Under Antonio Conte, Juventus has enjoyed an extremely successful season. However, with Alessandro Del Piero’s impending exit, an air of gloom can descend on celebrations of Old Lady’s return to the top.
As the final whistle blew last Sunday at the Juventus Stadium, the fans as well as players broke into a joyous celebration. The celebrations were not just about the fact that the Bianconeri had completely outplayed Luis Enrique’s AS Roma, but also the fact that Juventus had stretched their lead at the top of table to three points.
Amongst the ecstatic celebrations, not many fans remembered the fact that Juventus had sealed an automatic Champions League qualification on dint of their demolition of Roma. After consecutive seventh place finishes in the league, the Old Lady is finally back into top two, where she has always belonged. When the season started, an automatic Champions League qualification with five rounds to spare would have been considered success by a lot of fans who had been disillusioned by Juve’s recent seasons. Yet, when this “successful” moment finally arrived, Juventus fans were busy dreaming about bigger achievements. This, precisely is the reason why season 2011/12 is already a top notch season for Juventus. If the club wins silverware this season it will be an extra bonus.
Conte’s Juventus – Paradise Gained
.One of the biggest reasons why this season is already a success is because of the way Juventus have played. The level of dominance showed by Conte’s team is miles ahead of any Juventus team since Fabio Capello’s era. The Old Lady has enjoyed an incredible 60% possession in Serie A till now. Last week, they went up against a team which had similar possession stats, AS Roma. The Romans have enjoyed 59% possession in away matches but could muster only 47% possession as Juventus completely overwhelmed them. Much of this 47% possession came in the last 30 minutes when Juventus took their foot off the gas pedal after scoring the fourth goal.
The hunger and grit shown by Conte’s Juventus is another refreshing aspect. A lot of criticism has been piled on Conte for some of the draws Juventus accumulated in 2012. It can be safely said that some of these draws would have easily ended in defeats in the last two seasons. Renowned for his combative displays as a player, Conte has drilled in the hatred of losing matches into Juventus. The incredible come back against Napoli, despite being 3-1 down in a hostile stadium, showed how mentally strong this Juventus team is. With players like Stefan Lichtsteiner, Arturo Vidal and Martin Caceres in the squad, Juventus once again have players who show intensity and who have an in-your-face mentality. In short, Conte’s Juventus refuse to be bullied around.
This season, each Juventus player knows his role and the level of understanding between players has been eclectic. Players can rely on their team mates to fulfill the duties assigned to them. Gigi Buffon no longer looks over anxious to stop an attack whenever a striker gets into Juve’s half, Chiellini no longer rushes to tackles left, right and center. Players like Simone Pepe or Paolo De Ceglie have improved by leaps and bounds under Conte and it can be said that they have outperformed themselves so far. For the first time since 2006, Juventus has played like a well drilled unit.
And that brings us to the dodgy situation with Alessandro Del Piero’s contract. Del Piero’s recent performances for Juventus, especially the match winning goal against Lazio has ignited furious debate over his contract extension in the club.
Del Piero’s Contract: Extend It Already!
In a way, it is quite strange for Juventus fans to be even pondering over an issue like this. Ever since Del Piero made his first start for Juventus (and marked it with a hattrick against Parma), he has been the apple of the eye for the Juventini. Football fans tend use a considerable amount of hyperbole while describing favourite players but Pinturicchio is perhaps one of the few players who have always deserved it. He has been the symbol of everything related for Juventus for almost two decades.
Along his way in winning countless accolades and fans, Del Piero has broken goal-scoring as well as appearance records for the club. However, Del Piero is not just about records. He is an icon for the club, a role model. Thanks to his conduct on and off the field, Alessandro Del Piero has become one of the few universally adored footballers in his era. He is a player who gets standing ovations in two of the most famous football stadia in the world – Old Trafford and Santiago Bernabeu. Juventus fans are not likely to forget the emotional message that was flashed on his official website in the period when Calciopoli verdicts came out.
I’m proud to be a “juventino”, to be a “bandiera”, like you define me to be often, in reality I’m just a small part of a big black & white “bandiera” (flag) that grows with the years and if you look closely your name is part of it… To continue making this “bandiera” grow we need everybody: let’s stay united.
Reassurance when fans needed it the most.
But let us take a step back and consider the decision of the management from a non-fan point of view. The club management may not have the same sentimental views about Del Piero as a fan has, though ideally they should have in this case.
Can Del Piero have an impact in next few seasons for Juventus? Will it be financially viable to give him an extension?
The veteran may be 37 years old but his style of play was never dependent on physical attributes. His biggest strengths, trickery, ball control and an instinct of conjuring something out of nothing have not rusted with age. While he may not have the fitness or stamina to play for 90 minutes regularly, Del Piero does have enough gas left in the tank to be an impact sub, as recent matches against Lazio and Napoli showed.
Next season, Juventus will be participating in the Champions League after a two-year gap. The team doesn’t have a lot of players who have UCL experience and Del Piero’s big match experience will be crucial. Del Piero has never come out publicly when he was benched, even during the Capello tenure when Ibrahimovic was infamously picked ahead of him. Two seasons ago, Ciro Ferrara complained about the fact that he always wanted to play, Alberto Zaccheroni, the man who took over from Ferrara, on the other hand praised Del Piero’s professionalism. So, it is unlikely that he will complain if he sits on bench for most parts of the season.
In terms of finances, it makes even lesser sense to not let Del Piero stay in Juventus. Money doesn’t matter to a player who volunteered to sign a blank contract for a new deal last year, a sharp contrast to Francesco Totti holding Roma at ransom for high salaries. Del Piero is not one of the higher paid players in a squad which has boasted the likes of Martinez, Iaquinta, Marco Motta and Amauri over the years. Plus his popularity means that Del Piero can still sell off a lot of named shirts.
Bottom line, the fact that Juventus are not renewing Del Piero’s contract makes very little sense. Regardless of what achievements the Marotta-Agnelli dynasty will have in the future, their treatment of another famed member of the Old Guard – David Trezeguet, was shameful. It is cringe worthy to note that Juventus had the likes of Marco Boriello playing first team football when a quality poacher like Trezegol was let go.
The management’s treatment of Del Piero has also been shambolic. From Agnelli’s press conference out of the blue to announce that Del Piero’s contract won’t be extended to the club giving extensions to Matri, Quagliarella, players who already had long contracts, but not giving a new deal to Del Piero tantamount to insult to the Juve legend.
After Del Piero’s latest interview, one might think it is all too late now. For a self-respecting player who has always given his all on the field, Del Piero might have had enough of the reluctance shown by the current management. Millions of Juventini around the world can lose a considerable amount of respect for the new regime if Del Piero bids an unceremonious adieu. And the glaze on Juventus’s successful season might well be torn off.