The news of Luigi Del Neri’s dismissal as Juventus’ coach for next season and the appointment of Antonio Conte as his replacement has seen mixed reactions. Impatient Juventus fans are happy that the coach who was supposed to bring the revolution to Juventus is out. On the other hand, the more optimistic Juventini believed that the last 12 months were a necessary season of adaptation before Del Neri could really start working towards higher goals. Whichever the case, Luigi Del Neri is out, Antonio Conte is in.
Recently, I was reminded of Claudio Ranieri – another Juventus coach post-calciopolli who was perhaps mishandled and mistreated for his tenure at the club. Juventus Offside blogger and Juve fanatic Aaron Giambattista (@agiamba) posted a recent interview of Ranieri with Claudio Zuliani on Twitter that really caught my attention. You can hear the whole interview in Italian here.
The conversation is very sincere and revealing of the way things happened behind closed doors during Ranieri’s “relationship” with Blanc and Secco. The ex-Mister also offers a bit of his insight on what may be wrong with the Old Lady as of late (and by late I mean the last 6 years). I decided to practice my Italian a bit and translate the interview. Here it is:
Claudio Zuliani: What do you think is the current problem with Juventus?
Claudio Ranieri: “I think there are two main problems. One, there needs to be patience. When I arrived I had 5 champions in the squad [Buffon, Camoranesi, Nedved, Del Piero & Trezeguet], while now there are only two. People need to realize that this squad is mostly comprised of young players and you cannot expect everything right away. Time needs to be given to these young players to adopt the Juventus mentality. You cannot just buy a new player and expect him to automatically win and not make any mistakes. Unfortunately in Italy we want everything to happen right away. When I arrived, we had a plan to win the Scudetto in 5 years. We did in fact get off to a good start as we finished 3rd the next season, but when things started going bad everyone kept expecting wins. Well, you cannot win like that since the champions that were there in the past are not there anymore.”
“I remember when Lippi was Juventus’ coach early on. I specifically remember the game against Fiorentina when Juve went down 2-0 and ended up winning 3-2. Naturally, the Juventus fans will remember that game as the one where Del Piero scored one of his most beautiful goals ever, but to me that was when that Juventus team really became Lippi’s Juventus team. Of course, that team too needed time to gel, to enter the winning mentality. When you’re at Juventus, you’re not expected just to win games, but you’re expected to win every single one.”
Z: Claudio, you are one of the seven Juventus coaches in the last five years. Can Juventus really be re-constructed as a team when they’re constantly changing coaches?
CR: “No, no they can’t. However, people need to have faith in this new leadership since it is so different than when I was there. The new guys [Agnelli & Marotta] know calcio, love calcio, and dream calcio. Because of this, they are likely to make less mistakes while leading the club. Of course, we need to give them time as well.”
Z: What do you think of the decision to let go of Del Neri and bring in Conte?
CR: “The one thing I don’t like is that Del Neri worked really hard and worked well and is now out the door. However, Conte is a former Juventus player, knows the mentality and character of Juventus and can explain to the new players what it means to be a true Juventus player.”
Z: Cobolli Gigli came out a few weeks ago saying you and assistant coach Christian Damiano preferred to buy Poulsen over Xabi Alonso. How did that whole thing actually play out?
CR: “That is not true. As you know, we were going to sign Flamini on a free transfer but then Milan swooped him in. Now, there are two things that people easily forget about that summer’s transfer market. First, all the decisions we made were made by the three of us. Blanc, Secco, and myself made all the decisions together. Hence, it is not fair to reward or blame some of those decisions on only one of us. Second, we had a summer transfer budget of only $20 million. We had recently just purchased Amauri and spending all of the rest of our money on one player (Xabi Alonso) did not make sense. Blanc asked me which player I preferred and I told him I like Xabi 20 times more. But we realized that we needed more than just one player so we couldn’t spend $20 million on him. I then told Blanc I l also liked Poulsen since he was more of the type of player like Flamini. It is not true that my assistant coach had anything to do with that decision. The management liked the Poulsen choice better. They were always more inclined to buy defensively solid players over playmakers. You can see that that’s the direction they wanted to go the next year too. They needed to sign a regista but ended up buying a mediano when they purchased Felipe Melo.”
Z: And what about the purchase of Diego?
CR: “When Nedved announced his retirement, I told the management that we needed a player like him that will also fit in our 4-4-2 formation. That was our system and that was what the players know. We needed a left winger. Management wanted Ribery and I agreed that technically he would be a great fit. Then they told me he was too expensive. I said okay, that is no problem for me as I was always honest with them. When Diego entered the conversation I told them immediately – to have Diego on our team we would have to change our formation and system to fit him in. I have nothing against Diego – he is an extraordinary player, a champion. I don’t want to point the finger at him for that season. I always use the “house building” analogy – to build a house, you need the foundation first, and then the architects and designers to make it all pretty. Diego is one of those players that makes the squad pretty & flashy. But Juventus did not even have the foundation in when he arrived.”
All in all a very interesting interview with the ex-mister. While he flat out exposes Blanc and Secco for being clueless in what they were doing, he still maintains a level of class that few managers have.
The irony is that Juventus seems far away from that situation today, yet is facing many of the same problems. We have new guys running the club, have changed a few coaches in the last season and have even improved the squad a bit. However, we are still lacking fundamental players in the most crucial area of the team – the defense. Will the likes of Ziegler and Lichtsteiner fill those gaps? Time will tell. I have always argued that great coaches have the ability of making mediocre players look like superstars. While I do not think Conte has that trait yet, he definitely has the determination to will out all the potential out of our players. As always, I cannot wait for next season to start. Is it August already?