Football Features

Remembering the last Juventus team to lose Serie A: “We always risked fighting because of him”

By Ben Green

Published: 14:02, 13 July 2020

For the past nine years Juventus have dominated Italian football, and another Scudetto looks on its way, with Maurizio Sarri set for his first-ever league title.

When the inevitable transpires, barring an unlikely collapse, the Old Lady will clinch a record 36th title, exactly double their nearest opponents, AC Milan (18) and Inter Milan (18). Chairman Andrea Agnelli has shrewdly monopolised the division and made his beloved club an unstoppable force on the domestic front.

That Europa League loss to Fulham in March 2010 now seems lightyears away, a relic from a bygone era, but it was only 10 years ago. Alberto Zaccheroni’s side finished seventh in Serie A that season, and it was deja vu the following campaign under Luigi Delneri. Since then, however, it’s been nothing but glory.

The 2011/12 season heralded the start of Juve’s golden generation and their new stadium, with Antonio Conte marking the occasion with a Scudetto. But, what exactly happened to Delneri and his side the season just prior to Conte’s revolutionary exploits?

“Gigi” guided the club to an underwhelming seventh in 2010/11 and exited the Europa League in the group stages, inexcusable for the talent he had at his disposal…

Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 16

Current club: Juventus

A 33-year-old Buffon missed a large chunk of the season having sustained a back injury in the 2010 World Cup, but he returned to the side after recovering from that setback, immediately oozing class between the sticks, which he is still doing to this day.

After a brief interlude at PSG, the legendary shot-stopper is back in Turin and still donning the Bianconeri crest at the ripe old age of 42. The ageless Italian recently broke Paolo Maldini’s record — set in 2009 — for most Serie A appearances, bringing up No. 648 in the Turin derby. 

Right-back: Marco Motta

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 22

Current club: Persija Jakarta

Motta tussled with teenage full-back Frederik Sorensen for the starting berth on the right flank and ultimately got the better of his Danish counterpart, but the one-time Italy international certainly won’t go down in the Juve hall of fame. That season was his only full one at the club before Conte deemed him surplus to requirements. A string of lukewarm loan spells followed before Watford snapped him up in the Championship in 2015, and then Charlton shortly after. Further stints in Spain and Cyprus followed with Motta now in Indonesia.

Centre-back: Andrea Barzagli

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 15

Current club: Retired

Although the 2010/11 season was exceptionally underwhelming from a Juve perspective there was one bright spark, and that was the recruitment of Barzagli. The Italian bulwark joined the club midway through the campaign from Wolfsburg and went on to establish a formidable defensive relationship with Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci under Conte, and later Massimiliano Allegri. After eight Scudetti, Barzagli called time on his playing career in 2019.

Centre-back: Leonardo Bonucci

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 34

Current club: Juventus

Bonucci also joined that season, though at the start of the campaign, laying the foundations for years of defensive solidity and world class resilience. The 95-cap Italy international was a figurehead at the back during Juve’s golden years under Conte and Allegri before unexpectedly joining AC Milan in 2017.

Though, much like Buffon his stint away from Turin proved brief and he eventually rejoined the club after one year. That Milan sojourn was not without its hiccups, however, as the Italian stalwart received a frosty reception on his return to Turin and even celebrated scoring against his former side. All water under the bridge now though.

Left-back Giorgio Chiellini

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 32

Current club: Juventus

We can’t believe it either. How did Juve finish seventh with that defence? Unlike Bonucci and Barzagli, Chiellini was a fully-fledged member of the Juve XI by the time 2010 came around, he even appeared for them in Serie B following the infamous Calciopoli scandal.

The lanky yet elegant centre-back started the campaign as Bonucci’s partner, but was shifted to left-back following the arrival of Barzagli. Fast forward a decade and the 35-year-old is still a part of the furniture, though his current campaign has been derailed by a major injury setback.

Defensive midfield: Felipe Melo

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 29

Current club: Palmeiras

Things weren’t great heading into the 2010/11 season for Melo. In 2009, after moving from Fiorentina, he received the unflattering and now defunct Bidone d’oro, or the “Golden Bin” award, a satirical prize set up for most disappointing player in Serie A at the end of each calendar year.

