Published in Nacional number 569, 2006-10-09

Autor: Dean Sinovčić


'Referees don’t go easy on Juventus in Serie B'

When ROBERT KOVAČ arrived in Juventus, he planned to play in the world’s best football league; because of machinations with referees, the club was penalized and sent off to Serie B, where he now plays against second rated but very brave teams

Robert KovačRobert Kovač When Robert Kovač (32) decided to leave FC Bayern Munich and signed for Juventus from Torino one and a half years ago, it was obvious that one of the world’s best defenders at the peak of his career decided to play in the world’s toughest league. His first season in Juventus looked good and they won the Italian championships, but then a discovery was made that Juventus’s boss Luciano Moggi participated in machinations with referees. Juventus was penalized and, as a result, they were stripped of the championship title and seventeen points were taken from them. Some of the stars such as Fabio Canavarro, Gianluca Zambrotta, Emerson, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Liliam Thuram left, but some of the players including Alessandro Del Piero, David Trézéguet, Gianluuigi Buffon, Mauro Camonaresi and Robert Kovač stayed in Juventus. These star players are now competing in the second league and after a draw in the first round they have managed four wins and are on the right course to bring the club back to Serie A after just one year. Robert Kovač got used to this new situation. From 1996 to 200, he played for Bayer Leverkusen; afterwards, he spent four more years in Bayern Munich competing for the title. Twice, in 2003 and 2005, he won the German championship with Bayern, he played in the Champions League, and now he hopes Juventus will be one of the best teams in the Italian second league.
NACIONAL: What were your thoughts when you realized that Juventus is definitely being sent off to Serie B? At first, the general opinion was that all important players except Alessandro Del Piero will leave the club.
- Until the last moment I believed that Juventus will stay in Serie A, even after the First Instance penalty decision. Juventus then appealed, and I hoped that the appeal would be accepted, but when the club decided not to go with further appeals I accepted the fact that we will play in the second league. Throughout the summer after the World Cup, I listened closely to what was happening in the club and found out that Alessandro Del Piero decided to stay in Juventus. Afterwards, goalie Gigi Buffon proclaimed the same, and Pavel Nedved soon followed. At first I thought that it will be only three of them and I was worried that Juventus might not have enough quality players to come back to Serie A after one season. For u,s the second league was unknown territory. Luckily, Trézéguet and Camoranesi, both very valuable players for us, decided to stay and that is one of the main reasons why we have consecutive victories.

Juventus as a religion
NACIONAL: Did you want to leave the club?
- I had some offers and I was waiting for the situation to unfold. There are not many clubs which are larger than Juventus, so there are not many options. Unfortunately, when I was signing my contract with Juventus, I was not planning on playing in the second league. I was speculating whether to leave or to stay. I talked to Juventus’ leadership and new coach Didier Deschamps who both told me that they wish I stayed. I agreed, and even prolonged my contract until 2009. I don’t know if Juventus’ leadership talked the same way with other players as well. I found out they wanted to keep Ibrahimović, he even went to pre-season training with us, but he didn’t want to play in the second league. He strictly wanted to play in Serie A, so he went to Inter.
NACIONAL: Theoretically, if you could have known that Juventus will be playing in the second league, would you have stayed in Bayern Munich?
- I don’t think I would have stayed in Bayern. Football is business, one and a half years ago, Bayern offered me a new contract that I didn’t like and I immediately struck an agreement with Juventus. To play in Juventus was a lifetime opportunity. Bayern is a great club but Juventus is something else. In Italy you either love or hate Juventus, there is nothing in between. For our fans Juventus is like a religion. I remember the final match last season when we played in Bari. Out of 45 000 fans at the stadium, 40 000 were our supporters. That’s something to experience. On the other hand, I live a peaceful life in Torino because there are not as many Juventus fans in the city itself. Juventus has many more supporters in the rest of the Italy, especially south of Torino. Throughout the last season, the Delle Alpi stadium in Torino was never sold out. Now, that we play in Serie B, we play at Communale, a smaller stadium in the city that has a capacity of 25 000 which is still not sold out; usually we get around 20 000 supporters. I like playing in the smaller stadium.
NACIONAL: Did the club cut down on your financial income, now that you play in the second division?
- We don’t get bonuses per game but we have an annual contract, a yearly salary that we play for. The only bonuses we ever got were for the championship title. However, our annual contracts were not lowered. The club expects us to return to the first division after one season. The club let go of some players who had really expensive contracts like Canavarro, Emerson, Zambrotta and Thuram so they saved a lot of money, and earned a lot on their sales. Based on this, our contracts were left as they are, even though we are playing in the second division.
NACIONAL: How does it feel to play in the second division?
- The atmosphere is much different because the stadiums are different. In the first round, we played in Rimini and it was just like Segesta stadium in Sisak. When you play in such a stadium, you don’t really feel like you are playing an important game for points, it feels like a friendly match. The match against Rimini was our first game in Serie B and we all felt like we were playing a pre-season training match instead of an important championship match so it ended in a draw, 1:1. Besides, even if the stadium in Serie B is full, it is still much different than playing in front of the sold out stadium in Milan or Florence for example. Furthermore, the players of the opposite team know that they will probably never again play against Juventus, and so they are giving their absolute best, 120% of themselves from the very first minute of the match. They don’t give you space to breathe, and that is why it is not easy to win in Serie B. They are educated players, good tactical players and technically prepared. That is the difference between Italian and German Serie B. In Italy, there are Serie B players who could play in Serie A, they have the knowledge, but for some reason they did not succeed. In Germany, there is a much greater difference in the quality between Serie A and Serie B. In Juventus, we know that we are stronger than all other Serie B clubs, but it is extremely difficult until we give the first goal and then it’s easier.

