Welcome back, everyone!
The Bianconeri are in the USA as we speak, getting ready to take on Everton in the Guinness Champions Cup opener in San Francisco. I imagine some of you may even be out there now, meeting our heroes, participating in all kinds of interactive exhibits and being coerced into buying Jeeps.
Meanwhile, Juve’s top-heavy Serie A schedule has finally been released, and suffice it to say, it looks to be a very stressful start to the new season for Antonio Conte’s men.
We cover all that in today’s STTBS, plus the latest transfer news, quotes from the defense and (hooray!) another case of post-Calciopoli misrepresentation from the American media.
And did we mention tryouts for Stanford football?
Let’s get to it.
Serie A Schedule: Tough Start for Bianconeri
The quest for a historic third-straight Scudetto begins in fittingly difficult fashion, as Juventus have drawn what is easily the most arduous Serie A schedule of the hopefully young Antonio Conte era.
The new season begins August 25th at Sampdoria — so far, so good, although an opener on the road always carries with it the ominous prospect of a shock inaugural defeat.
But following that fixture is a one-two combination of arch-antagonists both recent (Super Coppa complainers Lazio) and perennial (Inter), the first at home and the second at San Siro. Depending on the results of the aforementioned Super Cup, Lazio will either be very angry or very arrogant in their approach to another Juve match, while Inter have never needed an excuse to give their best against us, no matter how underwhelming that has proven to be when not backed by so-called “Italian sporting justice.”
And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a Torino Derby at the end of September, which itself will be followed immediately by unfriendly encounters with Milan and Fiorentina. “Yikes” doesn’t begin to cover it.
However, there’s an obvious bright side here. Should Juve get the better of most or all of these first formidable opponents, they will have an unbelievable momentum to ride into later fixtures against the relative “minnows” of Serie A.
Sure, the rest of the schedule has a bump or two, from the November Napoli clash to the same month’s meeting with always dangerous (always Di Natale) Udinese and the final first-half match with Roma. And yes, no result is safe in one of Europe’s most difficult and competitive leagues. But let’s remember that Juve are champions, and in being so should be able to take care of business, no matter how initially complicated that business gets.
For once, saying the opening fixtures will “set the tone” for the season is a colossal understatement. Here’s hoping we set it at “anti-climactic runaway victory.”
Then — and only then — can we save our heart attacks for the Champions League.
Juve Set for Everton Clash
With the Serie A schedule set, the scene shifts to San Francisco.
Juventus have now been in America for the past three days, continuing their preparations for the new season, meeting some very lucky tifosi and perhaps selling a Jeep or two along the way. But the main point of business is to compete in the Guinness Champions Cup against the some of the biggest — and, let’s face it — the most conveniently and contractually available sides in the world.
It all starts tonight at 11 p.m. EST, as the Bianconeri take on EPL club Everton at AT&T Park, home of the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants (I’m taking that as a good sign). Here’s the latest on preparations from Juventus.com, starting with a summary of Monday’s training session:
Having primarily put his men through fitness work and technical drills throughout the Bianconeri’s first three days in California, Antonio Conte ramped up the team’s tactical preparations during an afternoon session focusing on the specific movements to be deployed at San Francisco’s AT&T Park Stadium.
Beginning with a traditional piggy in the middle possession exercise, Juventus swiftly moved on to moving the ball around as a unit, with particular attention paid to specific attacking plays in the final third.
Another productive workout was rounded off by a combative 11-a-side game. Mirko Vucinic opened the scoring for the greens with a sweetly struck right-footed effort, before new arrival Fernando Llorente continued his pre-season goalscoring form courtesy of an equaliser from close range.
With the encounter hanging in the balance, Arturo Vidal drew applause from watching fans when his fizzing effort bounced back off the bar, only for Luca Marrone to go one better and secure the yellows’ comeback with a well-placed long range strike that arrowed into the top corner.
Tomorrow will see the Bianconeri conduct another double workout. The day will begin with a morning session at Stanford University, with the team to then sample the surface at AT&T Park ahead of their clash with the Toffees.
Given this is an essentially promotional tour, we can expect to see as many stars take the pitch as are physically fit to do so, which means appearances by the Italian international contingent and the newly signed Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente. Of course, this USA tour also doubles as preparation for the new season, and knowing Conte, there will be a bit of tactical experimentation and its necessary personnel changes.
For instance, a few days ago there were reports that in view of the Super Coppa, Conte is keen to try out Stephan Lichtsteiner as the right center-back in the 3-5-2, slotting in Mauricio Isla into the former’s right-wing spot. I imagine this is only a temporary experiment to take advantage of the most physically fit players available and/or decide whether Isla truly will have a place at Juve (see below).
