When I studied in Turin in Spring 2011, both Juventus and I were not doing so well. The Bianconeri were mid-table, hadn’t moved to their new stadium yet, and were still attempting to shake off the persistent ghosts of the past. I was smoking Lucky Strikes, drinking a bottle or two of wine a day, and trying to cast myself as a burgeoning Hemingway. (Those Lucky Strike boxes were amazing, though.)
But things have gotten better for both parties. Juventus have won 73 Scudetti in a row (I think) and have seen great success in the Champions League. I got married to a badass woman, have a job, which sort of pays me a salary, and live in a city with really good tacos.
In all sincerity I am happy to be here. Many thanks to Danny and Chuks, and apologies to you ragazzi for the oppressive amount of wordplay and alliteration to which you will undoubtedly be subjected.
I present the inaugural Landmarks of Turin Awards.
The purpose of this potentially recurring piece is to infuse Juventus football with the city of Turin itself. A mishmash of our beloved Bianconeri and the things that make Turin such a damn fine city. It’s the city that invented vermouth, for Pete’s sake! It was the first capital of Italy! It produced FIAT! It’s the center of the best (in the author’s stilted opinion) wine-producing region on earth! Juventini, we follow a squad as wonderful as the city it represents. I think that’s pretty freaking awesome.
Each of the following awards bears some distinct relationship with the city.
First, though, in traditional Piedmontese fashion: aperitivo.
A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.
- A note on the health of the writer: I am sick with something flu-like, and made the questionable decision (I blame my wife) to drink red wine while writing this. So my blood is a concoction of Sudafed and Pinot Noir.
- My first coherent thought of the day (when my blood was caffeine and Sudafed): This is a potential trap game. It’s coming on short rest, it’s away from Turin, and it’s against an underperforming but precociously talented Sassuolo team.
- Announcers mention “alternative facts.” Heh.
- Does anyone else simply think of zebras when Juve are wearing these kits?
- There’s literally a prosciutto di parma advertisement (pronounce it like a British person) surrounding the field of play. I miss Italy.
- Non-Italians Mario Mandžukić and Paulo Dybala (although I know La Joya has Italian family roots) picking up Italian hand-speaking habits.
- Max Allegri’s voice is quite chirpy sometimes.
- Don’t get mad, but I’m low-key rooting for Sassuolo to score a goal because they appear so sad.
Onto the awards...
Sidewalk of Turin Award
For a weak(ish) performance masked by other factors.
If you go or have been to Turin you will notice nobody picks up their dog’s s—-. It’s one of the few genuinely terrible things about the city. Turin, of course, is laid out on a grid, unlike many other Italian cities, and so minus the dog shit, and the occasional graffiti, the sidewalks are normally lovely.
Like those sidewalks, this award is given to the player who by all accounts is a wonderful player who plays wonderfully most of the time but who, today, had a rather nasty blemish. Against Sassuolo, I deemed this award a tie between Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.
I know it was a clean sheet. And I know that Sassuolo essentially created one genuine opportunity. But there were a number of clumsy passes forward. In fact, the beIN announcers found themselves saying again and again, “What a rare mistake by the best backline in Italy!” Stuff like that.
Sassuolo certainly has some talent, but their midfield played dreadfully against Juventus — and much of it was their own fault.
Piazza San Carlo Award
For a potentially overlooked yet stellar showing.
Understandably Piazza Castello — which, in fact, has a castle at its center — generates the buzz in the tourist books, but I found Piazza San Carlo to be the optimal location for a stroll during riposo. For that reason, I have created this award to honor the player whose play was outstanding, but might not be the most discussed.
Against Sassuolo, I congratulate Alex Sandro on the award.
It’s been a signature of both Sandro and Stephan Lichsteiner to push forward even in a 4-2-3-1, and that was exactly what the Brazilian did on Sunday. It was his movement and pass to Mandžukić that set up the return service to Sandro, who launched a pinpoint cross to Gonzalo Higuaín, who did what he normally does and buried the ball into the back of the net.
Simultaneously, Sandro did not shirk his defensive duties. Sassuolo found nothing moving forward on the right. WhosSored.com supports this theory: “Team has no significant strengths” coupled with “Attacked down the left side.”
For a notable demonstration in both grit and flair.
The idea here is simple. Lingotto used to be the FIAT factory, and now it’s a shopping mall. It’s brawn and sheen in one. It’s sexy and it’s horsepower. All of those associations, you know.
In the sixth minute, Bonucci was out-muscled in the box and turned the ball over in a perilous position. It had the potential to be one of those achingly painful moments that felt, somehow, predictable.
But then, a dude with gloves came out of nowhere to rescue possession.
Over and over and over again: Pjanić retreating all the way to Gigi Buffon’s territory to enter the fray, to offer a successful tackle. He pushed forward some — mostly to the right side of the pitch — but his presence held this match together. While he did misfire on the free kick, he was otherwise graceful in possession. Without his defensive play, this formation wouldn’t work. I sincerely believe that. Pjanić didn’t just hold his own defensively; he looked like a veteran, world-class defensive midfielder.
Parco Valentino Award
For an urbane demeanor distributed amongst the squad.
Juventus have a goalkeeper and his name is Gigi Buffon. He is the winner because he is now 39 years old and yet he reigns amongst all the great eternal beings.
Parco Valentino was always there when I needed to not think about everything, when I needed to let everything go and soak up some oxygen molecules that had been freshly created by green objects called plants. Buffon creates oxygen. His double-save was spry and lithe. Happy birthday, you golden god.
Giuseppe Garibaldi Award
For the Man of the Match.
People have thoughts about Italy being unified, a historical feat that didn’t happen until the mid nineteenth century. And indeed there seems to be sharp regionalism even today. But it’s a unified country; that’s the way it is. And the man primarily responsible for that was Giuseppe Garibaldi, a military leader so famed that President Abraham Lincoln asked him — via postcard, apparently — to lead the Union forces, which Garibaldi declined. His tactic genius, unending drive, and charisma helped him do what hadn’t been done since the times of Rome: unify a peninsula filled with very, very different kinds of people.
This award is my “Man of the Match” award. Generated not by statistics, but by the ability to unify.
For me, this goes to Mario Mandžukić.
The Croatian looks like a natural-born wing player. His deft handling of the ball, his holding possession, his distribution, his crosses, his constant threat — although the finishing lacked again against Sassuolo — all of it looks so damn natural. He works harder than anybody on the pitch. He perhaps didn’t figure into the defensive scheme as much as he has in the last few matches, but let’s remember that four days prior to Sassuolo he played 90 minutes of football.
It’s the flexibility of players like Mandžukić and Pjanić that is allowing Allegri to make this formation work defensively. Perhaps the most impressive feat in this recent run of good form — good form, I think, despite some moments of inconsistency — is the fact that it’s often been done with at least one key player missing each time (Claudio Marchisio lately, but also Alex Sandro and Dani Alves).
To use that old locker room adage, players are stepping up. And they’re not only stepping up, they’re stepping out of their comfort zone and excelling.