A week is a ridiculously long time in football, no more so than in Italy. Last Sunday, the Ferrara household woke to headlines like, “It’s all true”, and, “The championship starts again”, after Juventus fought hard to record a gutsy 2-1 win over Inter in the Derby d’Italia. Flash forward seven days and the sports papers landing on Ferrara’s doorstep couldn’t look any more different; they couldn’t read any worse.
“Juve, it’s all gone black”cried La Gazzetta dello Sport, which was mild to say the least considering the reaction from Turin based daily Tuttosport. “Ferrara, it’s over,” roared the front page. Like an accident waiting to happen, few of Italy’s football writers could pass up the chance of reminding Ferrara of the fateful words he uttered just the day before at Juventus’s pre-match Press Conference.
Defending himself against reports that he was about to get the sack following Tuesday’s 4-1 loss at home to Bayern Munich – Juventus’s biggest defeat in Turin since 1967 – which knocked the Bianconeri out of the Champions League, Ferrara said: “There have been some constructive and fair criticisms following our elimination. However, some have been a bit on the heavy side and I don’t like that. I’m confident enough to return them all to sender. My little black book has been open for some time.”
A little black book, eh? Didn’t that come back to haunt Ferrara after Saturday’s 3-1 defeat away to newly promoted Bari, for like a smartly dressed elephant, the Italian journalist never ever forgets. “How many chapters will Ferrara write in his little black book when he watches that match again?” Tuttosport wondered. “Where is Ciro Ferrara?” La Gazzetta asked rhetorically, knowing only too well that “he’s lost inside his little black book.”
While black was undoubtedly the theme of the day, the colour left on Ferrara’s mind was unequivocally red; the red of Bayern Munich and the red of Bari. Two defeats in five days laid bare the failings of a Juventus team that was not only supposed to take the race for the Scudetto down to the wire but also make a good impression on the continent at the very least. Unhelpfully dubbed the “Newventus” by recently elected President Jean-Claude Blanc at the start of the season, Juventus can only consider themselves truly new in the sense that they struggle both for substance and style.
Bari deserved their win, outplaying Juventus even though they were without the influential defensive pairing of Andrea Ranocchia and Alessandro Parisi. The Galletti changed the interpretation of their game, not their attitude while Juventus, who were without the suspended Felipe Melo and the injured Momo Sissoko, once again looked confused perhaps in part because of Ferrara’s decision to drop World Cup winning trio Mauro Camoranesi, Alessandro Del Piero and Fabio Grosso.
But while some of the blame for Saturday’s defeat lies on Ferrara’s inexperienced shoulders, the responsibility for Juventus’s woes is not solely his and for that reason many fans hope he sees out the rest of the season. In fact, the majority of them feel the board is the most culpable for all that’s rotten in Turin.
The state of the Bianconeri has often come under scrutiny following the Calciopoli scandal in 2006, but ambitious plans for an eco-friendly new stadium, well-balanced books and third and second place finishes in Serie A have to a large extent papered over the cracks in the board’s ability to differentiate clearly between what constitutes success as a business and success as a football club.
In reality, the project is very brittle as illustrated by a few superficial but nevertheless meaningful facts. Juventus changed managers just five times in nineteen years under legendary President Giampiero Boniperti. That trend didn’t change under his successors, the notorious Triad headed by Luciano Moggi, who went through three coaches in twelve years. It was a point of pride in Turin, another way of saying Juventus always get it right, they always win. Not now, though. The Bianconeri have gone through three in three years.
Ferrara’s appointment was justified in the wake of Pep Guardiola’s unprecedented success as a rookie at Barcelona, but many felt there was little point in firing Claudio Ranieri just two weeks from the end of the last campaign. Slowly but surely, people are beginning to realise that the Tinkerman worked something of a minor miracle in helping Juventus finish second in his debut season.
