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Rhinestone Ranieri wins Juventus showdown

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Anyone visiting Italy last week could be forgiven for mistaking the land of La Dolce Vita for the Wild West, such was the manner in which the country’s press played fast and loose with words like ‘showdown’ and ‘revenge’.

Roma boss Claudio Ranieri was back in Turin for the first time since Juventus fired him with just two games remaining last season. He had never won there as an opposing manager in his 23-year coaching career. But something felt different this time.

Just as in 2004 when Roman Abramovich sacked Ranieri despite Chelsea’s second place finish in the Premier League and their appearance in the Champions League semi-finals, the public appeared to be on the Tinkerman’s side.

Juventus fans, whose curva was closed for racist chanting, staged a protest march from the Fiat Mirafiori factory, and while they weren’t exactly behind Ranieri, they shared his grievances most notably against the club’s board.

Roberto Bettega, the Juventus legend who recently returned as a vice-general manager, didn’t exactly help matters by telling the press he predicted a win for the Bianconeri that would lead to a Milan-like resurgence in the championship.

Ranieri, having been a model diplomat all week, wasn’t impressed. “It got under my skin,” he admitted. But aside from that barb, which, incidentally, was delivered with a laugh, Ranieri handled himself with real class.

He insisted that he held no grudge against Ciro Ferrara, who he trained at Napoli during the 1991-92 season, or the players, even though some of Juventus’s so-called ‘senators’ had called for his head behind closed doors.

No, his beef lay solely with the board. Juventus went into Saturday night’s clash having won just one of their last seven games. If the season started on December 6, the Bianconeri would be fourth from bottom with just six points.

So the question on everybody’s lips was one and the same. Why did Juventus fire Ranieri? That’s a chapter he’s promised to write in a future autobiography, but the fact Roma travelled north in third place and on a run of 11-games without defeat left pundits in no doubt that Juventus’s and not Ranieri’s reputation was the one tarnished by events last summer.

From their seats on the moral high ground, Roma fans were still not without concern ahead of their trip to Turin. The last time Roma beat Juventus away in Serie A came on September 29, 2001, a win that contributed to their first Scudetto in 18 years.

Things certainly didn’t look good when January signing Luca Toni, fresh from scoring his first two goals for the club against Genoa the weekend before, limped off after just eight minutes. Francesco Totti replaced Toni, who is now out for a month, much to his and Ranieri’s discomfort. The Roma captain had yet to appear in 2010 after suffering a knee injury against Parma in December and he clearly wasn’t fit.

That didn’t stop him from making an impact, though. Totti scored a 68th minute penalty that cancelled out Alessandro Del Piero’s beautiful volleyed opener. He is now seventh in Italy’s all-time goalscoring charts. Totti’s 188th League goal was also interestingly enough his first against Juventus in Turin.

The turning point came with seven minutes to go, when Jon-Arne Riise of all people raced through clear on goal from the half-way line. Gigi Buffon came out to meet him and made a tactical foul, for which he deservedly earned a red card.

Riise later revealed that at half-time he had a chat with Roma’s chief playmaker David Pizarro. The Norway international explained that he was finding so little resistance on the left-hand side that the pint-sized Pizarro should seek him out. And that’s just what he did in the 92nd minute, sending a delightful diagonal ball into the box, which found Riise, who left Juventus’s new signing Antonio Candreva for dead, and headed it past Alex Manninger like the ghost of Tore Andre Flo.

Ranieri didn’t know where to look as his players ran under the away curva. Speaking after the game, he said: “I am very happy with what I did in my two years in Turin and now I’m very happy to be at Roma. There is no desire for revenge. It is my first win over Juventus, clearly I needed to get my home team to achieve it.

“I said hello to everyone I met before the referee led the teams on to the field. I won’t salute the directors, no. I saluted Ciro Ferrara, but not the directors.” And off Rhinestone Ranieri went into the sunset, a hero’s welcome of more than 300 fans awaiting him and his team at Rome’s Fiumicino airport at 2:45 in the morning. A victory for one of football’s nice guys.

Meanwhile Juventus fall to sixth, five points behind Roma and the torture for Ciro “Rocky” Ferrara continues. The latest manager said to be about to replace him is none other than Giovanni Trapattoni, the Republic of Ireland boss, who won six Scudetti, a European Cup and seven other major honours in two stints with the Bianconeri.

Talking points

  • Marcello Lippi raised a toast to himself last week, as Gigi Delneri, the Sampdoria manager, decided to drop Antonio Cassano for ‘technical reasons’ ahead of Sunday’s match against Udinese. Without a win in eight, it was clear something had to give at Marassi and unfortunately that something was Cassano. Rumours circulated that the Bari brat had a bust-up with Delneri at Samp’s training ground in Bogliasco earlier in the week, claims that were strenuously denied by the club hierarchy on Friday. “We have spoken and I have explained my ideas to him, but there has not been a clash, we had a pleasant chat as men. I want strikers who know how to press. It’s a normal choice for a coach and it’s normal on the part of a player to accept it, like Antonio has done.” Delneri was vindicated as Samp won 3-2. Cassano’s replacement, Nicola Pozzi, scored the Blucerchiati’s crucial equaliser. Oh, how long ago that day in October must feel when, minutes after Italy’s 3-2 victory over Cyprus, Lippi rounded on the fans for booing the team and invoking Cassano’s name!
  • In an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport last week, Bari striker Paulo Barreto admitted that his two biggest wishes are to spend a day with Kaka and play for Brazil. He’s a step closer to doing just that after scoring his eighth goal in his last seven matches. What makes the 24-year-old Brazilian’s feat all the more impressive is that his goals have come against Napoli, Juventus, Udinese, Fiorentina, Inter, Genoa and Bologna.
  • Serse Cosmi, the gravel-voiced, baseball cap wearing, Livorno manager quit on Sunday, citing ‘disagreements’ with Aldo Spinelli, the club’s president. He’s the 13th managerial casualty in Serie A this season, although the circumstances surrounding his resignation are unclear. Cristiano Lucarelli, the Livorno talisman, said that Cosmi apparently told the club’s old guard he was quitting on Thursday in spite of Sunday’s result. “You can understand where the problems lie. The fact the Coach already had a statement ready shows you this has been in the air for a while and that’s it not an instinctive decision.”
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