There was certainly nothing extraordinary 13 minutes into Sunday night’s Serie A clash between Juventus and Hellas Verona when new signing Dusan Vlahovic opened his Bianconeri account on debut.
The 22-year-old Serbian international was the beneficiary of some Paulo Dybala majesty before he deftly lifted the Argentine’s sumptuous first-time pass over the onrushing Lorenzo Montipo with one touch of his own. While the goal was delightful, and the celebration perhaps even better, there was nothing extraordinary about it.
Dream debuts are a common occurrence in our sport and, in the case of Vlahovic, almost expected. This is a guy who has found the back of the net with aplomb ever since he left the womb. However, things got a little quirkier midway through the second period when Vlahovic’s fellow debutant, Denis Zakaria, seemingly forced a partition in the Verona defence that allowed him to receive Alvaro Morata’s pass uncontested before scoring.
The scriptwriters and narrative Gods had descended upon Turin, and while Zakaria scoring was a rare feat in itself, having two debutants score in the same game was even more out of the ordinary.
However, after doing a little bit of research, we discovered that Juventus already achieved this feat just over a decade ago. So, let’s reminisce.
Juventus 4-1 Parma (11/09/2011) – The last time two Juventus debutants scored in the same game
The 2010/11 campaign had ended with the once almighty Juventus as the seventh-best team in Serie A. The Luigi Delneri era was miserable but in new manager Antonio Conte – a serial winner as a player with the Bianconeri – the Old Lady had been handed a fresh lease of life.
Unsurprisingly, the summer of 2011 was a busy one in Turin, but few household names arrived to join a squad humiliated by their malaise and depression over the past two years. The most significant arrival was Andrea Pirlo, who’d been left out to dry by AC Milan and was picked up by the Bianconeri on a free transfer, while the priciest signing was Alessandro Matri from Cagliari. Juventus forked out €15.5m for the striker’s services after he initially joined the club on loan in January.
Nevertheless, those two names are pretty irrelevant in this tale.
Following a relatively promising pre-season, Juventus’ 2011/12 campaign kicked off with a kind home fixture against Parma, who finished 12th the previous season. It was a significant game for the club as it was the first Serie A encounter to take place at the stadium we now call the Allianz. The Old Lady finally had a home five years after moving out of the distinctly unpopular Stadio delle Alpi in 2006.
For the historically significant contest, Conte opted for a 4-4-2 – the three the back fetish had not yet matured – with new arrivals Pirlo and Stephan Lichtsteiner, signed from Lazio for €10m, earning starts.
The starting XI read: Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Barzagli, Chiellini, De Ceglie; Pepe, Marchisio, Pirlo, Giaccherini; Del Piero, Matri.
On the opposite side, Graziano Pelle and Sebastiano Giovinco led the line for Franco Colomba’s Parma. I wonder if Conte saw Giaccherini and Pelle that day and ever thought these two guys would play a key role for his god-awful but odds-defying Italy side five years down the line at Euro 2016. I’m sceptical.
Nevertheless, it was marauding right-back Lichtsteiner who carved his name into Juventus folklore by scoring the first-ever competitive goal at the Allianz Stadium. The Swiss debutant was picked out in behind Parma’s unbalanced backline by a vintage Pirlo pass before he rounded Antonio Mirante to score.
Lichtsteiner’s opener set the tone for what was a brilliant Bianconeri display that foreshadowed their imperious form throughout the 2011/12 season. Simone Pepe drilled home a second 13 minutes into the second half before Arturo Vidal, an all-action 24-year-old midfielder signed from Bayer Leverkusen for €10.5m in the summer, replaced Alessandro Del Piero with 67 minutes on the clock.
It took the Chilean just six minutes to score his first of 48 goals for Juventus and this effort was surely one of his best in Bianconeri colours. Mirante couldn’t get near Vidal’s improvised strike from distance. Claudio Marchisio then added a cheeky but brilliant fourth with a deft lob before Paolo De Ceglie, now of Servette, got himself sent off for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity in the penalty area. Giovinco converted from the spot for a mere consolation as Conte’s new-look Juventus ran out 4-1 victors.
Many Juventino look back on that sunny September day as the beginning of a new dawn in Turin. The Bianconeri had been calcio’s dominant force following Fabio Capello’s initial departure from Milan in 1996 as Marcello Lippi and Capello disciple Carlo Ancelotti thrust the club to the forefront of not only Italian but European football as well.
However, the Calciopoli scandal rocked the Turin giants and stunned the footballing world. The Bianconeri’s recovery was swift but back-to-back seventh-place Serie A finishes in 2009/10 and 2010/11 with the Serie B title in 2007 being the club’s last major honour marked a distinct fall from grace when Conte took the reins.
As the now Tottenham boss oversaw that superb performance and victory over Parma on Matchday 1 of the 2011/12 season, while some may have been overcome by a spark not seen in these parts since the tainted Capello era, very few – if any – would’ve predicted the conquest their Bianconeri would embark on over the next decade.
And as we return to the present day, where PS3’s have become PS5’s and iPhone 4’s have evolved into 13 Pro’s with 175 cameras, fresh faces have once again galvanised a previously beleaguered and unwatchable Juventus under Massimiliano Allegri.
Now, that’s not to suggest that Juve will inevitably dominate the 2020s as they did in the 2010s, but there’s a universal, overriding feeling in Bianconeri quarters that something special may be brewing in Turin once more.