But that’s the kind of experiment we’re likely to see—after being blinded by star power in the first half.
Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Pogba, Asamoah; Tevez, Llorente
The Defense Makes Its Case
Juve’s formidable back line enters the new season secure in their status as the best in Serie A. But last year’s drubbing at the hands of Bayern Munich raised questions as to whether they can maintain that quality over an entire European campaign, both in regard to endurance and athleticism.
If the signing of Angelo Ogbonna has provided much-needed insurance for Antonio Conte, it is also true that Ogbonna’s strengths (speed, youth) could at any time lead to the marginalization of one of our three main center-backs.
Many in the media have somewhat unfairly identified Andrea Barzagli as likely victim, mostly due to his age. Although remaining one of the best defenders in the world, Andrea was seen to lose a step or two in the recent Confederations Cup.
But Barzagli believes the Ogbonna signing will only motivate him to stay at his highest performance levels:
Ogbonna will help us. If you want to increase the quality of a squad then it is normal to buy high-level players. Angelo can become a great champion and his presence will be important in not only games but also in training. To have a teammate who could be selected instead of you pushes you to work hard and give your best. That is why bringing in Ogbonna was the right decision.
Andrea admits he was burnt out at the end of last season (can you blame him?), but he doesn’t see any further implications for next year’s World Cup, which will take place following another undoubtedly exhausting club campaign:
I was a bit overcooked after the Confederations Cup, but I want to play all of the time. Will I work differently ahead of the World Cup? I don’t think I’ll change any of my preparation. The intention is to never give anything up.
It’s hard to think about the World Cup when we have such a busy season ahead of us. The priority is my club, then I’ll think about the national side at the right moment.
Hopefully, Conte will also think of the national side at the right moment by resting Barzagli or his partners whenever possible. After all, that’s certainly one of the reasons, if not the chief reason Ogbonna is here.
Preparations for the new season have also generated rumors of a potential formation change, either in general or specifically geared for the Champions League (and we sure do need an adjustment plan for the successful marking of Pirlo, at home and in Europe). Conte himself hasn’t publicly committed to anything, even as he does the usual amount of preseason tinkering to accommodate new signings and new tactical possibilities.
Leo Bonucci, for one, believes things will generally stay as they are:
The truth is that the system gets the best out of all of us. We’ve won two Scudetti with the three-man defence and I don’t see any reason to change.
As with Barzagli, the specter of replacement by Ogbonna looms over Leo, but he accepts the challenge as part of the sustained standard of excellence demanded by Conte, which is as intense as it ever has been:
The Coach hasn’t changed over the last two years, he still has the same hunger. Just like all of us in the squad.
I’ll have to give 100 per cent, because with the manager being as he is, it wouldn’t take much for him drop me if I had the slightest dip in form. A player like Angelo is good for both the entire team and the defensive unit as a whole. He’ll be able to give us a great deal over the course of the year, just like Tevez and Llorente.
It’s a sentiment shared by Giorgio Chiellini, who welcomes Angelo to the team along with the new signings in attack:
Ogbonna will have no problems settling in and he already knows many of us from the Italy get-togethers. Tevez and Llorente have also made a positive impact, showed they are ready to work and I am sure they’ll give a great deal to Juventus this season. They have already learned Italian and brought a lot of enthusiasm.
Our Kaiser is bracing himself for the physical trial-by-fire that constitutes a rigorous Conte preseason, culminating in the Super Coppa clash with Lazio:
Our first objective for the season has to be the Super Cup, so our next few games are to help us find form. This is going to be a tough week for us, as Conte has planned double training sessions and that is only right at this delicate stage of pre-season. It may be a struggle, but I can say that after a vacation I really wanted to get back to training and running.
Sure, but Antonio Conte training and running?
Fittingly, the last word in defense goes to Gigi Buffon, fresh from vacation and ready to perform a few more miracles:
I’ve come back to a stronger Juventus side. Now we’ve got additional elements of excellent quality. We’ve taken a genuine step forward. However, it won’t be easy to reclaim our title. In fact, this year will be even harder than the previous two.
Milan are competitive even without making big statements in the transfer market, because they’ve already got players that allow them to be amongst the frontrunners. Inter’s best signing has been their Coach and they already have a foundation of six or seven young and important players. They’ll soon be able to get back to winning ways.
Napoli have bolstered their squad and recruited a winner as their coach Rafa Benitez. He’s someone I have a great deal of respect for, a great professional who knows what’s required in order to win.
Fiorentina also have the signing of Beppe Rossi, who if he clicks with Mario Gomez will form part of an international-level strike force.
