The second tier odysseys of David Trezeguet at Juventus and River Plate

The second tier odysseys of David Trezeguet at Juventus and River Plate

A highlight reel of David Trezeguet’s career would no doubt be dominated by his golden goal for France at Euro 2000, a strike that won the tournament for Les Bleus in extra-time and proved their home-soil World Cup victory in 1998 was no fluke.

Despite his international achievements and a plethora of major club honours, a remarkable element about Trezeguet’s career is the fact that he spent two seasons operating in the second tier, featuring for giant clubs fallen on hard times, when he could have easily found a more lucrative or prestigious option. If one’s character is forged on the anvil of adversity then the honourable Frenchman twice proved that he has that attribute in abundance.

Trezeguet was born in 1977 in Rouen, a French port city on the banks of the River Seine. His Argentine parents found themselves in Normandy as his father, Jorge, was a professional footballer in the midst of a three-year spell with FC Rouen. When his time with the modest outfit was over, when David was only two-years-old, Jorge and his family returned to Buenos Aires.

After blazing a trail through the club’s youth ranks, the gangly forward made his first appearance for Club Atlético Platense at the age of 16, given his debut by coach Ricardo Rezza in June 1994. Typical of Argentine football, more now so than then, the talented youngster was spirited away before he had the chance to fully develop, signing for Monaco after just a handful of appearances. The principality club had clearly predicted his promise, and Jorge’s contacts in France helped facilitate the move.

After cutting his teeth with the B team, Trezeguet announced himself in the 1997/98 season, succeeding teammate Thierry Henry by winning the Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year Award and helping his club reach the semi-finals of the Champions League. Skinny but strong, quick and powerful in the air, the young forward was included in France’s triumphant 1998 World Cup-winning squad. Although Trezeguet was somewhat of a bit-part player during the tournament, he still managed six appearances, a group stage goal, and a successful penalty spot conversion following the quarter-final stalemate against Italy.

More goals followed for Monaco over the next two seasons, culminating in Ligue 1 glory in 1999/2000. Despite three years of prolific scoring at club level, the striker was still unable to solidify a national team spot. Prior to the 2000 European Championship final, Trezeguet had made just two appearances in the tournament; a group stage start and goal against the Netherlands and a brief cameo against Portugal in extra-time of the semi-final.

Trezeguet replaced Youri Djorkaeff in the 76th minute of the final with France trailing Italy 1-0. Sylvain Wiltord’s late effort forced extra-time and then, in the 103rd minute, Trezeguet immortalised himself by netting a stunning golden goal that deflated Italy and simultaneously gave France their second major international trophy in the space of three summers.

His form for club and country earned him a move to Serie A giants Juventus. His first season acted as somewhat of a bedding in period, with Carlo Ancelotti understandably utilising the Frenchman as back-up to Filippo Inzaghi and Alessandro Del Piero. However, in 2001/02, with the L plates well and truly removed, Trezeguet showed exactly what he could do.

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The striker’s 24 goals earned him, along with Brescia’s Dario Hübner, the prestigious Capocannoniere title as Italy’s top goal scorer and fired Juventus to the Scudetto. Succeeding compatriot Zinedine Zidane, Trezeguet’s memorable season was capped off with the award of Serie A Footballer of the Year.

The 2002/03 season was bittersweet for Trezeguet as injuries curtailed his rapid progress, reducing him to fewer than 30 appearances in all competitions. To further rub salt in the wounds, the Frenchman missed a penalty in the shootout after Juventus and AC Milan had played out a drab goalless draw in the Champions League final at Old Trafford.

All in all, Juventus won four Scudetti in Trezeguet’s first six seasons in Italy. However, in May 2006, Italian police uncovered a scandal which would become known as Calciopoli. Juventus were implicated in the alleged match-rigging network – along with Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina – and the punishments were severe.

Juventus were immediately relegated to Serie B, stripped of their two most recent championship titles, and fined €75,000. A 30-point deduction, which would have more or less confined them to relegation to the third tier, was eventually reduced to nine points on appeal. Club executives Luciano Moggi and Antonio Giraudo were given five-year bans from all football activity for their participation at the heart of the scandal.

The expected exodus of star power was as predictable as it was crippling to Juventus’ squad. Manager Fabio Capello, Brazilian midfielder Emerson, and World Cup-winning captain and soon-to-be Ballon d’Or holder Fabio Cannavaro all left for Real Madrid, while defenders Lilian Thuram and Gianluca Zambrotta headed to European champions Barcelona. After just one season in Turin, Romanian forward Adrian Mutu left for Fiorentina, the Florence club reinstated to Serie A following an appeal. Patrick Vieira and Zlatan Ibrahimović moved to Internazionale, the new power in Italian football following the demise of their two biggest rivals.

