This post was guest-blogged by Vittorio Pazzini. Follow him on Twitter (@vittoriopazzini)
Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s feisty, Neapolitan-style STTBS.
And we’re not referring to three-flavored ice cream or thin-crust pizza, and definitely not to any movie produced by Aurelio De Laurentiis.
Juventus travel to the Stadio San Paolo, that cauldron of fire (both literally and figuratively, depending on the mood of their fans), to take on Scudetto rivals Napoli.
And in addition to the standard excitement of a top-of-the-table clash, we’ve been primed and pumped by a few months of verbal warfare, accidentally touched off by Claudio Marchisio and his “grave injustice” to those good-natured, always classy Partenopei and their train-hijacking followers.
I can’t wait… to the news!
After a brief rest, the Bianconeri dove right back into preparations for the latest most important match of the season. Yesterday morning, Juventus held their first anti-Napoli training session of the week.
Those who featured in the Siena match got the old post-match “warm-down” treatment, while the rest of the squad prepared in earnest for the Neapolitans. Today will see another morning session.
At this very early juncture, the word out of Vinovo points to Arturo Vidal being considered ahead of the red hot Paul Pogba (see below), while embattled Sebastian Giovinco (again, see below) and Alessandro Matri are competing for a starting spot alongside Mirko Vucinic, who absolutely must play because it’s a big game. And we all know Mirko seems to try harder in the more important fixtures, as opposed to harnessing all his abundant skill and lazier side to frustrate us in less crucial matches.
The other big news out of Vinovo is that Giorgio Chiellini, who apparently received a knock to his ankle, appears to be okay:
Following this afternoon’s game against Siena, Giorgio Chiellini underwent a number of x-rays after reporting discomfort in his right ankle. The tests ruled out any bone or ligament damage and mean the defender has merely sustained heavy bruising.
I imagine the wind whipped up by the mass exhalation of Juve fans really confused Turin weathermen.
Juve were hardly expert marksman on Sunday, but enough shots hit the target to ensure the win, three of them more important than the others.
On a day when Juve held 58% possession and completed 74.6% of their attempted passes, only six of 17 shot attempts were even on target. Thankfully, 50% of those were goals.
Conversely, Siena had three of their four attempts on target. Their official tally was: zero goals, one Gigi Buffon standing in their way.
Unsurprisingly, the three Bianconeri with the highest shot totals were the three goalscorers: Pogba (five), Giovinco (four) and Lichtsteiner (two).
And according to the math wizards over at the official site, Federico Peluso led Juve in passing with a “completed passes index” of 71. Behind him were Andrea Barzagli (70), Andrea Pirlo (66), Leonardo Bonucci (51) and Pogba (46).
All this equals the statistical definition of “enough to get the job done.”
Wanted: Antonio Conte
Everywhere he goes, people are after him.
Whether it’s the FIGC and their henchmen trying to hogtie him to a chair in a glass booth every weekend, the fans around at home and abroad spreading the love, or foreign clubs lining up for his services, Antonio Conte is a wanted man.
It’s incredible what he’s accomplished this year, given the circumstances. His achievement can almost certainly be attributed to his powers of concentration and compartmentalization, his ability to block out the noise, analyze the hell out of the opponent, and translate his message to his players.
The Siena victory could easily have been a frustrating draw, as we’ve seen over recent years. Conte anticipated a natural complacency in his squad when faced with a smaller club and kept his men on edge:
We took to the field with a good approach, showing great respect for Siena who possess all the characteristics required to stay up. They’re in good form and came into the fixture following important results. I knew it wouldn’t be easy and that’s why I kept the tension high. Congratulations to the lads, they really did well today. I’m happy about Giovinco’s goal and for how it came about. We always look to work on every little detail, including set pieces.
Speaking of that Giovinco goal and the preceding rancor between Sebastian and the fans (see below), Conte urged Juve supporters to unite behind the squad during this crucial stretch of the season and not take them success for granted:
Unfortunately booing is becoming a bad habit at this stadium, supporters can’t boo the lads’ first mistake. I’ll remind them that this team has done extraordinary things, but above all brought back a sense of belonging and pride to all Bianconeri fans. My lads deserve respect, they’re all committed to following me. They all know that we mustn’t lose sight of our target and can only reach it through endeavor and sacrifice. Hard work is the reason behind us commanding top spot for a year and our proximity to the Champions League quarterfinals.
And of course, that hard work has not gone unnoticed, especially by Chelsea, who witnessed firsthand what it feels like to be bested by Conte, and are doing the most sensible thing they can think of: trying to poach him from Juve.
