This post was guest-blogged by Vittorio Pazzini. Follow him on Twitter (@vittoriopazzini)
Ciao, everyone, and welcome back to STTBS.
Anyone out there a fan of mathematical certainties?
If so, it please me no end to tell you that with their win over Atalanta and the graciously taken lumps of our their nearest rivals, Juventus have mathematically seized the crown of Serie A Winter Champions with two matches still left in the andata.
If you ask me, the 3-0 win was perfect for Antonio Conte’s intents and purposes: It was a dominant display of tactical prowess and a satisfying, confidence-building win; and yet, Juve’s finishing (what else?) in the second half left much to be desired, giving the Bianconeri boss several happy reasons to yell at the boys and keep them motivated.
And isn’t there a certain pleasure to be had in finding something to criticize in the routinely excellent? Don’t you love going to a nice restaurant and being slightly underwhelmed? It keeps everyone and everything honest, always a delicate balance at the best of times.
So we end this calendar year at Cagliari, with the aim of giving them a much more emphatic showing than in last week’s narrow 1-0 win in the Coppa Italia.
Preparations are already underway towards that end, as the Bianconeri look to end this year with the same success they’ve enjoyed all year long.
Here’s the news.
Conte: Victory for Ale & Ricky
If you tuned in early for the Atalanta match, you would have seen another stunning piece of choreography in the Curva, a giant banner honoring the late, lamented Juve Primavera players Alessio Ferramosca and Riccardo Neri. If you haven’t already, please be sure to read Adam’s wonderful article on this tragedy, a devastatingly beautiful meditation on life and calcio, and the meaning and inspiration one can find when pursuing both to the fullest.
After the match, Antonio Conte dedicated the victory to their memory:
I was emotional when I saw the banner for Alessio and Riccardo. They’ll always remain in our hearts and we’re close to their families.
It’s been an overall emotional month thus far for Conte, as he personally received an overwhelming display of support from fans on his return to the Juventus bench for Wednesday’s Coppa Italia victory at home over Cagliari.
I have to be honest, I didn’t see the choreography for me, I was a bit late out of the tunnel, but I know the extent of the extraordinary affection shown towards myself and the players by the fans. We look to repay them every time we take to the field and today we were able to do so.
Drogba or No Drogba
There are conflicting reports circulating as to whether or not Didier Drogba is actually coming to Turin. Several news outlets seem to be willing this deal into existence, despite the usual refutations from Juve’s organization. Here’s one of the pro-deal stories:
A report in Sunday’s Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper claimed Juve had made “significant progress” in its bid to sign Drogba, who the report claimed agreed in principle to an 18-month deal to join the Serie A champion.
Sunday’s report said both parties had agreed “in principle” to an 18-month contract but had yet to negotiate and agree on financial terms. While Juventus president Beppe Marotta is reported to have offered Drogba 3.5 million euros ($4.6 million) plus bonuses per season, the striker’s demands hover around the five million euros mark, plus bonuses.
However—and perhaps most influential for the deal’s prospects—Antonio Conte seems nonplussed, if not outright offended, at the idea of a Drogba deal:
Transfer talk seems disrespectful to the players in my team, especially at the current moment. It’s a critical time as far as the economy is concerned and it’s the same for several other teams. We won’t be signing any top players because we’re not in a position to. Neither us, nor other top teams in the Italian league.
I take Conte’s denial of any deals for a “top player” to mean one of two things: either Drogba will not be signed because Juve can’t afford him, or, if the rumors of Marotta’s offer are true and Juve can afford him, that Conte doesn’t consider him a “top player,” in which case why sign him anyway?
I imagine popular opinion would favor the former, while I, despite acknowledging Drogba’s abilities, am hoping the latter is true.
All Clear for Cagliari
Juventus will take on Cagliari with a full squad at Conte’s disposal. However, as usual, several players are up against their yellow-card limits. This week it’s Barzagli, Chiellini, Lichtsteiner, Marchisio and Vucinic. Who do you have blowing it this week, amici?
Daniele Conti is the only player suspended for Cagliari. Incidentally, a passing glance at Juventus.com’s headline for this news item might frighten you (as it did me)—until of course you remember that Antonio’s last name is in the singular, Daniele’s in the plural.
Here’s what I take it to mean: Daniele may have some counts in his family tree, but Antonio is himself a count (although I also like when some search engines translate “Conte” into “Earl”).
In any event, Antonio rules—both literally and figuratively. And he’s not suspended this weekend.
Winter Champions by the Numbers
While hardly being an end-to-end gem, the Bianconeri’s win over Atalanta to become Winter Champions of Serie A was never less than a dominating performance. And while many chances were missed, it failed to sully some immaculate performances, one above them all.