For FIFA fans Melo remains a cult hero after he went in goal and saved a penalty during a match for Galatasaray, resulting in his own unique goalkeeper card in Ultimate Team, but if there is one person who does not bask in the glory of this mercurial Brazilian, it is Chiellini.

The Juve captain was less than complimentary about Melo when he recently described his former teammate as a “rotten apple”. He told told La Repubblica: “Felipe Melo is the worst of the worst. We have always risked fighting because of him.”

Melo retorted by revealing his love for Inter Milan and slamming the Italian defender, telling La Gazetta dello Sport: “At this point, though, I have no respect for him. And I never will have. He says Balotelli should be slapped and I am the worst of the worst who always risked sparking a brawl? Well, he was always a coward who’d wet himself.”

Central midfield: Alberto Aquilani 

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 33

Current club: Retired

Signed to replace Xabi Alonso at Liverpool, Aquilani has gone down as an unmitigated flop at Anfield, and when Roy Hodgson came in to replace Rafa Benitez in 2010, even he didn’t fancy him. Though, Hodgson famously ‘didn’t fancy’ Roberto Carlos at Inter Milan during his San Siro days so that’s not exactly saying much.

Either way the Italian returned to his homeland after a disastrous maiden campaign in the Premier League and joined Juve on loan for the season. He racked up 33 appearances for the Old Lady, but Conte decided against making his transfer a permanent one.

Given he went on to establish a midfield axis consisting of Paul Pogba, Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Marchisio that now looks a very wise move from Conte.

Central midfield: Claudio Marchisio

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 32

Current club: Retired

Talk of the devil. Another beacon of prosperity in that Juve squad, Marchisio was elegance personified, gliding across the midfield turf with grace and grandeur. Like many in this squad he went on to form a key part of the club’s ensuing success in the 2010s, but even he couldn’t galvanise this side playing alongside a Liverpool flop and a Bidone d’oro recipient.

Marchisio was the textbook definition of an all-round midfielder during his playing days, which were unfortunately cut short last year after recurring injury problems. At 34, the Italian read the game in such a way that he could have gone on to play for another four to five years.

Right-wing: Simone Pepe

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 30

Current club: Retired

Pepe initially survived the Conte cull and went on to establish a blossoming partnership on the right channel with Stephan Lichtsteiner during their return to the summit in 2011/12, but after that he was completely left in the cold. The season before — his first in Juve colours — was just as fruitful, with the Italian proving a real livewire on the flanks and earning the moniker “Speedy Pepe” among the Old Lady faithful.

Left-wing: Fabio Quagliarella

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 17

Current club: Sampdoria

He may be 37, but Quagliarella is still playing with the prowess of a man 10 years his junior. Last season the experienced marksman capped a Capocannoniere-winning campaign, for most Serie A goals, by equalling Gabriel Batistuta’s record of scoring in 11 consecutive Serie A matches in a single season, an all-time record for the division.

And he could have been showcasing those prolific exploits in Turin even to this day (the older the better it would seem at Juve) had Conte not cast him out in 2014. Back in 2010/11, Delneri opted against giving Quagliarella a consistent first-team spot up-top, and well, hindsight is a glorious thing. A major injury didn’t help either.

Striker: Alessandro Del Piero

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 33

Current club: Retired

A man whose name is synonymous with Juventus, Del Piero is a player who would stick it out through thick and thin with the club, and he did. Following Juve’s relegation in 2006, the world class forward stuck around and helped guide the club to promotion and back to the pinnacle of Italian football.

That kind of loyalty has earned him a leading pedestal in the Juve pantheon, but even this club legend’s final third heroics couldn’t help the club avoid a lacklustre seventh-place finish in 2010/11. He did manage to stay on for one more year and taste sweet victory once again before leaving for Australia.

The remaining squad

Milos Krasic

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 33

Current club: Retired

The 2009 Serbian Player of the Year relocated to Turin with high expectations of rejuvenating the flanks. With luscious golden locks and creative wing-play, Krasic had all the tools to emulate Juve legend Pavel Nedved. Unfortunately those trademark curls were where the comparisons stopped, as the former CSKA man was unable to follow up on a promising debut campaign in Serie A, and he too fell victim to the Conte fire sale.

Marco Storari  

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 23

Current club: Retired

The prime example of a backup ‘keeper, Storari signed for the club that summer and was immediately drafted in following the injury picked up by Buffon in the World Cup. He ended up playing more games than Buffon that season, but returned to a peripheral role following the veteran stopper’s return to action. Like any good reserve ‘keeper he braved the bench for four more seasons before joining Cagliari as a first-teamer and then back to the fringes with Milan.

