In the summer of 2021, three months after announcing that he was to leave Arsenal to spend more time with his family, Joe Montemurro was unveiled as the manager of Juventus. He enjoyed a great first season in charge, picking up a domestic league and cup treble.
This season, the Bianconere have not had it their own way, with the rest of Serie A investing heavily in domestic and international talent, it is closer than ever at the summit. Conor Clancy from Total Italian Football has been fortunate enough to have some time with Joe to discuss a host of topics…
On the new format of the season with the league split after two rounds. Does that change the approach to a campaign?
I think every season has its challenges. This is different to last year in that I think we still have a bit of a hangover from the Euros and some players haven’t had a rest. I think we had five days together before the UWCL qualifiers so it’s been a bit of a blur in terms of preparation. Every season has its challenges so the best way to explain it is that you’ve just got to take each month for what it is, each situation for what it is, you don’t know the amount of injuries you’ve got or the amount of players having a bit of a lull at any moment… so you’ve just got to balance it out in terms of how you rotate the team and how you get them mentally fresh for each game.
On the threat Roma poses to Juventus’ Sixth Serie A Title.
They’ve done well and recruited well. They’ve found a good balance in the squad and have some good players of an international level. It’s great, that’s what we want – to get Serie A to a level where it’s a league of a level to push the other European teams. We need two or three big teams doing well and all credit to Roma.
Does inflicting Roma’s only loss came to Juventus, so signs Juve are still more than at it when needs be.
Absolutely. We’ve had a different sort of run in who we’ve played and the pieces we’ve had to deal with. When we played Zurich we had 48-hour turnarounds with travel to do for every game. We got to Milan on the Saturday and we were just tired, I could feel it. We left Zurich on the morning because we couldn’t leave that night, so then we landed and got on the pitch to do some training and did an hour’s work, got fed, went home, and then we were in the next morning to go on to [play] AC Milan. We’re just human beings and that turnaround was ridiculous so that loss against AC Milan was probably needed, I hate to say it but it was one of those losses that was coming and it was expected to happen sooner or later because you can’t expect players to be back on the pitch after 48 hours at the highest level.
On the outside we often say that some losses are a good thing, is that said internally at times like that?
The good thing about losses and especially in Juventus’ case as serial winners is that they bring back humility, they bring back that level of understanding the privileges of where you’re at and it’s always a good recipe for coaches because it brings everyone back in line and back where we need to be. Our first game was on August 15 and we’ve only lost one, so I think you probably would’ve ticked that off at the start of the season for this stage. I
’m proud of what we’ve done even if from the outside it’s ‘oh look Juventus have lost a game and they’re third’ or ‘they’re having a tough season’ but I’m proud of how we’ve approached something new, something that these players haven’t experienced before. So to do what they’ve done and to back up what they’ve backed up and to be performing at the level that they are is something that they’ve all learnt from and are growing with.
On Arianna Caruso’s importance. – 23y/o with the CV of a 30-year-old…
She has [a lot of football ahead of her]. She now has to take that next level in terms of doing what she does week in week out against the bigger teams. She’s a player who is so effective every week in Serie A, and now I want to see her make that jump on the European level. She’s got it, she just needs that little bit more belief in what she can do. The career she’s had already and the enthusiasm she comes into training with every day… she can be something really, really special.
How do you get that from her?
Understanding of where she can be effective. I think she sometimes wants to be effective all the time – she wants to be the match-winner or to play that last pass, the one that wins the ball on the first press. She’s probably gotten away with it in Serie A in her earlier years and I think now she has to be more clever in choosing her moments on when to do things. If she picks her moments better in big games then she can really effective and probably even more effective going forward.
Bonfantini is another lacking consistency at that very top level. Is she the one with the highest ceiling at Juventus?
Talent-wise yes. We’ve strategically tried to give Bonfa a lot more starts this year to see, she’s historically been an impact player and what an impact player! We now have to get her more involved when games are at their highest peak, in the first 20-25 minutes when teams are fresh and going for it. She seems to get a little bit lost then and she just has to be more effective in conserving energy and being sure that, when she starts, she picks her moments of when to do things. I think she’s getting there, and more starts will help that.
That’s one of those conundrums of being at a club like Juventus – you can’t be a development club, you can’t sacrifice games because everybody who plays against Juventus treats it as a final, so you’ve got to be careful with that developmental process. It’s a real balance and we’re talking and picking, she’s got talent to burn and now just needs to be more mature and professional when she starts games.
Juventus’ depth is unmatched in Italy. How do you keep everyone happy in a squad that has so many who feel they could/should start?