Andrea Pirlo, any sane person’s Ballon d’Or winner this year, gave the kind of routine, unassumingly brilliant and elegant performance that has continually made the difference since he came to Turin. To read his stats hardly does him, but they’re impressive all the same:
Andrea Pirlo, who struck a scintillating free-kick from 30 yards out, was also at his influential best in the middle of the park, completing 110 passes, over half the amount achieved by his nearest rival, Arturo Vidal (54). The midfielder’s masterpiece, his fourth strike of the season, means it is his best goalscoring return since the 2005/06 campaign.
On the other hand, Sebastian Giovinco’s afternoon was typically frustrating, as it seems to be in one out of every two or three matches. He set up a goal, created his usual havoc for the opposing defense, got knocked around and won free kicks, but in the end, he simply could not score. Of Juve’s 23 shots on goal (13 drawing saves from an excellent Consigli), Seba had eight by himself.
It’s so strange to see a respectable goal tally for Giovinco this season, including several wonderful strikes, and yet still feel as if he never scores. It’s never enough. It feels like we’re still mentally scarred from a certain previous relationship.
Always knew that Amauri was no good.
Chiellini Web Chat
Yesterday, Keyser Giorgio Chiellini took questions from Premium Members in a video chat from Vinovo, following in the footsteps of Buffon and Conte. His answers were refreshingly introspective compared with typical athlete sound bites, and what came through overall was his reverence for the Old Lady and delight at his hard-won role as a protagonist for her club. Here are some highlights:
Giorgio’s honest account of how he came to love Juventus:
I’ve got no problem admitting it, as a youngster I supported Milan. But when I came here I fell in love with this shirt and the feeling grew over the course of time. Following our return to the top and everything that’s happened, you can’t help but feel a sense of belonging to the shirt, city and fans.
On the role of the new stadium in the club’s fortunes:
The inauguration of Juventus Stadium was a strange evening. We were coming off the back of two disappointing seasons, but something magical began that day and you could feel it in the air. We saw the entire history of Juventus, the club’s past, and inside our heads we started to dream about the future – and then we managed to achieve it.
What we accomplished last year, winning the Scudetto unbeaten, was an exceptional achievement which nobody will ever be able to follow up, only equal at the very most.
The Champions League triumph over Chelsea:
I remember the evening of the Chelsea game. For the first time in a year and a half the roar of the stadium could be felt from the minute we entered the dressing room. The regret is that we didn’t have the same atmosphere for our first group game against Shakhtar.
We were affected by the situation and the difference between those two games is evident. The fans, in certain moments, especially when you need to push on, give you an added boost.
Conte’s influence, in the flesh as opposed to behind glass:
The group spirit is required in difficult moments. The manager’s presence on the bench and during the interval has been sorely missed. During difficult times he manages to give you something extra, just like the group spirit which comes from hard work, commitment and reciprocal trust.
On the brick wall that is the defense:
Over the last year Leonardo, Andrea and I have managed to create a unique unit. We know each other well, play off by heart and the more you work with someone the more you discover their strengths and weaknesses.
Individually speaking, there are better defenders than us around, but I doubt that they could do better if they were placed in our defence. And then we have Gigi behind us. Many of his saves seem straightforward, but that’s only because he makes them appear as such.
On the victory over Atalanta:
It was an important game, because we need to bring consistency to our performances at this particular moment. We were fully focused as Atalanta play an excellent style of football. Our 3-0 win was down to the fact that we’re aware of the importance of the current moment.
Hard not to love, isn’t it? Incidentally, my favorite Chiellini moment is every time he makes a hard tackle or some dubious intervention on an attacker and then embraces the absolutely furious player as they head back downfield, gesticulating wildly while explaining in no doubt colorful terms as to how they found themselves tangled with each other on the ground.
For an enforcer who we’ve previously compared to the Hulk, he seems like a really nice guy. I think I actually would like him when he’s angry.
He came to Torino under a tiny cloud of archrival suspicion, and left amidst… actually, nothing happened at all. Lucio got very little playing time, made a completely neutral impression, and now he’s moving on. From Juventus.com:
Lucio’s adventure in the black and white stripes has come to an end. Juventus and the Brazilian defender have reached an agreement for the player’s contract to be terminated by mutual consent.
Even the international press is finding it difficult to sensationalize this story. Maybe if Lucio were five years younger it would be a bigger deal, but it simply seems to be a case of things not working out in the most mundane, low-drama manner possible.
Many pundits suspect Lucio will return to his native Brazil. As for Juventus, in addition to the defensive possibilities discussed in this space last week, Udinese’s Danilo is said to be the latest transfer target for the Bianconeri. From sportmediaset.it via Forza Italian Football:
There have already been talks with the Friulani for a loan deal in January, with the obligation to purchase half of his rights in the summer before purchasing his entire registration. Danilo signed for Udinese in June 2011 from Brazilian club Palmeiras. He has since gone on to make 49 appearances for the club while contributing 4 goals.
The 28-year-old has a contract that runs until 2016 but with the reigning Italian champions keen to add him to their ranks, it remains to be seen whether Udinese can keep him for the duration of his contract.