But the fact that our rivals are strengthening, coupled with Antonio Conte’s unrelenting approach, will only help us to remain on the ball.
Well said and elegantly diplomatic as usual, but San Gigi is keen to not overlook Juve’s own signings this offseason, singling out Carlos Tevez:
The acquisition of Tevez was a real statement of intent from the club,” the former Parma No 1 continued. Carlos is one of those who can tip the balance and the fact that a champion like him has considered Juve is also a point of pride for us players. Evidently, his decision to come here means that we’ve also done something important on a European level.
The new arrivals have already blended in well with the group and don’t hold back when there’s work to be done. They’ve got an excellent attitude.
An attitude which can’t help but flow from the Bianconeri’s exemplary captain. It would truly be a shame if Buffon were to retire without a Champions League trophy, and on paper this year’s squad is closer than ever to giving him one.
After back-to-back Scudetti, we now expect Juve to do well domestically, but their real test this season is to play with the same composure internationally as they do in Italy.
There is simply no other criterion for being “world-class.”
Transfer Market Roundup: What’s Going On?
As we head into August, there is very little to report on Juve’s mercato. So little, in fact, that the news itself consists of the various parties involved publicly wondering just what the hell is going on.
Take Mauricio Isla, for instance. Last week, Giuseppe Marotta announced that Antonio Conte was interested in keeping Isla on the squad for the time being, thus stopping any prospective agreement with Inter and co-owners Udinese, whether it be for a loan or an outright transfer to the Nerazzurri.
But this week, Isla’s agent Claudio Vegheggi told Sport Italia (via Football Italia):
I don’t know what will happen. Football is unpredictable. They are saying that he will remain at Juventus, but you never know right up until the very last minute. We’re working.
Now, Vegheggi’s statement may or may not be a bluff, but the real question is: Why reopen the question in the first place? If Marotta and Conte have all but closed the door to Isla’s exit, then which party is interested in keeping it open? The fact that Isla’s agent is still talking about a move suggests either that Mauricio really wants to leave, or else Juve are trying to get more money from Inter.
Giuseppe Marotta clarified Juve’s position to Sky Sport Italia (again, via FI), claiming that a replacement winger would be necessary for Isla to leave:
Isla is our player. I’m not denying Inter’s approach for him, but, with no substitute, he will remain ours. He’s told us that he would like to stay and, with boss Antonio Conte’s blessing, he is a Juventus player.
Seeing as how Conte has apparently given his blessing, and assuming Marotta isn’t lying about Isla’s preference to stay, then what is Mauricio’s agent trying to accomplish here?
As for that replacement winger… still nothing doing.
The latest reports claim that Napoli have withdrawn Juan Camilo Zuniga from the market — which is apparently fine with Juve. The Bianconeri are reportedly happy to wait another 12 months for Napoli’s Zuniga, whose contract expires in 2014, rather than pay now. Of course, that’s 12 more months at Napoli, which equals 12 more months for Zuniga to develop rabid anti-Juve sympathies — especially if the Scudetto race ratchets up the tension.
Marotta admits to being shut out for Zuniga, but curiously professes to be on good terms with Napoli (really?):
Zuniga? We have a good relationship with Napoli and we accept that they will not be selling him.
Meanwhile, Parma have denied that Juve have made a bid for Jonathan Biabiany; their technical director, Antonello Preiti, has stated: “There has not been a request from Juventus for Biabiany. He therefore remains an indispensable player for Parma.” That’s a strangely worded sentiment: Juve don’t want him, so he is absolutely not for sale.” Whatever.
That leaves Manchester City wing-back Aleksandar Kolarov. Any negotiations between City and Juve were considered to be ongoing as recent as July 26, with the sticking point being Juve’s preference for a one-year loan. However, Turkish side Galatasary are apparently giving us some competition (didn’t we pay you guys off with Felipe Melo?).
So for the time being, Marotta’s official position for the media is “no more signings”:
I don’t think we’ll sign anyone else. We’ve added to sections of the team that needed it such as the attack and defence. We brought in a lot of players at the start of the summer, we have built a competitive team. In these tough economic times for Italian football, we have invested well.
Now all that’s left is to sell off a striker or two — most likely Fabio Quagliarella, who has recently been linked with Norwich City (Juve has apparently rejected their first bid), and Alessandro Matri, who is linked with both Liverpool and Everton.
Marotta confirmed Juve’s plans to sell:
We have an attack that needs reducing because six players of that level are a lot. We want five, perhaps with a youngster to develop. The hope is that we find a positive solution for us. The requests will need analysing, but the desire of the player is more fundamental than that of the club.
