Benvenuto Alla Juventus: RETO ZIEGLER – Winger by Day, Left-Back by Night

It’s no secret that many Juventini are doubtful of Beppe Marotta’s ability to manage a big club, there have worries that he has a provincial mentality, or that he’s transforming Juventus into another “bigger” Sampdoria. These comments have usually come when Juventus has signed someone perhaps more suited to such clubs like Doria or Udinese, players like Simone Pepe or Jorge Martinez who are not necessarily starting eleven material at Juventus.

However, those opposed to Marotta have not really slammed him for signing Reto Ziegler, despite the transfer making its own jab. It’s probably a testament to general satisfaction with signing the 25 year-old full-back which, couple with the arrival of Stephan Lichtsteiner, adds a distinctive Swiss flavor to Juve’s terzini options.

Stephan and Reto, the Swiss connection at Juve

Like his ex-Lazio compatriot, Reto Ziegler started his career at Grasshopper Club Zürich. Though many assumed from his days at Tottenham (and his early Sampdoria career) that Ziegler has been “terzino‘d”, i.e. converted from a winger to a full-back much like Lippi did with Gianluca Zambrotta, Ziegler actually started his career as a full-back. He stated that when he was young, a coach told him “If you want to go far in your career, you have to play full-back“, and it seems Ziegler has followed his coaches’ tutelage well enough, his progression taking him from Grasshoppers to Tottenham, Sampdoria and now, Juventus.

Ziegler left the Swiss Super League at a relatively young age, signing with Premier League club Tottenham when he was only 18 years old. He enjoyed some small runs in the Spurs’ team, showing promise but never seeming to earn enough of the manager’s trust to earn a starting role. As a result he was loaned out several times (Wigan, Hamburg), before eventually landing at Sampdoria, who picked him up in the January transfer window of 2007 and made his move permanent the following summer. In London and Genoa he mostly featured at left midfield, alternating occasionally back into the team’s rear guard. It was the arrival of Gigi Del Neri as Blucerchiati manager that definitively put him back in defense.

At the end of the 2009-10 season, Juventus made an approach for the Swiss full-back shortly after bringing Del Neri, Marotta, and Paratici to Turin. Garrone was however not in a negotiating mood and declined the Bianconeri’s offer. Ziegler thus entered the last season of his contract in 2010-2011, leading to ample speculation Sampdoria would cash in during the January mercato, as Ziegler was close to Milan, Lazio, and reportedly Liverpool during that time. Nevertheless the player stayed put, the Blucerchiati even offering a contract extension during the Fall to ensure his stay in the Ligurian capital. Ziegler chose to wait, see how the season ended. A wise move.

As we know, Sampdoria’s ill-fated relegation at the end of the year meant Reto Ziegler became at last a free agent. Marotta, the man who signed him from Tottenham, again made contact and Ziegler was pleased to rejoin Beppe to sign on with Conte’s project at Juventus. The player commented he would have liked playing under Del Neri again, but he also added “I’m here for Juventus, not Del Neri or Marotta. How could I turn down this club?” Juventus swooped in, and signed the Swiss player to a 4-year contract.

Opponents at first, now sharing a locker-room...

The important question we should ask then: is Reto Ziegler a good signing? And the answer is: ABSOLUTELY. Not only that, but it’s a bonus that we got him on a free transfer.

In many ways, Ziegler is similar to Paolo De Ceglie. Known more for his offensive talents than any defensive exploits, Ziegler enjoys running up the flank and occasionally unleashing his thunderbolt of a shot. Having been only recently moved back (again) to defense, his man-marking can be a bit deficient and he has been guilty of a few Marco Motta-style lapses in judgement (the kind where he forgets he’s a full-back and leaves gaps behind him).

In addition, people have often compared Juve’s two Swiss signings to one another but the truth is, despite both players hailing from Grasshoppers Ziegler and Lichtsteiner are rather different additions. Lichtsteiner is the more defensive player, having played in that position far longer while Ziegler occupying predominantly a winger role (and therefore being more comfortable in the attack). Lichtsteiner is certainly more of the polished article, an important investment for the club that has made Juve’s right-flank look fantastic during pre-season, whereas Ziegler’s addition is more of a minor tweak. Nevertheless, while not at the same level of his Schweizer Nati teammate (their market values confirming as such) Ziegler is, at worst, a very good reserve to have.

Indeed, whether he ends up as starter or not, instead of Traoré, Grosso, or even Motta (Ziegler can play on the right side as well) we have an experienced, competent full-back ready to come in for an injured player if the necessity should arise. Additionally Ziegler, like most of Sampdoria, had a terrific season in 2009-2010 (one horrendous derby aside) which truly shows the extent of his potential.

So is he starting material? It all depends on whether he continues to grow in his career, and whether he can manage the step to Juventus. Either way, with De Ceglie and Ziegler as options, Juventus’s left-hand side is finally looking at brighter days. Hopefully this means Grosso has gotten the message and will soon join the “other” Fabio in Dubai.

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