THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

8 May ~ With Sunday's 2-0 win against Cagliari, played at Trieste because Cagliari have locked horns with their local council over the use of their Sant Elia stadium, Juventus were crowned champions of Italy. With one game still to play they have 81 points to Milan's 77. Officially this is their first Scudetto since 2003, but they still claim they were champions in 2005, when the title was not awarded, and 2006, when it was given to Inter. According to the official records, this is their 28th title, but according to the club it is the 30th. This would allow them to add a third star to the two they already wear and they are threatening to do just that.

It would be an act of open defiance against the Italian football federation, which will surely require some kind of response, especially if the records continue to say Inter were champions in 2006.This petulant and infantile refusal by the club to accept the verdicts of the Calciopoli scandal that broke in 2006 threatens to add a sour note to what should be a triumph.

It is a pity because Juventus have thoroughly deserved to win the title. They are unbeaten in the league and the Coppa Italia, a total of 41 games, though this record might not have been reached if Sulley Muntari's "goal", which would have given Milan a 2-0 lead on February 25, had been spotted by the officials. On the other hand, they have been awarded only three penalties to Milan's ten.

After finishing seventh in the last two seasons, Juventus did not start as favourites under new coach and former player Antonio Conte, fresh from guiding Siena back into Serie A at the first attempt. However, they were not in Europe and have played ten games fewer than Milan. They have also largely managed to avoid injuries, which have plagued Milan throughout the season, including the serious health problems that kept Antonio Cassano out for nearly six months.

Conte has fashioned a team very much in his own image. As a player he was fiercely competitive but not especially gifted. His Juventus is a team without superstars, apart from the fading but still useful Alessandro Del Piero. Their success has been based on a miserly defence that has conceded just 19 goals in 37 games, and the ability to score enough goals (62) without having a proven goalscorer in the team.

While Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the top scorer in Serie A with 28 goals, Alessandro Matri is Juventus's leading scorer with just ten. He is 16th in the list of Serie A goalscorers. Even relegated Novara have a player, Marco Rigoni, with 11 goals. This is a team of artisans, but they are extremely well organised and everyone works for the cause with a ferocious dedication. There are no prima donnas; they were shipped out in January.

However, among the artisans, there is one artist who, together with Conte, is probably the main reason Juventus are back at the top. Andrea Pirlo, now into his thirties, is such a self-effacing character that it has probably escaped the notice of many that he is one of the world's best playmakers.

A year ago Milan wrote him off so, when his contract ran out, he was snapped up by Juventus for nothing. There were those who scoffed and said that he might play ten games. He has played 35, with seven goals and numerous assists. Milan should be kicking themselves for such a catastrophic error of judgement.

Why they thought Pirlo was finished but not the much older Clarence Seedorf is a mystery, as is the fact that they could have had Carlos Tevez in January, but Silvio Berlusconi preferred the injury-prone Brazilian Alexandre Pato, who has hardly played since.

Juventus will be back in the Champions League next season and their squad will need strengthening. They are to be congratulated for their success this season, but they would not have won the title had they been competing on all fronts.

A triumph, then, for Conte. But there are some possible clouds on his horizon that cannot be ignored. He could be involved in the current match-fixing scandal in connection with some games played by Siena last season.

We must hope for his sake that this is not so, and that his career as a coach is not about to be interrupted, but we have learnt in the last year in Italy that just when everything seems rosy, there is often a rude shock just around the corner. Richard Mason

Comments (7)
Comment by CY_Boaby 2012-05-09 05:50:10

A good article, especially in highlighting Milan's dreadful decision to discard Pirlo. But I think it's harsh to say Milan should have cashed in on Pato in order to get Tevez. Pato's only 23 and if Milan can keep him fit (and there's no reason why they can't), he'll be a great player for them for years to come.

Meanwhile, Tevez only stays at clubs for a couple of years or so before moving on to the next big pay day, bringing with him a hell of a lot baggage and chaos. Any club that signs him in the future deserves all they get. They can't say they haven't been warned.

Comment by Sixmartletsandaseagull 2012-05-09 11:29:24

Interesting summing up. I can see (think it likely) the Juve would not have won if they'd had CL football to contend with argument, but if they had they'd likely have strengthened the squad in readiness? Also, they might have gone out in the group stages and taken the Coppa Italia less seriously, who knows. A little too neat that assertion, for me.

