Giovanni Simeone gets tired of every conversation coming back to his father. All through his development as a youth player, he had to put up with the suspicions of strangers. People who might have never seen him play, yet chose to believe he was having certain opportunities because his dad, Diego, had been a superstar player and was on the path to becoming one as a manager.
Selfs nou, 26 years old and enjoying his sixth season as a starter in Serie A, Giovanni knows every success will come with a predictable line of questioning. After scoring twice to bury Juventus on Saturday, he was asked whether he was carrying on a family tradition of antipathy towards the Bianconeri. “Dad wrote his story,” said the younger Simeone. “I am writing my own.”
What a tale it has been lately. The weekend before, he had hammered four goals past Lazio. It becomes hard to avoid mentioning family ties when you have the most prolific afternoon of your career against the club where your father enjoyed some of the greatest years of his.
Diego texted to tell him it was the best he had seen him play, but that was not the reaction that moved Giovanni the most. “The [Verona] storekeeper, Antonio, got emotional, started to cry and hugged me," hy het gesê, two days later. “It was really touching. We are like a family here.”
Verona have made a dramatic start to the season: losing their first three games and firing the manager, Eusebio Di Francesco, before transforming into one of the most entertaining teams in Serie A under his replacement, Igor Tudor. They have scored 21 goals in eight matches since – more than any other team in the division over that stretch – and had claimed wins over Roma and Lazio before they welcomed Juventus to the Bentegodi on Saturday.
Most observers expected to see a reaction from the Bianconeri after their midweek defeat to Sassuolo. In plaas daarvan, Simeone pounced before they could get a foothold in the game. In the 11th minute, he swept home a rebound after Antonin Barak’s shot was blocked. Three minutes later, he struck again: firing from outside the box into the top right corner after cutting in from the left.
Juventus’s defence was at fault, backing off and affording him space, but this was a finish few ould have pulled off. Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny had plenty of time to see the shot coming but the precise trajectory gave him no chance.
Simeone put the ball in the net a third time before the half-hour mark but was denied a hat-trick due to a foul by Gianluca Caprari. On another day, that missed opportunity may have come back to haunt Verona. Paulo Dybala hit the woodwork for Juventus and Weston McKennie saw a shot saved at point-blank range before finally pulling one goal back. But that was all the Old Lady could manage.
Defeat was a catastrophe for Juventus, leaving them 16 points off the pace at the top of Serie A. Their manager, Massimiliano Allegri, described their league position as shameful. Talk of winning back the Scudetto they surrendered last season for the first time in a decade has been replaced with questions about whether they can get back into the top four.
None of which is for Simeone to worry about. This was the most extraordinary week of his career, scoring six times in seven days despite starting two of three games. He played the last 24 minutes of the 1-1 draw with Udinese on Wednesday, replacing Nikola Kalinic, without getting his name on the scoresheet.
Simeone owes a debt to Tudor, who outmanoeuvred Allegri just as he had done to Maurizio Sarri and José Mourinho before. Stationing the left wing-back, Darko Lazovic, high up the pitch, the manager forced Juan Cuadrado to play a more defensive game and obliged Juventus to attack down the left, where Alex Sandro has been less effective.
Lazovic, Barak and Caprari have thrived under the new manager, who served as an assistant to Andrea Pirlo at Juventus last season. Some in Turin are starting to wonder whether he ought to have been given the top job, but Tudor has benefited also from a Verona dressing room pulling in the same direction.
Even before embarking on his scoring spree, Simeone had spoken of his close relationship with Kalinic – who he is alternates games with up front. “Usually, players in the same role don’t talk much because of the rivalry [for places],” he said at the start of last month. “Between us two, it’s not like that.”
It may become harder for Tudor to keep rotating if Simeone maintains this form. His eight Serie A goals are second only to the nine scored by Fiorentina’s Dusan Vlahovic. Cautious minds will point out e has had hot streaks before, but never sustained that form through a full campaign. He has yet to top the 14 goals he scored while playing for the Viola in 2017-18.
Last season at Cagliari, he struck five times before the end of October and once more thereafter. He was playing for a struggling team and had his best stretch of form interrupted by coronavirus, but has said he could have done more.
Simeone has credited his own improvement to a renewed work ethic, saying he was in the gym every day over the summer – even while on his honeymoon.
He has spoken about using daily meditation to keep himself on track, as well as other techniques. Simeone claimed to have woken up before the Lazio game feeling not quite right, but corrected those sensations with mobility exercises and then concentration games using his computer.
Uiteindelik, he watched a Rocky movie. “I always do that when I need an extra little charge," hy het gesê. “There’s a phrase from Rocky I always think about: it says that life will often put you on your knees and the important thing isn’t how many times you hit, but how often you get hit and then get back up.”
Perhaps Juve’s players are the ones who need to hear that message after being knocked to the canvas twice in one week. Verona are no title contenders, but they head into another high-profile bout with the joint-leaders Napoli next Sunday knowing that with Simeone in this sort of form they will always have a puncher’s chance.