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Football triumphs over Anti-football…


Well before the final whistle it was feeling like a humiliation. The home side were passing the ball around, passionate partisan fans cheering with great vigour with every touch from one Partenopei to another, as the Juve players looked on dismayed, chased lost causes, a long finished outfit huffing and puffing, toyed with, looking to each other, to anyone to just make it stop. This is what I remember before the Elmas goal. The most instructive image of a side tactically, technically and physically beaten so clearly that we were made to look hapless.

I doubt many were surprised by the defeat. Plenty, like myself, have not been quite so positive of the ‘winning run’ without conceding a single goal. For our defence has been stretched to breaking point in most of those games. Lecce, Cremonese, Udinese…these games in particular were examples of the better side on the day losing. Our low block, committing so few bodies forward, attritional warfare against squads put together with a drop in the ocean of the funding invested in our muddled team.  Most sides we face play better football, look more cohesive, balanced. We just have better players than many. Which really does matter, to some degree. Though not when facing anywhere near our average technical level player for player, in a side brimming with confidence, focus, style, energy.

None of which is to seriously criticise the recent winning run in the league. Especially when compared to our form before that period, for it has been a solid recovery and should not be forgotten or cast aside as merely lucky. Though it does close to confirm to my thinking that the league is more weak than competitive. Seems more a case of this alongside Max still capable of putting together a strong defensive system as the best of any possible worlds he can conjure with the current squad and his own tactical nous.


Our beleaguered coach has supposedly had a big say in the recruitment since his return. If so, he has had 2 summer windows and a winter window to shape the side to his ideas. My impression is that none of his ideas have worked. Last season was haphazard, at best. This season has somehow proven even worse. Limp defeats to Maccabi, Monza, hideous humbling barely salvaged against Salernitana. Struggling to edge past many teams who on paper we should be trouncing. The only impressive performances have come against Lazio and Inter. Beyond those two games, I really cannot remember any outings where I felt we looked a decent side with the majority of those on field sticking to a widely understood and working game plan.

Yes, as some say, Max used similar defensive methods in the past, and they worked. Yet this was when we had clearly the strongest squad in the league and a highly competent SD in Marrota who has proven before and since his stint at Juve, that he is adept at squad building. We no longer have the strongest squad in the league. It has been put together in hotchpotch scheming which has not appeared geared towards any system that then worked, since Beppe was kicked out. We lost that all important synergy between SD and coach and this has added weight to our downfall.

It is a positive that a few of the youngsters have been given opportunities in the first team. However, as expected, as soon as more senior players are available, Max has gone straight back to them, seemingly regardless of any idea of meritocracy or form as a selection process. Fagioli played from the start in both those sparse solid games I mentioned (v Lazio and Inter). What I notice about his game is his positional intelligence and decision making on the ball. Not just his technical ability. Locatelli looks a better player next to him, than next to others. I suspect this is because Manuel is more able to focus on his own game than need to cover the area of the RCM when McKennie is there, who lacks positional intelligence if not discipline.



Another problem is the tendency for the coach to deploy players out of position. Miretti is a mezalla, who Max has been playing as an SS (of late). Chiesa is a front line specialist, our strongest attacking talent, who Max is now playing as a RWB. Sandro is a long semi-retired LB, who is a CB now. Danilo is a career long RB, who is our CB. Di Maria is a world cup winning specialist RWF, playing perhaps as a TQ or SS. Add to this list Locatelli who seems the second in line for a regista role, after a fit Paredes, yet his game has long blossomed as a mezalla.

I cannot look to any other side, let alone a top side, who so regularly field so many players out of position. I know we have injuries, and agree the squad is unbalanced, but Max has played a leading role in recruitment and he is not forced to put so many in unnatural roles other than through his coaching and tactical methods.

It is as if he stumbles across a system which brings a string of solid results, then shoe-horns the players into that, assuming it will work or get even better. Contrast this against a very well oiled Napoli side and the result was appalling.