Despite the high-profile departures, Juventus could still count on a number of stars, retaining their fear factor. The quintet of Trezeguet, Del Piero, Pavel Nedvěd, Mauro Camoranesi and Gianluigi Buffon – who would become known as the Five Samurai –  all remained faithful to the Old Lady. Didier Deschamps, who the French striker knew well from the national team, took over the reins as head coach following a four-year spell with Monaco.

Juventus were brought down to earth with a bump, starting the Serie B season at Rimini in front of fewer than 10,000 spectators. The Turin giants took the lead on the hour mark and looked set for an easy opening-day three points when the hosts were reduced to 10-men after 69 minutes. However, Rimini managed to grab an equaliser after 74 minutes, meaning there would be no fairy-tale start to life in the second tier for Juventus.

Despite the early setback, Juve soon found their feet and won the next eight games with Buffon, an impenetrable presence, keeping seven clean sheets in the process. Trezeguet’s contribution to the purple patch of results was scoring the first home goal of the season on the stroke of half-time in a 2-1 win over Vicenza, the number 17 showing predatory instincts from close range. Before the game, Trezegol had fittingly been awarded a plaque to celebrate his 125 goals in the black and white stripes.

Read  |  Juventus, Calciopoli and a year in Serie B

Braces in consecutive victories over Modena and Piacenza followed, but Juve’s hot streak was brought to an end by Napoli, the eventual runners-up, who held them to a 1-1 draw at the Stadio San Paolo. Juventus then went a further seven games unbeaten, with Trezeguet scoring in the final game before the winter break, lashing home the opener from the edge of the box in a 2-2 draw at home to Arezzo.

Caught cold upon the resumption of games in January, the Bianconeri’s first league loss of the season came away to Mantova. Seventeen points from 21 followed, however, with Trezegol scoring three goals during this fruitful period. An away defeat at Brescia in March proved to be the last time Juve would taste defeat before being declared champions.

The 12 games following the Brescia reverse determined the destiny of the Serie B title. Juventus ruthlessly and efficiently notched 30 points out of the next 36, grabbing crucial wins over Napoli and Genoa in the process. Trezeguet scored the final goal in the victory over the Genoese and the players’ reactions, and that of the fans in the stands, signified that the title was within touching distance.

On 19 May, Juve travelled 500km south-east to face Arezzo, knowing three points would wrap up the championship. With Trezeguet on the scoresheet, the Old Lady romped to a 5-1 victory, sealing their Serie A return in some style. Ecstatic scenes followed the final whistle, and even Deschamps in the dugout cracked a smile, perhaps not knowing what was around the corner.

The penultimate game of the season was a homecoming at the Stadio Olimpico and offered the opportunity for revenge over Mantova, one of only two teams to have tasted victory over Juventus in 39 league games so far. The newly-crowned champions won 2-0, with Trezeguet netting the opener after 55 mins. Following the game it was announced that the club and manager Deschamps had amicably parted ways. With assistant Giancarlo Corradini assuming responsibility, Juve lost the last two games. However, by then the title, and a return to Serie A, was already sealed.

Trezeguet’s 15 goals in 30 league appearances during the stint in Serie B were vital in returning the club to their rightful place at the top table of Italian football. A decade in Turin ended in the summer of 2010 when Trezeguet moved to Spanish side Hércules, the club from his then wife’s hometown of Alicante.

Despite his departure, his bond with Juventus was unbreakable, the player deeply rooted in the hearts of the fans, not only for his goals but for the fortitude of his character and remaining with the club during their darkest days. “A player with an average of 17 goals a season does not need any further comment,” said chairman Andrea Agnelli in August 2010. “It’s been a real love affair, David will always be in the heart of all Juventus supporters.”

The veteran Frenchman scored a respectable 12 in 31 in LaLiga but couldn’t prevent Hércules’ relegation – only this time he wasn’t sticking around. A brief and disastrous four-month spell in the UAE followed before, in December 2011, Trezeguet returned to Buenos Aires to sign for boyhood club River Plate, who, like Juventus in 2006, had suffered an unlikely relegation, the first in their storied 110-year history.

Order  |  Calcio II

In the 1980s, the Argentine FA officially introduced the bizarre promedios system, designed to protect big clubs by calculating relegation based on three-year average. The thinking behind it was that any club was capable of having a bad season, and could therefore be given the chance to recover in the subsequent two campaigns. Ironically it was one of Argentine football’s prized assets, River Plate, that succumbed to the system in 2011.

Los Millonarios were crowned champions in June 2008 when Diego Simeone led them to the title. However, they finished bottom in the 2008 Apertura and never recovered sufficiently. Finishes of fourth and ninth in the short championships of 2010/11 weren’t enough to save River from the ignominy of a playoff against Belgrano.

River lost the first leg in Córdoba 2-0 and were unable to turn the tie around in the second leg, despite home advantage. Towards the end of a 1-1 draw, angry fans stormed the pitch; the police responded with water cannons and the referee halted proceedings. Even if their team was, River fans were not going down without a fight and took to the streets surrounding the stadium, clashing with riot police as helicopters circled ominously overhead.

