This post was guest-blogged by Vittorio Pazzini. Follow him on Twitter (@vittoriopazzini)
Welcome back, everyone!
All is quiet at Vinovo, but we can assure you there’s no shortage of activity throughout the Ju-niverse, whether it’s mapping out a transfer strategy, planning summer road trips, or, most exciting of all, simply hoping no one is injured on international duty.
In today’s STTBS, we’ll prepare to follow the Bianconeri around California like Deadheads, check in with Chiellini at Azzurri camp, and learn what Paul Pogba’s got against Sir Alex Ferguson.
And of course, we’ll tackle the latest transfer news and rumors, separating the true from the false, the hopeful from the desperate, and the well-reported from the completely fabricated.
Don’t blame the media, friends — they’ve got nothing else to do. Okay, blame them.
To the news!
JU-SA Tour Updates (East Coast Mostly Screwed)
The USA tour picture is finally clear: It looks like Juve will be predominantly based on the West Coast for the majority of the trip — specifically California, and even more specifically, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The Bianconeri will make their tournament bow at the home of baseball side San Francisco Giants, AT&T Park, against Everton on Wednesday 31 July at 8pm local time. Their opponents for the following fixture, to be contested on Saturday 3 August at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium, will be determined by the result against the Toffees and the outcome of LA Galaxy’s clash with Real Madrid in Phoenix, with the winners and losers to be pitted against each other.
Meanwhile, NYC Juventini (including some of us here at STTBS) are truly fortune’s fools this time around, as the East Coast teams playing at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey will be Milan, Valencia, Chelsea and Moratti’s Minions. Let’s collectively refer to them here as Four Unimportant Clubs.
Win or lose, the Bianconeri will play once more in Miami, according to the following scenario:
All eight clubs will then link up on Tuesday 6 and Wednesday 7 August in Miami, where the city’s Sun Life Stadium is to play host to the final stages. The victorious teams from both opening games will play for the tournament’s title, while the remaining sides will fight for third, fifth and seventh place finishes.
It’s funny how much of a push this preseason tournament is getting, PR-wise. The official site is calling the Cup a “prestigious” tournament, even though this is the very first edition under this new name. Where’s all this prestige coming from? Is it coming from Guinness? I suppose Guinness is as prestigious as any other beer. And if they are referencing the beer, “prestigious” sounds better than calling the tournament “almost like a meal in itself.”
In other tour-related news, the entire USA jaunt will be sponsored by Jeep. The company will follow the Bianconeri from stop to stop, hosting “a number of exciting special events.”
As of press time, our email requests for “Jeeps! Jeeps for everyone!” have received no reply. We believe their spam setting must be on “High.”
7 Bianconeri in San Marino Friendly
Cesare Prandelli will field an experimental Azzurri side in this Friday afternoon’s friendly with San Marino, which will be played in Bologna.
And from the looks of it, the majority of the Bianconeri internationals will be brought off the bench. According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, only Gigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo are expected to start. Meanwhile, Prandelli plans to rest Andrea Barzagli in view of next week’s qualifier — a good move, considering he’s the best defender in Italy right now.
In other Juve-related Azzurri news, Prandelli has given Sebastian Giovinco the much-coveted No. 10 jersey, just days after reports surfaced that Juve would offer their No. 10 not to Seba, but to Stevan Jovetic, were he to sign from Fiorentina. Make of that what you will.
The scheduling of today’s friendly has been called into question by some in the media, coming as it does immediately following the end of a very tiring season, and immediately before next week’s important World Cup qualifier vs. the Czech Republic and the upcoming Confederations Cup in Brazil.
Prandelli defended the decision with his usual straightforward eloquence:
We wanted this game because the program included four days of training, double sessions each day, and I needed a friendly environment to test out the new faces and to understand even if, at a tactical level, they could be used at a faster pace. So as far as we are concerned, we will have the objective of maintaining a certain kind of attitude, a certain kind of balance, but also to understand if those guys called up can be considered as players able to go to the Confederations Cup.
As for fatigue, the Azzurri manager’s language was nothing if not diplomatic, but his message was nevertheless clear: If you want to play for Italia, suck it up.
