both feet; Zaza is an instinctive poacher with a knack for showing up in the right places at the right time.

Will all of them go on to great and illustrious careers? Almost certainly not. But by taking a share in all of them, Juventus have positioned themselves in such a way as to be able to take their pick.

Co-ownership deals in Italy must be resolved at the end of each season, either with both teams agreeing to continue for another year, or with one team buying the other out – whether that be for an agreed fee or through the process of a silent auction. In theory, it is possible that Sassuolo, Torino or Sampdoria could outbid Juve for one of these players. In practice, none are likely to do so, for the simple reason that they do not share the same financial clout.

And so Marotta can wait for as long as he needs to see these strikers mature, perhaps even swapping them on to other clubs if that suits. One way or another, he has good reason to believe that Juventus’s next ‘top player’ is already on their books – even if right now they are scoring their goals for somebody else.

REU_1838011a

It’s often said that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Ahead of their visit to Denmark on Tuesday to face FC København in the Champions League, Juventus at least looked to have taken on board the lesson they received during their last trip to the Parken Stadion.

On that occasion, they had gone behind to Nordsjælland and needed to come back to get a 1-1 draw. There was a feeling of regret on the plane home to Turin. Juventus should have won comfortably. By the end of the match, they’d made no fewer than 33 attempts on goal. Nordsjælland `keeper Jesper Hansen had enjoyed arguably the finest night of his career but the conclusion many people drew was that Juventus’ finishing was imprecise and poor.

They lacked a go-to goalscorer, a cold-blooded executor of chances. Too often in the previous season and throughout that one, Juventus’ strikers made goalies look like Superman, the nickname of their own shot stopper Gigi Buffon.

The list goes like this: Jean-François Gillet for Bologna on September 21, 2011, Gianluca Pegolo for Siena on February 5, 2012, Stefano Sorrentino for Chievo on March 3, 2012, Massimiliano Benassi for Lecce on May 2, 2012, Hansen on October 23, 2012 and the exceptional Federico Marchetti for Lazio on November 17, 2012 as well in both legs of the Coppa Italia semi-final.

It was of great frustration. The resolve to end it hardened. And so, in the spring Juventus announced Fernando Llorente would be joining on a free transfer from Athletic Bilbao at the end of the season and in the summer they signed Carlitos Tévez. After supposedly missing out on Sergio Agüero, Luis Suárez and Robin van Persie in recent years, the Old Lady finally had her leading man. Make that men.

The least fans expected was that this meant Juventus would now make lighter work of the likes of Nordsjælland. But football is a funny old game. Watching the København game, Juventini were struck by an inescapable sense of déjà vu. Once again, their team improbably went behind, got back on level terms but couldn’t find a winner despite making no fewer than 27 attempts on goal.

Johan Wiland, København’s man between the sticks, can add his name to the roll order of great goalkeeping performances against Conte’s Juventus. It wasn’t the start the champions of Italy wanted to their European campaign.

Much of the post-match focus fell on Conte’s decisions and one in particular. Why bring on Sebastian Giovinco and not Llorente in the 76th minute with his team chasing the lead? It did cause some consternation. “Juventus ignore Llorente,” was the headline of El País’ Champions League round-up on Wednesday morning.

You can understand how they have got that impression. In five competitive matches, Llorente has played just one minute. Told to warm up but ultimately overlooked against København, it was a game that seemed to be crying out for his introduction.

Juventus had 16 corners. That’s a lot. Nearly half of them were short. Another two went to the edge of the penalty area and the rest to the near post. In part, the strategy reflected the physical make-up of Juventus’ strike partnership. Tévez and Fabio Quagliarella are under 6ft so it’s really no use expecting them to win headers in a crowded box.

With that in mind wouldn’t the inclusion of a player of Llorente’s size – he’s 6ft 5in – rather than Giovinco, who is nicknamed the Atomic Ant for a reason, have given Juventus a better chance of making more of set-pieces like that? Not necessarily, no.

Perhaps Conte spent the summer reading David Sally and Chris Anderson’s book The Numbers Game which uses statistics to demonstrate that corners are an ineffective way of scoring goals. If you’re going to take them, they claim, do so short. But Juventus also made 40 crosses from open play, only 14 of which were successful.

Again, wouldn’t Llorente have posed more of a threat from this particular avenue of attack than those chosen ahead and instead of him. Conte’s riposte to this made some sense. København’s centre-backs Olof Mellberg and Ragnar Sigurdsson are tall—though not as tall as Llorente incidentally—and the way to put players like that in difficulty is with small mobile forwards in possession of a low centre of gravity.

