“It’s hard to find ways to improve when you have such a strong squad, but we’ll be vigilant when it comes to opportunities on the market’ is what you often heard from Beppe Marotta when he was asked about Juventus’ plans when a transfer window opened. Not surprisingly this mantra was continued, almost word for word, when Fabio Paratici was asked the same question recently.
This quote was one of the two things that came to mind when I first heard that Juventus was set to reach an agreement with Aaron Ramsey on a Bosman transfer, the other was the frequent misconception of the true cost of these types of signings. But let’s go in order and back to the quote on how difficult it is to improve a club that has won as much as Juventus recently- just because a deal is good, does it make the right deal?
When evaluating transfer moves, its’ very easy to look at things in the vacuum of the team that is welcoming a new player. It’s certainly a positive when you can say that new player X improves a team at a certain position, but ultimately a transfer move truly makes an impact when it bridges the gap with your competitors.
As an example in the summer of 2017 I constantly praised Milan’s new directors Fassone and MIrabelli for many of their acquisitions because I was looking at the moves through a limited lens. Sure Rodriguez, Kessie, Biglia, Conti, Andre Silva and company were upgrades over what Galliani was able to put together with loans and options to buy, but how many of these players could have been starters on the teams Milan was trying to catch up to in Serie A? The only one was definitely Bonucci since he was a starter on the top team prior to his arrival.
So while praising Juventus for signing Emre Can first and now almost certainly Aaron Ramsey on a “free transfer” (more on that inaccurate notion in a second) is a correct sentiment when you consider that they both better long term options than Sami Khedira, the better question is are they good enough to start for the top teams in Europe that Juventus are competing with for the Champions League- the trophy that now seems to matter the most to the club and certainly to their fan base.
Now I don’t watch enough of the Premier League to know the answer to that question, but I suggest to those who do to think of it in these terms. While Ramsey was linked to Barcelona and Paris St Germain and Manchester City pursued Emre Can in addition to Liverpool trying to keep him, would those clubs have asked them to play as an important role for them as Juventus is asking them to do in the next few years?
While I’ll let those who know Ramsey and Can much better than I answer for them, there’s no doubt that Cristiano Ronaldo’s addition is resounding Yes when we ask if he helps Juventus against Europe’s best. You can also make the case that while Miralem Pjanic and even Gonzalo Higuain aren’t as impactful players as Ronaldo, their acquisitions also came with the advantage of weakening Juve’s main rivals in Serie A at the time- on the bright side for Juve you can make a great case Joao Cancelo not only weakened Inter, he can genuinely bridge the gap with the Real Madrids of the world if he keeps playing like he has since arriving in Turin.
While a player’s ability is a subjective matter, the true cost of a Bosman signing isn’t. In Economics 101 they teach you that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”- meaning how the cost of the “free“ piece of candy you get at the bank, or the promotional item you get for attending a seminar is ultimately added on to the consumer. This is also true with football, sure with a Bosman signing you aren’t paying a transfer fee but you are paying elevated commissions to the player’s agent (who essentially plays the role of the selling club on a non Bosman transfer) and an inflated salary to the player to get him to pick your team.
This was spelled out in black and white (no pun intended) on the press release for Juventus’ acquisition of Emre Can. Because the current Serie A champions are a publicly traded company, they have to be transparent with their expenses and with Can they indicated he would cost 16 million over two years in agent commission- which impact Juventus’ balance sheets in almost exactly the same way as a transfer fee.
Now 16 million is certainly below market value for a midfielder who is entering his prime and whom Liverpool wants to keep and Manchester City has to sign, but he’s far from “free”. But there’s also another thing to consider, signing a Bosman player to an inflated salary has a domino effect to the rest of the squad- because they see a new player who is less established, it’s easy for the agents of the other players to demand a raise- we saw this with both Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira, and while the first extension was greeted with many positive reviews, the same cannot be said for the second.
Juventus deserves a lot of credit for going from a transient club where the likes of Pogba and Vidal increased their value only to be sold for big profits to being a destination club for sought after Bosman signing and super stars like Ronaldo, but to get to being a consistent Champions League contender, the bianconeri should also look to go beyond the good moves.