With the match between Juventus and Milan hanging in the balance, Antonio Conte made his move just past the hour mark. Given Milan’s aerial frailties, it was thought Fernando Llorente would be unleashed from the start. That was not the case. The spot went to Fabio Quagliarella. When Conte turned to his bench, the Spaniard was again overlooked in favour of Sebastian Giovinco. Perhaps not the popular choice yet it would take less than two minutes for the Atomic Ant to make an impact. His neat finish sent Juve on the path to victory, as they kept pace with Roma and Napoli thanks to a 3-2 result.
For Giovinco, who has fallen down the strikers’ pecking order, it was a weight off his shoulders. His first for the season, one to hit back at the detractors: “I’m very happy with my goal and I want to continue like this... I dedicate this strike to all of those who stay close to me.”
Somebody who has stayed close is Conte. The tactician has in the past shielded the striker from boo-boys and critics: “I am glad that after so many times people asked about this, Giovinco finally scored a decisive goal. I am happy for Seba, as he gets too much criticism from the Juve fans. It’s not fair, as he is as good as the other strikers and needs support. I hope the rapport with the supporters can improve because of this goal.”
As Conte pointed to, the lack of decisiveness has haunted Giovinco in his third spell at the club. Since returning last season, the 26-year-old has scored 12 goals in 47 appearances. As the Gazzetta dello Sport pointed out on Monday, the Milan strike was the first truly decisive Serie A goal Giovinco has netted.
Only one Giovinco League goal last term had a direct impact on the scoreboard, the opener at home with Sampdoria. In the Coppa Italia, Giovinco grabbed the lone strike versus Cagliari in the Round of 16 and an equaliser against Milan in the next stage. Whereas Arturo Vidal was king of the crucial goal – notably in the run home to the Scudetto – Giovinco’s mostly only added to the margin.
That he was influential in defeating the Rossoneri will give the Turin-born attacker a great deal of confidence. As a Juventus player, Giovinco has always lived in a shadow. He was to be Alessandro Del Piero’s heir, a new star to lead Juve post-Calciopoli.
He started well enough, with a fine assist on debut against Bologna. Once returned from a loan spell at Empoli it was hoped Giovinco would develop into a key player. There were highlights, such as his splendid free kick at Lecce to open his account, however the following two seasons proved frustrating. Three tacticians, but limited playing time. Giovinco allowed his frustrations to boil over. He supposed Juve didn’t appreciate his qualities. It led to a spell at Parma and more jibes at the Bianconeri, plus Italy’s distrust of youngsters.
His Juve return coincided with Del Piero’s departure, again drawing comparisons. Giovinco distanced himself from the No 10 shirt, opting for No 12. He aimed to forge his own legacy. He was also burdened by the €11m price-tag needed to settle his Parma co-ownership. Why should that money be shelled out for our own player, some thought. By February, a section of the supporters had turned against him and Giovinco was jeered against Siena. Conte voiced his disapproval.
Giovinco has started just once this campaign, in addition to four substitute appearances. Against the Rossoneri his ‘Romario-like dribbling’ inside the penalty area led to a team-best rating given by the pink paper. Not bad for a player who entered in the 67th minute. His decisiveness in gliding away from Cristian Zapata and finishing past Christian Abbiati was pivotal to breaking open the contest.
Giovinco will hope, months from the World Cup, this goal sparks his season. Following a first Azzurri strike at June’s Confederations Cup he has fallen from favour, with Cesare Prandelli opting against Giovinco for the dead rubber qualifiers against Denmark and Armenia. He still has time to force his name into the hat. “Not long ago Prandelli spoke of Sebastian as one of the best talents in Italian football,” said agent Andrea D’Amico on Monday. “Hopefully he’ll remember that now.”
That remains a long-term goal. In the meantime, Juve face Fiorentina immediately after the international break, where Giovinco will hope to be given another chance to prove how decisive he can be for the Bianconeri.