x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Life left in the Old Lady: Italian football needs a strong Juventus

Juventus, Italy's most decorated club, need to rediscover their power, writes Ian Hawkey.

Juventus have been in a state of flux for several seasons and they need to return to their best, for the sake of Italian football.
Juventus have been in a state of flux for several seasons and they need to return to their best, for the sake of Italian football.

It was not an especially happy weekend for Italian coaches of a certain vintage. Twenty-four hours before Carlo Ancelotti received news of his severance from Chelsea, Juventus informed Luigi Del Neri that he would not be taking charge of Serie A'smost-decorated club any longer.

Yesterday, Juve confirmed that Antonio Conte, a former captain and the coach who has just steered Siena back to the top flight, will take charge of the club next term.

Conte will be the ninth man in the job since Ancelotti lost his gig at Juventus, 10 years ago. That is an erratic sort of record, the sort of statistic for trigger-happy boardroom behaviour that, once upon a time, successful Juve directors used to mock Inter Milan for.

A neurotic pattern is emerging, too, in the way Juve lurch from manager to manager. Conte will be the third man in five years drawn from Juve playing staff during what was the club's last era of dominant success, the late 1990s, when they reached successive Champions League finals.

Before Conte was Didier Deschamps, who as coach won promotion from Serie B - to where the club had been condemned after the 2006 calciopoli scandal - and then fell out with his executives over transfer policy.

Last season there was Ciro Ferrara, formerly a rugged centre-half behind the midfield beavers Deschamps and Conte. Ferrara the caretaker manager helped Juve qualify for European competition. As permanent head coach, that aim looked in jeopardy, so he was dismissed.

Del Neri's departure had the same motivation. In his last match in charge, Juve needed to win on Sunday to have any chance to qualify for next season's Europa League. They drew against Napoli.

But Del Neri already knew he would be leaving, just as the experienced Alberto Zaccheroni, who took over from Ferrara to finish the 2009/10 campaign, assumed quickly enough his role would be short-term. So it goes at Juve.

The "Old Lady" fluctuates in her tastes between younger men like Deschamps and Ferrara and then those who have been round the block, like Zac, or Claudio Ranieri, who succeeded Deschamps.

This institutional schizophrenia hardly fits with an organisation who like to promote their stability, an established identity and "style", as well as the long family tradition in the boardroom. Andrea Agnelli brought the surname behind the Fiat automobile empire back to the president's chair last summer; he is the grandson of a former president, the son of another, and the nephew of a third.

There are some mitigating circumstances but Juve need to stop feeling in a state of flux. And Italian football needs a strong Juve.

Serie A has much prestige to recover in European competitions, though AC Milan, champions for the first time in seven years, should approach the Champions League with greater gumption in 2011/12.

Inter Milan, without a scudetto for the first time in five summers, may well struggle and the journeys into the European Cup of Napoli and Udinese are unlikely to last into the later weeks of next April.

Game of the season

Milan 4, Udinese 4

In terms of edge-of-the-seat excitement, the January eight-goal thriller gets the prize. It featured four goals in the last 12 minutes, some dazzle from Udinese and some admirable spirit for the champions to be.

Team of the season

GK: Handanovic (Udinese)

RB: Lichtsteiner (Lazio)

CB: Silva (AC Milan)

CB: Benatia (Udinese)

LB: Balzaretti (Palermo)

CM: Ledesma (Lazio)

CM: Cossu (Cagliari)

CM: Hamsik (Napoli)

RW: Sanchez (Udinese)

CF: Ibrahimovic (AC Milan)

LW: Eto’o (Inter Milan)

Goal of the season

Edinson Cavani’s late winner for Napoli at home to Lecce. The Uruguayan scored plenty, but this showed off his range. He picked up the ball just inside the opposition half, beat three defenders, swaying right and left and unleashed a thunderbolt from some 25 yards.

Top scorers

Antonio Di Natale, Udinese 28

Edinson Cavani, Napoli 27

Samuel Eto’o, Inter Milan 21

Alessandro Matri, Cagliari/Juve 20

Marco Di Vaio, Bologna 19

Flops of the season

• Rafa Benitez: Lasted barely five months as Inter’s coach. Was unable to inspire a set of players who, though tired, had collected a treble the season before.

• Juventus’s new board: A new president, a new recruitment strategy and a new head coach. Gigi De Neri, were supposed to usher in a new era But Juventus were frail and inconsistent.

• Adriano: The Emperor made his umpteenth return to Serie A from his umpteenth recuperative spell in Brazil. But this comeback, with Roma, was empty of the kind of brilliance he once displayed.