Juve’s summer options to strengthen the first XI

Everyone by now has heard that Juventus has an incomplete and incompetent midfield. The full-backs are not exactly top tier either.

Since Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and then Paul Pogba left while Claudio Marchisio suffered due to injury, the Bianconeri have struggled to rebuild their midfield. Perhaps only Miralem Pjanic- the Bosnian signing who joined from Roma- could be considered as a quality and suitable signing for Juve’s midfield since the departure of Pirlo, Vidal and Pogba.

Pjanic has since moved to Barcelona while the club bet heavily on two free signings Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey, both of whom have done little to justify the massive salary they still earn to this day.

However, the midfield is not the only concern for a club with big objectives and a grand vision. The full-backs have struggled to deliver with the situation becoming worse as Danilo looked unimpressive playing as a full-back under Maurizio Sarri. Danilo has steadied the ship this season under Andrea Pirlo but not as a right-back or left-back while Juan Cuadrado has been filling-in as a right-back.

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Below are some options to strengthen the squad including offloading some of the undesired players and fixing the problem in midfield and other positions. 

1) Target Lyon’s Aouar as well as Memphis Depay. Depay did not do well while with Manchester United, yet he has done well with Lyon and with the Dutch national team. He recently turned 27 and, more importantly, he can join on a free transfer. He is almost certainly going to demand a considerable salary but that can be addressed if certain players are sold.

As for Aouar, some of the options may include sending the likes of De Sciglio and Douglas Costa as well as a reasonable fee to secure his signing. Aouar has done well for Lyon and has been for the most part impressive in Europe whenever he played. Aouar turns 23 in June yet he already has experience playing in the Champions League as well as having four seasons of regular football with the French club.

2) Sign Manuel Locatelli in the summer. Locatelli will not be an inexpensive signing because his stock continues to rise. He is only 23-years-old. Signing him as well as Aouar may prove to be the needed boost to revamp Juve’s faltering midfield. He is featuring regularly for Italy now earning all of his six caps in 2020.

3) Free signings in summer of 2021. There is a long list of players available on a free transfer this summer, yet clearly the club cannot just jump to sign as many of them because we have seen what has transpired with Ramsey and even Rabiot.

On paper Sergio Aguero may sound like a bad idea because he is turning 33 and has had injury and fitness problems last season as well as for the majority of this campaign. Could he turn a corner and perhaps provide 18 to 24 months of quality football and goals? It is possible but he should not be a priority.

Another risky name is that of Sergio Ramos- the Real Madrid veteran- who has won every trophy at club level and almost all there is to win with the national team. Sadly it should have been Giorgio Chiellini providing the in-game advice and helping Matthijs de Ligt continue to rise as a Colossus in defense. Unfortunately Chiellini spends more time rehabilitating than playing so the door could be open for a Ramos-Ronaldo (CR7) reunion in Turin. Ramos is not a priority unless the club is desperate to win the Champions League next season because the Spaniard can add experience, leadership and (frankly) deception too.

Liverpool’s Georginio Wijnaldum is an interesting option who does not get enough attention but he is also available in the summer. Could he be on his way to Turin just as Emre Can before him? If it happens, fans will be hoping he will have a much greater impact than Can. It is uncertain whether management will consider him but who could have predicted Juve will sign Can before it officially happened?

Finally, two other names spring to mind and both can be useful for the short-term and beyond. The first is Bayern Munich’s David Alaba who can be quite useful as a left-back or can serve as a centre-back. Alaba would bring plenty of experience and has the winning mentality but can Juve afford his salary demands?

The other name is none other than Milan’s young goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. He just turned 22 yet he already has over 200 league appearances and over 20 (Azzurri) caps. That could be a sensational signing as it may also unsettle a future contender in Milan. It would send a strong signal to Juve’s challengers that the club is ready and willing to delve deep in the transfer market to remain at the top.

This summer transfer campaign may turn out to be the club’s most important one in years because the future of Cristiano Ronaldo is up for discussion as well. Will CR7 extend his contract for a further year or two? If so, at what salary range? That could also prove detrimental financially to the club’s wage structure. Keep in mind CR7 is a big reason why Juve’s popularity has skyrocketed worldwide and one of the key reasons we see people wearing the Juve kit- often with the number 7 on the back.

The ball is in the management’s court and they cannot waste this summer because this would set the club years behind if the wrong decisions are made.

