The protagonist is increasingly enigmatic, the plotline frustratingly predictable. Peter Bourne welcomes you to season eight of Project Cairo at Torino.
A mediocre 16 points from 17 games – taking into account a one point deduction – currently represents the sum total of Urbano Cairo and Torino’s return to Serie A. Season 2012-13 has followed the tedious pattern of the club’s Serie A campaigns over the past two decades. Unfulfilled promises. Mediocre calcio. Zero progression. Relegation fodder.
Having gone from ‘zero delegation’ during seasons one and two to a revisionist ‘learning from mistakes and ceding power’ during seasons three and four, to an awkward mix of both in seasons five and six, to ‘wanting to sell’ in season seven, Toro’s President – regularly mocked as a sort of Berlusconi-light – seems to have entered season eight without a slogan.
On the back of a relatively comfortable promotion from Serie B, last summer’s transfer campaign – again – failed to build on the foundations and momentum of promotion. Harshly embroiled in the calcioscommesse scandal, the club accepted going into the season with a one point penalty rather than fight its corner.
Similarly weak punches were thrown in the transfer window. The pursuit of mediocre players like Milan’s reserve left-back Djamel Mesbah lasted for weeks. Promising names at the beginning of the transfer window became third or fourth choices in the traditional end of August panic rush. Few of the summer signings have added any quality to the nucleus of the side promoted from the torneo cadetto.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. Under veteran Coach Giampiero Ventura, the club had frequently played progressive football in Serie B. Possession figures to rival Barcelona – although swelled by spells of tedious five yard passes along the backline – a stingy defence and a potent counter attacking style at least granted the team an identity.
Ventura’s doctrine of 4-2-4 is often wrongly considered to be a positive formation. In reality an attacking furore is prevalent in small bursts and most often, the team plays a sort of stodgy 4-4-2. In Serie B opponents found Ventura out towards the end of last season and only a switch to 4-3-3 for key matches late in the campaign ensured promotion wasn’t thrown away. Ventura’s insistence on a two man central midfield this season has been a consistent tactical flaw. Toro are often overrun and stretched.
The season started brightly enough with one defeat in the first six games and hammerings of Pescara and Atalanta. However, a series of draws, one narrow win and a peppering of defeats have followed. Supporters, increasingly tired of the transparent storyline, are looking nervously at the classifica and expectantly at the January transfer window. The club’s economic potential remains a mystery. Cairo’s a more reluctant spender after failings every time significant money has been spent – Simone Barone, Alvaro Recoba, David Di Michele. Consequently, this Toro is anything but raging come calciomercato time.
Torino probably need three players to guarantee a comfortable second half of the season. A goalscorer is top priority. None of the club’s four forwards are certain to still be in Turin come 1 February. Club captain Rolando Bianchi – top scorer with six – is out of contract at the end of the season. A fine role model and embodiment of the Toro spirit – his lack of mobility has never suited Ventura’s desire for intense, high pressing and pace on the break. The club have not moved to offer him a deal. Given his anaemic form over the past 18 months, a departure wouldn’t upset everyone.
The worry remains whether a replacement of greater quality would come in. Alessandro Sgrigna, barely influential in Serie B, Gianluca Sansone, one of few interesting summer signings but largely ignored by Ventura, and the much maligned Riccardo Meggiorini, 11 goals in four seasons and the lowest pass completion rate in Serie A, have mustered just two goals between them. It’s likely both Sgrigna and Sansone will leave meaning a forward of greater quality should be drafted in.
The team’s midfield – industrious but average – would benefit from the arrival of the much vaunted regista. The Granata spent the entire summer attempting to sign Sergio Almiron from Catania and when the pursuit failed, found themselves bereft of alternatives. Ventura’s tactical ethos relies on width but the club’s flank men have largely deceived. Alessio Cerci – the big summer signing with heavy baggage – is 25 per cent brilliance, 75 per cent hot air. Mario Santana offers greater quality but frequent injuries. Youngsters Alen Stevanovic and Simone Verdi seem to have lost the Coach’s trust. Slovenian Valter Birsa may yet come to the rescue.
Toro have so far avoided the bottom three in a highly average but relatively even Serie A thanks to the team’s defence. Ventura has them well-drilled. Even with the club’s star man Angelo Ogbonna – surely his last season in Granata – increasingly absent, a certain solidity has been guaranteed. Kamil Glik – derby rush of blood aside – and Guillermo Rodriguez have performed admirably and full-backs Matteo Darmian and Danilo D’Ambrosio, paying at times for a lack of experience, are destined for better things.
Off the pitch talk of redeveloping the mythical Stadio Filadelfia as a training base remains largely that, and the club’s tifosi largely resent the misguided legacy of the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics. The Stadio Olimpico – built for the Opening & Closing Ceremony of the Games – is ill-suited for football and its design has reduced the impact and size of the club’s once powerful Curva Maratona. It’s no coincidence Torino’s home form has suffered in recent seasons.
Cairo would be wise to keep faith in Ventura – now his longest serving Coach – but only serious and decisive investment in January will ensure the season doesn’t follow the pattern of recent campaigns in Serie A. They have all ended in relegation. Eventually.
To break the mould, it is time Toro delivered against one of the established elite. Bitter rivals Juventus have not been conquered since 1995 and the last victories against Inter and Milan date back to 1994 and 2001 respectively. A sign of the club’s fall from grace.
Season eight has reached a key juncture. Either the protagonist defines his vision or season nine will commence back in Serie B.
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