Juventus have been on a pitiful run of late. Dumped unceremoniously out of the Champions League at home by Bayern Munich, 12 points off the pace in Serie A, and having gleaned two wins from the previous seven matches it would be more than fair to say that the club is in crisis. The proverbial rumor mill has been spinning so fast it is dangerously close to overheating.
No less than a dozen names have been touted as possible incoming January transfers, Alessio Secco’s head is allegedly lined up for the chopping block, Luis Felipe Scolari reportedly turned down an offer to coach Juventus, and Guus Hiddink has been touted as the next managerial appointment, only for the Dutchman’s agent to come out and rubbish such rumours not once, but twice.
The one thing that is now painfully self-evident to every Bianconeri fan is that Ciro Ferrara cannot retain his role as Juve’s manager. He was rumoured to have been afforded two matches following the defeat at home to Catania in order to keep his job.
According to the aforementioned rumour mill, his dismissal or resignation should be announced within the next few days, if not hours. Whilst he may have succeeded in securing three points at Parma, it was more than obvious that he was extremely lucky in doing so. The match was a drab and boring affair, with Juventus struggling to string two passes of note together. They were found severely lacking in every department on the pitch, against an out-of-form Parma side, and looked severely devoid of confidence and inspiration.
Even more depressingly for any Juve fan was that the team has exhibited worryingly low levels of creativity and has looked devoid of ideas on the pitch throughout the season. A far cry from the (not so distant) days when Zinedine Zidane, Pavel Nedved, and a younger, fitter Del Piero were setting Serie A and Europe alight. After the performance against Parma, the 0-3 drubbing at the hands of AC Milan for many (including this author) was a foregone conclusion.
Accordingly, many protests (and lit Olimpico seats, boos, jeers, whistles and other forms of abuse) have been directed not only at the coaching staff, but at some of the players as well. Felipe Melo having recently been awarded the infamous Golden Bin award has been especially singled out for criticism, whilst his compatriot Diego had until recently been in the fans’ sights as well.
The backroom staff has also come in for a fair bit of all that and whatnot, with Secco’s every transfer move championed as a shining example of incompetency. Undoubtedly there can be no mistake that the Bianconeri’s season thus far has been nothing short of catastrophic. However this author would contend that the situation is not really as dire as the fans on the stands at the Olimpico made out last night, and that furthermore the solution is in reality pretty simple.
For in truth, the only thing that needs changing is the coach, and that a change is needed is beyond debate at this stage. This is Juventus we are talking about. The biggest club in Italy should be endowed with a coach worthy of its stature. Yet throughout this season, with the exception of the match against Inter, the team has looked uninspired and devoid of passion.
If there is one thing that a legendary former Juventus defender should be able to do, it should be to motivate the team in times of trouble and arouse a fighting spirit within the players. However five minutes into the second half last night, it appeared as if almost all the players had given up.
Indeed the only players that could be said to have displayed that never say die attitude that Juventus are renowned for, were the tireless Chiellini, and on limited occasion Del Piero and Marchisio. Hardly surprising, given these players’ passion, feelings and love for the club. It should therefore not be too much of a stretch to conclude that perhaps Ferrara is not blessed with the best motivational skills in Italy. Certainly he is no Pep Guardiola, despite what Juve’s directors may have thought (or more probably hoped) last summer.
This deficiency should imply that in order for him to be in such a prestigious role, he should be blessed with the tactical knowledge and skills of Marcelo Lippi’s and Alex Ferguson’s love child if it married Vicente Del Bosque with whom it discussed tactics post coitus. Or if not so, at the very very least he should have the drive and motivation to improve, learn and get there or somewhere close by.
Alas, sadly, not the case. Whilst this author might make a better brain surgeon than football coach, he knows that when a team goes through 3 different systems in one season and underperform with every single one of them, then the manager has not done enough homework. Whilst Juve looked settled in their first three or four matches, as soon as opposing teams found a way to counteract Ferrara’s crude 4-3-1-2 the whole season has slowly unraveled and no answer has since then been forthcoming.
Furthermore, the defending—another area in which you would expect a former defender to be accomplished at—has been woeful. One could argue that the only defenders brought in over the summer were Fabio Cannavaro who is on the wrong side of 35, and Fabio Grosso who can cross a ball ten times better than he can block it.
Claudio Ranieri, however, and Didier Deschamps prior to him, had less than that to work with and did not fail miserably. In fact given the resources at their disposal it would be fair to say that they made a pretty decent job of taking sub-par defenders (Molinaro anyone?) and fashioning them into something that whilst not perfect, at least functioned. Contrast that with last night where Milan’s first two goals came from set pieces and in particular from near post corners. Under normal circumstances these are the easiest kind of corner to defend against since the angle is incredibly tight for attackers, defenders can easily cover the six yard box for such balls, and if things get too dangerous the ball can easily be turned behind for another corner, without running the risk of scoring an own goal.
Then there is team selection. Ferrara has some of the best creative talent at his disposal but has been unable to field a formation that best makes use of them. Claudio Marchisio position last night is a good example of this inability. Marchisio functions best in the centre of midfield. He is a box to box midfielder, reminiscent of Frank Lampard or a younger Steven Gerrard and prior to his injury was capable of grabbing this team by the scruff of the neck and dragging them to victory single handed (hands up if you remember that goal against Inter). Since Ferrara has reverted back to the 4-4-2 after having been unable to find a system that works, Marchisio has been languishing out on the left side of the midfield.
Meanwhile Sebastian Giovinco, who has demonstrated on many an occasion that he is more than capable of playing in that position, (not to mention being touted by some as the future of La Nazionale) was twiddling his thumbs on the bench against Parma.
