Il Soldatino 2.0

2010/11 has been something of a nightmare for Juventus. But Adam Digby has spotted a potential club hero amidst the trials and tribulations.

Clinging to the touchline in one of footballs' most revered positions he stands, yet unlike many of his contemporaries there is no unnecessary preening, posturing or posing on show. Short, closely cropped hair in a style more military than modern, he waits, the chalk evident on his boots to provide the width so often lacking in both his team and the league in general.

Never the most lauded or celebrated member of his side, yet quickly becoming integral to both the style of play and the unity of the squad in general. Essential to the choices available to his new coach, his signing was among twelve that summer but was among the least reported among the new arrivals over the mercato.

The year is 1993 and the Juventus player in question is Angleo Di Livio, joining the Bianconeri in the same transfer window as Alessandro Del Piero and Andrea Fortunato. He played in Turin for five seasons and came to embody the grinta and spirit so synonomous with Italy's Old Lady every inch as much as a youth team product or ten-year veteran.

Amassing forty Italy caps and winning nine trophies during what became a period of supreme dominance for the club, the unassuming nature of Di Livio saw him become one of a select few Juventus players who earned the respect of other clubs' fans. His subsequent move to Fiorentina - where he even remained following the Viola's relegation to the fourth tier of Italian football - saw him win over the hearts of even the most ardent supporters of Juve's most intense rivals.

Almost all these attributes - but most certainly excluding the love of the Curva Fiesole - could also be applied to former Palermo man Simone Pepe. The 27-year-old joined this past summer from Udinese, a move lost among the additions of Milos Krasic, Alberto Aquilani and Fabio Quagliarella. Yet while far from certain of a starting berth his attitude, application and ability have seen him become vital to this new look Juventus.

One of the first acquisitions of the new Andrea Agnelli-led regime, the signing was met with cries of derision from the clubs fans, many with all-too-fresh memories of Pepe's frankly abject performances at the earlier World Cup in South Africa. There he cut an isolated figure in an ill-fitting and incompatible midfield that failed comprehensively to display any unity, cohesion or understanding.

Yet in the intervening seven months, through a combination of the very qualities found in his illustrious predecessor, Pepe has won over all but the most stubborn minded tifosi. Many have had a complete 180 degree turn-around of opinion, now loving a man they loathed upon hearing of his capture.

A match at San Siro against Milan where an injury-ravaged Juventus found a way to win 2-1 against staggering odds, Pepe was not the best player on display and it was far from his best performance, but his willingness and selfless attitude in playing first left wing and then both fullback positions brought echoes of another highly regarded former player - Gianluca Zambrotta. A stellar display in place of Krasic against childhood club Roma and a fantastic late free-kick against Fiorentina did much to endear him to the supporters as well as a number of increasingly sceptical observers.

Perhaps even more than this versatility his most telling impact has been off the field where his sense of humour and ability to improve camaraderie have been priceless. His telephone call to a Juventus Channel chat show with Alberto Aquilani is one example that will live long in the memory. Posing under a thinly veiled alias he told the host;

"I'd like to ask Alberto if he thinks his current attire is the proper one for a footballer presenting himself to a Juve training session? Let's just say that he's got a look that's a little bit 'out there'..."

After realising who was on the line, the presenter asked Pepe if he thought Aquilani a good player, drawing the reply "He doesn't know how to dress but yeah, he's pretty good I guess."This was among a number of incidents that have undoubtedly helped relieve the tension in a season fraught with difficulty. An injury and suspension have slowed his on-field progress, but he has surely convinced enough to make his move to Juventus permanent.

The deal with Udinese is already in place and a fee set at just €2.5 million a year for three years. He may not yet be ready to assume the 'little soldier' moniker bestowed upon Di Livio but hopefully Pepe can remain as 'Simone from Vinovo' for the foreseeable future.

Follow Adam on Twitter @Adz77 for more insight on Italian football, past and present.

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