This post was guest-blogged by Vittorio Pazzini. Follow him on Twitter (@vittoriopazzini)
Well, that feeling of Euro euphoria was fun while it lasted. Now it’s back to work.
Juventus’ loss at Roma this past weekend certainly did not erase the general good feeling from last week’s victory in Scotland, but it was a necessary reality check. The Bianconeri are still learning to negotiate the demands of twin competitions, and they’re still missing a consistent strike force.
However, if a fatigued, battle-scarred Juve firing on no cylinders were still only a Francesco Totti master-strike away from scraping a point, then we can rest assured that our Vecchia Signora still has her eyes on the proverbial prize.
Antonio Conte granted his warriors a full two days of much-needed rest, but as of yesterday, Juve were back on the training pitch, preparing for Siena. Meanwhile, much-missed players, whether through injury, national team commitments or suspension, are being reintegrated into the tactical scheme of things as we speak.
In today’s STTBS, we’ll spare a thought for poor surgery-bound Pepe, check in with Chiellini, try to remember to send a thank-you note to Sampdoria, and pick up a few more awards for last season. We may even try to sell you a Jeep or two.
To the news…
Pepe Chooses Surgery
We begin with some bad, if unsurprising news concerning snake-bitten, injury-ridden Simone Pepe — although this latest setback comes with a potential silver lining.
The ongoing muscular problem in his left thigh has prompted Simone to undergo surgery as soon as possible. Due to the injury, Pepe has played only 20 minutes of this season, back in November in the goalless draw with Lazio.
Although it’s a distinct possibility that he will miss the rest of the season in recovery, according to Pepe surgery is unfortunately the quickest way to return to the pitch:
I have had four relapses in the same area of my body and so after careful consideration, we have decided that I will undergo a little operation in order to get back playing as soon as possible. I thank my team mates, my family and the club who have supported me and allowed me to keep a smile of my face, even though it’s not always been easy. Now there will be an operation and after that, we can begin to discuss a recovery period.
It’s difficult not to feel for Simone. Juve’s current team-oriented, grinta-based philosophy under Conte, while not made specifically in Pepe’s image, suits him down to the ground. In terms of both squad depth and the requisite energy and spirit that powers this squad, Pepe is sorely missed.
Instead of bombing down the flanks, Pepe is forced to put on the obligatory brave face for the media and make quietly devastating statements of inclusion, like this one:
At Celtic Park, they played a great game in a red-hot atmosphere. I feel like part of the group and I am very happy with the results that we are achieving. The Champions League? It doesn’t do any harm to dream about it. We’ve shown that we’re a great team and we have to continue to show it, be that in the league or in Europe.
Giuseppe Marotta was quick to support Pepe’s decision for surgery and was keen to underline Simone’s contributions to Juventus in the past, and hopefully in the future:
We want to show our support to a guy and a professional that has given a lot to Juventus. We will be at Simone’s side for the course of this journey that awaits him in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to use him at all this season and his absence has been felt. We hope that his ordeal is coming to an end, at least.
I cannot deny that I have often been frustrated with Pepe’s performances as an attacking midfielder — although to be fair, that frustration is equally a dissatisfaction with the dubious tactical decision to place him in that role in the first place. However, I also can’t deny the man’s work ethic and passion for the cause, and for that he deserves a place in the hearts of Juventini.
Moreover, certain recent events — namely the “rise” of another hardworking yet offensively underwhelming Simone (Padoin) — have given me some perspective on the situation, and I’m much obliged.
In bocca al lupo, Simone!
Chiellini Closer to Comeback
And now for something completely positive.
Keyser Giorgio Chiellini reportedly took part in yesterday’s double training session, which included a reduced-pitch practice match. This progression from recovery to actual pitch work augurs well for Giorgio’s imminent return to action.
It’s no secret that the loss of Giorgio, in combination with Kwadwo Asamoah’s absence, had decidedly negative effects not only on Juve’s defense, but pretty much on the entire left side of the field, although, defensively speaking things have improved greatly since January mercifully ended.
Still, it’s practically an accepted law of physics that Juve’s strength increases tenfold when Giorgio’s on the pitch. Plus, there is simply no substitute for that astonishingly good-humored, almost-joyous warrior rage which only Giorgio seems to radiate from within.
Conte on the Golden Bench
It’s been a bizarre season for Antonio Conte. The transitions from persecution to plaudits and sanctions to sanctification have been abrupt to say the least.
And now, after riding out his two-match suspension for protests during the Genoa match, which itself followed a Coach of the Year award at what used to be known as the Calcio Oscars, Antonio’s found himself back in good fortune, with another coaching accolade in hand.
