A boy who was tipped to be the next Superstar…
The year was 1996; Juventus were arguably the best club in the world, having won the Uefa Champions’ League and the Intercontinental Cup. A nine year old boy stepped onto the Juventus Academy grounds. Born to parents who supported AC Milan, the boy was brought up in Turin and aspired to be a future superstar for La Vechia Signora.
As the years progressed, the boy got promoted through the youth ranks. He was physically frail, small in stature and lightweight, but was blessed with speed and skills. His performances gradually earned him starting spots in the Azzurini teams. Juve’s broader fan-base first came to know about him in 2006. The Primavera Team won Campionato Primavera, Juve’s first title in the Primavera level in 11 years. The boy in question was hailed as the next big thing in Italian Football.
He was nicknamed La Formica Atomica (The Atomic Ant), for his speed and size. Sebastian Giovinco, looked all set to fulfill his dreams.
Giovinco made his debut in Serie B in 2006-07 season. He made an immediate impact as he set up Trezeguet for a goal. Comparisons with Alessandro del Piero started rapidly. As it is often the tradition in Serie A, the young, talented player was loaned to Empoli to gain experience. Along with his team-mate Caludio Marchisio, Giovinco got good game time in Empoli scoring two goals. One of his brilliant free-kicks against Roma made him famous overnight.
Unhappy times in Juventus:
His performances earned him a move back to his mother club in 2008, when he signed a 5 year contract. This was his reaction – “I’m very happy, today I got the long-awaited signature. I hope it’s a beginning and that there are many other contracts with Juventus in the future.”
Giovinco continued to do justice to his talent as he made one more assist for Amauri in his first Serie A game for Juventus. One of his most impressive outings was a memorable cameo against Chelsea in a 2-2 draw at Turin.
A sight which has been rare in recent seasons..
Despite the occasional bursts of brilliance Giovinco never really fitted into Ranieri’s rigid 4-4-2. Even the tinker-man was not sure where to use this unconventional player.
In a 2008 interview Ranieri said – ““His time will come slowly but surely – we shouldn’t wait for him like a Messiah, we have to see him as a lad who needs to be slowly integrated and we have to take a responsible approach. I have never said that he poses a tactical problem. He is just developing as a player – he always played in the centre and then he was on the left at Empoli. I brought him back to be a back-up to Pavel Nedved but that doesn’t mean that he can’t be used in attack. I have a lot of faith in him. He works hard and he has great quality but let’s give him some time”.
Initially it looked as if Ranieri was doing the prudent thing by gradually phasing in a young player. But the process soon became frustrating for both fans and the player. It was clear that young Sebastian didn’t fit Ranieri’s plans and spent depressing hours on the bench. A crestfallen Giovinco quoted – “If I were from Brazil or Argentina, maybe I’d have more chances to play. I regret being an Italian”. He played just 8 games in 2008. He did notch his first goal against Lecce, fittingly in his first full game for Juventus.
With Ciro Ferrara taking over things started to look up brightly. Diego was brought in to perform the role of a trequartista. But Ciro’s attachment with Juventus youth system meant more chances for Giovinco. Diego got an early injury and Giovinco stepped on as a trequartista, with mixed success. His best games came as an advanced left winger in a 4-2-3-1. He dazzled the fans with his pace and movement and Juve scored 12 goals in 3 games. He was one the main reasons why Juve, for once, looked like her old self. It all changed with Camoranesi’s injury. He was the only right winger, so the 4-2-3-1 was scrapped permanently. With Del Piero coming back from injury, Giovinco went back to the bench. He got injured and was subsequently ruled out for the season. At 23, things hardly look encouraging for the player once touted as the next big thing.
So what went wrong?
Giovinco is a very unique case. He cannot be clubbed in with the likes of Matteo Brighi or Rafael Palladino as failed potentials.
In two years, he has played just 34 games for Juventus, starting in only 7 of them. Juventus have lost just one out of those seven games. Those seven games include some of the best results in recent times, a 1-4 thrashing of Roma and a 5-2 hammering of Sampdoria. The Atomic Ant excelled in most of the games. So, he has fulfilled his potential in majority of the games.
Giovinco’s biggest problem is that he is an unconventional player. He has played as a secunda punta (second striker) for his youth career. However, he is hardly a prolific finisher to regularly start in that position at senior level. At 5 ft 4 inches tall, Giovinco is not just short, he is also very frail and can get crowded easily.
Will Giovinco ever have an impact like Del Piero?
So where else can he be played? He is ill-suited to be a conventional winger in a 4-4-2. He is not a good crosser and will not go back to defend, two important requisites for a winger.
He is not a great ball distributor & has the tendency to hold the ball for too long. His stature again creates a problem for him to play as trequartista, which is a centralized position.
He was hugely successful for the Azzurini. He was selected as the best player in the Toulouse Youth Tournament in 2008. He was by far Italy’s best player as they reached the semi-final of Euro U-21 in 2009. He has had his best moments being part of a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 as an advanced left winger. His main strengths are good first touch, pace with the ball and his turn. When deployed as an advanced winger Giovinco cuts in from the flanks causing havoc with his pace. He gets more space on the flanks & is less likely to be wrestled off the ball in wider position. His pace, Diego’s skills and Camoranesi’s crossing transformed Juventus whenever they played together.
Problem was, none of the Juventus coaches knew how to utilize him. Since Calciopoli, Bianconeri has had 5 coaches. Deschamps never worked with Giovinco, he could have utilized him properly. Ranieri is a very orthodox coach and his rigid 4-4-2 couldn’t accommodate Giovinco. Ciro Ferrara tried, successfully to some extent, but he made too many rookie mistakes and injuries didn’t help. Zaccheroni was, well Zaccheroni.
Comparisons to Del Piero didn’t help matters. Del Piero might have played as a Secunda Punta, but he was a prolific scorer. He scored a hat-trick in his first ever start for Juventus. He was stronger, more skilled and had better vision than Giovinco has now. Giovinco will not be the same type of player Alessandro Del Piero was.
Let us be clear on one thing, this is not an issue about the alleged reluctance of Italian clubs to give young players game time. Giovinco’s team mate Claudio Marchisio has firmly established himself as a mainstay for the midfield; he has also been regularly playing for the national team. Another one of his mates, Paolo De Ceglie has seen considerable amount of game time. De Ceglie has been ordinary, but still has figured in the line-up.
Time to bid him a sad goodbye?
Sadly, things don’t look like improving anytime soon. Luigi Del Neri is a firm practitioner of a similar 4-4-2 as Ranieri. It is unlikely he will manage to accommodate Giovinco. In his interview he has already mentioned that he will centre his tactics on Marchisio.
Juventus is left with a very talented but terribly frustrated player. It is only his love for the club that has still kept him in Turin. He has been a part of the club for last 14 years; surely he deserves a fitting treatment. With Prandelli taking over the national team, it is a time for transition in the Azzuris. Keeping the coach’s penchant for a 4-2-3-1, Giovinco is a perfect player for that system. He would surely want to move to a club which will guarantee him play time.
“I don’t know what will happen in relation to my future. I want to play regularly, but I know that no coach can guarantee that, I want to play if I deserve it, and I feel I have deserved it over these two years, but it was not like this. I wasted two years. Yes, I was injured this year, but this has nothing to do with all those times on the bench. I wouldn’t have played in any case.”
It’s a trying time for both the players and the fans. Juventus fans would ideally want him to shine him in Turin. But if he leaves, you really can’t blame him.