The cruel irony is that club legend Daniel Passarella, who lifted the World Cup in the very same stadium in 1978, was one of the key architects presiding over the disaster. The former captain assumed the presidency in December 2009 after a controversial election but took his club down with debts estimated anywhere between £10m and £30m. The so-called millionaires were, all of a sudden, penniless.

Trezeguet, who described himself as “Argentine at heart” in a 2012 interview with FIFA.com, signed for River during the league’s summer break. The 34-year-old penned a three-year contract, fulfilling a childhood dream in the process. Just like with Juventus, he wanted to be part of the club’s history, not just a mercenary only present for the good times. The injuries that blighted his short spell in the Middle East mysteriously vanished, and he helped his new club continue their form from the first half of the season.

River had 34 points from a possible 57 on the board, with 33 goals to their name. During the second half of the season, River scored the same amount of goals but became more efficient, gaining 39 points. With Trezeguet in the side, the points-per-game average rose from 1.79 to 2.05.

Coach Matías Almeyda gave Trezeguet, affectionately labelled El Príncipe by River fans, his debut on 12 February 2012. Away to Chacarita Juniors in round 20, he replaced Lucas Ocampos, now of Monaco, with 78 mins on the clock. Although he didn’t get on the scoresheet, River ran out 2-0 winners.

His first goal for his new club came in the next round, in a 3-0 win over Independiente Rivadavia in front of more than 60,000 fans at El Monumental. Connecting with a cross from the right-hand side, Trezeguet’s powerful header flew across the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner. The forward was unable to contain a beaming smile, celebrating his goal with the same joy that accompanied all of his strikes.

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In the next set of fixtures, Trezeguet scored in a 4-1 win away at Sportivo Desamparados, a clever run and strike rewarded with a lucky deflection past the goalkeeper. In round 24 he scored a brace in a 3-3 thriller away to Defensa y Justicia, one a carbon copy of the goal that opened his River account, the other an easy tap-in after less than impressive goalkeeping.

In the next game he opened the scoring in a 3-0 win over Deportivo Merlo, heading the ball off the bar and connecting with his own rebound to find the net. Bizarrely, although nominally a home fixture, the tie was played at the stadium of Vélez Sarsfield as River’s ground was unavailable due to clashing with a Roger Waters concert. The former Pink Floyd man played to almost half a million fans during a nine-day residency at the home of River Plate.

A brace in round 27, in a routine 3-0 win at home to Ferro Carril Oeste, followed. The first came from the penalty spot then, three minutes later, perhaps his most memorable goal in a River shirt arrived. A corner was whipped in, falling at his feet on the far corner of the 18-yard box. Trezeguet launched an unstoppable half-volley past the helpless Ferro goalkeeper, stunning teammate Daniel Vega so much that he placed his hands on his head in disbelief.

In round 30 River hosted Instituto, featuring Paulo Dybala, in a crucial clash. In a closely fought encounter, a messy Trezeguet goal from close range separated the sides. Like all potent forwards, he didn’t care much for the aesthetics of a goal and gladly celebrated with glee. In the next home game, Trezeguet proved vital once again, grabbing the only goal – a towering header – in a win over Jujuy’s Gimnasia. The response to the celebrations showed just how important, and historic, his goals were becoming.

Almirante Brown were the visitors for the final home game of the season, with a double from Trezeguet sealing a 2-0 win. The first was an exquisite volley from the edge of the area, the second a close-range finish in the dying stages of the game. El Monumental, however, was not at full capacity for the crucial clash.

The upper part of the stand named after the legendary Omar Sívori was closed due to an incident which occurred there in the previous home fixture against Boca Unidos. Gonzalo Saucedo, just 20-years-old, was attacked and killed, another extreme incident of violence that plagued Argentine football and contributed to the ban on away fans less than a year later. 

With River finishing a point ahead of Quilmes, the championship and subsequent return to the top-flight were sealed and the wild celebrations could begin. In just a few short months, Trezeguet had scored 13 goals in 19 appearances, striking up a formidable partnership with Fernando Cavenaghi, himself returning to his spiritual home following a spell in European football.

Short spells with Newell’s Old Boys and India’s Pune City followed his stint at El Monumental, before Trezeguet hung up his golden boots. Always playing with a smile on his face, the Frenchman’s achievements with both club and country etched his name in the history books as one of the best strikers of his generation. 

Amongst the championships, cup triumphs and individual plaudits, perhaps the most impressive entries on his resume are the two seasons where. as many of his peers have done and will no doubt continue to do. he could have chosen a safer, more competitive and financially rewarding option. Instead, in helping two giants out of their second-tier slumber and back to the big time, he solidified a status that money cannot buy and sealed an interminable place in the hearts of fans lucky enough to have witnessed his feats.

By Dan Williamson @winkveron

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