Keeping Marchisio on the left also meant Felipe Melo and Christian Poulsen, both unable to pass a ball or dictate play, were left to run things in the middle of the park. Then there is also their inability to work together; evidenced both by a collision they had in the first half, and the first goal Juventus conceded in last night’s match. All the above leaves one wondering why the 4-2-3-1 which worked well in certain situations (as in the 5-1 defeat of Sampdoria) has now been entirely abandoned.
At times this season Juventus have not been unable to connect the simplest of passes. They have capitulated on far too many occasions, conceded far too many late goals to draw or lose matches, and imploded spectacularly on at least three occasions (Napoli, Bayern and Milan). Even in the matches they have won, with very few exceptions, they have looked unimpressive and lucky to have done so.
One can only conclude on the above evidence that the team have not gelled properly which would indicate that the wrong coaching systems are in place, and that the players are not comfortable in the roles they have been given and they system that they have been asked to play. This in turn demonstrates severe tactical and man management deficiencies and an inability to recognize strengths and weaknesses in players.
So, a new coach then please, Jean Claude Blanc. And some new players. But how about getting rid of a few players as well? How about getting rid of Alessio Secco too? He’s the bloke that signed Boumsong wasn’t he? (Boumsong by the way is now playing very well for Lyon). Why don’t you get rid of yourself while you’re at it? One would imagine that this would have been a common chorus around the Olimpico last night.
However, the simple fact of the matter is this. Whilst Juve’s transfer dealings may not compare in prestige with those of Real Madrid’s, nor have the eye for talent that Arsenal’s do, nor the shrewdness exhibited by Aston Villa’s (Richard Dunne has been the signing of the season Europe-wide, full stop) they are not not as dreadful as certain fans seem to think.
Despite winning the Golden Bin award, Melo is not an awful player. Indeed he shined during the Confederations Cup last summer and whenever he has played for Brazil this season, not to mention his performances in a Fiorentina shirt last year. Diego has been one of the, if not the, best player in the Bundesliga the past few seasons.
Christian Poulsen may not be the cream of the crop in terms of international football, nor is he ever going to be nominated for the Ballon d’Or, but at Sevilla he was a useful and valuable player. Whilst he may not have the talent to hold down a regular first team place at Juve he could constitute a very useful squad player.
Admittedly Juve’s transfer policy has not been perfect. Secco has been on a steep learning curve, but what is encouraging is that the man is finally learning. And what better evidence of that than the long anticipated, long overdue offloading of that most dangerous remnant of the Ranieri era to Stuttgart? Yes, he was loaned out, not sold, but no transfer guru is perfect....
Joking aside, Juventus have a plethora of footballing talent at their disposal, which only serves to highlight Ferrara’s incompetency as a manager even more. Instead of rushing in and turning the entire dressing room upside down by offloading players, and spending more money to bring new ones in, the Juventus board should take a moment to reflect upon what the next best step is. This season may or may not be revived. Twelve points are a lot, but given Inter’s recent performances optimists still have shreds of hope. Juve are still in the Europa League and still in the running for the Coppa Italia. All is not lost. So what is the best way forward? All roads for this author lead to the appointment of a certain Dutchman...
Guus Hiddink is a man that has made a habit of taking underperforming, unfashionable, and in certain circumstances untalented teams and forging them into proper contenders. This is a man that took a South Korean side to the semi finals of the World Cup (albeit with a little refereeing help). He then went on to forge an incredibly strong Australian national side, which on its day could cause problems for any world class team.
They performed very well during the 2006 World Cup before being eliminated by Italy following a dubious penalty decision (in what may have been a karmic twist for Hiddink since his South Korea kicked Italy out in similar style during the previous World Cup). Nevertheless he then went to make Russia one of Euro 2008’s revelations taking them to the semi finals of the competition and eliminating some big names in the process. None of these teams were traditional footballing powerhouses. And perhaps with the exception of Andrei Arshavin, none of them possessed world class talent. And then came Chelsea...
Their transformation under Hiddink was so unprecedented that the fans in West London still light candles in his name. He took a drastically underperforming side, stocked with talent, and pushed Manchester United for the Premier League title to the very last day, almost took them to the Champion’s League final (again some very dubious refereeing decisions), won the FA cup, and managed to lose only once in his time at Stamford Bridge. All of which goes to show that there is no manager more ideal for Juventus at the moment. A drastically underperforming side, stocked with talent...
To begin with Hiddink, would have to find a system and formation that works, and incorporates the best that Juve’s roster has to offer. He would also have to motivate these players who are desperately low on confidence at the moment.
This team requires the belief that they can compete and that they can win trophies. It may necessitate that some hard decisions are taken. It may require a certain number ten to play a lesser starring role. It may require certain world class players to warm the bench a few times, and it may require certain players being played out of position, or given a role that is not their favourite. It may also require others to change their ways or their style. But at the end of the day this team has the talent to get very very far. And no name on the back of that black and white shirt is bigger than the one inscribed in that little black, white and yellow emblem on the front. And any player not clever enough to realise this and adjust accordingly does not belong at Juventus.
Finally, above all Guus Hiddink needs to get Juventus working as a team again. He would need to get Melo and Poulsen working with each other instead of against each other. He would need to get Diego to trust his teammates and make him more willing to pass the ball around. He would have to forge a Juventus which is less reliant on solo efforts and luck to get results. He would need to take this group of talented individuals and turn them into a team; a unit. But that is what Hiddink excels at. That was the secret of his success at all the small national sides he coached. That was what made Chelsea such a force to be reckoned with last season. All of these teams were so coordinated and the players were so in tune with each other that they amounted to so much more than the sum of their parts.
And truth be told, this Juventus team is in possession of some very very formidable parts. Which is what makes this rumoured potential marriage between Guus Hiddink and Juventus into such a titillating, exciting and mouth watering prospect.