But if it hadn’t worked up until that point why not try a different option? Because that’s what Llorente gives Juventus, a Plan B, their rationale in signing him being quite similar to Barcelona’s reasoning for the purchase of Zlatan Ibrahimovic four years ago. Some are already wondering whether it might be just as unsuccessful.

At least he didn’t cost €69.5 million. As with Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba, Juventus got Llorente for free. Cynics have claimed that they only did so in order to sell him on for an easy profit. But you don’t give a 28-year-old player a four-year contract worth €4.5 million a season if you don’t foresee him becoming a major part of your team. So how then do we explain Llorente’s struggle to make an impact in Turin?

Might it have something to do with the circumstances he found himself in during his final season with Athletic? At the club since the age of 11, Llorente, with a year left on his contract, felt ready for a new challenge at the end of the season before last. He informed Athletic’s president Jose Urrutia of his decision not to renew. It didn’t go down well. Juventus were told they’d need to pay Llorente’s €36 million buy-out clause if they wanted him.

Unlike Bayern Munich in the case of teammate Javi Martinez, they balked. Llorente would have to wait. Aware that he was planning to leave once his contract expired Athletic moved on. They signed Aduriz from Valencia. He’d be their first choice striker. Llorente was made out to be a villain, the great betrayer, an absurdity considering the loyalty he’d shown Athletic.

It got ugly. Graffiti sprayed on the window of the club shop read: “Death to Llorente, the bastard Spaniard.” Mentally, it must have been tough. Physically too, being out in the cold can only have numbed his instincts. Llorente went from playing 3171 minutes in 2010-11 and 2248 minutes in 2011-12 to just 865. Without consistency, match rhythm and the warmth of the San Mames crowd, he scored only four goals. It’s almost like Juventus have signed a player who has been out for a year with injury.

Seen from this angle, you can appreciate why it might be taking longer than anticipated to reawaken this gentle giant. Apparently a timid sort, the Lion King as he’s called needs to discover his roar again. That’s the mentality expected of a player in Conte’s teams.

Then there’s the adaptation to a new country, new culture and new style of play. Marcelo Bielsa’s and Conte’s football do share some similarities. This was a reason why many thought Llorente would be a great fit for Juventus. But there will be several different nuances like, for example, the type of movement he’s expected to make and the tasks he is required to perform. Conte was seen picking up and placing Llorente in various positions during pre-season.

Unlearning old habits, things that have become second nature over the years, will be hard. “I have to improve in several things,” Llorente said during pre-season. “At times, perhaps I pass the ball when I could directly go for goal. I believe I should shoot more, be more concrete.”

Given time and the opportunity, Llorente should come good. The success of Borja Valero at Fiorentina last season went some way to debunking the myth that Spanish players can’t make it in Italy and remember it’s only September. The season in Serie A is three games old and with a World Cup at the end of it, Llorente, who had a game-changing role in Spain’s ousting of Portugal in the Round of 16 in 2010 – the sort he could have performed for Juve in Copenhagen – will want to be there. Fly in Turin and he should be able to fly from there to Brazil.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the symbol of Torino wasn’t the bull, but an elephant instead. The club’s fans never forget. Nostalgia for Il Grande Torino and the crumbling old Filadelfia go a long way to explaining the long memories of those who stand in the Curva Maratona. As such they remember who did right by the Toro and who did them wrong like it were yesterday.

So when it emerged that Torino were considering offering the Sampdoria midfielder Enzo Maresca a contract earlier this week, their opposition wasn’t a surprise. “We don’t want him,” one supporter said. Another warned: “If we sign him, I’ll give my season ticket back, actually, I’ll burn it.”

To understand the hostility towards Maresca you have to go back over a decade. It’s February 24, 2002. Torino are leading Juventus 2-1 in the Derby della Mole. With only a minute remaining, they look about to claim a first victory over their rivals in seven years.

It’s at this moment that Lilian Thuram gets forward. From the right, the Juventus defender launches a cross towards the edge of the box. Following it, he sees a young teammate rise and send a remarkable header beyond Luca Bucci in the Torino goal. That young teammate was a 22-year-old Enzo Maresca.

No sooner had the ball come to rest in the bottom corner of the net then he turned to celebrate. Maresca began to run and as he did so, he put both hands to his head, pointed his fingers up and imitated a bull, a cuckolded bull. He made a point of doing it in front of the bench where Marco Ferrante, one of Torino’s goalscorers, sat. Ferrante had celebrated provocatively too after he’d got his team back on level terms following David Trezeguet’s opener. Maresca’s was retaliation.