Fabio Grosso 

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 19

Current club: Retired

What a player! Hugely responsible for Italy winning the World Cup in 2006 after his extra-time goal helped beat Germany in the semi-finals, before starting in the final and scoring in the penalty shoot-out against France. Grosso was entering his twilight years when he joined Juve in 2009, but he was useful outlet for the side during three years before Conte edged him to the exit doors, and eventually retirement.

Vincenzo Iaquinta

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 19

Current club: Retired

On his day Iaquinta was a real handful, but the explosive Italian simply couldn’t shake off recurring injury problems during his career, and that pattern largely followed him in Turin, where he never really etched his name in the annals, scoring just four goals in 2010/11 before Conte froze him out.

Mohamed Sissoko

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 18

Current club: Retired

A blast from the past, “La Piovra” (the octopus) seemed destined to follow in Patrick Vieira’s illustrious Premier League shoes and dominate the game’s midfield for years to come. Liverpool fans would have been disappointed when the ex-Mali international flattered to deceive in the middle of the park and he eventually rejoined former coach Claudio Ranieri at Juve in 2008. Though, again he was unable to revolutionise the midfield and eventually left for PSG — not the worst CV.

Frederik Sorensen 

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 17

Current club: Young Boys (on loan from FC Koln)

The teenage Dane burst onto the scene and looked set for a long career at the Old Lady, with his performances catching the eye, culminating in a man-of-the-match showing against Inter Milan, in which he kept the likes of Samuel Eto’o and Wesley Sneijder quiet, while also assisting Alessandro Matri’s winner. It wasn’t to be, though, as Conte turned to Lichtsteiner and Bologna came calling, before Juve bizarrely resigned him, sent him to Elland Road for a proposed loan spell (which collapsed) and then resold him to Cologne in Germany.

Alessandro Matri

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 16

Current club: Retired

Matri was acquired midway through the season from Cagliari and subsequently scored his first two goals for Juve against his old club, choosing not to celebrate on both occasions. Take note Bonucci. He went on to net another seven, taking his total tally for the season to 20 in Serie A. That would turn out to be his most prolific campaign in football, and after he also fell out of favour with Conte, Matri left for Milan, though he returned briefly on loan and netted the winner in the 2015 Coppa Italia final.

Luca Toni 

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 14

Current club: Retired

The third January signing that season, Toni wasn’t quite as successful as Matri, though he was very much in his latter years at that point. His most memorable moment was not in the league, but against Notts County. No this is not some bizarre Football Manager twilight zone. To mark the opening of the new Juventus Stadium, the Old Lady faced then-League One outfit Notts County in homage to links dating back to 1903. 

The Magpies are actually the inspiration behind Juve’s iconic black and white strip. Before they decided to take a leaf out of the East Midlands’ book, Juve donned an all-pink jersey. To celebrate a fashion faux pas dodged, Juve hosted Notts County in 2011, and Matri scored the first goal in a 1-1 draw.

Jorge Andres Martinez

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 14

Current club: Retired

A move to Juve proved to be a poisoned chalice for the Uruguayan, who saw his career hampered by injuries following a move to Turin from Catania. He made just 14 Serie A appearances for the club in six years and eventually left for Juventud in 2016, clearly liking the first seven letters of their name.

Zdenek Grygera

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 13

Current club: Retired

Fulham fans look away now. The former Ajax full-back was delighted to link up with compatriot Nedved and initially started well for Juve, but by the turn of the decade he was out favour and left when Conte pitched up.

Armand Traore 

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 10

Current club: Unattached

Yes the Armand Traore. Arsenal’s left-back dynasty featured Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy in the 2000s, with Traore tipped to walk in that path. But, the former Senegal international just wasn’t quite on that elite level, as demonstrated during this season-long loan spell in Turin, where he saw more bench than ball.

Hasan Salihamidzic 

Serie A appearances in 2010/11: 10

Current club: Retired

After nine years at Bayern Munich, the Bosnian moved to Juve but never really settled in. By the 2010/11 he was the only fit first-team player omitted from Delneri’s 25-man squad for the Europa League and he left at the end of the season for Wolfsburg.