How to fix Juve’s problems

A winning cycle must come to an end. Even a highly successful management team makes mistakes. Modern football puts emphasis on having at least a couple of elite midfielders and having quality fullbacks to achieve success on the big stage. All three statements above are accurate.

The same statements above are also applicable to Juventus in one way or another, yet our focus today is not on the statements above but rather on what can be done to halt this decline by Juve.

Before discussing some of the ways to address Juve’s problems, have a look at a sample of the fine products and designs by https://twitter.com/Striped_Hearts.

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What can be done (realistically & in general) to fix Juve’s problems:

1. Offload the players who are injury prone: 

For a club of Juve’s stature, the medical staff is either poor or management has turned a blind eye on the medical history of a number of players. Aaron Ramsey, Mattia De Sciglio and Douglas Costa are injury prone players and have often had fitness problems. They must be moved whether via simple sale or as part of a deal to get a better player.

France’s Lyon could be a club interested in one or more of the players above, and Juve have shown interest in signing Lyon’s Houssem Aouar. Aouar fits the criteria the Bianconeri are desperately looking for: he is still only 22 years old, he has experience in the Champions League and he has shown potential whenever he played in Europe.

For those claiming he has little experience, Houssem has already played as a regular for Lyon for almost four seasons now. Still, on his own Aouar would not be enough to rejuvenate the squad.

2. Sell the players who are underperforming:

That is a tricky one because Juve have several players who are either not performing well or have been far too inconsistent to be trusted with playing against the bigger sides in Serie A or to compete in a match in the Champions League. This list includes the likes of Rodrigo Bentancur, Adrien Rabiot, Alex Sandro, Leonardo Bonucci and so forth. Bonucci will likely remain with the club and Giorgio Chiellini is not included in this list because he will likely retire this summer or the next one as a Juve player.

3. Begin again the search for Bargain deals:

Juve’s current successful cycle was based on a solid foundation with smart financial moves and bargain signings- whether on a free transfer or for a relatively low fee. Juve went away from that approach from the moment they signed Gonzalo Higuain in their desperate quest to establish themselves as a force in Europe. Higuain could not deliver the Champions League but that was always going to be a difficult task when the club was losing quality players almost every summer and the midfield issues were often given less attention than required.

The club’s best midfield signing in the last four to five years- Miralem Pjanic- is no longer with the club yet even the Bosnian midfielder struggled during his last season with the club before being traded for Barcelona’s Arthur. Otherwise most off the signings range from the poor to the mediocre at best when assessing their quality and influence- Hernanes, Stefano Sturaro, Mario Lemina and Roberto Pereyra just to name a few.

4. Reality must prevail & a thorough plan must be applied

It is very easy to sit down and pretend the likes of Ramsey and Douglas Costa can demand a decent fee because it is well established that both players have had a number of fitness problems and they are already over 30-years-old.

What management must do is to sit down and carefully assess the profile of every squad member- the benefits of keeping such a player as opposed to selling him or loaning him out. Under the current economic climate, greatly affected by Covid-19, this will make matters even more difficult for the club.

Juve must strengthen the midfield with two quality signings- players who can retain possession but also pass forward and create as opposed to just passing sideways and backwards. In addition, Juve must sign on elite full-back. Danilo as a full-back was disappointing last season yet this campaign- under Andrea Pirlo- he has been consistent. The issue is Danilo is not playing as a full-back hence that could partially explain why he has become more consistent.

Juan Cuadrado has been deployed as a right-back but he turns 33 before the end of this season. The fact Cuadrado has been the club’s best full-back is a testimony to how mediocre Juve’s full-backs are. De Sciglio is on loan at Lyon, Danilo has been used more centrally and Alex Sandro has been in and out of the squad due to injury but he does seem like a player who is worn-out. Gianluca Frabotta is just 21-years-old and has the desire to improve but he is still far from a consistent or proven entity.

If this happens to be Fantasy Serie A football then one can surely offload Alex Sandro, Bonucci, Rabiot, Ramsey, Bentancur, Rugani, Douglas Costa and De Sciglio but reality says otherwise. It will not be easy to sell some of the names mentioned above.

Of course many Juve fans would also like to see Federico Bernardeschi gone; however, what the fans desire is not always something easy to implement. He is the perfect example of a player who has lost his way and seems to be playing without any confidence. The last match worthy of note for Bernardeschi happens to be the famous 3-0 win over Atletico Madrid when CR7 registered his emphatic hat-trick after being taunted in Madrid.