The youngsters have been used due to no other fit bodies available, not due to Max showing brave faith in their abilities. He has been tactically failing. The coaching is not working. The recruitment has been more miss than hit. Performances have been generally poor. And the only reason as to why he remains in his job, I suspect, is due to the more serious concerns the club currently faces, which leans towards avoiding any further upheaval, after the whole board resigned and the legal investigations abound and continue. Of course, there is also his hefty wage to ponder. Though that will pale into less significance if we fail to make the top four and CL qualification for next season.

Decisions made long ago continue to haunt us. On and off the field. We now have Rabiot, who looked our best player (after 3 seasons of poor to average form) prior to the break, assuredly in discussion with other clubs, may already have a deal lined up. This is not the kind of player we want or need in the starting XI. For he will not be going all out, he will not be giving his all. He will not want to scupper his mega payday at the new club through risking serious injury.

Di Maria

Di Maria looked like he was coasting, just passing through, wanted to keep fit and competitive for the WC, which is now done. He has serious quality, but is not a player to build around. His fellow Argentine Paredes has looked passive and far from a positive signing. Pogba has not played a minute for us where it matters. He came on big money and with an appalling injury record.  Sandro has appeared as if he hung up his boots long ago and is treating games like a kick-about in flipflops on the Rio beaches. For two years now.

Still, even with my longstanding criticism of Paratici, then Cherubini, of our recruitment since Max, I do not believe the squad needs complete overhaul. Fullbacks and a high level CB are the main areas of dire need to improve. Probably an experienced DM to challenge with Rovella. The rest of the roster and the developing youngsters should be performing as a unit much better than Max has managed to find.

Looking past all the above…Allegri’s style is to minimise risk, block attacking channels, load the defence, hit on the break/ hope our superior strikers will make the most of any chances created. Whether EU80m man Vlahovic or Milik, our CF looks mostly isolated. The slightly perplexing thing is that in those brief flurries when the side pours forward in numbers beyond 2-3 past the halfway line, we often look very capable of quick passing and dare I say, exciting football. Yet ‘Calma! Calma!’…I sigh and recall twitter fans praising Max for shouting at the younger players for not holding the ball late on in a cagey 1-0 victory over mighty Udinese.

Our identity, if we have one, seems mainly anti-football. The blunting, thwarting, negation of cohesion, flair, attacking endeavour to seek to win games. It is results focused attritional scheming with zero accomodation of playing on the front foot, of dreaming, of fantasy, of speculating to accumulate.

Spalletti has brought together, alongside Giuntoli, a squad of hungry, confident, attacking players. They have built upon clearly recognisable foundations of playing enterprising, entertaining, offensive football, with the main aim to score goals. All the players have evidently invested into this. The results are clear. And they have achieved this with staggeringly smaller resources than plundered on recruitment under Agnelli’s watch these last few years.

Allegri alongside Cherubini has conjured a squad aimed – seemingly – at playing negative football, of sitting deep, of wearing down opponents, seeking not to create many chances, but converting the scant openings created through grinding down, blocking, flooding the defensive line then hitting on the break. Whether the players have bought into this or not, clearly it doesn’t suit them.

My thoughts keep returning to the bemusing sight of Chiesa as our deepest defending player for one of the goals conceded against Napoli. I do not want to see out brightest attacking player tasked to drop so deep. I suspect he feels similar. Will work his heart out but his threat and value is the other end of the pitch. I fear the same fate will befall Soule and Illing-Junior in the remainder of this campaign. And dare I say, even with this firm focus on anti-football, we may well finish top four. Which is worrying to think could be enough to keep Max in his job. Though there is no certainty of CL qualification.

Both Milanese sides I expect to finish above us. 4th will be a battle between ourselves, Lazio, Atalanta and Roma. All of whom we are yet to face in away fixtures. With such in mind, I must mention La Joya…Even with his injury sustained, his form and contribution has been impressive. 10 goals and 3 assists from 16 games, slightly better return than every 86 minutes he helps others score or finds the net himself. To compare with our front line>

Dusan 131 minutes.