This time, it’s the prestigious Panchina d’Oro or “Golden Bench” award given to the best Serie A coach of the year, as voted by the coaches themselves. Conte made an appearance at the Nazionale headquarters at Coverciano to accept the award and spoke of its particular value:
It’s a wonderful recognition because it comes from my peers. It’s the second in a short space of time after the AIC award which was voted for by the players–and I’m very happy. It’s a point of pride and satisfaction and pushes you to improve.
As usual, there’s no time for Conte to rest on laurels, even ones as shiny as the Panchina d’Oro. There seems no time for rest, period:
We must reclaim our league title and it will be tough. This is the first year in which we’re fighting on several fronts and the Champions League, as we saw in Rome, uses up physical and nervous energy.
Besides winning, the important aspect is to make progress in building something important. You can also win without building but, if possible, I would like to do both.
There are, of course, inevitable hiccups along the way, such as Saturday’s loss to Roma:
We’ll assess the pros and cons from the Roma game, knowing that we can do better. However, the lads are aware of this, they already took note after the game, and so we’ll work towards our next encounter against Siena.
Conte finished by dispelling that today’s early start for training could be construed as some kind of punishment for the loss:
Tomorrow’s early start is perfectly normal. It’s happened on many other occasions when we’ve undergone athletic tests. It was already scheduled and it’s wrong to say that it’s a form of punishment. I don’t need to punish anyone, in fact it’s thanks to my players that I’ve received today’s award.
In a year (or decade) where the moral implications of “punishment” (like “justice”) have been rendered all but meaningless by the FIGC and affiliated parties, Conte knows better than to use the word so lightly.
Pirlo Wins Bulgarelli Prize
While Antonio Conte was at Coverciano for the Panchina d’Oro presentation, Andrea Pirlo was in Bologna to pick up the second Bianconeri prize in 24 hours.
Andrea Pirlo is only the second Juventino to win the Bulgarelli prize, given to the best midfielder in the world from the previous season. What’s more, Pirlo triumphed over marquee names such as Xabi Alonso and Yaya Touré.
The award is named for Giacomo Bulgarelli, legendary Bologna midfielder. In Bologna, Pirlo paid tribute to the trophy’s namesake:
Bulgarelli was a great champion and an excellent person. I wasn’t fortunate enough to see him play, but everyone speaks very highly of him. I’m happy to be compared to him and proud to receive this prize.
But as with Conte at Covernciano, Pirlo was prepared to jump right back into the Scudetto campaign, fielding questions about this weekend’s turn of events:
Sampdoria did us a favor by holding Napoli to a draw, but we need to already be thinking about Sunday’s game. We know we didn’t play too well against Roma and we must turn the corner and focus on solely ourselves and our games. The Italian championship has always been difficult because both the big sides and so-called smaller teams are very well-organized. There’s no such thing as a game already won on paper and you always have to remain incredibly focused, but our aim is to reclaim the title.
And let’s not forget the small matter of European glory:
Then there’s the Champions League, which remains a dream to experience and chase game after game.
In a perfect world, every award or plaudit presented to Pirlo for his heroic exploits last season would be a sharp pang of guilt for FIFA’s conscience. Alas, I fear Sepp Blatter and company have an unfortunate lack of shame, in addition to their missing backbone.
Marotta Hails Conte and Co.
Juventus sporting director and recent rabble-rouser Giuseppe Marotta has seemingly ignored his two-month ban from “public representation.” Either that, or I have no idea how that suspension works. Smart money’s on the latter.
In any event, Beppe is overjoyed to hear of the brace of awards given to Antonio Conte and Andrea Pirlo, and he is particularly proud of the high esteem earned by his embattled manager:
The award received by our manager represents a point of pride for the whole of Juventus. Aside from triumphs such as the Scudetto and Super Cup, this is a deserved recognition for a professional who has done a fine job and also suffered a great deal due to his ban. The fact that it has come from his peers gives it even more value.
Still — and this is becoming a mantra this week — Beppe considers last year’s Scudetto and subsequent accolades to be a mere launching pad for what he hopes will be a period of sustained achievement:
We all know that winning the title once can be an extraordinary one-off. The strength of a club can only be seen when it is capable of following up its success—and this is the toughest exam we’ll face this year.
Losing is part and parcel of football, we need to develop from a maturity point of view in order to deal with both the Champions League and Serie A as best we can. We have many lads who are playing in the competition for the first time and there’s a significant margin of improvement as far as this aspect is concerned.
