Last season’s Juventus was built around the considerable talent of their newly acquired Brazilian trequartista Diego. In a complete tactical shift the Turin side sold almost every winger in the squad and changed to a three-man midfield.
The experiment, like much about post-Calciopoli Juventus, failed miserably. Limping home in seventh place, the bright start—typified by the away victory over Roma in which Diego scored a brilliant solo goal—seemed a distant memory.
Ciro Ferrara was sacked, and now Luigi Delneri is the man charged with rebuilding the fallen Old Lady of Italian football. The coach is a devotee of 4-4-2 and has implemented variations of it wherever he has been.
Juventus have recognised this and have already signed Simone Pepe and Jorge Martinez to bring some much needed width to the side. There are also strong links to CSKA Moscow star Milos Krasic, who has professed his desire to join the Bianconeri on a number of occasions already this summer.
All of which begs the question: Where does Diego fit into the new coach’s plans? The simple answer is that he doesn’t, a fact reinforced by the club’s willingness to include the player as part-exchange in a number of deals to bring in a new striker.
Diego has allegedly refused a move to Wolfsburg and seemingly has no desire to leave a club he joined amid much fanfare just 12 months ago. Juventus will also be reluctant to absorb a large financial loss on a player costing €25 million, and his struggles last season make realising a profit highly unlikely.
So we reach the impasse currently facing Juventus, Diego, and Gigi Delneri. The Brazilian possesses neither the raw speed nor defensive attributes to be considered for a Pavel Nedved style wide midfield role. The only suitable position therefore is as a second striker, or perhaps a slight formation tweak to 4-4-1-1.
This poses an even greater obstacle than any previously mentioned—the Juventus legend that is Alessandro Del Piero. Over the past 18 seasons many strikers have tried to shift the iconic Number 10 from his place in the starting lineup. All have failed.
Filippo Inzaghi, Marco Di Vaio, Fabrizio Micolli, Zlatan Ibrahimovic have all laid claim to his spot, yet Ale remains, a living, breathing statue nobody dares to remove from its pedestal. Fabio Capelllo systematically substituted the Captain, and after he left for Madrid, Del Piero responded by scoring enough goals to earn himself two consecutive Capocannoniere crowns.
Delneri went public earlier this week, saying “Del Piero will always play when he is fit” and “Diego and Del Piero cannot play together,” which cannot bode well for Diego, who seems destined to become the latest Del Piero reserve.
While the captain is clearly no youngster, he was the club's leading scorer yet again last term. Diego is certainly a player entering the peak years of his career, yet finds himself currently on the outside looking in for both club and country.
Neither Juventus nor Diego himself seem ready to give up on the other quite yet, but perhaps it is time for both to admit defeat and move on before another year is wasted.
With Brazil’s next coach also likely to usher in a new era, Diego needs to play regularly and play well. Being an out-of-position reserve to a living legend is probably not the best place to stake a claim for recognition.