By: Gabriele Marcotti | Sportillustrated
“I’m like Rocky. I get hit again and again, but I don’t go down.”
— Juventus manager Ciro Ferrara
You know you’re in trouble when you start comparing yourself to characters in movies. (Oh, and by the way, Rocky did go down — plenty of times). But the under-fire Juve boss, the man drawing a parallel between himself and the Italian Stallion, does have a point: He has been subjected to a tremendous amount of abuse and, somehow, he’s still in charge.
The case against Ferrara is easily argued. He took over a Juventus team that finished second in Italy’s Serie A last season and didn’t lose anybody of note over the summer. What’s more, the club spent some $60 million to secure the services of Werder Bremen’s Diego and Fiorentina’s Felipe Melo. In addition, it picked up FabioGrosso and Fabio Cannavaro — one-half the likely starting back four for Italy at the 2010 World Cup — plus a much-hyped, if somewhat raw right back, Uruguayan Martín Cáceres.
All those new signings might not have been enough to close the gap on Inter Milan but, at the very least, Juventus supporters were entitled to something better than a 12-point gap in the standings at this stage of the season. Especially since the Bianconeri were humiliatingly bounced from the Champions League by Bayern Munich in a horrible 4-1 home defeat.
Screw things up this badly and you lose your job, right? In some ways, yes. Although Ferrara does have a considerable list of mitigating factors. For a start, this is a badly-assorted team. That part isn’t entirely Ferrara’s fault; his inability to find a way to fix things probably is. If you spend big on a guy like Diego, you really have no choice but to build the team around him. Particularly since the Brazilian, while wonderfully skilled and creative, is only really productive when he’s given a free role.
Well, Ferrara has tried Diego in a 4-3-1-2, a 4-2-3-1, a diamond and in a 4-4-1-1. And there were multiple personnel variations in each of those schemes, meaning Juventus basically hasn’t had a settled XI nor a settled system all year long. Some level of trial and error is acceptable. Getting to January without a tactical identity is not.
Compounding the problem here is the actual personnel at his disposal. Diego supposedly is at his best when he has a striker in front of him and quality wingers on either side (i.e. the 4-2-3-1). Except, lo and behold, this is a team without wingers, except for Mauro Camoranesi. And so, out wide, we’ve seen a succession of guys playing out of position:Paolo De Ceglie (who’s really a defender), Vincenzo Iaquinta (who’s really a striker) and Sebastian Giovinco (who’s really a traditional “No. 10” playmaker).
The net effect is that, even when Juve has won, whatever Ferrara comes up with looks forced and short-term. He hasn’t been helped by the shockingly mediocre form shown by some of his (supposedly) best players.Amauri has been entirely anonymous — it took him until October to score his first goal, and he then notched four in 10 days and hasn’t scored since. So anonymous, in fact, that he has recently lost out to David Trézéguet, a guy who was coming back to from injury after a season in which he made just two league starts. Felipe Melo has been an unmitigated bust, a pale imitation of the fierce Roy Keane-type we admired with Fiorentina and the Brazilian national team.
And the there are the injuries. Iaquinta, Camoranesi ,Alessandro Del Piero, Giovinco, Claudio Marchisio, Momo Sissoko, even Gianluigi Buffon— all these guys missed a sizeable chunk of the campaign. Again, not something for which you can blame Ferrara, but good teams have a plan B and can weather injury crises. Juventus, simply put, cannot.
So know what do you do? Do you give Ferrara more time and risk missing out on next season’s Champions League (Sampdoria, Napoli and Roma are all lurking with intent)? Or do you go for a reliable interim boss (Guus Hiddink? Luiz Felipe Scolari?) who can steer the ship safely to the end of the season while you start to think about regrouping?
Juventus’ board gave Ferrara a vote of confidence on Wednesday, but it wasn’t the type of gesture that inspired much faith. In fact, the impression is that Juve’s front office has yet to decide what it wants to do. And it’s this indecision which, frankly, is most troubling to supporters. This kind of thing didn’t happen in the Luciano Moggi Era. And that’s why, during a 3-0 home loss to AC Milan last Sunday, Ferrara wasn’t just greeted by the usual jeers or abuse — he had to sit there while his supporters belted out chants praising Moggi. Yep, the very same Moggi who was banned from soccer for five years and sentenced to prison for his role in the Calciopoli scandal of 2006.
That was probably the part that hurt most. Hearing Moggi’s name ring out among the Ultras didn’t just show they have zero faith in Ferrara. It was also depressing that these fans would rather have a man found guilty of racketeering running the show than an honest — if, thus far, unspectacular — coach like Ferrara.
If this isn’t rock bottom, he’s not far from it. Time to turn things around quickly. Because, as those of us who stuck it to Rocky V know, by the end, he got hit so many times, he started to suffer brain damage. Ferrara is too good a person, and a coach, to be subjected to that.
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