Once upon a time, a younger, more vulnerable Hunter Sharpless slinked the streets of Turin — Via Nizza, Via Madama Christina, past Parco del Valentino and Porta Nuvoa. Ordinary streets with ordinary Italians. Train stations and open markets, pizzas and piazzas. Among the many jewels that Italy boasts, from ancient Rome to beguiling islands, the hills of Tuscany to the wondrous construction of Venice, Turin does not, perhaps, stand tallest, but in my heart she is dearest and, more than that, she is wonderfully demonstrative of modern Italians; being relatively unknown and untrodden by American tourists, she retains a sense of independence, unfettered by tourist expectations and foreign framing. She is a great, wonderful, real city.
My time in Piedmont occurred long before my love for Juventus, and when, some years ago, I started writing for this blog, I took a page or two out of my memories to construct these Landmarks of Turin as a way of digesting Juventus’ play. Veteran readers will remember this column, which was a regular fixture for quite a while. My role has changed since that time, but I thought I’d resurrect the idea from time to time in honor of the old days.
For those unfamiliar: the idea is that a landmark or feature of Turin (or, sometimes, Bel Paese as a whole) creates an association in my mind with a Juventus player, to whom the landmark award is given. Since it has been so long since this column appeared with any regularity, I’ve provided a brief refresher of each award given below.
I’ll be back with another fresh set of awards over the World Cup break — hopefully when the mood is decidedly less dour around these parts.
Italian Cuisine Award
For the best collective unit, given different strengths.
What is most amazing to me about Italian cuisine is the startling, stark differences that can be found region to region, city to city. Turin is about equidistant via train from Aosta to Genoa, yet the fare in those two towns is wildly different. The Alpine climes of the former provide differently than the Ligurian Sea, as do thousands of years of cultural development, habits, and mannerisms. Therein lies the beauty of the peninsula.
In Italy, I love difference, locality. The particularness of one town. The original idea of this award was to recognize a unit that was successful with different types of strengths in the different players, and today, hoping to start off with at least some bright spot in this heretofore miserable season, the award goes to the goalkeepers.
As bad as things have been for Juventus over the last two seasons, they could’ve been a lot worse were it not for Wojciech Szczęsny and Mattia Perin. The Pole and the Italian are quite different players, but each has contributed palpably to saving points time and time again, it seems. Having one solid goalie is a luxury; having two is pure spoils. Our coffers overflow in this one regard.
There will come a day not too long from now when Juventus does need to find a new goalkeeper, but that day is so far away it’s not even on the priority list at the moment. Let’s hope things stay that way.
The Shroud of Turin Award
For the player who was never really there.
I never saw the Shroud of Turin during my stay in Italy. I am actually religious, but for two reasons I missed it: first, the carbon dating has proved this one off by more than 1,000 years, and as cool as a fake shroud of the 13th century might be I felt I had better things to do; second, on the rare occasion I did entertain seeing the shroud, for some reason or other it was being touched up or otherwise indisposed. So thus the award: a thing that is allegedly there but is counterfeit or altogether absent for miscellaneous reasons
When I visited Las Vegas and watched Juventus face off against Chivas de Guadalajara, Angel Di Maria was everything one could have hoped for. The ball stuck to his feet. He saw things without looking at them — runs, movements, defenders. Every time the ball came his way, the entire crowd — mostly Chivas fans, mind you — held its collective breath, waiting, watching, lingering like you would over a good meal, not wanting it to end, savoring every moment until it was over.
Needless to say, he’s been a veritable ghost since then. Whether injury, suspension, or poor play, Di Maria has been seriously Dis Appointing. The inconsistency in terms of availability has hampered the coach and player from finding any sort of flow together, especially with what his best position in any of these schemes may be.
One hopes that Di Maria has an important part to play at some point this season, but as of now we’ve yet to see anything but a shadow of a player who, even at his age, remains as talented as they come.
Nietzsche’s Horse Award
player coach whose play demonstrated an insanity indicative of a serious decline in form.
Fun fact: Friedrich Nietzsche lost his marbles while living in Turin. For a more thorough version of events, fire up the old internet search URL (maybe Ask Jeeves) and type in the words “Nietzsche + horse + Turin.” The Juventus man who has lost his marbles is Max Allegri. He’s always been “Mad Max” in my book, but now he’s really mad — Mad Mad Max.
The two things irking me most about Allegri right now really don’t have to do with his favored tactics. I’m all for pragmatic football (hello, Real Madrid), or whatever you want to call it, if it’s working. But it’s not working right now. And that’s irksome thing No. 1: inability or unwillingness to adapt. At this point, with so many draws and losses, you gotta try something else. Insanity is doing the same thing, etc. etc. etc.
Irksome point No. 2: The guy never takes the blame for the team’s woes. As I’ve mentioned before and as I mentioned on this week’s podcast, there’s so much culpability that can be spread around in so many ways right now, but Allegri is repeatedly making the conscious choice to not shoulder any of that himself. In my mind, a great leader is one who, rather than blame-shifting, scapegoats himself, especially in times of crisis, whether or not that’s “true.” the ability to deflect and relieve pressure is immensely important. These players are visibly laden; it’s time to lift them up. It’s time for the coach to say: “I need to be better.”
The buck stops with the Allegri.
After everything we’ve been through in the first two months of the season, though, despite all the injuries and blown games and drama, on and off the field, the realization that the Bianconeri are four points off first place and just seven off first is shocking; just as shocking is the fact that Juventus control their own destiny in the Champions League.
Whether the 97 percent of fans who want Allegri gone like it or not, the boss has clearly been given another chance. In the wake of the embarrassing 1-0 defeat to Monza — during which, sure, Allegri was up in the stands — I thought there was perhaps a possibility, however slight, that the club would leverage the international break for a change, but that clearly has not happened.
There are 12 games before the World Cup break. If the club doesn’t start winning, money be damned it’s tough to imagine Max coming back in January. But if Allegri can find some way to galvanize this squad emotionally, some way to cobble together a coherent team on the pitch, and, most of all, if he can find ways to win games, he has an opportunity many others wouldn’t have in his position.
This campaign has been rough, and watching Juventus is doing no favors to keeping my whiskey provisions intact, but there is still, after all of this, hope. Let’s hope against hope. Fino alla fine.