Deschamps, Serie A trainer
NACIONAL: After the draw in Rimini, you had four victories in a row. Are you now convinced that with the 17 taken points you can now return into Serie A after this first season?
– I don’t doubt it. However, it is difficult to foresee things one year in advance. An injury can occur or a player can be in great condition. I am most afraid of injuries to our best players such as Trézeguét, Del Piero, Camoranesi, Buffon or Nedved. I believe that our goalie Buffon is our most important player. If they are all healthy, Juventus will return in Serie A despite the 17 deducted points at the beginning of the season. NACIONAL: What is it like to work with Didier Deschamps, a famous player and trainer?
He also knows how valuable Juventus is, and that is why it was not important to him to be the trainer of a Serie B team. Juventus is not an ordinary team, it is one of the greatest in Italy and in Europe alongside Real and Milan, maybe even Manchester. Despite the fact that as a trainer he went with Monaco to the finals of the Champion’s League, he sees his chance with Juventus. He is attempting to create a team for Serie A from Serie B. I like the way he works. Different to the past trainer Capello, all players have normal relations with Deschamps. Deschamps is not like Capello who kept his distance, he told all players who have any problems that they can come to him. I personally did not have any problems with Capello, nor did others who acted exactly as he expected. If it was not this way, then problems emerged.
NACIONAL: For years it has been stated that Juventus is protected from referees in Serie A. Is Juventus still protected as it plays in Serie B?
No, of course not, I have noticed something completely opposite; it is difficult for them to call a penalty shot for us. I recall the final minute in the game against Rimini. Zalayeta stopped the ball with his chest, entered the penalty area, the defense player was holding him by his jersey but the referee did not call a penalty shot. He called it differently, a free kick for Rimini because Zalayeta apparently played with his hand. There was one more case when we played against Modena and their player clearly played with his hand in his own penalty area, but the referee told us that he did not see anything. If that happened last year in Serie A, they would have immediately called a penalty kick for us. Referees are afraid to call a penalty kick for Juventus so they would not be accused of trying to help us. I don’t see that the referees are protecting us during the game.
NACIONAL: Does the one year extended contract with Juventus mean that you will finish your playing career in Juventus?
- I am counting on that because upon completion of the contract I will be 35 years old and I think that Juventus will be the final club in my career. After that my family and I will return to Germany, to Munich; we have not considered staying in Italy. Who knows, I need to complete three more years of my contract with Juventus, many things can change in that time, maybe I will come back to live in Croatia. For now I do not have any business plans, it is difficult for me to think of that when I am an active player. NACIONAL: A few years ago, while you played in Bayer Leverkusen your brother told me that, besides Emerson you are the best defender of the German league. Are you at the moment the best defender of the Italian second division?
- It is difficult for me to say, let the others evaluate me. I don’t think that by playing in the Italian second division I’m taking a step back in my career. True, this year we won’t be playing in the Champions league, and the best feeling in the world is to play against world’s best teams. For nine years I have played in Champions league and this year will come in handy for me to rest and recuperate. I am 32 years old and it feels kind of good to play only on Saturdays. I will be playing tough matches for the national team and the players in Italian Serie B are not at all bad. I will have to give my best and so I don’t think I will regress.

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