Milik 174 minutes.

Di Maria, perhaps intended as the replacement for Dybala, – 88 minutes.

Our former frontman’s fellow world cup winning Noodleman (il fideo) has managed 530 minutes on field for Juve, less than half of what Dybala has found for Roma (1113 minutes).

It brings me no comfort whatsoever to have found as I assumed, that we would not replace La Joya as easily as  through signing a 34 year old whose passion for our cause was questionable from the beginning (zero interest in a 2 year deal). Another major error of the Agnelli final few years, and one which I still feel had little to do with sporting considerations. Admittedly I do tend to harp on about the saga, without much encouragement. And I know why. It is because Dybala’s ugly exit took with him not just his often wondrous talents, but also the final major chunk of my heart which has long beaten for the club and our shared ranks. Almost as if Agnelli’s descent into making Juve his own personal fiefdom was finally rid of any player, any staff member whose passion for the shirt overawed his unbowing allegiance to the President. By which I mean…I had for many moons come to distrust Andrea. He lost the damn plot in 2018, was sold a brave new world plan by Paratici and Mendes, with Nedved in tow, gave the man hugely responsible for our mega success of many years before, short shrift, when kicking Beppe off the premises.

A slippery slope then ensued. And the manner in which the Dybala episode played out led me to conclude our bandiera was another casualty of the capricious, even duplicitous downward turn in conduct of our President. We may never know the truth. My heart however is in agreement with my mind…Here was a player who had given so much to the cause, had been seemingly promised a new deal, mucked around over and over again, and then finally betrayed. Ill-treated, like a few others who have passed through the ranks. I miss him. Am so very glad to find him enjoying his football, playing for an adoring crowd in the capital and peforming well.

Paulo Dybala refused to celebrate and stared out Juventus directors after goal v Udinese | GiveMeSport

Still, there is scant need for me to repeat my usual rap sheet of allegations of mismanagement at the highest levels. Hopefully, we are in the process of turning a corner, not quite how anyone would have wanted the Agnelli era to end, but it has ended. How far the long overdue renovation across the club goes, remains to be seen. Yet there is hope.

Max clearly loves the club, loves the game, and is a decent man who has given so much to our cause. He is likeable, sometimes amusing, another who has demonstrated deeply devoted service to our shared hopes and dreams. Kindly understand that I am never faulting his effort. I truly believe he is doing the best he can. Unfortunately the reality is that sentimentality cannot detract from the now concrete conclusion that his methods are outdated and he is holding us back.

John Elkann has addressed the ongoing mess of our accounting and auditing methods, by bringing in demonstrably excellent Ferrero as President (elect). He has addressed the awful marketing and PR mistakes, by bringing in Scanavino. He and they need to apply the same mega upgrade towards fit for purpose across the sporting side of the club; through employing a top level SD to work in tandem with a new manager to come in the Summer, both on the same page aimed towards a clear project focused on a clear identity, a style of modern attacking football.

Until the Summer, I remain as I was before the season started; assuming we could aim and hope for 3rd or 4th.

Whilst I will never be a fan of De Laurentiis, whose beady eyes somehow mirror his smeagol like ghoulish penchant for acting like a swine, he is intelligent enough to put the right people in the right roles and has learned to (pretty much!) let them do their work.

Congratulations to Napoli, a vivid expression on the field of an eternally vibrant city I know well having spent a capodanno there with close friends and their family during my younger years, with my memories ever joyfully available of senses alert to living in a war zone or revelry, bombs exploding, food and drink forced into my mouth at every hour from every angle, music, dance, celebration…such glorious chaos! That city and her people share a powerful pulse.

I am glad they are blossoming, promoting the Italian game with not just often beautiful, but effective football! They will be worthy champions. We can but hope to be saying similar of Juve in the best of all possible futures.

Forza Juve!

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