And we’ll end on a humorous note: Juve have reportedly laughed off Real Madrid’s €20-€22 million bid for Giorgio Chiellini. Considering how much Real Madrid routinely overpay for high-profile players, and seeing as how Giorgio is one of the best defenders on the planet, this low-ball offer is close to insulting.
I trust Giorgio knows that he doesn’t need to go to Madrid to be reassured of his galactic talent.
Here We Go Again…
As you know, Juventus are currently on tour in the USA, a trip that, if nothing else, is designed to increase international awareness of the club as both a renewed world football power and a rebooted global brand.
But as a recent example from a local San Francisco-area media outlet demonstrates, in some respects Juve still have a long way to go towards escaping the ghosts of Calciopoli.
Yesterday, the Marin Independent Journal ran an article by Elliott Almond with the headline
It starts with an interview with Stephan Lichtsteiner exploring the field at Stanford. So far, so good.
But then Almond makes the expected move towards what he calls Juve’s “involvement” in “sordid incidents.” To illustrate his point, he references the book How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer.
Keep in mind that the book in question was written in 2004 and updated no earlier than 2010. Almond is using text that is at least three years old. From the excerpt below, we can assume that Foer’s coverage of Calciopoli stopped shortly after the story broke in 2006.
Here’s the relevant excerpt from Almond’s story, incorporating Foer’s book:
Juventus also was at the center of a match-fixing scandal uncovered by Italian authorities in 2006. According to Franklin Foer’s “How Soccer Explains the World,” the problems had been longstanding.
The author suggests the match fixing was part of soccer’s oligarchy — Juventus FC is owned by the Agnellis family of Fiat fame.
“‘Even though the Agnellis are industrialists, at the height of their powers they behaved like landowning families that ruled Central America,’ Foer wrote.
Whether or not Foer’s link between the Agnellis and the “landowning families that ruled Central America” is an insightful comparison is up for debate, but I would say that casually isolating what is clearly a small part of a larger sociopolitical point and using it out of context to make a sweeping generalization about the way calcio is run is incredibly distorting and plain irresponsible. But there’s more:
When it came to soccer, the Juve owners once wielded exceptional power, according to Foer. Juventus and rival AC Milan — Italy’s other mega club — were able to rig the system to get the most favorable referees to officiate their games. Foer writes Juve made it a regular practice over the years, calling into question a number of its league titles.
“In 2006, Italian authorities eventually penalized five top teams for taking part in the scheme. Soccer officials punished Juve by relegating the team to Serie B, the only time in the 115-year history it didn’t play in Italy’s first division. They also stripped Juventus of league titles won in 2005 and 2006.
Massimo Moratti himself couldn’t have said it better.
There is no mention, neither in Almond’s excerpts of Foer’s book nor in his own words, of the subsequent SEVEN YEARS of court battles at multiple levels of sporting and non-sporting justice as Juve have fought to clear their name, nor any reference to the revelations in 2011 of Inter’s involvement not only in match-fixing, but as the driving force behind Calciopoli in the first place.
NOT ONE SENTENCE, even as a postscript in parentheses. Even Calciopoli’s Wikipedia page is more accurate on the subject.
Unfortunately, this is still the kind of careless misrepresentation that puts Juve’s attempt to “reshape their image” in a much more urgent light, beyond all concerns of competing with the best of Europe. It sadly degenerates into once again clearing their name.
Yes, Juventus are trying to reshape their image. More accurately, they’re attempting to wrestle the narrative away from the type of knee-jerk, one-source, one-note journalism of the type practiced here by Mr. Almond.
Pirlo & Bonucci Try Out for Stanford
On a lighter note, we leave you with a glimpse of what really could not have been.
The American tour has already seen its share of promo appearances, meet-and-greets and Jeep spots. Perhaps the best of them is this video of Andrea Pirlo and Leo Bonucci trying to learn the basics of American football.
The two, nominally “disguised” by their helmets, fail miserably at running simple routes and passing to each other. Of course, they fare much better at field-goal kicking. As you’d expect, Pirlo’s arc is pretty much just as beautiful with a football.
Enjoy the faux-serious hip-hop “we’re on a mission” music and the gratuitous slo-mo shots. But most of all, enjoy the bizarro clash of sporting cultures that only a tour abroad can provide.
Happy Birthday Conte!
Today is Antonio Conte’s birthday! In the above video some of the Juventus players and staff face the camera and wish their
coach Mister a happy birthday, all set to very questionable music.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MISTER!
That’s all for now. Juve-Everton is tonight at 11 p.m. EST. See you later this week for more news!
[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)