It’s hard to believe, what with Caceres and Marrone lurking around the first team, that Juve need another central defender for any reason other than compensation for future injuries. After all, it says something if we had no use for a solid defender with good passing skills. Chalk it up to the annual summer panic, when every team, unaware of its destiny, seeks to reinforce every position with dependable, quality players.
So long, Lucio! I genuinely wish you the best and good-naturedly shrug my shoulders in your general direction.
And All This Means… What, Exactly? (The Nicklas Bendtner Story)
It’s amazing how many variations of this story I’ve come across from many diverse, international sources, considering its subject is a striker who doesn’t really strike very often. But unfortunately, Nicklas Bendtner’s injury is far and away the most newsworthy event of his Bianconeri adventures. Why anyone outside of Juve’s official website cares is beyond me.
On the bright side, the operation, performed last night, went off without a hitch, and he is on the mend as we speak. Bendtner had decided, after consultation with a host of physicians, a fistful of second/third/fourth opinions and with Juventus’ blessing, to have surgery to “reinsert” the long adductor tendon in his left thigh. From the official site:
On Saturday the Danish frontman was visited by well-regarded Finnish surgeon Sakari Orava. This morning, in London, he was also assessed by Arsenal consultant Ernest Schilders. Both recommended the need for surgery.
The Danish striker was operated on in London last night by Arsenal consultant Ernest Schilders, for the reinsertion of the adductor longus tendon in his left thigh.
His prognosis and rehabilitation schedule will be verified with English doctors over the next few days.
Real high-octane stuff, right? Why does the whole football journalism world seem to be following every riveting aspect of the story, from the decision to have the operation itself to his impending recovery? You would think he was David Beckham Years Ago, or Messi Now.
But seriously, considering how much play it’s getting, how does this impact Juve, if at all? Was Bendtner supposed to stick it out here until June, or were we going to send him back to Arsenal in January with his proverbial tail between his long, goalless legs? And is his injury and operation anything more than punctuation for what has been an unfulfilling experience for both parties?
I think at rock bottom this provides even more of an impetus (or another excuse, if Marotta is waffling) to recall someone from loan. As has been noted elsewhere, Ciro Immobile, Richmond Boakye and Manolo Gabbiadini are potential options, exciting ones as well (the latter two scored this weekend; Manolo helped us out big time). I would prefer any of them to Drogba, if only because they have a better chance of fitting into the squad’s communal mentality, as opposed to a superstar who’s just back from a botched glory tour.
As I’ve said here before, the benefit for a young attacker exposed to excellent service from all positions on the pitch could very well compensate for the added pressure that comes with performing in black and white stripes. I think such a scenario would be particularly beneficial for Immobile, who in addition to growing up in Juve’s system seems to thrive alongside a good passer or two. In this case, he would have five or six.
As for Bendtner, I honestly just feel bad for him. He certainly wanted the best for himself and for Juve, but in addition to his unfortunately modest talents, he was probably further diminished by Marotta and others constantly damning him with faint praise. No matter how it comes up in an interview, it has to be dispiriting to be referred to as a bargain-basement striker, a serviceable plug for a hole. And then, after finally seeing what passes for steady action in Conte’s striker platoon, this happens. And now, he’s being used simply as a serviceable plug for story holes in the international media.
Most of all, I feel bad for Nicklas because despite good intentions, decent effort and a few very interesting big man dribbling jags for distance, this all ends in a giant shrug of our collective shoulders (we’re getting a good workout this week).
Special thanks to the JuventiKNOWS Indifference Bureau for (very reluctantly) working overtime on this week. It was no mean feat for those notorious slackers. But in all honesty, when they’re not eating all of our chips and reading Sartre on the job, they’re (eventually) getting the job done.
So thanks to Monica, Pippo the Sad Intern, Tired Gianni, Absent Alberta, Ol’ Man Merle (who “ironically” cites Padoin as his favorite player) and the whole gang down in Basement Level C of the JuventiKNOWS HQ.
But then again, as you guys always say: Who cares?
Daily Show Marchisio!
Blink and you missed it: Claudio Marchisio made a brief, inanimate appearance last week on an episode of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.
The segment saw Jon Stewart express his total amazement at Silvio Berlusconi’s latest “selfless” run for Italy’s presidency, despite the fact that he has just been convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to four years in prison!
Stewart gives a concise summary of Silvio’s greatest (re: morally bankrupt) hits, and then suggests other candidates for office. Although not mentioned by name, our Futuro Capitano is among them, representing the archetypal Italian soccer player.
I suspect that the show’s producers simply saw in Marchisio’s image a perfect storm of handsome athlete/relatively cheap photo-clearance fee. No matter: Comedy Central stumbled onto a near Platonic ideal here.
Claudio appears around the four-minute mark, but the whole segment is worth a watch.
That’s it for today. Stay tuned for more STTBS and all kinds of Cagliari-centric holiday goodies later this week, including a very special guest #TeamEATS. 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)