While that prospect may haunt Bianconeri fans right now, it’s all good for Antonio:
I’ve always said that my ambition is to coach abroad one day and I’m pleased to receive marks of esteem from important clubs, it means that we are working well. They make Juventus happy too, because it means that they chose well one-and-a-half years ago. At the moment I am just thinking about Juventus, to re-establish ourselves in Italy and to do well in Europe.
As a final note to this item, and a reminder of what Juventus and Conte still have to face from the majority of the world, this article from London’s Express sums up the media’s role in perpetuating false, damaging “facts” to the public. The article ends with this sentence:
Conte served a four-month ban at the beginning of the season for his involvement in a match-fixing incident last year.
No mention of the controversy surrounding it. No mention that he was absurdly accused of what is basically non-involved involvement: he failed to report plans of a possible match-fixing pact, of which he maintains he knew nothing and has been corroborated by several credible witnesses. No mention of Palazzi or “Pippo” or the other players in that “legal” farce.
I understand that there was likely no space for such details, but that doesn’t excuse telling white lies that will then turn into big ones, once in the hands of public opinion.
Leave Sebastian Alone!
Poor Atomic Ant: Sebastian Giovinco just can’t win.
He’s scored 11 goals, leading the team. In the campionato, he’s got seven, joint-first with Fabio Quagliarella. So why are certain sections of fans booing him?
Antonio Conte was more than a bit dismayed with the fans’ treatment of Seba:
At times certain murmurs of complaint from the stands really irritate me, as I find them inopportune. People forget that 18 months ago Juve were seventh. They ought to be enthusiastic at having players like Giovinco, so I do not agree with those who jeer.
After a sublime strike from an oblique angle to seal the win over Siena, Giovinco refused to celebrate, opting instead to subtly rest his index finger over his lips for a few seconds.
The message was clear, despite his agent (and publicist?) Andrea D’Amico attempting to smooth things over:
Sebastian is happy with his goal and happy with the faith of Conte. He always aims to give his best for himself and his teammates. And he’s always remained calm.
Calm? Really? In his worst performances this year, Seba certainly looked, if not nervous, than anxious, trying to do too much instead of reacting to the situation. When he did score, it was almost invariably not an important, game-deciding goal. He has contributed a few game-winning assists, but his most important goal this year tied Milan in a Coppa Italia match.
And for me, when he scores, even his most joyous celebrations betray just how much he resents all the pressure put on him. It occurs to me that both he and the tifosi are suffering from the same thing, and it’s not just the pressure to replace Del Piero.
Think about it: Sebastian is Torinese, he was a Juve ball-boy and basically grew up in the Bianconeri youth system. He showed immense promise, but also flashes of the ability to actually capitalize on it. He was literally working on a dream: to succeed at his hometown club. Whether he consciously acknowledges it or not, he certainly feels the pressure to complete the dream, and I would bet that as the years have gone by and Seba has languished, a fair amount of tifosi are preemptively disappointed and frustrated, too.
His first spell in the senior squad was wrecked by obstinate coaches, size concerns and ambiguity as to his true position on the pitch. His second, under the guidance of a manager who genuinely believes in him, should not be ruined by a bunch of fans.
He knows we’re disappointed, but he doesn’t need it rubbed in his face by fans. He gets enough of that from the media.
This Pogba’s On Fire!
Meanwhile, on the other side of confidence, things are getting ridiculous.
At 19 years old, you would expect Paul Pogba to show some promise, make several mistakes on the pitch, and a maybe a few more off it. And yet, there we were on Sunday, firing another laser into the bottom left corner to officially seal Juve’s win, and generally playing like a seasoned veteran.
Where are all the wrecked cars, Paul? Where are the no-shows at practice? What’s this about actually listening to your coach, or respecting people in general? Why are you not at this very moment in some Turin nightclub with a girl who calls herself Stiletto and really wants to act, texting your agent to find out when that Bengal Tiger you ordered will finally arrive, damn it?
But most importantly: What’s with all the spectacular long-distance goals?
The manager and my teammates always tell me to have a go and sometimes I feel that the stadium is encouraging me to shoot as well. I had the chance to today and it came off, even though the most important thing is that the team won.
I dedicate this goal to my agent’s niece, who is ill at the moment.
Disappointingly, not only does he appear to be a responsible, mature player and a caring person, but he appears to actually be absorbing the philosophies of Antonio Conte — even speaking like him:
(Napoli) is a contest we have to go into looking to win. We need to play with ruthlessness and concentration, as we did today against Siena. It wasn’t easy because they had played and beaten big teams like Lazio and Inter, but we went onto the pitch with the right mentality.
The young Frenchmen’s easy adaptation to Italy and Juve also extends to learning the language, with a little help from his fellow Bianconeri (and probably from the short, staccato words screamed at him and everyone else by Antonio Conte):
I have a great will to learn and I like listening to others. That’s how I’m learning the language, also thanks to my teammates, especially Pepe, who is always talking.
