Long-time watchers of Serie A will rightly regard Andriy Shevchenko as a man who knows how to conjure something from nothing. How to make the impossible possible.
However, this legend of calcio – a Ballon d’Or winner, an Italian and European champion – faces one of the biggest challenges of his glittering career in saving Genoa.
The Rossoblu have made a habit of narrowly dodging the drop in recent years, finishing 17th for two consecutive seasons before Davide Ballardini came in mid-season (again) to drag them from the relegation zone to 11th last term.
But Genoa’s new American owners 777 Partners might now be wondering if replacing Ballardini with Shevchenko in November was the right call after all, given the disastrous start to the Ukranian’s tenure.
The Grifone’s 3-1 defeat to Lazio in Rome on Friday wasn’t a huge surprise.
But the limp, lifeless performance that went with it was concerning, and left Genoa with one point from Sheva’s first six league games in charge. The so-called new manager bounce is nowhere to be seen.
A 1-0 Coppa Italia victory over Salernitana on Tuesday showed that this Genoa team is capable of victory, but their utter lack of attacking threat will always make their task of racking up points a big one.
“The only positive was that we scored a goal,” Shevchenko said after the game.
He wasn’t wrong, even though Filippo Melegoni’s strike came in the 86th minute, when they were already 3-0 down and the game was over as a contest.
It was Genoa’s second goal in their six Serie A matches under Shevchenko. They’ve conceded 13.
By this point, the Ukrainian may well be tempted to dust off his boots and pick himself up front.
Genoa ended the match in Rome with four shots, two on target, and failed to ask many questions of a Lazio defence that has been as full of holes as a cheese grater this season.
“We are working hard and the team did well, but they are lacking a bit of confidence. We must find it and then the results will arrive,” Shevchenko added.
The Grifone fans will hope he’s right, but there’s little evidence to suggest that after their lack of creativity and cutting edge was so badly exposed during a run of five defeats in six league games.
More optimistic onlookers might point to the fact that Mattia Destro, whose superb run of form last season propelled them to safety, is finally back from injury.
Plus, the January transfer market is an opportunity to bring in much-needed reinforcements, and at least they can count on one team in the league looking even more doomed than they are: Salernitana.
But a glance at the fixture list paints a gloomier picture. Genoa face Atalanta before the winter break, and open the new year with games against Sassuolo, AC Milan and Fiorentina.
Their clash with Spezia, tucked between the Sassuolo and Milan games, already looks like a decisive moments in the season, with the Ligurians sitting three points above them in 17th.
Shevchenko couldn’t have taken on a much bigger task for his first club job as a manager.
And given Genoa’s hire-and-fire track record, the question has now inevitably become: how much longer has he got? Will he even eat his panettone?