Torino will always be welcome in Serie A. Their presence there just feels...right. Few clubs are quite as evocative of Italian football's history as the Granata, even if the events they are most strongly associated with – the Superga disaster, the death of Gigi Meroni – are tragic ones.
No tragedies have befallen them this summer, but preparations for their return to the top tier after three years away have been far from ideal. Back in May they threw away the Serie B title, their 0-0 draw with already relegated Albinoleffe on the last day allowing Pescara to take the cadetti crown. In Serie B promotion is the be-all and end-all, but having led the division for so much of the season, Toro's collapse was both disappointing and avoidable.
Last week they joined the multitude of clubs punished by the FIGC for their part in Calcioscommesse. Torino might look at Siena's six-point penalty and €100,000 fine, and reflect that they got off lightly with a one-point penalty and €30,000 fine, but with players Jean Francois Gillet, Salvatore Masiello, Giuseppe Vives and Alessandro Gazzi all still under investigation, their part in the betting scandal isn't finished yet.
Away from the courts, President Urbano Cairo has been pilloried by fans for the club's transfer market inertia. Cairo - who reportedly whipped his shirt off and danced on a table at a promotion party in May - saved Toro from extinction when their promotion to Serie A was revoked in 2005 for financial mismanagement, and lead a very hastily thrown together side back into the top flight just one year later. But the goodwill that act won him has gradually been eroded in the intervening years.
In recent weeks, the club have shaken off that inertia, snapping up Gazzi, Mario Santana, Matteo Brighi and Guillermo Rodriguez, with Abdelkader Ghezzal soon to follow. Solid, experienced Serie A pros, but they aren't inspiring supporters to rush out and buy season tickets, and they aren’t likely to inspire any fear in the opposition either. In fact, their most exciting signing is the one who hasn't appeared in Serie A before, Gianluca Sansone, the third highest scorer in Serie B last season with 20 goals for Sassuolo.
“As more days pass,” the Gazzetta dello Sport writes today, “Toro are losing the momentum of promotion, the enthusiasm of their fans, and confidence in the players themselves.”
It's a good thing therefore, that they have a man at the helm who has thrived in spite of chronically low expectations at a newly promoted outfit before. When Giampiero Ventura took over then Serie B champions Bari shortly after the shock departure of Antonio Conte in 2009, the southerners were expected to sink without a trace. Instead they shocked everyone by finishing 10th and playing what many regarded as the most attractive football in Italy at the time.
Ventura has now brought a number of those Bari players to Turin's Stadio Olimpico, and still favours the 4-4-2/4-2-4 formation which underpinned the Galletti's success. The Granata have also, despite an abundance of speculation to the contrary, managed thus far to retain Angelo Ogbonna and Rolando Bianchi, the leaders of their defence and attack respectively. “We all work for the good of Torino and hope to do well,” striker Alessandro Sgrigna stated on Saturday. “The group that is growing is very reminiscent of last year, very united.”
“For them it is not an easy time but they try not to show it,” he went on, referring to his teammates embroiled in the match fixing scandal. “We all try to be around them as much as possible.”
With Ventura in charge and a decent if not exactly dazzling squad taking shape, Torino should have enough about them to survive, but their chances of achieving anything beyond that, or troubling Juventus in the Derby della Mole, look slim. Don't expect to see Cairo dancing on a table anytime soon.