Comment by geobra 2012-05-09 14:37:22

On Pato I'm not sure. He does seem terribly injury-prone. One must hope that it's a phase, because it's true that he's a potentially great player. But he's only shown it in flashes so far, and remember that at 23 he's only a year younger than Messi. He's at an age where all the true greats of the past had already made their mark.

On Tevez, a rethink. Maybe it was impossible to imagine how two such huge egos as his and Ibrahimovic's could have co-existed. Instead they took Maxi Lopez from Catania, and he did little of note, which is hardly surprising as he is no more than a goodish Serie A player. I think they should have shown more confidence in the hugely promising El Sharawy.

As for what Juve would have done if they'd been in the CL, or even the Europa League, we'll never know. We can only say that with this squad, something, and maybe everything, would almost certainly have given. After all, Milan's squad is, on paper, stronger, and they'll win nothing this season.

Comment by geobra 2012-05-09 17:38:28

Could those of us who live in Italy respectfully ask the headline writers of WSC to call the two Milanese clubs simply 'Milan' and 'Inter'? Nobody here ever refers to 'AC Milan' or 'Inter Milan'. It seems a peculiarly English habit, but I am sure that it is not necessary for WSC readers.

Comment by FCKarl 2012-05-10 11:33:35

geobra, greetings!

How is Pirlo holding up? I believe that he has made his mark as a player for (AC;) Milan for years and solidified himself as the Squadra Azzurri midfielder in the 2006 World Cup. He's obviously an older man now. And I don't know if there is any good or intriguing backstory as to why he departed Milan for Juve. Is there? What I really want to ask of you: Was Pirlo the idea motor (if not certainly the actual physical motor) behind Juve's Serie A title this year? Is his presence there the brains that helps win close contests for Juve? And are Allesandro del Piero's legs still churning him along well or is he really now only suitable as the super-sub for the final 20 minutes?

Looking forward to your insights and comments on this. I appreciate it. Grazie.

Comment by geobra 2012-05-10 18:58:01

Let's talk about Del Piero first. He will be 38 in November, and Juventus president Andrea Agnelli indicated months ago that this would be his last season. The likelihood is that he will bow out on Sunday week in the Coppa Italia final with Napoli at Rome's Stadio Olimpico. He will surely not come on as a sub, as he has usually done in Serie A this season, and he will almost certainly be captain. His contribution to the scudetto has been limited on the field, but I think that his influence off it has been immense. And if he has not played much, there must be a reason because Conte is not stupid.

And now Pirlo. He will be 33 on May 19th, so he's only just entering that period when he can be called a veteran. He's played 39 of Juve's 41 games this season, always from the start, and he's only been subbed twice. In all he's been on the field for 3527 minutes. I think that says it all. He's scored 3 goals (not 7 as the article said). And I think that I read somewhere that his pass success rate is 89%. So I think we can say that he's been absolutely fundamental to Juventus' success. I have read that Conte was not too keen on him at first, because he doesn't give the impression that he plays with the fierce commitment that Conte demands. But impressions can lie, and if Conte has kept him on the field for the whole of 37 games out of 39, he must have his reasons. Pirlo is not at all flamboyant. He goes about his business without fuss, but if you watch him carefully, what a job he does.

Officially he left Milan because they would only offer him a one-year contract. But he had been there for 10 seasons and maybe he needed a change of scenery. In hindsight it was a stupid move by Milan, but had he stayed there's no guarantee that he would have produced the form he has displayed with Juventus, and he certainly would not have been an automatic choice.

Everyone contributed to Juve's success, but if I had to name one player above all the others, it would undoubtedly be Pirlo.

Comment by geobra 2012-05-11 14:38:38

There is a long interview with Pirlo in today's (May 11th) 'La Gazzetta Dello Sport'. In it he confirms that he no longer felt wanted by Milan, and especially by coach Massimiliano Allegri, who would have asked him to play in a position that he does not consider his, and preferred players like Van Bommel (!) to him. This is probably confirmation that if he had stayed at Milan, he would not have had such an outstanding season - but at the same time he would not have been able to help Juventus to win the title either. Probably Milan underestimated the challenge that Juventus would mount, but they were not alone in this.

There could be some trouble at the Juventus v Atalanta match on Sunday because Juventus have allowed tickets in the visitors' section to be sold to their own fans as well as to Atalanta fans. This is not the kind of example one expects from newly-crowned champions, especially after the appalling behaviour by some of their supporters that marred the game between the clubs in January.

But mostly in Italy we're back to match-fixing allegations again. Plus ça change.......

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