Ranieri pays for Juve's flirting with failure

Claudio Ranieri has been sacked as the coach of Juventus after a poor run of results. The youth team manager Ciro Ferrara has taken over, the club said yesterday.

The Turin side are a point above fourth-placed Fiorentina with two matches left and are in danger of slipping out of an automatic Champions League berth after a run of seven Serie A games without a win. Fourth place guarantees only a spot in the Champions League qualifying rounds.

"Juventus announce that Claudio Ranieri has been sacked as manager. From today the first team has been entrusted to Ciro Ferrara," a statement said, without confirming whether or not Ferrara was a short-term appointment.

Ferrara, 42, hung up his boots in 2005 after an 11-year career with the "Old Lady", during which he won five Serie A titles, out of a career total of seven, and the European Cup in 1996. The Italy international had started his career with hometown club, Napoli. He is currently assistant to the Italy manager, Marcello Lippi, as well as being in charge of the youth team at Juventus.

Ranieri, who was formerly coach at Chelsea at the start of the Roman Abramovich era, succeeded Didier Deschamps in June 2007 after Juventus were promoted back to Serie A following their demotion for match- fixing.

They finished third last season and made a decent start to this term, beating Real Madrid home and away in the Champions League but the recent bad run has shown no signs of ending.

Sunday's 2-2 home draw with Atalanta, played in an empty stadium after fans were banned for racist chanting, proved to be the last straw for the board, even though officials had previously said Ranieri would be safe until the end of the season.

The former Juventus midfielder Antonio Conte, who has led Bari to promotion to Serie A this season, is regarded as among the front-runners to take over full-time if Ferrara's appointment proves temporary.

The Roma coach, Luciano Spalletti, and Gian Piero Gasperini, who has said he is staying as Genoa manager, have also been linked with the job.

Ranieri had not been popular with fans for several weeks and has recently left the top striker Alessandro Del Piero out of his line-ups.

Apart from the forward Amauri, Juventus's purchases under Ranieri have generally disappointed, with the midfielders Tiago and Christian Poulsen especially struggling.

Italy's best-supported club are in the process of buying Werder Bremen's Brazilian playmaker Diego and re-signing Real Madrid and Italy defender Fabio Cannavaro for next season.