Building a promising future to honour the rosy past


The 2010-11 domestic football season saw some of the titles contested for much more hotly than others. While Borussia Dortmund went on a rampage and secured the title in Germany long before the season was out, and AC Milan and Barcelona had built up a comfortable enough league to ensure their title ambitions would not be upset by their closest rivals, in the English Premier League, the winner was not quite so certain until the last week of the season.
These things considered, the fact remains that the winner in three of the four abovementioned leagues was not a name to invoke surprise. Barring the status of Dortmund in Germany, the other three winners of their respective leagues, Milan, Barcelona and United, are all powerhouses of the game, both domestically and in continental tournaments.
While these clubs certainly got their calculations right, there are other clubs, some with a proud heritage, who have withered away. In the following weeks, I will be taking a look at what some such clubs need to do to become contenders for honours once more.
In Italy, the three traditional contenders for the title have been Roma, Inter Milan and Juventus, although the latter, nick named the ‘Old Lady’ of Italian football, did not really show up for the race this season. Clearly not fully recovered from being forcibly relegated to the lower leagues for the club’s involvement in the ‘Calciopoli’ corruption scandal in 2006, Juventus need changes in several areas of the pitch to perform better over the course of an entire season. Del Piero, the club’s flagship and talismanic captain, has agreed to continue in his loyal service to the club, and despite the Italian’s age, he is an asset in any squad.
While Felipe Melo has played better this season than last, it was the arrival and swift departure of Diego from Werder Bremen which was damaging for the club. The retirement of Pavel Nedved, who had filled the void left by Zidane’s departure to Real Madrid, has not been fully counter balanced. Sebastian Giovinco, for so long touted as the next big thing in Italian football, capable of stepping up and handling the creative responsibilities in midfield, was shipped out on loan to Parma, where he intends to stay.
The arrival of Krasic from CSKA Moscow has gone some way to addressing the lack of a creative force, and the Serbian is a treat to watch. Capable of dynamic runs down the right flank, accurate crosses and a stinging right foot drive, the winger’s blonde locks instantly bring flashbacks of Nedved himself.
Juventus have also signed Andrea Pirlo from AC Milan, and the vastly experienced and talented Italian, though never known for his pace and outright defensive capabilities, will add another creative dimension to Juventus’s game than did Alberto Aquilani, who spent the season here on loan from Liverpool. Adding further strength to the Juventus midfield will be Gokhan Inler, with whom the club are said to have agreed personal terms, and only the transfer price for his club Udinese remains to be settled. The Swiss midfield dynamo is more in the box-to-box mould than either of Pirlo and Melo, and will be a great asset in games where Juventus are at risk of being overrun in midfield, what with Pirlo’s age and lack of pace being liable to exploitation by the opposition.
The signing of Reto Ziegler from Sampdoria shows the method being employed to build on the base at Juventus. The Swiss international is a solid full back who spent three years plying his trade at Sampdoria, racking up more than 100 appearances. He will most likely start in place of Fabio Grosso, who has been on a sharp decline since Italy lifted the World Cup in 2006. At centre back, Chiellini had a decent season, and he forged a solid duo with his usual partner Bonucci. A good backup defender is something Juventus lack, although there is a sufficiently large stock in the squad to choose from if filling the position is required. That said, Chiellini and Bonucci are both of a good age and have developed an understanding that will ideally see them remain the preferred core of the side for some years to come.
Up front, the loan signing of Alessandro Matri from Cagliari in the winter transfer window proved fruitful, with the Italian scoring 9 goals in 16 outings. Between Matri and Quagliarella, who was on loan from Napoli, the two scored almost a third of Juventus’s goals this season, with Matri stepping up to the plate after the prolific Quagliarella tore a knee ligament midway through the season, ruling him out for the rest of the term. Juventus need to sign one of these two strikers on a permanent deal if they are to challenge for a European place, indeed a Champions League spot, next season and beyond.
The quandary is which one to sign. Quagliarella was in fine form for the first half of the season, but the nature of knee injuries is such that there is a question mark if he will return to being the same player he was before the injury. Matri is two years younger and thus a more viable long term option, but comes at one and a half times the price of Quagliarella.
Value for money will be found in either of these signings, and Juventus seem to have come to terms with the idea of spending big in key departments, given the news of Tevez rejecting a reported €23 million a year salary offer from Juventus only a few days ago. An able partner is needed for Del Piero to provide the fireworks up front, and this has preferably to be someone who can play the target man, holding the ball up for the likes of Del Piero and Krasic to play off of when converging on the centre, coming in off either flank.
Along with coach Luigi Del Neri, the list of players who Juventus should part ways with includes Grygera, Marco Motta, Iaquinta, Luca Toni and perhaps even Sissoko and Grosso. For a club looking to make signings in the years to come, those named above are excess baggage that needs to be gotten rid of. The new coach, Antonio Conte, fresh from leading Siena to promotion from Serie B, and a former Juventus player, will have quite a task on his hands to see his old club regain at least some of its former glory.