Martinez, Conte aim to tweak squads
As one team clutches onto the last strands of its fleeting continuity, another rediscovers its own. Preserving their line of succession, their essence and their identity is, at heart, what's really at stake when Everton and Juventus face off in the first game on American soil of the inaugural International Champions Cup on Wednesday (Live, 11p.m. ET, Fox Soccer).
In San Francisco's AT&T Park, the clubs from Liverpool and Turin will look to get in shape, sort out their playing style and instill some confidence in a fan base weary of another season of insecurity. Such is soccer in its preseason.
But more than that, Everton and its heartsick fans will judge Roberto Martinez. The Spaniard was finally poached away from Wigan Athletic when it was relegated to succeed David Moyes as manager when he, in turn, had succeeded the finally retired Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. It will be the first time in 11 years that the Blues will have a new head coach. And the first time in half a decade or longer that the man who could always be counted on to steer his side into the top third, no matter how meager his budget or how many stars he'd lost, won't be there to make up for their economic and staffing shortcomings.
Where Everton threatens to fall away now that their heady days might be numbered, Juventus claws its way back onto the perch it inhabited for so long. Relegated to the second-tier Serie B on account of their match-fixing misdeeds in 2006, the iconic club saw its very good name besmirched. They lost titles, credibility and, perhaps worst of all in Italian football, prestige. In the 2011-12 season, they finally recaptured Italy's championship -- their 28th in all. Ahead of the 2012-13 campaign, however, their manager Antonio Conte was ensnared in yet another match-fixing scandal at his last job with Siena. He didn't return to the bench until December, after the National Court of Arbitration for Sport cut short his sentence from an entire season. And then he lead them to a second title.
This is supposed to the year that Juve reclaims its role as a major player on the European stage, too. That is the status it lost, the empire it hopes to rebuild.
Soccer is a simple sport made complicated by transfers and tactics and transnational competitions. But at its base, it is a fluid 90-minute game that values continuity above all. Continuity on the ball. And continuity surrounding the ball even more than that. Where it concerns playing styles and tactics and player types and managers. They are the clubs who do the same things for many years who win many games -- Barcelona, Manchester United, that caliber of stock. This is anathema to the sport's baser instincts, which compel owners and directors to squeeze triggers on players, managers and rebuilding projects incomprehensibly quickly. Yet patience is the paradigm.
Which means Martinez will hope to build on the structure left for him, and Conte will tinker with his own.
Everton have yet to lose their prize assets -- afro-topped Belgian midfield beacon Marouane Fellaini and mop-topped left back Leighton Baines. They've added the golden-topped striker Arouna Kone and landed one of the continent's best prospects, forward Gerard Deulofeu, on loan from Barca. Hold on to what they have and integrate their acquisitions properly, and Everton might have something.
Conte finally got the striker he coveted. Two in fact. One, Fernando Llorente, to play high in the air. And one, Carlos Tevez, to run around him and do the ground work. They are a welcome sight after Mirko Vucinic, Fabio Quagliarella, Alessandro Matri, Sebastian Giovinco, Nicklas Bendtner and Nicolas Anelka all failed to launch last year. None got more than nine league goals. The latter two scored none. If the new men can score on the regular, Juventus will be a force in any arena.
So when they play each other on Wednesday, these will be their objectives -- both short term and long. To fit in players and perfect systems, and to make it all fall into place within the bigger picture.
From that perspective, pre-season games such as this one take on more meaning than posting heartening results as the real games approach.