Leader. Champion. Decisive. L.C.D. Three letters that briefly describe an everlasting figure at Juventus, Claudio Marchisio. This must not be confused with ‘liquid crystal display’ although some of the features between the two are similar. However, both are thin, efficient and ensure no geometric distortion.
To watch Marchisio represent La Madama week in and week out is something I deeply cherish. He has evolved from being a little price in Turin to an Italian king. Much like a king, he has so many royalties that everyone would only dream to possess. One such royalty is that he has been a Bianconero in his playing career more than any other player in history. He joined Juve as a seven year old and has a contract with the club till 2020. 22 years and counting… He demonstrates Juventinita like no one else.
Every winning team needs a player that can successfully enact the instructions of the coach during the course of play. Throughout the history of the beautiful game, there have been a few extra-ordinary teams widely accepted as the greatest in their era. Among those remarkable teams you will come across one player that is extremely pivotal to that team’s success. A player that has a great technicality, personality and mentality. More importantly, that one player is the fundamental aspect to decide the fortunes of the team.
Rinus Michels had Johan Cruyff. Sir Alex Ferguson had Paul Scholes. Both, Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique have had the privilege of coaching Sergio Busquets. Along the same lines, Giovanni Trapattoni had Giuseppe Furino initially and then Gaetano Scirea within his ranks that were essential to the success of one of the greatest footballing teams of all time. Those two guided Juve to win six Scudetti, two Coppa and every UEFA trophy under Il Trap. Two years after Trapattoni left Juve after a phenomenal decade in Turin, Scirea decided to retire.
Following Scirea’s retirement, Dino Zoff became the coach of Juve and guided Juve to a UEFA Cup triumph apart from a Coppa Italia. Zoff, who was an integral part of Il Trap’s Juve was succeeded by his mentor, Trapattoni itself. Trapattoni spent another five years at the helm of Juve and managed to win a UEFA Cup. These were the only three trophies that Juve won in seven years following Scirea’s retirement despite having Roberto Baggio in their team for four of those years. Seven years that saw two Juve icons manage Juve, one of whom is their greatest ever coach to-date. Those seven less fruitful years seemed to always miss something… someone.. a player similar to Scirea.
Marcello Lippi replaced Il Trap and his first action as a Juve coach was to find a missing link.. More importantly, someone that resembles Scirea. And so he added Didier Deschamps to his team. That would change Juve’s fortunes to a great extent as Deschamps won a domestic double in his first season and narrowly missed out on a treble by losing in the UEFA Cup final to Parma. The Frenchman’s team did not overly depend on Baggio in that entire campaign as Il divin Codino endured an injury hit season before leaving the Turin-based club at the end of the season. Deschamps would go on to win the Scudetto two more times and win every major UEFA trophy under Lippi before leaving Juve for Chelsea.
La Vecchia Signora that Deschamps represented was widely considered to be the greatest side in his era. Following the departure of Deschamps, Alessio Tacchinardi, his teammate for five seasons, would take up his role and become the most integral part of the Bianconeri midfield. Subsequently, under three different coaches, Tacchinardi’s Juve would go on to win three Scudetti, two Supercoppa and an Intertoto cup in six seasons while finishing second twice in the Serie A and once in the Champions League. It would take Juve six years to fully recognize his replacement. A struggle that would see them win only one Scudetto and a Serie B in seven years of La Madama’s worst ever period in her history.
Antonio Conte, a legend as a Juve player, took up the hot seat at the Bianconeri coaching department in the summer of 2011. His first action as a Juve coach was to shift Marchisio into the heart of the midfield. Marchisio was one of the survivors of the team that won the Scudetto in 2006, getting demoted to Serie B and returning to Serie A to personally experience three miserable years in Black & White stripes. The new Tacchinardi that Juve sorely missed since 2005 was within their own ranks but hardly featured as a centrocampista.
