With the gap to Inter now eight points ahead and qualification for the next stage of the Champions League in the balance, Juventus coach Ciro Ferrara has come under intense scrutiny from fans and media alike.
After two consecutive 2-0 losses in terrible performances against Bordeaux and Cagliari, his ability to manage such a huge club has come into question. Adamo Digby takes a step back and wonders if it's really as bad as all that.
Last season Juventus finished 10 points behind Inter, costing Claudio Ranieri his job. He was replaced by Juventus legend, but coaching novice, Ciro Ferrara. Prior to his appointment Ferrara split his time between running the clubs youth sector and being Assistant Manager of Marcello Lippi's Italian national team.
Ferrara was a Juventus player for 11 seasons, winning 14 trophies during one of the most successful periods in the club's history. This earned him the unconditional love and respect of every Juventus fan. That love is being sorely tested during his coaching career as the Bianconeri struggle, not only to keep pace with Inter, but also seemingly for an identity under his leadership.
A horrendous injury list and constant tactical changes to cover for them leave most observers wondering how Ferrara actually wants the team to play. His initial 4-3-1-2 formation has been shelved, and for a while that seemed to work. Following the last two games though it seems another change is needed, although it remains unclear what his next move should be.
The club invested heavily in the summer transfer window, spending €25m on play-maker Diego, who Ferrara seems determined his Juventus will be built around. Another €24m was spent to secure the signatures of Brazilian midfielder Felipe Melo and Italian fullback Fabio Grosso. They also completed the loan signing of Martin Caceres from Barcelona and the free transfer of Fabio Cannavaro from Real Madrid.
This meant a completely different look to the clubs starting XI, with all five summer signings earning their way into the coaches first choice team. With over half the team changed, plus an inexperienced coach in Ferrara, fans and pundits were not sure what to expect from Italy's Old Lady.
After labouring to a hard fought opening day victory over Chievo, Juve burst into life in back to back away wins in Rome. First they completely outplayed Roma, winning 3-1, then held off Lazio 2-0. Everyone loved the exciting new team and the scudetto race was finally going to be more than another Inter procession.
Then came the first signs of a struggle. Four draws and a loss to Palermo meant Inter suddenly opened up a gap. Then, either side of a 3-2 defeat to Napoli came a 5-1 thrashing of Sampdoria and a 5-2 win over Atalanta. Fans and media alike wondered which Juventus might turn up on any given Sunday. After the past few games the answer seems much clearer. Or is it?
Following the Cagliari defeat, the points won percentage for the season stands at 64%, which is exactly the same as the whole of last season. This means despite integrating a rookie coach and five new starters, la vecchia signora hasn't missed a step.
Which makes the current questioning of Ferrara a little premature in my book. All the new signings, at different times, have shown glimpses of the talent that made them good choices in the summer, with Caceres even exceeding expectation. When you add the likes of Buffon, Chiellini, Sissoko, Camoranesi, Marchisio, Giovinco, Del Piero, Trezeguet, and Iaquinta its easy to see why Juventus were touted as contenders before the season began.
If, over the next few weeks they can gel together, the club will have an excellent unit on the field at all times. With Ferrara on the steepest of learning curves, he too will improve, as Leonardo is currently showing with rivals Milan.
Once the injuries heal and the team Ferrara wants is available the race will be on once again. All it takes is two wins, or even draws, in the next two games to completely alter the public perception of both coach and team.
Have faith fellow Bianconeri, all is not lost.
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