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Juventus, a rather sick and tired old lady

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Phil Minshull | 15:24 UK time, Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Following a two-hour emergency team meeting on Tuesday, Ciro Ferrara remains as coach of Juventus for now.

But win or lose Wednesday's Coppa Italia match against Napoli, a game that brings together the only two clubs he ever played for as a professional, his days would appear to be numbered.

The Italian media have been avidly reporting that the arrival of Guus Hiddink is imminent, coming in as a trouble-shooting caretaker manager in similar fashion to the way he parachuted into Chelsea last season.

Even at the end of last month, Corriere dello Sport was saying that Hiddink, now with time on his hands after Russia's surprise World Cup play-off loss, was going to try to restore some stability and morale to a Juve side that has evidently lost its way since the start of December and the rampant optimism following the win over Serie A leaders Inter.

The 4-1 home defeat to Bayern Munich on 8 December, which lead to Juventus failing to qualify for the lucrative last 16 of the Champions League, clearly provoked a dramatic plummet in confidence and was swiftly followed by a 3-1 loss at Bari.

Almost as equally devastating as the Bayern loss was the 2-1 home defeat to relegation-threatened Catania. This is when the professional obituaries of Ferrara started to be heavily inked.

The players provided a stay of execution for the likeable and articulate Ferrara with a respectable 2-1 win over Parma last week, but it was back to the bad old ways with Sunday's dismal 3-0 home loss to Milan.

How Juventus president Jean Claude Blanc must have been wishing that he had acted more decisively back in December when Roberto Mancini was still available before his move to Manchester City.

So just what has gone wrong with Juventus? Not that their current predicament compares to their brief exile in Serie B during the 2006-07 season and being stripped of their 2005 and 2006 titles in the wake of the infamous match-fixing scandal.

Firstly, Blanc himself has to take much of the blame for appointing Ferrara in the first place.

Certainly, Ferrara did what he was asked to do then and kept Juve in second place at the very end of last season when matters had started to go astray under Claudio Ranieri. But a couple of wins over Siena and Lazio hardly constituted a recipe for guaranteed season-long success in the manner expected by the 27-time Italian champions.

Ciro Ferrara discusses tactics with Felipe MeloCiro Ferrara discusses tactics with Felipe Melo

Secondly, and briefly, injuries and below-par performances by erstwhile key players - even stars Gianluigi Buffon and Diego have not been immune from a drop in form - have lead to a string of poor results, as they would at any club.

Even Italian national coach Marcelo Lippi, who had two stints as Juventus coach and won the 1996 Champions League crown with them, felt motivated to chip in this week, reflecting: "He (Ferrara) has had injuries but now there is a climate of fear and insecurity there."

Unless Hiddink, or whoever, rapidly overhauls the squad's prevalent defeatist mentality, the Old Lady seems set to suffer further indignities this season.

Last week, I tackled the subject of the subject of the winter transfer window. Though activity in mainland Europe has been relatively quiet, one move here in Spain caught my eye - Javier Portillo going from Osasuna to Segunda leaders Hercules.

Remember Portillo? This is the man who, as a teenager in a Real Madrid shirt, was nicknamed 'Portigol' after breaking Raul's youth-team scoring records and netting a spectacular goal against Panathinaikos on his debut for the senior team at the age of 19.

By his own admission, the pressure of being heralded as Real's new star striker for several years in the middle of the last decade eventually got to him. "I've gone to Hercules to try and return to being who I was," remarked Portillo, who is now 27.

Comments on this piece in the space below, other questions to europeanfootball@hotmail.co.uk, and I'll pick out another couple for next week.

From last week's mailbag:

If you were a coach, how would you prefer to play?
Felipe Moreno, Brazil

Personally, I've always been a fan of a relatively conventional 4-3-3 formation. I've often been of the opinion that coaching tactics, even at the highest level and especially in the opponent's half of the field, are sometimes over-elaborate. Even experienced, intelligent and talented players sometimes fail to understand what the coach is trying to get them to do.

Unless you have the players that can switch sides fairly comfortably, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, or a world class playmaker like Xavi Hernandez or Kaka, at your disposal, my philosophy would always be 'keep it simple'. As it to illustrate the point, when Real Madrid beat Mallorca fairly comfortably 2-0 at the weekend, Kaka, coming back into the Real side after almost six weeks out injured, was almost tripping up over Ronaldo on occasions.

If you can get your hands on them, World Soccer magazine ran a series of very readable articles in the early part of last year and during 2008 about the different tactical formations used by clubs in big European leagues and also a tactical history of some well-known contemporary coaches.

You mentioned Sevilla losing a young defender, Sergio Sanchez through injury, but what about their other young talented defender, Federico Fazio?
Chris Cleary

Unfortunately, this has been a season to forget for Fazio. In the summer, he probably harboured some hopes of perhaps breaking through to the Argentine national team in time for the World Cup finals. Unfortunately, he has had a succession of injuries since September, starting with a sprained ankle. He has only played in one La Liga match this season and will not be fit again to play until next month at the earliest.

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