This summer will be a decisive one and most certainly some of the names mentioned above must be shown the exit door.

Are Footballers Paid Too Much?

Football has found itself once again at the center of a media storm this week as critics have been quick to lambast players for their perceived failure to adhere to social distancing on the pitch.

The same criticism it must be said, which was not levelled at professional rugby players as they crouched, touched and engaged in the Autumn Nations Cup.

The criticism which is so often levelled at football feels increasingly as though it comes from a place of classism, particularly in the United Kingdom. These young working-class footballers who have devoted their entire young life to their profession and are seemingly begrudged the financial rewards that their endeavors entitle them to.

In the following sections we will debunk the many myths surrounding a footballer’s wages and attempt to conclusively answer whether they are paid too much or not.

The Top 1%

When someone wants to bemoan the amount of money that footballers make, they invariably pluck an example from the top 1%. No-one will start that argument by highlighting Fleetwood Town winger Wes Burns who earns £72,000 a year before tax.

No, it’s far easier to point to someone like Lionel Messi, who earned £26 million from his basic salary last year. On the face of it, the wages earned by the top 1% in football by stars such as Messi look preposterous.

However, when you factor in the money that Lionel Messi has generated for Barcelona over the years, his salary doesn’t look anywhere near as preposterous. Between 2018 and 2019 Barcelona generated almost $1 billion in revenues.

The majority of that (84%) came from broadcasting rights and commercial deals which were undoubtedly as lucrative as they were because of Lionel Messi. Had the famous number 10 shirt been worn by Wes Burns, Barcelona’s revenues would have been nowhere as high.

It could be argued in fact, that the top 1% of footballers do not earn enough considering the value that they bring to their clubs. Players and players alone fuel the influx of cash into the sport that comes from football betting, broadcast rights and commercial deals.

There are People Struggling

In the Spring of 2020 Health Minister Matt Hancock stuck the boot into footballers when he said, “I think the first thing that Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution, take a pay cut and play their part.”

At the heart of Hancock’s argument was the belief that people in this country were struggling financially, and as such footballers should recognize that and donate a portion of their salaries to the NHS. What Hancock was effectively outlining was a fair taxation system, something which is already in place.

Every person in the UK who earns over £50,001 a year must pay a minimum of 40% tax on earnings over that threshold, which includes the majority of Premier League footballers. As a result of this tax limit, Premier League footballers paid over £1.3 billion in tax last year.

And that is considerably more than Somerset Capital Management – a fund management company partly owned by Jacob Rees-Mogg – paid last year despite holding over $7 billion in assets. It is also a lot more than billionaire Tory Peer Lord Ashcroft has ever paid in tax.

Double standards and self-interest aside, it is clear to see that the argument that footballers should be doing more people who are struggling is facile. That is the job of the government, not individuals.

The fact that Premier League players bandied together under the #PlayersInitiative last year to donate £200 million to the NHS should be seen as a shocking indictment of the government. If the health service was funded properly in the first place, it would not have to rely on the generosity of sportsmen.

Football isn’t a Job for Life

When we think of footballers and their wages, we usually cast our minds to the top players in the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A or the Bundesliga. In reality, life for the average footballer is usually spent in the lower divisions.

Down there the wages do not even come close to those earned by Messi or Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. As alluded to earlier in the article, the average League One footballer like Wes Burns earns between £50,000 and £100,000 a year.

Those earnings are limited too, with most footballers earning salaries like that in the middle of their careers. When they are starting out in the game their wages are markedly lower, and likewise when they are nearing the end of their careers, their wages drop off too.

This means that the average footballer has roughly 5-7 years of top earning potential, for a career that has required far more work and dedication than similarly paid career paths.

For example, to become a doctor you have to dedicate 7 years of study and hard work to be earning as much as a League One footballer. From this point on, earning potential remains pretty stable for 30 or 40 years.

Whereas footballers, who have dedicated their lives to the game from as early an age as 6 or 7, only have half a dozen years of high earning potential. After this, when they retire, they are left with no transferrable skills and as a result, very limited career paths.

To say that the wages of average footballers are inflated is to do a disservice to the footballers who have put in the effort to get to where they are.

In Summary

Footballers are in general paid well for the work they do, but their salary is often commensurate to their skill and market value. At the top of the scale, huge commercial entities like Messi and Cristiano- just think of the CR7 brand- bring in more in terms of revenues than they take out in salaries.

Lower down the scale, footballers are rewarded for their life commitment to the game with good salaries that correlate to their relatively short careers.