Conte’s move would turn out to be a master stroke. Marchisio would inspire Juve’s rejuvenation by scoring a brace against reigning Italian champions AC Milan. Juve would not only conclude the season as the champions of Italy but also go unbeaten for an entire Serie A campaign while narrowly missing out on a domestic double, losing to Napoli in the Coppa final. Claudio had finally broken through into an established world class talent from a talented player brimming with great potential. Conte’s debut season saw Marchisio notch 36 appearances, become Juve’s second top scorer with nine goals and also rack up three assists. Il Principino had now become one of the core members of the team. Marchisio would then enter the 2012 European Championships with six of his Juventus compatriots to secure a runners up medal in the tournament.
Back in Italy, the girlfriend of Italy would be embroiled in yet another scandal that saw her main protagonist, Conte facing prosecution for allegedly failing to report match-fixing during his stint at Siena. After an appeal, Conte’s touchline ban would be reduced to four months. However, La Vecchia Signora did not seem to be effected by losing her crusader as she would conquer Italy once again by winning the Scudetto for the second time in two seasons along with a Supercoppa, with Il Grintoso at the nucleus of the team. On the continental front, Juve lost out to a rampaging Bayern in the quarter-finals after Marchisio had aided them by scoring a goal to knock Celtic out of the knockout stages. He made the fourth highest tackles per game in the 2012-2013 Champions League among midfielders to have played a minimum of six games.
Marchisio began the following season with an injury that resulted in him being brought off in a Supercoppa tie against Lazio. Juve defeated Lazio to claim their second successive Supercoppa and Marchisio successfully returned from injury a month later. During the time he was out injured, Paul Pogba had developed brilliantly into Marchisio’s position and the Italian international found it hard to displace the young Frenchman in the team. Despite that Marchisio racked up thirteen starts in the first half of the 2013-2014 season that saw his side get knocked out of the Champions League group stages. It is the second half of this season when he truly showed his importance to the team.
Conte made another genius move by employing Marchisio as a regista in Andrea Pirlo’s role during a cup tie against Avellino. Marchisio blossomed in the regista role and gave Juve and the Azzurri the hope to succeed without Pirlo. However, Marchisio wasn’t used that often as a regista as he had to be employed with a physically struggling Arturo Vidal. Marchisio demonstrated the versatility of a great champion in his game. La Madama reached the summit of Italian football for the third season in a row while lose out narrowly to Benfica in the Europa League semi-finals, both with the little prince from Turin being pivotal in her journey once again. Claudio wore the Azzurri jersey to travel to Brazil for the World Cup with five other Bianconeri and opened the scoring in La Nazionale’s opening win over England before crashing out of the group stages.
When Marchisio returned to Juve, Conte and the club decided to mutually terminate their relationship that had contributed to monopolize Italy for the last three seasons. The company decided to hire former Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri as his successor. After being abused, thrown stones at the bus he was traveling in, Allegri began to work under immense pressure at the Torinese club. After all, he represented Juve’s rivals only six months ago and had now succeeded an icon that had built a dynasty in Turin. The Tuscan’s preseason began badly as they lost in his first game to an amateur side under closed doors while losing Pirlo to an injury for the initial phase of the season. Meanwhile, Vidal continued to physically struggle while his name popped up continuously in a never ending summer saga of media reports linking him to the Manchester United.
Allegri remained calm, tranquil and turned to the one man that was pivotal to his predecessor’s success. He relied on Marchisio to step into the Maestro’s shoes and conduct an orchestra for the most successful side in Italian football. Together they began a journey slowly but efficiently as they placed the team on a high pedestal before the Maestro returned to take his spot in the team. Vidal’s fitness seemed to improve over the course of the season as Allegri, like his predecessor took an unassailable lead in the Serie A as they ran out Scudetto winners for the fourth consecutive season. However, Allegri had already bettered Conte’s last season by not only guiding Juve into the knockout stages of the Champions League but also lifting an unprecedented domestic double by winning the Coppa.
