Why Claudio Marchisio Means So Much To Juventus Fans

Why Claudio Marchisio Means So Much To Juventus Fans
13:33, 16 Jan 2018

A simple banner, painted in black letters on a white sheet hung outside the Juventus training complex at Vinovo, the words visible despite the thick Piedmontese fog that lingered late into the morning. “Don’t touch Marchisio. Stay with us” it read, a small group of fans speaking for the thousands – perhaps even millions – of supporters who could barely imagine what it would mean to see the midfielder leave their beloved club.

Loyalty in world football is a fickle thing, as Alexis Sanchez’s desire to move to Manchester this winter clearly shows. Believing Arsenal have very little chance of silverware, the Chilean is seeking to relocate to the north of England, seemingly nonplussed whether his future comes in red or blue, just as long as he gets money and medals. Barcelona idols Neymar and Dani Alves are now team-mates in Paris, while Michael Owen has recently spoken about being in tears as he left Liverpool, but he joined Real Madrid anyway. Then Newcastle, then Manchester United.

Italy was always somewhat a unique case with such things, its players – much like every other aspect of life on the peninsula – demonstrating both the extreme ends of the spectrum. Some, like Francesco Totti and Paolo Maldini, represented for the same club for over twenty years, while this past summer saw Leonardo Bonucci become the eleventh man to play for AC Milan, Inter and Juventus. Christian Vieri featured for no fewer than twelve clubs, still managing to be the leading scorer in both Serie A and Spain as he bounced around season after season.

There are countless other examples of such nomadic careers… and then there is Claudio Marchisio.

He is the Old Lady’s longest-serving player, signing up for the youth sector back in 1993 and was born in Turin into a family of season ticket holders. Now instantly recognisable every time he steps out at Juventus Stadium, he had been a ball boy at the Stadio delle Alpi and dreamed of one day wearing those famous black and white stripes for real. Progressing through the ranks as a teenager, Marchisio impressed everyone he came into contact with thanks to his incredible skill, a prodigious work rate and the level of professionalism that Juve demands of all its players. He became captain of the Primavera (under-19) youth team and helped them to win both the Italian title and the prestigious Viareggio Cup during the 2005/06 campaign.

That same season saw him also begin to be included in the first team squad by Coach Fabio Capello, but his number was never called. Being overlooked was at the time something new for Marchisio, yet while the former England boss had plenty of good reasons for leaving him on the sidelines, he merely became the first in a long list of people who wrongly counted out the homegrown star known as Il Principino.

“The Little Prince” would be promoted to the full side on a permanent basis following Juve’s enforced relegation as the Calciopoli scandal also saw the same players who blocked his path depart. Experienced international midfielders Patrick Vieira and Emerson moving on to Inter and Real Madrid respectively. Capello headed to the Bernabeu too, but his replacement Didier Deschamps also opted for other players, fielding Cristiano Zanetti, Giuliano Giannichedda and Matteo Paro while Marchisio remained on the bench.

However, the trio would be struck by a variety of injuries and the promising youngster would finally be given a chance to shine. Seizing it firmly, he captured a place in the regular starting XI quickly, proving to be a live wire box-to-box midfielder who never grew tired, covering the defence before bombing forward to join the attack. In the midst of a late-season win over Arezzo, Marchisio would register his first assist, laying on a goal for Alessandro Del Piero that secured promotion back to the top flight.

Then he was sent to Empoli on loan, Juve’s management instead opting to fill their squad with midfielders whose inflated price tags only served to bloat their already unrealistic reputations. By the start of 2008/09, the club had spent €9 million on Sergio Almirón, €10 million on Christian Poulsen, Momo Sissoko arrived from Liverpool for a further €11 million while Lyon received €13 million for former Chelsea man Tiago Mendes.

By December however, it was none of those four who were earning rave reviews, but instead Marchisio who came to prominence following a stellar display in a 4-2 win against Milan. Running the show, he would never look back and it seemed he would finally be given a prolonged run in the team. Yet in his infinite wisdom, sporting director Alessio Secco had other ideas, wasting another €25 million to sign Felipe Melo from Fiorentina and once again forcing Marchisio to the fringes of the squad.

Again he pushed his way back into contention, only to see Juve move for Alberto Aquilani a year later. That led boss Gigi Delneri to bizarrely begin using Marchisio as a left winger, a role that never suited him but one which the player himself approached without complaining and eventually learned to fulfil adequately well.

Delneri (and his obsession with 4-4-2) lasted less than 12 months at the helm, replaced by Antonio Conte in the summer of 2011 as a revolution began in Turin. Despite the arrivals of Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal, Marchisio’s importance soon shone again and the new boss opted for a 3-5-2 formation that allowed the Italian to feature in a more natural position.

Bombing forward from deep, he would score in the first game at Juventus Stadium as the Bianconeri embarked on an unexpected unbeaten run that lasted the entire season, Marchisio netting ten goals to be their joint leading scorer. They would clinch the Scudetto once again and do so twice more before Conte – who was a previous owner of the Bianconeri no.8 shirt – moved on, first to the Italian national team and then to Chelsea.

In his place came Max Allegri, who recognised that age had begun to slow Marchisio somewhat, a fact reinforced by the fact he managed just four goals in 2013/14. With Pirlo injured, the former Milan boss opted to ignore Conte’s use of Paul Pogba in the central role, instead turning to the Turin native. He performed a serviceable impression of the bearded genius, playing a major role in the club’s march to their first league and cup double in two decades while also ending a 12-year absence from the Champions League final.

More mobile and defensively more aware, Marchisio’s ability in the new playmaker role was on display regularly after Pirlo’s decision to depart for New York City FC and the Turin native was spectacular. Spraying passes around the pitch while always alert to danger when the opposition gained possession, it was arguable that the side was sharper and tougher to beat with the younger man replacing his former international team-mate.

Another league-and-cup double followed, but so too did the agony of a ruptured ACL that sidelined him for six months. Unable to rely on Marchisio fully, Allegri opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation that meant he could rotate in and out of XI alongside either Miralem Pjanić or Sami Khedira, while this past summer saw Blaise Matuidi join the ranks.

Through a mixture of ongoing fitness concerns and the presence of three other vastly experienced midfielders, Marchisio’s chances have once again been limited, making just eleven appearances so far this term. Six of those have been as a substitute, yet he remains a calming influence who always improves the flow of play and the performances of those around him, and it is no surprise that ten of those matches ended with the Bianconeri claiming victory.

A 0-0 draw with Barcelona is the only “blemish” on that perfect record, yet talk of an exit – perhaps even following Pirlo to MLS – has raged, as too has a growing feeling that his best days are behind him. Set to turn 32 later this month and with knees ravaged by injury, with any other player those concerns would probably be well-placed, and Italian football’s grand Old Lady has a long history of moving on those who can no longer help her.

Club legends like Del Piero or global stars like Zinedine Zidane were pushed towards the exit after serving their purpose, but that iconic duo were not born in Turin and didn’t regularly attend games as a child. More importantly, neither of them is quite like Claudio Marchisio, a man who has been counted out too many times already yet always returns even better, ready to pull on the Juventus shirt and seek out the next victory.

History tells us many things, but when it comes to Il Principino, perhaps it’s best to just read the banner. “Don’t touch Marchisio.”

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