Apparently, Paul is keen not only to keep on speaking Italian for the foreseeable future, but also to taking his soon-to-be-trademark long shots at goal exclusively for Juventus:
Personally, I’m happy because in my first year at Juventus, I’ve already scored five goals. Attention from other clubs? It doesn’t interest me. I really like it here and I want to play in this shirt for a long time.
Speriamo. But now that we’re done talking shop, let’s get serious: What’s going on with Paul’s increasingly long and intricate dance steps after each goal?
My celebration? It was a dance my friends and I have worked on. We dance like this to Buba, a French rapper.
Juventus should hire his friends to stand on the sidelines, ready to join him on the pitch for a choreographed goal celebration.
Solo or with a group, we hope to see him dance even more in the coming years.
Gigi Can Save on Short Notice
When I first saw the ball bounce off the crossbar, I couldn’t tell whether it was yet another miracle save from San Gigi, or just the natural trajectory of the shot. A quick replay confirmed it.
Yup. Another day, another miracle save from Gianluigi Buffon.
Buffon’s continued prowess in goal is all the more amazing when you consider that for the bulk of almost every match since Conte took over, he has had very little to do. These days, the man is an on-call miracle worker.
After the match, Gigi gave us a glimpse into the inner workings of his remarkably sustained motivation, after winning almost everything there is to win:
I work with passion and the desire to show that I’m still an important goalkeeper, and when I say this I don’t mean being the fifth or sixth best in the world. I’ve still got the will to amaze and this enables me to focus and face training and games in the right way.
Buffon went on to stress the importance of continuity between the Siena and Napoli clashes:
We played a good game today, against a side in good form. We knew they would cause us difficulties and that’s how it went, but we tackled them in an intelligent manner. We need to face the Napoli encounter with our standard approach, without straying from our usual game.
A major part of the “usual game” being Gigi’s presence behind the defense.
Napoli II: The Return of Maradona
Why not throw in an unexpected plot twist?
This week, the Serie A circus welcomes the return of one of its most (in)famous ringmasters.
After two decades in exile, Diego Armando Maradona touched down on Italian soil once again to watch his beloved Napoli goallessly draw with Udinese, as well as take care of some shady business (is there any other kind with him?). He will reportedly be in the stands for the Juve match. And for good measure, he officially opened the festivities of Juve-Napoli antagonism that will run through Friday’s match.
One of the two or three best players in the history of football, Maradona nevertheless fled the peninsula after testing positive for cocaine use and being accused of having ties to the Camorra.
And that was only the beginning of his troubles:
It was later claimed by the Italian authorities that Maradona owed the state millions of euros (dollars, pounds) in unpaid taxes. Maradona was convicted in 2005 and ordered to pay 37.2 million euros ($50.4 million), including 23.5 million euros in interest for late payments.
His lawyer recently claimed the Italian authorities had cleared the debt, thus allowing him to return to the country. But the tax authorities denied the claims.
Of course, allegations, or even convictions, of cocaine use, hobnobbing with criminals and notorious handball goals are categorically no match for the undying memory of the Argentine legend’s immense accomplishments and thrilling play on the pitch—at least that’s true for most of us who were not directly affected by his indiscretions (English fans excluded). For us, said transgressions are simply “colorful.”
Maradona touched down in Rome to a hero’s welcome, as “dozens of supporters wearing Napoli colors turned up to greet their hero with songs about him from his playing days.” Except for one brave soul.
A fan in a Juve shirt took a picture with him on his cell phone. Maradona would not lose the opportunity to start digging (if jokingly) on behalf of his former club:
When Juventus played against us they were always scared.
That’s all he’s got?
Shortly after, the informal reception moved to Naples’ Hotel Royal:
Maradona came out onto the balcony to wave to about 300 chanting fans. When they started singing ‘who doesn’t jump is a Juventus fan,’ the 52-year-old Argentine immediately started jumping.
That’s adorable. And I mean that — relatively speaking.
Compared to the Napoli tifosi’s recent behavior towards Juve, that is downright neighborly!
Juventus Club Day
In an attempt to better reflect the Mothership in all its multifaceted, interdisciplinary interests—economics, infrastructure, sports medicine, charity, education, etc. — STTBS strives to bring you not only pure calcio news, but all that is interesting and novel in what is fast becoming a Juventus Universe.
Last week, the stadium was host to three diverse talks on various aspects of coaching from Bianconeri experts (or whom the website will at times demote to “backroom staff,” as if anyone below Conte is sorting mail). This past Sunday, as befits an era hallmarked by impressive organization from the boardroom to the pitch to the entire area surrounding the stadium, Juventus conducted an experiment in that most frivolous but essential area of research: communal glory-basking.