As they prepared to encounter Dortmund in a thrilling two leg encounter, Juve faced a setback by losing Pirlo to an injury during the first leg of the tie with the game evenly poised 1-1. No problem for La Madama though, as Marchisio automatically stepped into Il Professore’s shoes and orchestrated his side to overcome the Germans 2-1. In the return leg, Juve were already without Pirlo and endured the loss of Pogba during the game as Marchisio instructed his side to slaughter Jurgen Klopp’s side 3-0 at the Westfalen stadium. Pirlo did return in time for the quarter-final tie against Monaco but Pogba was absent from both the fixtures. No issue for the Torinese side as Marchisio took Pogba’s role and smoothly guided his side into their first Champions League semi-finals since 2003. In the semi-finals Pogba did miss the first leg that saw an Marchisio-enabled-Juve defeat the reigning European champions Real Madrid, but was present in the return leg as a draw was enough to send the Old Lady into her first European final for twelve years. In the final, in Berlin, Marchisio rescued his side with a majestic back heel that let in Stephan Lichtsteiner to create an equalizer for Alvaro Morata against Lionel Messi’s extraordinary Barcelona. However, it wasn’t enough as the experience of the Catalans prevailed in the competition and Giorgio Chiellini’s absence was too much for a Marchisio-based-Juve. It was a final that brought Pirlo to tears as he dropped the curtains on his Juventus career.
The departure of Pirlo along with the sales of Carlos Tevez and Arturo Vidal meant that Juve had lost three senators that were major contributors to their recent success. Losing Fernando Llorente, Simone Pepe, Marco Storari and Alessandro Matri also ripped La Madama of highly influential squad members. The entire burden of midfield fell onto Marchisio’s shoulders as he entered his 23rd year as a Bianconero. Shrewd investments were made as the company spent over €120 million to keep the side competitive. Experience came through Sami Khedira and Mario Mandzukic while Paulo Dybala added quality along with enthusiasm to the new Juve. Juve began the transition process in style as another Supercoppa was added to the ever growing trophy cabinet. But, the biggest complication in this transition process occurred when Marchisio endured an injury that ruled him out of Juve’s two opening fixtures for the 2015-2016 season.
So began the 2015-2016 season with back to back losses against Udinese at home and Scudetto contenders, AS Roma away. Marchisio did return against Chievo in a disappointing draw at the Juventus Stadium but missed another two weeks with injury. While Juve won impressively in Europe, they struggled domestically as they won only two of their four games in his absence. La Madama’s situation wasn’t helped by the fact that summer signing Khedira also sat out with a series of injuries. The midfield looked depleted and in dire need of a director. Luckily for Juve, their chief director did return. After missing the game against Sassuolo due to flu, Marchisio lifted his team and has now brought them back from crisis to contend for the Scudetto once again. With Marchisio out of the team, Juve have won only four games while they haven’t lost a single game with him in the starting XI. They now seem stronger, more confident and back to being the usual Juve that has dominated Italy for the last four seasons.
Every team needs leaders, it is granted. But, every team needs one player to be an acting coach on the field to deliver the manager’s instructions. Milan had Franco Baresi, Manchester United had Scholes, Ajax had Cruyff, Bayern have Lahm & Barcelona have Busqets. Juve had Furino in the 70s, Scirea in the 80s, Deschamps in the 90s, Tacchinardi in early-mid 00s and now have Marchisio. An acting coach should make most outfielders look good around him and Il orchestratore specializes at it. Without having a player that can enact the coach on the field, the team plays like a group kids, lacking discipline & failing to succeed. Furino and Scirea enacted Trapattoni, who himself emulated Nereo Rocco in his playing days for the Rossoneri. Deschamps and Tacchinardi impersonated Lippi brilliantly. Marchisio is a player that Conte relied on heavily to execute his instructions on the field and Allegri does the same too.
The common link between all those Juve players is that they are all underrated but essential for the team to do well. Every building needs a solid foundation and Marchisio is that basic entity for Juve to be monumental. Forget Marchisio’s passing, his work ethic, ability to recover possession or his technical qualities. He is fundamental to La Madama’s triumph. Without Marchisio there is calamity at Juve because there is no other player that can communicate the coach’s instructions on the field better. You don’t have to be a master tactician to understand what Marchisio means to La Madama, he is one of a kind. Everyone judges as to who the best player is, differently. In my opinion, the best player is someone that has major influence on the way his team plays. In this regard, Marchisio is the best player at Juve and in the Serie A. He influences La Madama unlike anyone for their respective teams in the peninsula.
The day Marchisio retires will be one of the saddest days for the Juve tifosi and I only hope that the club can replace him successfully. Grazie Claudio for everything.