You’ve got to pick the games and there has to be a lot of communication to let players know in advance what you’re thinking. What it does is shows that you’re there not only because you want to start every week, but for the project. I think [it’s important] when players know that they’re being thought of, going forward they’re being thought of and used in certain games for specific reasons. There’s that and then there’s fatigue – both physical and mental – that you need to take into consideration.
A lot of players coming back from national teams may be fatigued, so I need to think about maybe sacrificing some of those and getting them ready for the midweek game in the Champions League.
Juventus project – professionalism? So many horror stories in Italy…
My experiences have been a little bit unique and privileged to be at two great clubs with processes in place. Both were unique and both resourced well where player care and welfare was prominent and no.1, which is really important. Staff working conditions have been top. I always try to make the environment one where each individual – whether you’re staff or a player or working in the front office – it’s a place where you want to be and innovate.
It’s hard for me to comment on what other clubs do but I’ve been privileged at two clubs with professional processes and both clubs have women’s football as a very important part of their fabric and identity. I can probably joke that both clubs are riding on the wave of women’s football so we tend to get whatever we ask for because they don’t want to say no.
I’ve been very privileged and both have been fantastic with their processes, professionalism and moving forward and improving.
Was it extra sweet to knock Chelsea out of the UWCL last year as an Arsenal fan and former coach?
[Laughs] Why do you have to ask that? Chelsea, what they’re doing is phenomenal with the investment, what they’ve done and the squad. It was a game where we had to make sure everything fell right that night and it did. We went there with a different mentality and a different way of doing things. The funny thing is that the game at the Allianz, which we lost 2-1, was probably one of our best games. We played really well and apart from a couple of lapses of concentration… I’m more disappointed that we didn’t get something out of that game. But for Chelsea not to get through from the group stages with the investment they’ve made is a big thing and, yeah, I was quietly happy to, [smiles] how can I put it… to have pushed that along a little bit.
On the challenge posed by competing in the UWCL…
When you’re playing in the UWCL against the best of the best you gain all this knowledge every week and I think the beauty of this group is that they’re so willing to learn and get to the next level. The biggest thing when I got here that was so surprising was that they had this lack of belief, this small-club syndrome when it came to talking about Arsenal, Chelsea, Lyon and so on. It was incredible for a club of this magnitude, I mean Juventus! Wherever they go they’re a big brand but there was a level of inferiority and that was the first thing we had to knock out of them so that we could just focus on football and then start on an even par and it’s just the team that manages the moment and goes out there with a plan that will probably get the result.
From my perspective, a club of this magnitude needs to be at this level.
Another tough group… How far away from going to the UWCL final/win?
I’d like to say we’re probably still 24 months away from being a team who can confidently say that we’ll get out of the group stage, and then the latter stages of the Champions League can go any way. It’s going to count on a lot of things though. It’s going to count on us competing at this level now and getting the best result we can and getting into a place where we can be drawn in pots one or two.
These games now are so important for getting into the top eight and being drawn in pot two so it’s a really big team and us. I think it’s 18-24 months before we can bank on getting into the next round. Look at Roma, they got a draw that was a little bit favourable for their first year. These first years will really sort everyone out and it’s just important that we stay in that top eight and top ten so that we’ll have an opportunity to go through.
The other thing is to make sure that we keep competing domestically as well because if we don’t finish in the top two in Italy then the champions league is a non-event so it’s a big task because we don’t have the privilege of a direct place and have to go through the qualifiers.
On taking on coming up against Arsenal…
It’s a weird feeling. I left a lot of great memories there and a lot of great people. We had four fabulous seasons. I’m so proud of them for going to the next level and I know they’ve made a lot of improvement, also in terms of investment, which is fantastic and I’m so happy for them. It’s going to be weird but I have to be professional. It’s a difficult one for me because my two teams growing up were Juventus and Arsenal, so as a fan it’s going to be difficult but it’s going to be a great occasion and this is what we want in women’s football – playing at the Allianz Stadium, two great brands in world football and two teams that will play great football and put on a good show.
I’ve got to focus on keeping our UWCL campaign going, that’s the first thing, and I’m more than happy to be on the sideline and making sure that we’re prepared.
On upcoming opponents, Parma.
We’ve lost stock of which games are worth looking forward to and which aren’t, so they’re all worth looking forward to. With this amount of football, we’ve five games left before Christmas with eight games including the UWCL. So it’s a matter of playing, doing the best we can and getting the best [results] we can. To be honest they’re all tricky games and they’ve all got their own little bits of nuance in terms of being after an international break or being stuck between a Champions League game so they’re all different but we love it, and it’s what top-end football is all about.