To say that Gigi Del Neri is drinking in the last chance saloon when Genoa host Torino this Sunday afternoon seems like an understatement. The bespectacled tactician isn’t just drinking in the last chance saloon, he’s taken up residency there, ran up a tab, started a bar brawl and played his favourite song on the jukebox 14 times. If the Last Chance Saloon was Moe’s Tavern, Del Neri would be Barney Gumble.
The former Juventus boss has led his Rossoblu charges into two make-or-break clashes with newly promoted clubs recently and lost them both, 3-1 to neighbours Sampdoria last month and 2-0 to Pescara last weekend.
Completing the set of losses to Serie B graduates will surely see him compelled to clear his desk and return the official club body warmer he’s been sporting on the sideline of late.
Del Neri’s CV can be divided into two categories – roaring successes like the Chievo Miracle and taking Samp into the Champions League, and unmitigated disasters like getting Chievo relegated in his return to Verona and being sacked by Porto in pre-season. Sadly his second spell in Liguria – seven defeats in eight official games thus far, second bottom of Serie A – falls into the latter category.
Of course this is Genoa, and there are bigger issues at work, most of them pertaining to President Enrico Preziosi and his transfer megalomania. “The time of revolution is coming,” read the opening line of an article in yesterday’s Il Secolo XIX, the local paper already awash with speculation regarding January moves.
Barney Gumble associate Homer Simpson once described alcohol as the cause of and solution to all life’s problems, and for some time now, Genoa have had the same attitude towards the transfer market.
Since returning to the top flight in 2007 the Grifone have had an alarming habit of signing lots of players that don’t deliver and selling the few that do. January may yet provide the most spectacular example of this incompetence yet, the news that Juraj Kucka and Ciro Immobile could be offloaded with Antonio Floro Flores the headline inbound arrival enough to eradicate any Rossoblu fans' Christmas cheer.
Recalling a Coach you’ve already fired during a season – as Genoa were said to be considering last Sunday – is often seen as the epitome of calcio craziness, but in Il Vecchio Balordo’s case it makes a lot of sense. Gigi De Canio lost just three of his eight games in charge this term, compared to Del Neri’s seven. The team were 9th when he left, now they’re 19th.
It wouldn’t be a bold or innovative move but it would be a pragmatic and mature one, a recognition of where the club are at just now and of how much needs to be done before they can even dream of European qualification.
Del Neri can dismiss or at least postpone his namesake’s return with victory at Marassi, but it won’t be easy against a Torino side in similarly desperate need of points. Only three ahead of their hosts in 16th, Giampiero Ventura’s men have won just one of their last 10 fixtures. The defensive stability that characterised the Granata’s early season efforts has abandoned them, with more goals conceded in the last four games than in the previous 12 combined.
Toro also have added motivation – revenge. There was once a great friendship between these clubs, owing to the fact that the legendary Gigi Meroni played for them both in the sixties, but that bond was broken when Genoa contributed to Torino’s relegation with a 3-2 win at the Stadio Olimpico in 2009. This is the clubs’ first meeting since then, and should be a heated affair on and off the pitch.
All in all it makes for a grim end to a grim year for Genoa. When the players were made to hand over their jerseys to ultras when 4-0 down to Siena in April, then reduced to scrapping for survival in front of an empty stadium on the last day of the season, one of the few consolations was that things could not get any worse.
A club with their history and resources surely couldn’t sink any lower, could they? We’ll find out on Sunday afternoon.