It’s an act Torino fans are still unwilling to pardon. One of the most famous among them, the TV presenter and showman Piero Chiambretti tweeted that should Torino sign him, he’d seriously consider changing the team he supports. After deleting that he clarified: “Changing teams is genetically impossible. Let’s hope the directors use their common sense.”

Expressing the same sentiment, surprise, surprise, was Ferrante. “If I were Torino, I’d think twice about it also for Maresca’s own good,” he said. It’s unknown whether his name is on the petition started to try and stop the move from happening. Despite it, Torino seem intent to resist fan pressure and go ahead regardless.

“We’ve never been slaves to anyone or anything,” director of sport Gianluca Petrachi insisted, “We’ve done deals in the past that haven’t been acceptable from the fans’ point of view, but we have to make judgements based on what’s in the interests of the team. If we were to believe the player would help us improve we’d definitely consider him. Maresca shouldn’t be afraid of throwing himself into this experience. He’s a leader. He has great character. There shouldn’t be any problems with his past.”

But there are. Which is absurd really. Because it’s not like Maresca is Mr Juventus like, for example, Beppe Furino, Antonio Conte or Alessandro Del Piero were in the past. After moving to Turin from West Brom at the beginning of the century, he was a squad player who, every other year, was either sent out on loan to Bologna or co-owned by Piacenza in his four seasons on their books.

When Maresca definitively left in 2004, he joined Fiorentina, a club whose fans hate Juventus every bit as much as Torino’s do. They accepted him as one of their own once he’d undergone a thorough “de-hunchbacking”, the ritual former Juventus players have to go through on moving to Fiorentina.

If Maresca is associated with one club, it’s got to be Sevilla with whom he spent four seasons as part of the team that won the UEFA Cup twice, as well as the European Super Cup, Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup. Torino fans, however, don’t see it that way. It matters little to them that only 58 of his 426 professional appearances came for Juventus. To them, it’s too many. To them, he’s a gobbo, a hunchback of the worst kind.

Accordingly, La Gazzetta dello Sport has called their stance medieval. “Love for your team can also express itself by favouring its reinforcement,” wrote Luigi Garlando. “Is Maresca the right man [for Torino’s midfield], at 33 and after only 16 appearances [for Sampdoria] last season? This is a legitimate question.” The rest, certainly in this case, should be irrelevant.

Manchester City v Wigan Athletic - FA Cup Final

Carlos Tevez should be grateful that Juventus sent a professional chauffeur. When another great Argentinian forward landed at Milan’s Malpensa airport back in the summer of 1957, it was the club’s own president who traveled north to greet him. Umberto Agnelli drove so fast on the roads back to Turin that Omar Sivori spent most of the journey praying for his life.

When the pair finally arrived at their destination, the player is said to have leapt from the passenger seat. “President, I think I will stay a long time here at Juventus,” he supposedly told his new employer. “But not long at all in cars driven by you.”

Memories of Sivori were at the forefront of Juventus supporters’ minds this week as news broke that their club had agreed a fee for Tevez with Manchester City. Much was made of the similarities between the two men – both of them technically gifted footballers who operated best in slightly deeper-lying roles. They were also both rather short, though even at 5ft 8ins, Tevez would still have towered over his predecessor.

Significantly, each man also had a reputation as a troublemaker. Sivori might never have refused to enter a game, as Tevez infamously did for City away to Bayern Munich in September 2011, but he did smoke, drink whisky, and play poker into the small hours of most mornings, routinely sleeping in until noon and showing up late, if at all, for training.

Of course, it is also true that Tevez arrives in Turin at a very different point of his career to Sivori. Tevez is not a 21-year-old kid with a whole career ahead of him but a nearly-30-year-old man who is unlikely to stay with Juve beyond the three years of his contract.
Read the rest of this entry »

Manchester City v Chelsea

The Lead

Here’s the thing: transfer rumours are total and utter bollocks. Agents make phone calls all the time, clubs pick up those calls, meetings are arranged, lunches are had, ideas proposed, numbers written down. At least that’s how I presume it works; I, like you, have no real idea. The press sometimes catches wind of these things and because we love rumours, it’s perfectly acceptable for everyone (and I mean everyone and anyone) to print this fantasy world of “what if.”