According to the site, 750 different fans from almost 500 supporters’ clubs and from places as far-flung as Dubai, Russia and Australia were invited to an event called Juventus Club Day. At the Teatro della Concordia in Venaria, these very lucky and dedicated tifosi were rewarded with a stage full of Juventus VIPs, each of them testifying to different aspects of our total awesomeness.
And Juventus was happy to see them, too — even if they were a bit overdramatic about it:
They faced the snow and, as true Juventus fans, overcame the challenge.
Weathering snow and marking Edinson Cavani are pretty much equally difficult tasks, according to the Law of Ju-niversal Relativity.
The meeting was opened by none other than Mariella Scirea, honorary president of the supporters’ club coordination center, who when describing the management and fans alike invoked a bit of the same class and loyalty of her late, unbelievably lamented husband and Juve bandiera, Gaetano:
Juventus are back in the place they belong and that’s owed to the management that you see here before you. Our praises go out to them as well as to you, for your respect of the rules and support for the team and club. You make Juventus proud.
After reliving some of the events of the past year via video, Andrea Agnelli put the current squad in historical context with no little emotion:
This year my family marks its 90th year with Juventus: the longest ownership to be found in the world of sport. In these 90 years we have achieved many successes, but last year’s title has a particular flavor, because it marked a return to winning after the events of 2006.
In 2010 I witnessed a club in difficulty and a divided fan base. The most important thing was becoming united once again, because otherwise we would not have started winning again. And our whole purpose is winning, since it’s the essence of Juventus.
Next up, Pavel Nedved, Juve hero and Andrea’s frequent teammate on his informal 5-a-side calcio squad (can you imagine playing with him?). You won’t be surprised that even in retirement he’s still a warrior:
I feel at home among all these fans because we all share the same passion for Juventus. We’ve experienced extraordinary moments together, but I don’t like dwelling on the past. We need to think about making Juve even stronger. We got back to our winning ways in a hurry, but we have no intention to stop now. And this will be possible thanks to your support. We’re proud of you and thank you for your great love for this team.
Following Aldo Mazzia’s recounting of Juve’s mission to “increase the club’s capitalization, protect our investment in the Juventus Stadium, redevelop the nearby area, and also the creation of an academy in Vinovo to produce future champions,” Giuseppe Marotta sought to narrow the gap between the fans and club, while divulging some of the secrets of Juve’s rapid, nearly implausible resurgence:
From the moment president Agnelli asked me to join Juventus we haven’t just wanted to create a project, but a winning model. We’ve done that via a process of rejuvenation that has seen us win the Scudetto with only five players who were already at the club the season before, and having found a point of reference in Antonio Conte.
Success also comes thanks to the work done behind the scenes, thanks to a strong club. And we’ve created that. Today, some 200 people work hard to make sure that the side that takes to the pitch have only one thing on their mind, to go out and win. They do that every day, 7 days a week, with tremendous passion. The same passion that all of you have.
The players were represented by Simone Pepe, unfortunately injured but undaunted in not only his will to recover, but his staunch support of his teammates:
My teammates, the club and my family have helped me considerably during this difficult time, when I’ve been forced out due to injury. We’ll get through this problem together. The side are continuing to enjoy incredible success on the pitch, and that’s something to be proud of. Now, we hope to take another important step towards winning the Scudetto with a win in the crucial game against Siena. Therefore, as it’s cold, make sure to warm yourselves up at the stadium and let’s all get behind Juventus together.
And then the cherry on top: Each and every supporter got to witness Juve’s domination of Siena for the low, low price of screaming and chanting on their Bianconeri.
To sum up the occasion, the fans and La Vecchia Signora herself, commercial director Francesco Calvo:
For us at Juventus, the fans are our unparalleled heritage. More than 500 official organized groups of fans exist, 50 of them outside Italy. They represent 50% of all our season ticket holders and total in excess of 111,000 fans. Not many football clubs around the world can claim similar support and for us that is something to be proud of and extra reason to improve and reward your extraordinary sense of being part of this club.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but you know which club I can’t see putting on a classy event like this?
Gimme an N, gimme an A…
That’s all for today. Stay tuned later this week for more Napoli news, Team Eats and maybe even the return of Sophia Loren. A presto!
[STTBS]: Juventus News is a daily feature where the JuventiKnows editorial team discusses the JuveNews stories you need to read, without the “Messi signs for Juve on loan thanks to Nike” kind of nonsense. What does [STTBS] mean? You’ll have to guess that for yourself. We wouldn’t tell you even under pain of torture… (though we do take bribes)