As I said the other day, with their presence and enthusiasm, we must try to understand that when you wear this shirt, you must have something more, with respect to normal players and to many of the guys who have had good seasons and are already on vacation.
The national team gives you a lot but you have to be equally generous. I am convinced that there may be fatigue, so perhaps we have to be clever at motivating the players in a certain way. We have worked well in these past few days and I do not see the problem of fatigue.
I’m guessing today’s friendly will be no classic, but in any case, look for most if not all of the seven Bianconeri available to feature at some point — and hope for Giovinco to do something for the first time in an Azzurri senior jersey.
Probable lineup vs. San Marino (4-3-3):
Buffon; Maggio, Ranocchia, Ogbonna, Antonelli; Poli, Pirlo, Aquilani; Diamanti, Gilardino, Bonaventura.
Bench: Sirigu, Agazzi, Abate, Ogbonna, Bonucci, Chiellini, De Sciglio, Marchisio, Montolivo, Cerci, Giaccherini, Balotelli, El Shaarawy, Giovinco, Sau.
Chiellini on Azzurri, Juve Future
He may be starting on the bench tomorrow, but Giorgio Chiellini is nothing if not a full-time protagonist, both for Juve and the Nazionale.
Moreover, along with the likes of Gigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo, he is also something of an unlikely elder statesman on what is now a very young team. Thus, a word from the Kaiser is always snapped up by the media, especially before an important qualifier.
Giorgio spoke to the press about next week’s match in Prague, stressing the wonderful opportunity the Azzurri have to put qualification to rest:
The game in Prague could represent the turning point, winning would guarantee our place in Brazil. But we need to stay alert, if it doesn’t go well we’re back among the chasing pack.
Having disposed on Azzurri sound-bite duties, Chiellini’s line of questioning turned toward the inevitable: How do Juve effectively take on Europe next season?
The club is doing its best to improve every area of the team and be in the position to compete at an even higher level. We weren’t even in Europe two years ago, this season we returned to Champions League after a lengthy absence and enjoyed a great run.
We topped our group ahead of both reigning European champions and winners of this year’s Europa League Chelsea and Shakhtar, who probably would have beaten Borussia Dortmund or given a better account of themselves if they had kept hold of Willian in January. He’s an extraordinary player who made the difference.
We breezed through the last 16 and then came up against Bayern, a team that has objectively shown itself to be the strongest at this current moment. As far as I’m concerned they were in an incredible physical condition, because they beat both us and Barcelona over those three weeks. We now need to continue to improve year on year.
Of course, any chance at Champions League glory will hinge on the success of the Bianconeri’s fearsome back line — though it was admittedly less than fearsome to a certain German club. Still, it’s hard to blame the defense, when there was very little offense to speak of against Bayern.
That’s where Marotta and co. come in. And for now, it’s still early enough in the summer window to have nothing but hope for the future.
Pogba and Fergie: The Way They Were
Ever wonder why Paul Pogba would occasionally lash out at former boss Sir Alex Ferguson, seemingly unprovoked? Ever think there was more to it than a little then-19-year-old, “my boss sucks” immaturity?
It turns out there was — according to Paul. If you believe Football Italia, Sir Alex felt like painting all of Italy with the racist brush in an effort to dissuade Pogba from joining Juventus. Here’s Paul speaking to France Football, via FI:
He said they were all racist. Ferguson shouted at me and said: ‘Where are you going? To Juve, to Italy? Do you know what there is out there? They’re all racist.’”
He said the fans were not like they are in England. I replied there was racism everywhere, so I just wanted to play football so I could gain experience and improve. Ferguson noted ‘ok’ and then never let me play for Manchester United again.
Righteous indignation on Pogba’s part, or over-dramatization from a sensitive 20-year-old? And what about the media’s role in all this?
Now, I know very little of Sir Alex’s character, beyond the usual homages paid by the entire footballing world upon the announcement of his retirement. Nor do I speak French. But on the face of it, it seems as if translation may have skewed this story toward the sensational.
As seen above, Football Italia translates Ferguson’s words (via Pogba’s telling) to read: “They’re all racist.” Another source, the UK’s Daily Mail, provides a softer tone: “There’s a lot of racism.”