What is fun, at least for mega nerds like the guy writing this post, are final terms on transfer deals that actually happen. Often they don’t come to light, which is a shame. Today we got lucky: we know pretty much exactly how Carlos Tevez moved from Man City to Juventus. Here’s the Guardian:

Although the base fee is €9m for Tevez, this should rise to a minimum of €12m as a clause in the contract awards City an extra €1m a year for three years should Juventus qualify for the Champions League in each of those seasons. A further clause awards City €1m for every season Juventus win either the Champions League or Serie A over the course of Tevez’s contract, meaning the total transfer fee could end as high as €15m.

City will recoup a further total of £17m in saved wages and bonuses, meaning that, if Tevez does agree to the move, they will make a saving of about £27m which they can reinvest in the squad.

As Bobby McMahon pointed out on Twitter the other day, many observers made the mistake in seeing the €9 million figure and dropping their jaws over a generous deal for Juve. The real guts in this deal are the wages that City will no longer be paying out. Coupled with commercial revenue growth, it likely won’t bring City any closer to getting on the right side of UEFA’s FFP provisions, but then again the main thing is to demonstrate to UEFA they’re doing their level best to meet the requirements. Offloading Tevez’s enormous wage packet will certainly help. It’s a very smart deal, for both parties.

It used to be the case that good players had high transfer fee costs and wage demands, and clubs could either meet them or buy someone else. My hunch is even the revenue rich clubs will see the inefficiency of banking enormous percentages of healthy revenues on one or two star players come to an end. Something to keep in mind as Carlo Ancelotti takes the helm at Real Madrid, and Cristiano Ronaldo meets with Man United in the next few days.

Links

Marina Hyde on how Sepp Blatter’ kicked off FIFA’s “Arab spring” [the Guardian].

This should never, ever happen under any circumstances: Posh thinks Beckham would make a good Bond [Daily Mail].

Could Andre Villas-Boas/Jose Mourinho be the Premier League’s newest grudge match? [Unibet].

Ciro Ferrara.

Ciro Ferrara.

It’s a regular feature of football history of course that when one club is successful, others try to replicate their success. Barcelona wanted to play the way Ajax did in the late `60s and so they brought in Rinus Michels in 1971 then later Johan Cruyff the player in 1973.

The two won La Liga only once together in their time at the Camp Nou but the cultural impact they had on the club and the legacy they left, which Cruyff would reinforce on his return as coach, showed that over the long-term a foreign style can become the adopter’s own and even stronger so if it coalesces organically with local identity.

Many, however, don’t take the long view or commit fully to change. They want a quick fix and follow like sheep whatever the latest fad or craze is. This approach can have disastrous effects.

In Italy, for instance, during the late `80s and early `90s, Juventus, feeling under pressure after a number of years without a league title, looked to go down the route Milan had taken.

Milan had appointed Arrigo Sacchi, a relative unknown with no background in football, and won the Scudetto, back-to-back European Cups and earned themselves a place in posterity for the style with which they played and the revolution they started.

In response, Juventus completely overhauled their structure. The Old Lady felt she had to get with the times. Long-standing president Giampiero Boniperti was gone. So too was coach Dino Zoff, even though he had just led the team to a UEFA Cup and a Coppa Italia.

It was decided Juventus needed to find their own Sacchi. Rather than looking for the best coach out there, they’d hire the most different, someone who fit the Sacchi profile of “I never realised that in order to become a jockey you had to have been a horse first.”

That coach was Gigi Maifredi.

A former champagne salesman, he wasn’t exactly the toast of Serie A but had guided Bologna to eighth place the previous season, playing a Sacchi-like 4-4-2 with zonal-marking. Imagine what he could achieve with more resources, including Roby Baggio, or so the thinking went.

It was a disaster. Juventus finished seventh. Maifredi was considered a failure and got the sack. Giovanni Trapattoni, the coach who’d won everything with the club through the late `70s to the mid `80s, was brought back.

That has always served as a lesson. Imitation might be the highest form of flattery but it can also be flawed.

When Barcelona won La Liga and the Champions League back in 2009, many looked at how they had promoted from within, handing the job to Pep Guardiola, a former player, someone who knew the club inside out, who understood what it meant to wear the shirt and how the team should play so as to honour its traditions.

Others tried to follow suit. Juventus replaced Claudio Ranieri with Ciro Ferrara. Leonardo succeeded Carlo Ancelotti at Milan. It was called the ‘Guardiola Effect’, although the appointment of Leonardo was more in the style of Fabio Capello, who’d been behind a desk like him before being offered the job.

Ultimately, Ferrara was out of his depth and was replaced by Alberto Zaccheroni in the spring as Juve ended up in seventh place. Leonardo walked having grown disillusioned with Silvio Berlusconi, whom he likened to Narcissus, after producing some fantastic but flaky football.
Read the rest of this entry »