When Football Italia’s editors were kind enough to let me write about a Coach whose cult-status in my estimation has become a running gag, Giampiero Ventura had just signed a two-year extension with Torino, something a journalist friend of mine (and lifelong Granata) wasn’t so happy about: “Just think about it: what was Ventura before he came to Torino?”
It’s hard not to agree with his point, at least on first impression. A manager with second-season syndrome, Ventura had failed to settle anywhere over the course of a 40–year coaching career, despite promoting Lecce, Bari and Cagliari (twice) to Serie A.
Adventures with Udinese, Napoli and Sampdoria had also turned sour, as had his second year in the elite tier with Bari, after a stunning first campaign where the club had finished in 10th place.
A more relevant question, however, would be to ask what Torino were before Il Maestro arrived at the Olimpico in 2011.
Well, the previous decade had seen a revolving door of owners, managers and Coaches produce two relegations, a promotion to Serie A wiped out by bankruptcy in 2005 and a shocking lack of planning, which led the Granata to hire the ultra-attacking Alberto Zaccheroni (and play badly) and Catenaccio lover Walter Novellino in successive seasons, only to play even worse and go down in 2009.
When Ventura joined in 2011, the 9,689 fans who shuffled out of the Olimpico after his first game in charge – an unremarkable 1-0 win over Lumezzane in the Coppa Italia – could hardly have expected the same Coach to lead the team to the Europa League knockout stages and come away from the San Mames stadium with a thrilling 3-2 win.
Ventura has since done more than just bring the club back to Serie A – he’s kept it there, playing some occasionally spectacular football on his way to a five-year tenure, the longest since Emiliano Mondonico took the club to the UEFA Cup Final in the early 90s.
The first manager to celebrate Christmas twice with trigger-happy president Urbano Cairo, the Genoese Coach has given the Granata half of the city its pride back, beating hated rivals Juventus for the first time since 1995, defeating Inter at San Siro after a 27-year blank, and qualifying for Europe for the first time in 12 years, which (rather shockingly) also happened to be the last time that the Toro had scored in the Derby della Mole.
The Granata aren’t just winning, either: they’re constantly evolving under Ventura, who is only too happy to remind the Press of just how far his team has come. Only three current squad members (Giuseppe Vives, Kamil Glik and Alessandro Gazzi) earned promotion with the club in 2012, beginning the Serie B season with a trip to Ascoli.
“I spoke to the players in what was little more than a closet,” Ventura later said of the 2-1 win. “It was 40 degrees in there. The players have been through a lot, and much criticism. Together, we’ve built something important.”
They’ve come far, all right: Kamil Glik from journeyman defender to goalscorer (he netted seven league goals last year) and transfer darling, Vives and Gazzi to gritty, experienced veterans in a high-calibre midfield. Another promotion winner, Matteo Darmian, left in the summer for Manchester United for €18m.
Though Ventura’s critics (and there are quite a few) tend to explain away his success by pointing to sporting director Gianluca Petrachi’s great transfer record, it was Il Maestro who turned these high-risk, high-reward players into prize assets, rebooting Alessio Cerci and Fabio Quagliarella’s fledgling careers and sticking by Ciro Immobile, at a time when many were convinced that he didn’t have what it took to succeed in the top tier.
Ventura was rewarded with a 22-goal campaign, Immobile becoming Torino’s first Serie A topscorer since Ciccio Graziani in 1977.
More recently, 21-year-old Marco Benassi has proved former club Inter wrong by starting a healthy slate of games, whilst Daniele Baselli has scored screamers against both Fiorentina and Frosinone.
Ventura was one of the few Coaches to opt for 3-5-2 when 4-4-2 ruled the roost back in the 1990s. His Venezia teams attacked with gusto in an aggressive 3-4-3 with Christian Vieri upfront, even knocking Fiorentina and Juventus out of the Coppa Italia in 1993-1994.
When Ventura was at Pisa, a young Antonio Conte would come to watch his teams to take notes. His early Torino team would adopt a radical 4-2-4, not seen since the days of Pele, Tostao, Rivelinho and Jairzinho.
Even when Cerci and Immobile left in the summer of 2014, Ventura was able to get goals from Fabio Quagliarella and Maxi Lopez, and rely more on the collective, something he’s always preached.
In a league where managers are hired, fired and re-hired at the drop of the hat, Giampiero Ventura has given a struggling club with an impatient owner a future, the hope that it can add to a glorious past it is still a while away from matching.
From being relegated to Serie B with a meagre 21-point total in 2003, the Granata are now in a position to recruit talented players and make a consistent push for Europe, all whilst fighting Juventus tooth and nail in a Derby that Ventura has brought back into the spotlight.