There’s definitely a lot of racism, as we’ve unfortunately seen many times this year, and frequently from fellow Juventini. But it’s not all-encompassing.
The danger in getting this quote wrong is evident — and that’s not even taking into account that Pogba could be embellishing Sir Alex’s words. A few words can make the difference between a pragmatic (if very shrewd) Ferguson, and a prejudiced one. I would be very interested if any French-speaking Juventini out there can shed some light on this matter.
We might also ask why this is turning up now, not even a month after Ferguson’s retirement. It seems like bad form — like speaking ill of the dead, in a way.
Pogba said recently that he feels he has to mature before he can even think of playing for such lofty achievements as a Ballon d’Or. Surely part of that maturity is deflecting any attempts by the press to bait you into answering such questions to help sell newspapers.
This week, we learn that some transfer rumors are simply bad attempts at mind control. Most, actually.
—Juventus are reportedly ready to offer €18 million and Luca Marrone to Fiorentina for Stevan Jovetic, who are expected to counter with an offer of €22 million plus Marrone. C’mon, guys, what’s €4 million between friends? Oh… right.
—Alberto Aquilani claims that Fiorentina will allow Stevan Jovetic to go anywhere he wants this summer, since he fulfilled his agreement to stay with the club through this past season. I’d like to see that in writing, particularly to check if there’s a written clause saying, “Even if you want to go to those black-and-white devils who have single-handedly destroyed every chance for our collective happiness. God, we hate them.”
—Claudio Marchisio has many suitors these days (Man U, Chelsea, Monaco), but hopefully only one home (Juve, Juve, Juve).
—Spanish paper Marca calls Arturo Vidal’s contract with Juve “armor-plated.” Getting frustrated, amigos?
—Juve have identified Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez as another backup option for the attack. Carlos Tevez is preferred to Hernandez, but both are preferred to Luis Suarez, simply by virtue of their being housebroken.
—Juve are reportedly preparing to offer Manchester City Felipe Melo and €5 million for Tevez. The offer comes with a note attached: “Please keep Melo regardless of acceptance.”
—Certain sectors of world football media (*cough*English*cough*) seem to be practicing telepathy on Paul Pogba in a bid to get him to Arsenal, speculating that since he experienced some instances of racism in Italy, he may be persuaded to move to London. Which is totally free of racism.
—Ex-Juve left-back Cristian Molinaro, he of the spectacular backheels, said recently that Juventus are not ready to win the Champions League. “Granted,” he added sheepishly, “Neither am I.”
—Latest on Higuain, for those keeping score: Yes. Possibly. No. No way. Wait… yes! Really? No. Don’t know.
Elkann’s Happy (But It Doesn’t Mean More Money)
It’s always a good thing to have the backing of a very wealthy patron like the Agnelli family.
But as we’ve seen in Serie A for far too long, even the biggest movers and shakers in Italy are moving and shaking far less frequently than their European counterparts. Some may be unwilling, but most are simply unable to help their clubs be competitive beyond a certain point. That certain point is the difference between, say, Bayern Munich and Juventus.
Still, it’s encouraging for the fanbase to see John Elkann, holder of the purse-strings and a mostly silent partner to cousin Andrea Agnelli when it comes to Juve’s daily operation, take the official party line of growth, growth and more growth:
We’ve had two winning seasons, and it’s our ambition to develop even further next year. Nowadays a great deal of importance is placed on the ability to have great stars, Juventus have many of these and they are strong together.”
This is the Juventus spirit: a strong team which also wants to develop its own players. We’ve got Marchisio, Giovinco, Marrone and De Ceglie who come from our youth academy, representing almost 20% of the 25-man first team squad. Few teams in Italy possess such an important number of homegrown players.
Elkann’s inclusion of the those four homegrown Bianconeri can be read as a statement of support, but the swirling transfer rumors around Marchisio (which will hopefully come to nothing), plus the generally ambiguous futures of the other three, make me wonder how much longer this claim will be true.
John also takes the Bianconeri party line when calling upon the collection of wasps’ nests that make up the various Italian sporting bodies to step up efforts to compete with those of other European countries:
It was interesting to see two German teams in this year’s Champions League final. Effort needs to be made by the Lega Calcio in order for us have stronger Italian teams in Europe. We need to try and work out how the Italian football system can progress and evolve as we’ve seen in other countries.
