ROME, May 19 – Juventus on Monday fired coach Claudio Ranieri and replaced him with junior team coach and former player Ciro Ferrara, the club said in a statement.Ranieri’s future had long been the source of speculation and two weeks ago Italian media had reported that he would definitely be fired at the end of the season, and sooner still if Juve lost to AC Milan.
Juve battled to a credible 1-1 draw at the San Siro just over a week ago but Sunday’s 2-2 home draw against Atalanta meant they have now gone seven league matches without a win.
They currently sit third in the table again but seven matches ago they were Inter Milan’s closest title challengers and now they face a fight to hold onto a top three finish with fourth-placed Fiorentina just one point behind with two matches to play.
A fourth place finish would mean they would have to negotiate two qualifying rounds to reach the Champions League group stages, giving them an extra four unwanted matches.
Ferrara said he has little time to turn things around but was happy for the chance.
"I think the players need to understand that we’re in a tight spot. They need to rediscover the right motivation to tackle our last two matches with the right attitude," he said.
"The players need to rediscover their pride and the right motivation. I want to thank those who thought I could be useful at this time, I really appreciate that."
General manager Jean Claude Blanc, who a month ago had claimed Ranieri would still be Juve manager next season, said the club had to act.
"It’s the standings which have changed. They (the players) must absolutely start doing things differently and as of tonight Cira Ferrara will be pushing them," he said.
"The fourth-placed team (Fiorentina) are just a point behind us, we needed to jolt everyone into action and now it is the player’s responsibility.
"We have two finals to play. We wanted to give ourselves the opportunity to change our destiny."
Ranieri, a former boss at Chelsea and Valencia, is the first Juve coach in 40 years to be fired from his post.
The 57-year-old joined the club ahead of the start of last season and guided them to third place in Serie A in their first campaign back in the top flight since their relegation in 2006 for match-fixing.
The pressure seemed to be easing off Ranieri after their fine performance against Milan, after which Ranieri claimed: "We have been reactivated.
"Milan were the right team to help us return to the team we have been for the last year and nine months (since Ranieri took over)."
However, that proved a false dawn as the club’s defensive frailties were ruthlessly exposed by Atalanta, who hit the bar three times as well as scoring twice.
Former centre-back Ferrara, 42, was a long-time Juve stalwart and played more than 250 Serie A matches for the club from 1994 to 2005.
He won the Serie A title eight times during a 20-year career although the last of those with Juve in 2005 was annulled due to the calciopoli match-fixing scandal.
The centre-back began his career at Napoli, in the city of his birth, and played alongside Argentina great Diego Maradona in both the club’s title successes in 1987 and 1990.
He moved to Juve in 1994 and played for the club during arguably it’s best era under Marcello Lippi, culminating with Champions League success in 1996.
Ferrara also made 49 appearances for Italy and played in the 1990 World Cup and the team that finished runners-up in the European Championships in 2000.
However, as a centre-back during an era when Italy was awash with talented centre-halves, he often found himself behind the likes of Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and Fabio Cannavaro in the national team pecking order.
After retiring from playing Ferrara joined Lippi’s backroom staff with Italy and was on the books during the 2006 World Cup, which Italy won.
After that he went back to Juventus to take over the running of their youth programme.