At 66, Torino’s Giampiero Ventura is the oldest coach in the Europa League preliminaries. He grew up in the post-war era when times were hard, then through the years of Italy’s economic miracle, before starting out in this profession in the youth sector at Sampdoria in the mid-1970s. Everything was so much simpler then. For a start, there was no social media. How Ventura must yearn for those days. For on Monday night, his protege Alessio Cerci, a player whose career he nurtured at Pisa and then resurrected at Torino, got caught up in quite the Twitter storm.
It was 8:43pm when his followers, many of them fans of the Granata, viewed the latest post from his account. “Agreement reached with @atleti,” it read. “I would like to once again thank Torino and their fans for everything.” A minute and a half later, the message was deleted. Local papers Tuttosport and the sport desk at La Stampa were thrown into a panic. The first edition was approaching. They needed to get to the bottom of the story quick. Torino’s owner Urbano Cairo, their director of sport Gianluca Petrachi and head of press Piero Venera were all besieged with urgent phone calls. Cerci was too.
It wasn’t long before he appeared on Sky Italia to explain himself. His Twitter had been hacked, he said. He didn’t write the tweet, nor did he delete it. “I was in my room playing PlayStation with my teammate Ruben Perez,” Cerci claimed, “when I started to receive a load of text messages. ‘What have you done?’ they all asked. The sky fell in. I had the phone with me at all times and I’m the only one who knows the password to my Twitter account. This story has unsettled me. I will take legal action. Let’s see what happens. One thing is certain. I am not an Atletico player. I’m a Torino player.”
This seems to happen an awful lot of late: Footballers posting something they shouldn’t, in this case maybe jumping the gun on a deal that hasn’t gone through OR - to give Cerci the benefit of the doubt - being a victim of mischief. What’s not in question is the fact his future and the uncertainty surrounding it has been one of the stories of the summer in the Italian transfer market.
You may recall Torino were one of the revelations of last season in Serie A. They qualified for Europe despite finishing seventh and Cerci missing a penalty that would have clinched a win against former club Fiorentina to make absolutely sure of it. Instead their place came at the expense of Parma who were not granted a license to compete in UEFA competition by the FIGC.
It was a reprieve for Cerci even if his spot-kick blunder had actually endeared him further to Torino fans. He had become a tragic figure at a club whose very identity is defined by tragedy [the Superga air disaster and later the death of Gigi Meroni, the Italian George Best who was run over by a future Torino president].
Cerci’s strike partnership with Ciro Immobile was the best the club had known since that of Francesco Graziani and Paolo Pulici, the original Gemelli del Gol or Goal Twins who fired the Toro to their last Scudetto in 1976. The most prolific pairing in the league after Juventus’ Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez, they scored 35 goals. In all they combined for 45 of their side’s total of 58, a staggering 78%. Immobile was Torino’s first Capocannoniere since Graziani in 1977. Cerci was the only player in Serie A to get into double figures for goals and assists (13 and 10 respectively).
Unsurprisingly both attracted high profile interest. No sooner had this great duo emerged than a break up seemed inevitable. The twins appeared destined to be separated. Borussia Dortmund chose Immobile (in addition to Hertha’s Adrian Ramos) to replace the Bayern-bound Robert Lewandowski. In the meantime Torino hoped that Cerci would stay, sign a new contract and form another close bond with new recruit Fabio Quagliarella. But as Ventura has admitted, when Immobile left it became that little bit more difficult to convince the other not to follow him out of the club and on to bigger and better things.
Only two players created more clear cut chances (11) and only two had more shots from counter-attacking situations (13) than Cerci did in Serie A last season. He also put in 260 crosses, the second most in the league behind only Antonio Candreva. It’s not hard to see why he is so highly regarded. Spanish champions Atlético Madrid are said to have put a €16m proposal on the table for him. Their Italian director of sport Andrea Berta is keen to give Diego Simeone a trident of Antoine Griezmann, Mario Mandzukic and him.
Monaco also consider him a replacement for James Rodríguez (though not a like-for-like one of course), while Pippo Inzaghi has long made Cerci his No.1 transfer target since taking charge at Milan. Chief executive Adriano Galliani has a privileged relationship with Cairo but even after selling Kevin Constant and getting the likes of Kaka and Robinho off the payroll he is still struggling to make a competitive offer. These are straitened times at Casa Milan, an age of austerity.
Not included in the squad for Torino’s Europa League play-off against RNK Split on Thursday night and still yet to feature in pre-season, Ventura maintains that Cerci “will have a great year.” When asked for whom, though, his reply was particularly telling. “I don’t know.
Do you think Cerci should stay at Torino or pursue a move elsewhere? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below