To then leave Ferrara without an assistant of experience and constantly remind him that no more slip ups are palatable after each defeat, leaves the Juventus board in the firing line, as does its treatment of Roberto Bettega, the Bianconeri’s legendary former striker, who looks all set for a stunning return to the club after being burned by the current board in 2007. Bettega emerged largely unscathed from the Calciopoli scandal and continued to serve as a technical director until the end of Juventus’s first season in Serie B when his contract expired. Blanc and the then Juventus President Giovanni Cobolli Gigli decided not to renew it despite his place in the club’s history, partly because of his involvement in a trial into alleged “administrative doping” at Juventus in the 1990s. Bettega and Juventus were cleared of any wrongdoing on November 24 and the board has decided upon an embarrassing volte-face.
That’s behind the scenes. What’s there for all to see are Juventus’s forays into the transfer market. The Bianconeri spent over £50m in the summer, mostly on two Brazilians, namely Diego and Felipe Melo. This column firmly believes the former will come good eventually, such is his class, but the latter deserves more scrutiny because Juventus paid £18.5m for a player who cost Fiorentina just £5m the year before.
Melo is an expensive flop especially given he missed ten games through suspension last year, later reduced to eight on appeal. Juventus were definitely in the market for a midfielder during the summer but initially focused their efforts on Udinese’s Gaetano D’Agostino, specifically because he is a ball-playing regista capable of starting and finishing moves. Yet they balked at his price tag, which incidentally was £3.5m lower than Melo’s. Strange then that the board rubberstamped a deal that a] wasn’t cost-effective and b] was completely unnecessary as Melo is a midfielder with similar characteristics to Momo Sissoko, and Christian Poulsen, players who break things down in the middle of the park.
Add into the mix, the fact Juventus then sold Fiorentina both Marco Marchionni and Cristiano Zanetti, the Bianconeri’s only natural regista-style midfielder, and it’s even harder to hold the board beyond reproach. It’s really starting to look like the so-called “Newventus” needs an old hand. So don’t be surprised if Bettega tempts Marcello Lippi to either help Ferrara or replace him outright after the World Cup next summer.
- Inter extended their lead at the top of Serie A to five points even though they didn’t win. The Nerazzurri drew 1-1 away to Atalanta, but the game wasn’t without incident, as Jose Mourinho allegedly pushed a reporter who was standing near the team bus.
- Milan suffered their first defeat in all competitions since September 23, losing at home to Delio Rossi’s rejuvenated Palermo. The Rosanero won 2-0 and Milan boss Leonardo had few qualms with the result. Asked to explain the loss, the Brazilian said: “It’s just that we ran into a Palermo side that played better.”
- A southern derby of sorts between Napoli and Cagliari was the game of the weekend. It ended 3-3, although Cagliari thought they had won it, coming back from 2-0 down to lead 3-2 in the 89th minute. Mariano Bogliacino grabbed a 96th minute equaliser for Napoli, but the biggest talking point was Ezequiel Lavezzi’s sending off. El Pocho appeared to deliberately kick the ball at Massimiliano Allegri in the 95th minute after the Cagliari manager failed to control another ball going out of play, perhaps in a bid to waste some time.
- Fiorentina were another high-profile casualty, losing 2-1 away to Chievo. The Viola were physically and emotionally spent after Wednesday’s victory over Liverpool at Anfield, which guaranteed they finished first in Champions League Group E.
- After months of speculation, Luciano Spalletti was appointed by 2008 UEFA Cup winners Zenit St. Petersburg. The Tuscan tactician resigned from his position with Roma in September after four very successful years in the capital. “I don’t go out looking for the best contract, but so I can work in the best way for my club, to build a project that can bring Zenit a stable future both domestically and in Europe”he said.
- Catania fired Gianluca Atzori and hired Sinisa Mihajlovic, but that decision couldn’t stop them sliding to the foot of the table on Sunday. The Elefanti lost 1-0 at home to fellow strugglers Livorno, but Mihajlovic is confident they can survive. The Serb said: “I cannot reprimand my players for anything, as they gave it all they had and Livorno won the game with their only shot on target.”