Saturday, June 19, 2021
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Filippo Inzaghi Haunts Juventus

Inzaghi with Benevento (via Quotidiano)

In 2001 Filippo Inzaghi played his last game for Juventus, after what had been a pretty productive 4 seasons where he had scored 89 goals for the Bianconeri in a mere 165 games. Unfortunately, the relationship only resulted in one major honour, the 1997-8 Serie A title, although they did also lose the 1998 Champions League final by the thinnest of margins to Real Madrid.

 

Inzaghi moved to AC Milan in July of 2001 and the rest, as they say, is history. 'Super Pippo' spent the rest of his career with the Rossoneri and got his hands on the Champions league trophy twice (in 2003 and 2007). And now, 20 years after leaving Juventus, Inzaghi has handed out some managerial retribution to his former club.

 

 

In the final round of Serie A fixtures, before the recent international break for World Cup 2022 qualifiers, Benevento Calcio defeated Juventus in their own stadium 1-0. It's a shocking result that may prove fatal to the hopes of the Turin club retaining the title that they've held for the last 9 years! It's also not the 1st time Benevento have thwarted Juventus this season, as their previous meeting ended in a 1-1 draw that saw Álvaro Morata score the opener before he got sent-off in the 97th minute. These 2 results mean that Juventus currently sit 3rd in the table, but a whole 10 points adrift of the leaders Inter Milan.

 

So, how has Filippo Inzaghi ended up at a small city club north of Naples, one that prior to this campaign had only spent a single season in Serie A (finishing rock bottom in 2017/18)? Well, it has been an eventful managerial career for the erstwhile striker since he retired from playing in 2012. He never really left AC Milan, as he began the 2012/13 season as a coach within their youth sector and ultimately took charge of the under-19s team.

 

This lasted until June 2014, when Inzaghi was installed as the manager for the 1st team, following the controversial dismissal of his old teammate Clarence Seedorf. This baptism of fire lasted for a year, when Inzaghi was then sacked after a lacklustre 2014/15 which saw the team spend most of it languishing in and around midtable, with a 10th place finish being their lowest position since the 1997/98 season.

 

Another 12 months later and Inzaghi was back on the managerial merry-go-round, taking charge at Venezia in Serie C (the 3rd division), and it was here that he began to make an impression. The Leoni ałati (Winged Lions) were last a part of Serie A in 2002, and since then the club has stumbled through 3 bankruptcies and been refounded twice! When Inzaghi took charge, in June 2016, Venezia had just been promoted from Serie D and the subsequent season saw them surge ahead of Parma, by 10 points, to become champions of the North and Central East division of Serie C (Group B).

 

What was more impressive for Inzaghi's CV was the following campaign, when Venezia made a sustained bid for back-to-back promotions. In the end they fell just short in what was a very tight and competitive Serie B race, finishing in 5th place and reaching the play-offs, a mere 5 points behind Parma who secured the runners-up place and final automatic promotion spot to Serie A (an about-turn on the rivalry the two clubs had had in Serie C the year before). Sadly, Venezia went on to lose a close play-off semi-final against Palermo, but in 2 years Inzaghi had established a reputation in operating within the Italian lower leagues, and it was at this point that Bologna came calling with an offer for him to try his hand in Serie A once again.

 

However, a 2nd stab at managing in the top tier turned out to be a near unmitigated disaster for Inzaghi. The team managed to win 2 of their opening 7 league games, and then went on a winless run (barring a single Coppa Italia win) from the end of September until he was eventually sacked almost 4 months later! What doesn't help is that as soon as Inzaghi was replaced by Siniša Mihajlović (who remains in charge to this day), the team defeated Inter Milan in their very next league game, and they dramatically improved their form.

 

In total, Mihajlović led Bologna to 9 wins from their 17 remaining Serie A fixtures, which saw the club haul themselves out of 18th spot (and relegation) to a final position of 10th. If we were being generous, we could point out that Inzaghi signed a couple of players that remain a firm part of the team (namely Łukasz Skorupski and Federico Santander), but in truth Bologna was a major hit to Inzaghi's hopes of establishing himself as a Serie A calibre manager, especially after all of the goodwill that he had built up with Venezia.

 

Nevertheless, Benevento recognised the experience that Inzaghi had gained operating in Serie C and B, and they made the bold move of attracting him to Gli Stregoni (the Sorcerers) in the summer of 2019. The club came into being in 1929, but have spent the vast majority of their existence in the lower leagues. Promotion to Serie B, for the 1st time, came in the 2015/16 season, and then a year later back-to-back promotions came with victory in the Serie B play-offs.

 

A historic debut season in Serie A quickly became a long and torturous affair for Benevento, as they spent all but the 1st 2 weeks of the 2017/18 campaign being bottom of the table, and set an unwanted record by losing each of their opening 14 league fixtures! The 2nd half of the season saw a modicum of an improvement, but the mathematical certainty of going down came with almost a month left to play.

 

With Inzaghi at the helm for the start of 2019/20, Benevento had clear ambitions to bounce back from relegation and to escape Serie B once again. They indeed set out their stall early, staying within the top 4 all season, and never looking back after establishing themselves at the summit 10 games in.

 

Even when COVID instigated a lockdown of the league, for almost 3 and a half months, Benevento returned with another victory in their 1st game back and promotion (eventually as Serie B champions) was confirmed with 7 games to go. This was the earliest such achievement since Ascoli back in 1978, and reflected just how much Benevento had dominated the 2nd tier under Inzaghi, with a 22 point cushion over their nearest challengers Crotone.

 

Back to the present day, and Benevento have made a much better effort at trying to keep their place in Serie A, at the 2nd time of asking. As of writing they are 16th in the table, 2 spots above the final relegation place, but more importantly they have a 7 point gap between them and Cagliari, with 10 games to go.

 

But it's their most recent result that might be the catalyst for Inzaghi and co to push on and guarantee another season at the top level. Before their upset defeat of Juventus, Benevento had been on their worst winless run of the season, after securing 3 vital wins in 4 games over Christmas and the New Year, they had gone 11 games without a win since January 6th. This coming weekend they take on Parma, who are 2nd bottom in the league, and it's a vital game for both teams. Parma desperately need wins if they are going to bridge the gap and stave off their own relegation worries, whilst a Benevento win could be another significant step towards a job well done for Inzaghi.

 

As for Juventus, after their results against Benevento, they may well be crossing their fingers that their former talismanic striker does not continue to succeed in his fledgling managerial career...

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