Mountain out of an Atomic Anthill

Posted on 29/10/2010


Sebastian Giovinco has been scathing about his treatment at Juventus, but James Horncastle asks whether he is justified?

It’s October 2008 and the unusual figure of Sebastian Giovinco is sat in front of a plate of baccalà at the Due Spade, a legendary restaurant in Sandrigo just outside Vicenza. The young playmaker is happy. He has just put pen to paper on a five-year contract with Juventus.

It was a memorable event charged with symbolism, a rite of passage if you like, as 15 years ago Alessandro Del Piero had pledged himself to the Old Lady at the very same restaurant. This was supposed to be the start of a succession. Giovinco was the chosen one.

The boy from the old Beinasco quarter of Turin, just a stone’s throw away from Fiat’s offices, looked to have finally realised a dream. Just five years earlier he had been a ball boy stood in the centre circle at the Stadio Delle Alpi waving the Champions League flag up and down before one of Juventus’ many famous European nights. Now it seemed as though Giovinco was the future of the club.

“I am really happy,” he beamed. “The club’s confidence in me is a reason to be proud. I have been a Juventus fan since I was eight. I hope to stay here for life just like Del Piero because I want to win everything with this shirt.” In the weeks beforehand, Juventus’ Coach Claudio Ranieri had joked that the only reason he kept Giovinco on the bench was because he wanted him to sign a contract according to the club’s conditions. “Now I guess he’ll have to play,” Ranieri grinned. 

Flash forward two years and Giovinco’s smile has turned into a frown. Though still only 23, his career is arguably at a crossroads. He joined Parma on loan in the summer with the Emilian side retaining the right to buy 50 per cent of his contract in June. Parma had their new Gianfranco Zola.

But to say Giovinco was bitter about the move is an understatement. Since August, he has not only promised to celebrate if he scores against Juventus, he has also said that he thinks “zero” about the Old Lady. The turnaround is quite shocking. The prospect of Giovinco returning to Turin appears slimmer by the day.

So who is at fault in this affair? Have Juventus failed him? Well, it’s a complicated question, the answer to which certainly isn’t black and white. Some Giovinco supporters claim he is a victim of Italy’s attitude towards young players. “If I were from Brazil or Argentina, maybe I’d have had more chances to play,” he said. “I regret being Italian.” After all, if a Flea can thrive in Barcelona, why can’t an Ant in Turin? Giovinco was initially hyped to be Italy’s Messi.

Nevertheless, pointing the finger of blame at Juventus general manager Beppe Marotta seems harsh especially considering his work in the summer brought the team’s average age down by four years to 25, the lowest in Serie A, and six of his signings this summer were Italian.

Juventus also changed direction tactically, reverting back to a 4-4-2 after failed experiments with both a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-1-2 under Ciro Ferrara, which were built around Diego. Under Claudio Ranieri, Giovinco had been Pavel Nedved’s deputy, playing on the left flank. Under Ferrara, in a squad that now effectively had no wingers, he was put in direct competition with Diego, Juventus’ €25m signing, and Alessandro Del Piero, their talisman.

Politically, it was a contest Giovinco was never going to win, and – putting injuries aside – a large part of the blame for that can be laid at Alessio Secco’s door, a director of sport who was frivolous in his treatment of Juventus’ youth products. Just ask Domenico Criscito and Raffaelle Palladino.

And yet in many respects of course, Giovinco was also another of Del Piero’s victims, joining the likes of Marco Di Vaio, Fabrizio Miccoli, Palladino and Diego as pretenders to his throne who ultimately had to admit defeat and move on.

Giovinco alluded to as much on Wednesday when Il Corriere dello Sport asked if his former mentor ever picks up the phone to check on his progress. “Del Piero?” Giovinco scoffed, raising his eyebrows. “No, he never called me. Besides, it’s not like he called me before when I was at Juve. Anyway he never said anything about me, about a possible staffetta between me and him. Perhaps he didn’t like me.”

The Atomic Ant now appears to have a case of little big man syndrome, which brings us on to another salient point about Giovinco’s recent travails – namely his size. The 23-year-old’s quality has never been up for debate. Yet when one considers he only stands at 5’3”, it’s perhaps only natural that question marks have been raised about whether his physical attributes are suited to playing at the very highest level in the modern game.

There is a sense among the footballing community in Italy that Giovinco is a gadget player with a unique yet mercurial skill set, and while there is some merit to this argument, one could also suggest that they either don’t know what to do with him or simply mistrust the player’s talent, a mistake Marcello Lippi and Fabio Capello made with Roberto Baggio.

And just like Baggio it seems, Giovinco will be exiled to the provinces where he’ll hopefully find the consistency he craves. His Serie A debut for Parma against Brescia was the perfect response to those who doubted him in Turin. Giovinco’s actions, notably his assist for Valeri Bojinov, had a much greater impact than the poison he aimed at Juventus during an injury lay-off in recent weeks.

I offer La Gazzetta dello Sport’s match report by way of conclusion. “This boy who wears Parma’s No 21 shirt was born to entertain, notwithstanding the fact nature hasn’t given him a Superman physique. But who cares about physique, athleticism and all that stuff when you have the sweet feet of a ballerina and you touch the ball like the strings of a violin.” Who cares indeed, for isn’t that what football is all about? 

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