Juventus: Assessing the Project at the Winter Break
So the Winter Break is upon us, and for anyone associated with Juventus, it couldn't come fast enough. The team and manager need some respite from the seemingly endless criticism raining down on them, the fans need a break from the heartbreaking losses, and the board needs time to look at the team and itself to make some adjustments. So, where does the Old Lady find herself as Christmas approaches?
It all started so well this season for the Bianconeri. With four straight wins in the league, including away victories over Lazio and Roma, the fans could not have been happier. Then came the first bump. Five draws, including two in the Champions League, were followed by the first loss of the Ferrara era, away to Palermo.
Since then the team has fallen away, being eliminated from Europe's top competition, losing games against teams that should be fearful of the Bianconeri shirt. There were a few brief signs of life, mainly a 5-1 demolition of Sampdoria, but they proved false dawns and left the fans frustrated. Having clearly seen what this team was capable of they rightly demanded more, wanting to see their side back atop the Serie A summit.
During this bad spell the majority of fans seem to have lost faith in both coach and players. Too many of the team are playing below par, and from some a distinct lack of effort led to the Ultra turning their backs in the stadium during the Catania game. The chants of "Pavel Pavel Nedved Nedved" showed the type of player the fans crave, the desire and effort they demand of their team.
This is, of course, their right. To protest against poor performances, bad signings, and poor decisions at board level. From the outside looking in, however, you would have to disagree. The club, while struggling on the field, is only six points worse off than at this time last year, despite the major upheaval in the first 11.
While elimination from the Champions League was disappointing, it does leave the side free to concentrate on the Scudetto everyone craves so deeply.
Add to that the off-field moves made by the club. One of Italy's only profit-making teams, the Bianconeri are also to become the only one of the penninsula's major sides to own its own stadia. This will enable Juventus to make huge profits, which as the board have shown, will be reinvested in the team.
Which brings us onto the current playing staff. Criticism has been endless of the players brought in during the summer as the team has struggled, but taking a step back to assess the side might offer some perspective.
In goal, La Vecchia Signora are blessed, not only with the world's best ever keeper in Gigi Buffon, but also one of the best reserves in Alex Manninger. The right back position was a clear weakness last season, and Martin Caceres has been one of the signings of the year, showing why he was so highly rated by Barcelona two years ago. Setting a relatively low buy out fee as part of the loan deal now looks like genius.
In need of some savvy and class at left back, Juve turned to Fabio Grosso. Clearly an upgrade on Molinaro, the Italian has shown glimpses of the form that made him a hero in Berlin. If the team were playing well, surely he too would be that much better.
The central defence was good last year, but clearly reinforcements were needed. Bringing about the return of Fabio Cannavaro was obviously a bad move, the fans have yet to forgive his departure, and his poor form does him no favours. The fact he arrived on a free is immaterial. Unfortunately, Nicola Legrottaglie seems to have lost confidence after being dropped, and now Giorgio Chiellini is out injured, leaving major problems for Ferrara. A top quality partner for Chiellini is what is needed, but that will mean more expenditure.
In midfield is seemingly where the problems lie. The signing of Diego has to be seen as a positive move, but the team is failing to provide a platform on which he can showcase his undoubted talents. The lack of a regista has been debated all season long, but again looking logically, Udinese's Gaetano D'Agostino was overpriced and overhyped. Rather than pay over the odds, the board decided to wait, but used the money to upgrade the defensive midfield position.
Felipe Melo was brought in after impressing at Fiorentina last season. His acquisition is not in place of a regista, merely another area of the squad made better. Where Alessio Secco is at fault is in selling Cristiano Zanetti and not Christian Poulsen. The Dane is still not showing any improvement while the Italian would have improved on the underperforming unit now in place.
Up front, Juventus looked blessed at the start of the season. Amauri had made a good start to his first season before tailing off, Iaquinta had ended the previous season in rich form. David Trezeguet was returning from injury, and the Captain, Alessandro Del Piero had finished the two previous seasons as Capocannoniere.
Sadly, this has proved a mirage. Injuries to Del Piero, Trezeguet, and Iaquinta left Amauri alone to carry the load, and he has slipped into a serious slump. At least one new striker is required, probably in place of the Brazilian, or Trezeguet. Del Piero's return has been hampered by the poor form of the team, as it is difficult to judge his performance when playing so badly.
This wretched run has also hindered the development of the promising young players, like Giovinco and Paolo De Ceglie. It is hard to put them into games when results are already difficult.
Indeed, Giovinco played against Bologna and Bordeaux and was given abuse from fans when he failed to produce. It is easy to see why Ferrara has tried to shield their talents from criticism at the moment, even if many fans constantly deride him for it.
What needs to be remembered in this difficult spell is that the team are still recovering from the effects the Calcipoli punishments had on them. This season more players than is ideal were added in an attempt to speed recovery, and that is failing right now. But the club is still in third place despite a horror show of recent results. Any talk of falling down the league is mere hyperbole. All associated with the club know the potential this team has, which is why the bad results spark such outrage.
But this is Juventus, Italian football's grand Old Lady. Her reputation has been built over 112 years of acting with class and dignity. That should not be sacrificed or forgotten in pursuit of instant improvement.
To build a new era of dominance over the next few years, with a true Bianconeri heart is the goal. Ciro Ferrara, Giovinco, Marchisio and Del Piero should be at the centre of that, not cast aside because Inter are nine points clear in the first three months.
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