For their part, Juventus are already way ahead of the curve, as Elkann reiterates:
Our teams need to have the opportunity to develop their proceeds. To achieve this, a greater culture and involvement from the fans is required. This is one of the great strengths possessed by England and Germany. It’s something Andrea’s driving forward and Juventus have everything in place to get there. Teams are strong because the entire system is strong.
Beyond an occasional transfer splash from one of the Milan clubs, it’s safe to say that a calcio-wide arms race in the mercato is very far off.
Hopefully, Juve are far enough ahead in the process of reorganization to continue their steady progress under Elkann and Agnelli and be the first Italian team to arrive back at the European summit.
Juve Champions Series Continues
As mentioned in our last episode, Juventus.com is running a series of profiles simply called “The Champions,” commemorating each protagonist on this season’s Scudetto-winning squad.
For someone constantly “on the verge,” Paolo must consider this season to have been a frustrating one. Still, despite missing some time due to injury and fighting for playing time when healthy, De Ceglie was still in the general mix this campaign and often proved to be a very dangerous passing threat at left-back:
Paolo delivered 61 crosses over the course of the season, the fourth highest figure of the entire squad, and frequently displayed his pinpoint precision when tasked with picking out a team-mate, with 246 of his 289 attempted passes (83.2%) reaching their intended target.
As for Marchisio, the official site uses language which should reassure us of his continued place in the Bianconeri firmament, despite the transfer rumors:
Claudio Marchisio cemented his reputation as one of the most complete midfielders in Europe with another commendable campaign at the heart of the Bianconeri’s engine room.
The Azzurri midfielder was also the team’s most effective crosser of the ball, with 47.2% of his deliveries from wide areas picking out a fellow team-mate. In fact, the percentage rises even further when examining Marchisio’s shooting accuracy—23 of his 48 efforts on goal hitting the target (47.9%).
Statistics aside, the academy graduate’s versatility provided an invaluable resource throughout the final run-in, enabling Antonio Conte to push him into a more advanced role alongside lone striker Mirko Vucinic. It was a move that paid off to devastating effect. Just ask Torino…
Let’s hope Conte and Marotta don’t forget that versatility — and that goal against Torino — when weighing their options this summer.
Heysel: 28th Anniversary
And finally: This week saw the anniversary of a dark, dark day in Bianconeri, football and human history, but one that nevertheless needs to be remembered.
From the official site, in full:
Juventus Football Club today remembers the 39 innocent victims of the Heysel disaster in Brussels.
On 29 May 1985, the European Cup Final between Juventus and Liverpool, an occasion which should have represented a true celebration of football, was hit by one of the worst tragedies in the history of the sport.
Before kick-off at the Heysel Stadium, the English hooligans caused a violent uproar against the Italian supporters.
The facility suffered from serious structural problems and the Sector Z collapsed while the Bianconeri fans were looking for an escape route: 39 people died and 600 were injured.
In order to prevent further disorder, officials opted to go ahead with the game, but the occasion and its subsequent result were never capable of erasing the tragic scenes witnessed prior to kick-off.
Since then, today’s date, 29 May, can only be a moment of pain, silence and reflection.
The Heysel tragedy and its victims will never be forgotten, with a star dedicated to each and every one of them at the club’s new home, Juventus Stadium.
A special tribute has also been installed at Juventus Museum, where family members are free to pay their own individual respects whenever they wish.
Yet these little gestures aren’t purely designed to honour the indelible memories of those deceased. They need to act as a reminder, for everyone.
Each of us has the duty to remember that such mindless violence should never be allowed to occur. Ever again.
With ever-increasing tension between rival supporters — an antagonism which always threatens to make rivalries literally deadly — the Heysel tragedy’s continued resonance for modern times is unfortunate, even as its continued invocation is entirely necessary to prevent future disasters.
If it’s painful to remember, it will be even more painful to forget.
That’s all for this week. Check out our ongoing year-end Player Ratings feature, and we’ll see you soon right here for more transfer updates and news from around the Ju-niverse.
Ciao for now.
[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)