It certainly helps that Juventus play in one of the more competitive leagues in world football. Any team is capable of matching any other, anywhere, at any time, as evidenced once again by Sampdoria’s draw with Napoli in Naples. Displaying the resilience that saw them defeat Juve with only 10 men, Sampdoria ensured that Napoli couldn’t significantly capitalize our loss to Roma, which ultimately only cost us one point, rather than three. Marotta:
Sampdoria’s draw at the San Paolo? We suffered an unexpected defeat against them and yesterday they claimed a deserved draw against Napoli who, just like us, paid the price for their midweek fixture in Europe. These results confirm how close our championship is, in other leagues there are already plenty of points between the leaders and the chasing pack. In Italy every game is difficult, the league should take greater care when compiling the fixture list.
Classic Marotta. Unlike his reactions post-Genoa, Beppe’s staying in his wheelhouse: using facts and trends to simultaneously excuse our bad performances and mildly complain about the state of calcio in general and its treatment of Juventus in particular.
Welcome back, Beppe. Unless you never went away; who knows how any legal institution or governing body in Italy really works?
Del Piero Extends Australian Adventure
According to Football Italia, Alex Del Piero has chosen to exercise his option to remain at Sydney FC for another year.
An announcement is likely to be made later in the week. The decision comes just as Alex’s option was set to expire on February 28th.
At the moment, Del Piero has scored 11 times in 18 games for Sydney, and makes in the neighborhood of $2 million a year. Of course, we know all too well that his value is infinitely higher than the impressive goal tally would suggest: Alex also comes with an immense legacy, impeccable reputation and commercial-friendly personality. This is all upside for Sydney.
You may have heard that several Brazilian sides were rumored to be inquiring over ADP’s services, but our Alex is nothing if not a man of his word, and he seems intent on seeing out his commitment to Australian football.
That concludes this week’s episode of Painful Sigh.
Juve’s Jeep Hijinks
Finally, we end with a strange journey to the mysterious intersection of calcio, European commercial photography and globalized promotional considerations.
Juventus and Jeep have collaborated on a new advertising campaign that hopes to trade off the Bianconeri’s recent aura of general indestructibility. And what’s the slogan cooked up by the modern Don Drapers at Jeep?
“Nothing Can Stop Them.”
Besides various print advertisements which will presumably saturate Italian markets, the campaign features a short video covering the photo shoot. Only in Europe could a car commercial selling rugged capability be so pretty, so well-groomed and fashionable. No Bob Seger songs anywhere near this ad.
Here’s the corporately dynamic promotion-speak for the “Nothing Can Stop Them” video:
Eight Bianconeri champions lent their support to Jeep’s new advertising campaign by participating in an exciting exhibition match contested in a unique mountain setting. The official club sponsor’s publicity features Andrea Barzagli, Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and Mirko Vucinic.
The title of the campaign refers to the players, but obviously to the Jeep Wrangler 2013 as well, in which the players reached their alpine destination.
There to greet them on the pitch, along with photographers Winkler+Noah, was an unexpected special guest: Unbeknownst to the players, the Italian freestyle champion, Gunter Celli, had also been invited. Decked out in the disguise of a coach’s tracksuit, he took to the field during the backstage filming, seized the ball and left everyone astonished with his range of tricks.
After initially looking on in amazement, Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal soon recognized him and joined in.
I love the thinking behind this, or better yet, what I imagine the thinking behind this to be. “Hey, Creative, Corporate wants you to make sure both the players and the Jeeps look EQUALLY unstoppable, okay? So make sure everyone’s face is muddy!”
The above copy is very unsuccessful at capturing the truly bizarre tone of the video. Missing from the description are the copious shots of the Bianconeri in question being pampered in hair & makeup, as is any mention of the weak, generic English-language pop song that soundtracks the video.
Someone needs to get the Italian Jeep people acquainted with the music of Ronnie James Dio.
The music and images do not scream “unstoppable” — or even whisper for it, for that matter. Wouldn’t it be much more effective to paint Juve’s record for the past year-and-a-half on the hood of the truck? It’s simple and elegant, and it has the strength of raw numbers.
If you watch the video, you’ll notice that Andrea Pirlo is the officially recognized face of the campaign. He’s for all intents and purposes the leading man of the commercial; he’s literally in the driver’s seat of a zebra-striped Jeep. Juve’s website claims that the Maestro “will play a significant role in PR activity, shooting and initiatives linked to Jeep events.”
You could do much worse for a spokesperson, although to be honest, I thought Andrea was more of an Aston Martin, Rolls Royce kind of player.
Aren’t Jeeps built for rough terrain, the real dirty work? Like negotiating a mountain trail, or pushing through fields of mud? Or marking Maradona out of the 1982 World Cup? Somewhere out there, Claudio Gentile is ruing a missed opportunity.
He truly was ahead of his time — far too early to grab that sweet Jeep coin.
That’s all for today. Stay tuned later this week for more Siena-centric updates. Ciao!
[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)