Towards the end of last season, Hellas Verona were in a bad place. They had finally sacked Fabio Grosso, who despite having one of the strongest squads in Serie B, was struggling to mount any kind of genuine promotion challenge. In came Alfredo Aglietti, who performed a miracle to lead a lacklustre Gialloblu to promotion through the play-offs - only to be later dismissed.
A little over a year later, Hellas, who were expected to go straight back down, have defied all expectations to sit firmly in mid-table, well away from the bottom three. The mastermind behind all of this is Aglietti’s replacement Ivan Juric, a protege of one of the most respected coaches in Europe, Gian Piero Gasperini. Though his road to Verona was an eventful one.
Juric first met Gasperini during his playing career, when the latter was appointed as Crotone manager in 2003. Under Gasperini, the Calabrese would win promotion to Serie B and achieve their joint-highest ever league finish. When the Piedmont tactician was given the Genoa job in 2006, Juric followed, becoming a key part of the team that secured a return to the top-flight after an absence of eleven years.
The Croatian would represent I Grifone for three more seasons before hanging up his boots in 2010. Shortly after, he set about starting his coaching career, studying for his badges and becoming assistant manager of Genoa’s Primavera team. Just a year later, Gasperini appointed him as his assistant at his new club, Internazionale.
This was a clear indication of the excellent rapport between the two men and Gasperini’s recognition of Juric’s footballing intelligence and coaching potential. Gasperini didn’t last long at Inter and Juric followed him to his next club, Palermo, where they had two separate spells thanks to the trigger-happy nature of the owner at the time, Maurizio Zamparini.
In 2013, Juric decided he was ready to forge his own managerial career. He returned to Genoa to manage their Primavera team for a season before moving to third-tier side Mantova. The Croatian had teething problems at the start of his spell at the Danilo Martelli, however, winning just one of his first 10 games, but would eventually lead them to a comfortable mid-table finish.
Despite this inauspicious start to his coaching career, Serie B outfit Crotone would appoint him as their manager at the start of the 2015-16 season. The year before, I Pitagorici had finished just one point above the relegation places. With Juric at the helm - alongside a number of key additions including Alex Cordaz, Federico Ricci and Ante Budimir - Crotone would unexpectedly challenge for promotion to Serie A.
They occupied one of the two automatic promotion spots for most of the season and ultimately won promotion to Serie A for the first time in their history. Naturally, Juric’s historic achievement would catch the attention of a bigger club and he wouldn’t remain at Crotone for their maiden season in the top-flight.
In the summer of 2016, Gasperini, who had been back at Genoa for three seasons by that point, left the Luigi Ferraris to take charge of Atalanta. The stars were aligned. Juric was a promising, young coach who already knew the club well and possessed similar ideas to his mentor. Thus, he became Gasperini’s replacement at Genoa.
To say his time at Genoa was chaotic would be an understatement. His first spell lasted less than a year; sacked in February 2017 after a humiliating 5-0 defeat to bottom-placed Pescara. Just two months later, he was back, but was sacked again 12 games into the 2017-18 season, with the Grifone sitting in the relegation zone.
So it was a massive shock when, early into the 2018-19 season, Juric returned for a third spell following the dismissal of Davide Ballardini. He lasted just seven games, with no wins, before being sacked again.
By this point, his managerial reputation was in tatters. He had gone from one of the most exciting coaches in Italy to a punchline. So his appointment at Hellas Verona in June 2019 was met with understandable scepticism. But in less than a year, he’s managed to restore his reputation and then some.
Juric had Hellas competing for a Europa League spot for most of the season, despite minimal spending in the transfer market. They’ve fallen away from contention for Europe since the restart, but they still seem likely to finish in the top-half, a stellar achievement for a team that everyone doubted last August.
The Croatian has earned praise from his mentor, Gasperini, for his accomplishments. “I think they’re the revelation of the season, also because of the playing style they have developed.”
Gasperini’s praise of his protege’s tactical approach is amusing, since the two employ a very similar style of play. Both tend to set out their teams in a 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-1-2 formation, with a positive and aggressive approach to the game. Clearly, Juric has learned a lot from the nine years spent with the 62-year-old tactician.
There’s still a long way to go until he can match Gasperini’s achievements, but he is taking it slower now. He has recently signed a new deal with Verona, indicating that he feels there is still much work to do before he can move on to bigger things.