Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Off-the-ball: Ranieri is pulling Juve back

Last night I saw the Old Lady’s most attacking lineup since their promotion to Serie A. I thought, finally, Claudio Ranieri had mended his ways and was looking to play positive football. But alas, I couldn’t have been more wrong. In the 13th minute, Ranieri replaced an injured and heartbroken Pavel Nedved with Hasan Salihamidzic, quite possibly one of the worst players in the Juventus squad. It was not to be the swansong that Nedved was hoping for.

His replacement Salihamidzic is good neither going forward nor back. He is slow, clumsy and usually there to just make up the numbers. He did absolutely nothing in the 77 minutes given to him. Why, on earth, didn’t Ranieri bring in Sebastian Giovinco at that time, is beyond me. His decision to substitute Vincenzo Iaquinta, Juve’s goal scorer and possibly their best player, in the 61st minute was insane at the least. Even then I felt he could have substituted Salihamidzic or Cristian Molinaro to bring in Giovinco, who proved his worth by running circles around the Chelsea defence.

Ranieri then put the final nail in his own coffin, when, in the 79th minute, he substituted David Trezeguet, one of the most prolific goal scorers in world football with Amauri. Again I thought it would have been wiser to substitute Molinaro or Salihamidzic rather than Trezeguet. In the end these small things added up and cost Juve the match.

Now, one would say that this was only one match and it would be harsh to judge Ranieri on the performance of one match alone. But, unfortunately he has been holding back Juventus ever since he joined the club. A hungrier manager would have built a squad to challenge for the Scudetto this season, considering the resources and pedigree of Juventus. But Ranieri has been committing hara-kiri beginning from the summer transfer window. After building up hype about bringing Frank Lampard and Xabi Alonso to the Stadio Olimpico he ‘preferred’ signing Christian Poulsen. I stress on the word ‘preferred’ because Xabi Alonso’s transfer was practically a done deal with all parties coming to an agreement until Ranieri shockingly backed out.

In his defence he has made some good signings as well, Mohamed Sissoko and Olof Mellberg being the prominent ones. I wouldn’t consider Amauri as a successful signing yet because he has come at a great cost and hasn’t yet repaid that cost on the field. But Ranieri’s blunders far outweigh the successes. We have all seen the debacles that Poulsen, Almiron and Tiago are but add to that the persistence in playing the likes of Molinaro and Zdenek Grygera over Paolo De Ceglie and Olof Mellberg, respectively. Cristian Molinaro has great heart and gives his best but his best is not good enough for Juventus. It is unbelievable that Juventus paid approximately €7.5 million to buy full rights of Domenico Criscito from Genoa just to loan him back for almost two seasons now. Even a blind man can see that he is developing into one of Serie A’s finest and most versatile defenders. Instead Juve turned to Dario Knezevic for their defensive problems. Apparently he has become one of the problems.

Ranieri’s insistence on playing an ageing Nedved in as often as 3 games a week yet benching the young prodigy, Giovinco, would have Einstein dumbfounded let alone mere mortals like us. Considering Giovinco, at 22, has hardly got any chances compared to contemporaries like Sergio Aguero, Alexandre Pato and Lionel Messi makes Ranieri’s argument that Giovinco needs to mature, absolutely preposterous. I guess Ranieri left his reputation, of being one of the best squad builders in the world, back at Stamford Bridge. These small things add up over the season and show their effects in the points table.

Summing up, it doesn’t matter how nice Mr. Ranieri is because at the end of the day the fans want to see victories, positive football and most importantly trophies, something Ranieri has hardly achieved in his 22 year career as a manager. It’s high time the Agnelli family tinkered a bit at the Stadio Olimpico.

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