Ivan the Great

Respect, esteem, honour and pride: portrait of Verona’s leading man

di Richard Hough

The column of the week from Richard Hough for all the Verona-lovers speaking english. 

 

Before his eye-catching campaign with Hellas Verona last season, few outside Italy had even heard of Ivan Jurić.

Now, he’s one of the most respected coaches in Serie A.

So, who is he and why does he merit such respect?

As a combative and hard-working midfielder, his career was solid rather than exceptional. He had been one of the most promising young Croatian midfielders of his generation, but won just five caps for the national team. In fact, he spent most of his unremarkable playing career in Italy, with spells at Crotone and Genoa, where he is remembered as much for his distinctive look and passion for heavy metal as he is for his contribution on the pitch.

Significantly, it was while playing for Crotone in Serie C that he first encountered Gian Piero Gasperini, who would go on to have such a significant influence on his career. Gasp recognised Juric’s leadership qualities, and when he moved on to Genoa, he brought the influential Croatian with him.

Jurić‘s managerial career has been one of steady progress, rather than overnight success. A long-term disciple of Gasperini’s footballing philosophy, Jurić is perhaps the most credible candidate to succeed him one day.

He served as Gasp’s assistant during brief stints at Inter and Palermo, before moving on to Genoa’s youth team in 2013, securing a respectable 11th place finish. The following season he led Pro League side Mantova to Serie B, before following in Gasperini’s footsteps and taking over at Crotone, who had just finished 16th in Serie B. In his first season he won promotion, taking Crotone to Serie A for the first time in the club’s history.

By then, Gasperini was about to make a career-defining move from Genoa to Atalanta, and Jurić emerged as the prime candidate to succeed him.

His appointment was met with general acclaim in Genoa but, despite a promising start, including impressive victories against Milan and Juve, a poor run of form in January and February culminated in a 5-0 thrashing against bottom club Pescara. Jurić was dismissed, to be replaced by ex-Hellas manager Andrea Mandorlini.

After just six games in charge, Mandorlini was sacked and Jurić was reinstated. The Croat secured salvation in the penultimate game of the season and was confirmed to lead the club into the 2017/18 campaign. But, in November he was sacked for the second time after another poor run of form.

Nearly a year later, he was re-appointed (for a third time), but was once again sacked after just a couple of months, this time to replaced by Cesare Prandelli.

It was a bruising couple of seasons for Jurić, but perhaps a necessary taste of failure early in his managerial career.

The hallmark of Jurić coaching philosophy is an offensive 3-4-3 formation. His teams are high tempo passing sides, with plenty of pace and a dynamic midfield. He employs a direct and vertical style of play, relying on a high press to win possession and create sudden goal-scoring opportunities. He also has a remarkable ability to improve players’ personal performances, through relentless training (a number of new arrivals have referred to this aspect of Jurić’s preparation) and formidable powers of motivation.

I’ve bumped into him on a couple of occasions, the first time at a wine festival in the city. He was sitting on a kerb with a roll-up in one hand and a plastic glass of wine in the other. I’ve also encountered him lingering outside the stadium post-match, waiting for a lift home, happy to chat about the game and pose for pictures. He chooses his words carefully, but when they come, they are worth listening to. His sharp response to Conte, during the thrilling 2-2 draw with Inter towards the end of last season, elevated his status amongst the Verona faithful. “Questa è casa mia” [This is my house], he informed Conte, respect it.

Respect, esteem, honour and pride. Under Juric those values have returned to the Bentegodi. And for that he has our gratitude.

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