April, it seems, has been the month of the ritiro for Serie A sides.
AC Milan have been camped out at Milanello, Napoli spent time at Dimare and Fiorentina have undergone a power-struggle between an owner who thinks the players should have gone to Moena and a coach who disagreed.
For now, Vincenzo Montella has come out on top.
The idea of the ritiro is a peculiarly Italian tradition, and not exclusive to the upper echelons of the leagues. Gianluigi Buffon, who suffered a disappointing reverse himself at the weekend in the Derby Della Mole, reacted to his Carrarese side’s loss against SPAL by sending the Azzurri on a ritiro until their next competitive outing – after four straight defeats, Saturday’s game against Pontedera looks crucial for the Tuscan side.
Buffon’s official statement read: “I strongly hope that the team and the coach can find — thanks to the ritiro itself — the concentration needed to recover and complete the end of season matches in the best possible manner.”
In this instance, Buffon takes the role of owner rather than player. The decision to withdraw the team generally comes from on high; and as such, there have been instances that headstrong players have made statements to publicly distance themselves from the decision.
It makes sense. The message sent out by taking the team to a ritiro is that something is fundamentally wrong within the squad that an intense period of training or team-building might resolve. When Albano Guaraldi arranged his Bologna side to go to ritiro after a heavy defeat in late 2013, a delegation of players (then led by Alessandro Diamanti) made public their sentiments against it.
Reacting to a, perhaps only perceived, slight against their professionalism, the squad rallied and lost just twice in the next seven games. Carrarese may not be as celebrated as Bologna, but their fans are no less demanding and their reasoning is impeccable.
Milan’s recent struggles are perhaps not due to concentration so much as a gradual weakening of the squad – the Rossoneri have cut so much cloth over the last few years that no matter how they stretch it, something remains exposed.
In that context, Filippo Inzaghi’s decision to enforce their ritiro this week suggested mercy more than anything. The Diavolo’s season is labouring from bad to worse and keeping the players out of the spotlight has avoided further scrutiny by the press even if, having returned to active service on Wednesday evening, there was little change in the side’s fortunes.
No longer a surprise, even after their ritiro, Milan’s 3-1 midweek defeat to Genoa was just the latest in a litany of disappointments.
Aurelio De Laurentiis, also looking for a reaction from his side, booked Napoli’s spot at Dimare after a disappointing run of winless games. With a Europa League campaign on-going, it proved difficult to squeeze in and, by the time Rafael Benitez and his side got to their ritiro, they had won three games on the bounce.
The Spaniard is canny enough to tweak his tactics and systems from match to match, and one has to go back as far as March to find a midweek that wasn’t filled with a game for the Partenopei. By the time Napoli got to leave, the decision was being heralded only by their chairman. The run of games had brought the side’s form around, and the urgency of a ritiro for squad development looked unnecessary.
Vincenzo Montella has had a similar difficulty with Fiorentina. The Viola may have slipped slightly in recent Serie A games, losing four in a row, but their performance in defeat at Juventus was much improved. With Cesena to come before the resumption of the Europa League, Montella’s refusal of Andrea Della Valle’s planned ritiro sent out a clear message.
Instead of taking his team out of the limelight to attempt to fix something over a couple of days, he preferred to back the players and the methods that have served the Gigliati so well to this point. Now sitting seventh, and with a tricky-looking semi-final tie against Sevilla to come, it is a brave move to put his head above the parapet and back himself in such a way against his owner and it remains to be seen if he ends up looking wise or foolish.
As it remains, one of few ways presidents or owners can directly influence their club, the ritiro will retain its use. And while the efficacy of the ritiro remains up for debate, there is no chance of owners passing up that opportunity. Just ask Gianluigi Buffon.