It goes without saying many legends have donned the black and white jersey of Juventus: Alessandro Del Piero, Pavel Nedved, Gianluigi Buffon, Zinedine Zidane and Michelle Platini included. However, supporters of La Vecchia Signora will fondly remember and respect players like Claudio Marchisio and Gianluca Pessoto, who, despite being less talented than Juve’s all-time greats, have given their all to the club and won an impressive number of trophies along the way.
Mauro Camoranesi arguably falls between the abovementioned categories. He was as talented as he was industrious, but not impressive enough to be considered among the best. This, and other factors which will be discussed later, have denied Camoranesi the credit he deserves for his time in Turin.
The Argentine-born winger’s story started in Club Atletico Aldosivi. He soon left his homeland to sign for Mexican side Santos Laguna before enjoying a spell for Montevideo Wanderers in Uruguay and then returning to his native country to play for Banfield. It is here that Camoranesi truly kick-started his career, thanks to a season which saw him score 16 goals in 38 matches. But the 22-year-old was soon on the move again after Mexican club, Cruz Azul, came calling.
His performances at Azul continued to improve and attracted interest from Europe, significantly from Serie A side Hellas Verona. He joined the Gialloblu in 2000 when Serie A was still considered among the best, if not best, leagues in Europe. Camoranesi made an instant impact in Italy. His tenacity, relentless work ethic and technical creativity ensured he soon became a regular at the Stadio Bentegodi and in his first season, he helped Verona avoid relegation.
Though Alberto Malesani’s side could not repeat the feat the following season, Camoranesi continued to impress and he caught they eye of one man in particular. In a 2-2 draw against eventual champions Juventus, Verona’s tricky winger gave a backline of Pessotto, Iuliano, Thuram and Tudor a torrid time, scoring a goal and providing a constant threat out wide. The Bianconeri’s legendary coach, Marcelo Lippi, took note and did not forget the performance. In the summer of 2002, following Verona’s relegation to Serie B, the Italian tactician brought Camoranesi to Turin.
The winger announced himself to Juve’s supporters with a spectacular goal against Feyenoord in the Champions League group stage. A successful debut season at the Delle Alpi saw him become a league champion, with a goal in the Derby d’Italia and vital strikes against Perugia and Bologna along the way. He and Juventus almost claimed a Champions League trophy too, only to be denied by Milan via a penalty shootout in the final. His second season for the Bianconeri was less spectacular, with Camoranesi struggling to meet his previous high standards and Juve failing to win a trophy.
Fabio Capello’s arrival in Turin, together with the purchases of Fabio Cannavaro, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Emerson and Patrick Vieira, saw Camoranesi overlooked as a vital cog in the black-and-white juggernaut – despite being a starter.
This was down to several factors: Ibra’s stellar debut season, Cannavaro being heralded as one of the greatest centre-backs in the world, David Trezeguet’s prolific goal-scoring (and in particular his vital goal against Milan on 8 May 2005 which wrapped up the title for Juve that season), Vieira’s smooth transition to the Italian league and sure enough, the Calciopoli scandal. And like so many others in the famous black and white stripes, Camoranesi was playing in the shadow of Alessandro Del Piero, the fantasista of the era and Juve’s undisputed golden boy.
Not many remember his vital contributions to the 2005/06 season such as his assist for Nedved’s header against Roma, his goal against Fiorentina in the final stages of the match and his screamer against Parma. Moreover, even though he was part of the group who, along with Del Piero, Trezeguet, Nedved and Buffon, continued to play for Juve in Serie B after Calciopoli, his name is often forgotten when praising those who remained loyal to the Old Lady at her lowest ebb.
In the seasons after the scandal, he was one of Juve’s most consistent performers. Surely everyone remembers his virtuoso goal against Lecce during Juve’s return to Serie A in 2007, or his goal against Inter the following season in a famous Derby D’Italia victory. Finally, there was his stellar form during his farewell season of 2009/10, the peak of which was his brace against Atalanta in a 5-2 drubbing. But once again, the Italo-Argentine was overshadowed by the scoring exploits of Del Piero and Trezeguet, as well as the team’s overall struggles, with Juve only managing a seventh-place finish. After an unimpressive stint in Stuttgart, he returned to Argentina, where he played for Lanus, before ending his career at Racing Club.
Unfortunately for Camoranesi, the situation is no different when it comes to the national team. If anything, his legacy becomes more complex because of his decision in 2003 to play for Italy, not Argentina. He was eligible to play for La Nazionale through a great-grandfather who had departed Italy’s Marche region in 1873. He went on to win 55 caps and most significantly, he was a key part of Italy’s 2006 World Cup winning side
However, he was never totally embraced on the peninsula. Initially, the naysayers dismissed his desire to play for Italy as a ploy to force Argentina coach, Marcelo Bielsa, to call him up for the Albiceleste. His decision to speak in Spanish to a TV camera after the World Cup final against France, too, was among those that didn’t endear him to the Italian people, many of whom would perhaps have been more appreciative of his career had he not been an Oriundo.
Looking at the 2006 World Cup itself, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who will mention the winger’s name as one of the key contributors on Italy’s road to glory, even though his form improved as the tournament went on. Perhaps the one man who never overlooked Camoranesi’s importance was the most influential coach in his career. From the quarter-finals onwards, Lippi started Camoranesi in every knockout game. And his faith was rewarded as the Italian put in brilliant performances, especially against Germany in the semi-final.
So, what makes a World Cup and Serie A winner, one who played for one of the most formidable sides in Serie A history, underrated? Is it the fact he always had all-time greats next to him? Or perhaps that his prime coincided with a tumultuous period for his club? Could it even be a question of his oriundo identity? Most likely, it is a combination of all these things. But make no mistake, Camoranesi was a hell of a player, one who should be remembered as an Italy and Juve great.
Words by Bojan Stojanovic: @bojan_33