Alberto Zaccheroni made his debut as Juventus coach against one of his former employers. In other leagues, that might have been a reason to detect an extra edge to Sunday's Juve-Lazio meeting, but "Zac", as he is widely known, is from the old school of Italian football, from an era when jobs used to be frequently shared among a select band of men. Zaccheroni, a former Milan, Inter, Bologna, Torino, Udinese and Lazio coach, will have four more of these reunions in the course of his four-month contract with the Turin club.
Juve have appointed their interim coach with a specific brief: to finish in the top four of Serie A. They chose 56-year-old Zac because he was available and because his wealth of Serie A experience suggests an ability to make a quick impact. He may yet do so, but the best that can be said about Zac's debut is that Juve lost no ground by drawing 1-1 with Lazio, as Palermo lost at Bari. They still trail Napoli by four points and would reflect that at least they did not concede a late goal- one of the symptoms of their slide under the sacked Ciro Ferrara - and that they recovered a trait of what the rest of Italy would recognise as typical Juve luck, being awarded a soft penalty for a challenge on Alessandro Del Piero. Del Piero duly converted it before, eight minutes later, Stefano Mauri equalised.
There was no magic wand being waved from the coach's bench. Juventus, identified by the new man in charge as "nervous", are short of confidence. Encouragement would have been drawn from the new recruit, Antonio Candreva's sense of adventure and Zaccheroni praised Juve's aggression, as Diego in particular tried shots from range. Tension in the team, Zac admitted, was also apparent. Momo Sissoko might consider himself lucky to last the full 90 minutes after an angry response to being booked. "We were sometimes a bit too hasty," said Zaccheroni, "but I was pleased to see how angry the players were not to win the game. I think you'll see an improvement from here,."
Zaccheroni will need to tread carefully as he is Juve's third head coach in a year. Italian football may be accustomed to a fluid movement of managers but Juventus fans still recall that Zac was once coach of Torino, fierce local rivals, as well as Inter and Milan, traditional enemies. Milan, indeed, marked his peak, when he led them to the 1999 scudetto. At Inter he made a promising start but soon went the way of most of their coaches of the last two decades and, as he was recently reminded by Jose Mourinho, the Inter coach, was in charge for one of the club's worst moments: the night they conceded five goals to Arsenal at San Siro in the Champions League.
Mourinho made reference to that because he had taken offence to something Zac said in the Italian media. That is where Zaccheroni has been mainly employed for the past three years. He has had offers to coach, but resisted them to stay in Italy. "I look at this as a reward for having said no to foreign clubs for so long," said Zac of the Juve role. He is a stop-gap at the moment, but, appears willing to stay in the job should he be successful.
Success would mean grabbing on to Inter's coat-tails. "We cannot suddenly match Inter, but the others have their ups and downs," added Zac. Another late winner for Roma moved them into joint second place at the weekend, as Milan failed to take advantage of Inter's day off - their match at Parma was postponed because of snow - by drawing at home with Livorno. Only three months ago, Roma looked as deep in crisis as Juve are. So Zac knows that things can turn around quickly, at least in the battle for Serie A's silver or bronze medals.