Finally, the most striking point about footballers’ wages is that the game is awash with money. This is because people all over the world adore football and will pay to watch their favorite team or players in action. Football is the main sport in most of the countries around the world with a few exceptions such as the United States…

If footballers – who are the main reason for spectators – were to take lower salaries, which ‘deserving’ person or persons would reap the financial rewards of the game? Would it be the owners or the CEO? The chairman perhaps, or the top director?

Defeat to Inter highlights Juve’s problems

Juventus currently lie in 5th place in Serie A yet the most troubling aspect is being a massive 10 points behind league leaders Milan. However, not all hope is gone in the club’s quest to seek a 10th consecutive league title because Juventus have a game in hand on the league leaders and there is at least half of the league’s fixtures left to play for. So where has it all gone wrong and what can be done to fix the Bianconeri’s problems?

Discipline: One troubling aspect this season has been the accumulation of red cards- some unwarranted while others were silly to say the least. The two red cards which perhaps caused the most damage came against Fiorentina- facilitating a 0-3 home loss to the Florence based side- and the one in the capital leading to a 2-2 draw with Roma.

Against Fiorentina, Juan Cuadrado was guilty of the most ridiculous red card since his challenge came in or around the opponent’s penalty area. The reasons behind this flurry of red must be addressed by both management and coach Andrea Pirlo. The club must institute fines and other harsh measures so this negative aspect can be curbed.

Coaching & Tactics: There is no doubt Pirlo was one of the greatest players of his generation and probably one of the best three midfielders from the last 20 years. I’d go as far as to rank second only to Spain’s hero Andres Iniesta (again counting only the last two decades).

Pirlo helped Milan win in Europe and domestically and even more impressively went on to help Juve return to glory after his previous club cast him aside. He also was instrumental to Italy’s success in World Cup 2006 and was influential when the Italians reached the final of Euro 2012. However, as a coach, Pirlo has done nothing so far and is not a proven entity.

There is a huge difference between being a great player and an elite coach. There are plenty of cases where important players have turned out to be a failure as coaches and vice versa.

Pirlo’s substitutions have come late in certain games while his initial XI and his tactics have proven to be questionable at best on multiple occasions. Pirlo is learning on the job but this is something a club of Juve’s stature cannot afford if the objective is to challenge on all fronts.

Against Inter, Pirlo’s starting XI and his approach were perhaps as guilty of everything positive the impressive duo Nicolo Barella and Achraf Hakimi did against Juve. Simply put, Pirlo needs to adapt to the players available at his disposal. He needs to bring out the best in them and use a system which does that as opposed to forcing them out of their comfort zone.

Defensive Concerns & Goal Difference: One of the foundations of the club’s current run of success has been their defensive prowess and the ability to almost guarantee a win after taking the lead- even if a narrow 1-0 advantage.

The defensive issues started under former coach Max Allegri’s last 18 months and became even more apparent under last season’s boss Maurizio Sarri and now under Pirlo. If you look at the league table last season, then you can easily say Juve had the 3rd best defensive record after Inter & Lazio yet the goal difference for Sarri’s men was 4th behind Atalanta, Inter and Lazio.

The team seems incapable of dealing with any sort of crosses and set-pieces. While this season the club conceded a header from former player Arturo Vidal (against Inter), the Bianconeri look susceptible whenever opponents have a corner, a free-kick or they put in a cross against the defenders.

The absence of young star Matthijs de Ligt due to recovery from injury (and surgery) first and then more recently due to Covid has not helped but above all the club’s defensive rock Giorgio Chiellini is well into his last months of playing football. Chiellini can no longer stay fit and has become even more injury prone. If Pirlo was one of the best midfielders of the last 20 years, then Chiellini has surely been one of the best centre-backs over the last 12 years along with Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos and former Atletico Madrid captain Diego Godin.

The Bonucci Problem: Leonardo Bonucci has not been the same defender since Cardiff 2017 and that was highlighted during his only season with Milan before his return to Turin. Since returning, Bonucci has had only a few solid performances while this season his defending has been poor to put it nicely.

What is even worse is the fact that Bonucci starting has meant Turkish defender Merih Demiral has played less and the improving full-back (used mostly as a centre-back this season) Danilo has had to do too much while the club copes with Chiellini’s and de Ligt’s absence. Almost every centre-back has had to cover for Bonucci’s mistakes this season.

What is more alarming is the fact Bonucci’s trademark long passes and even at times his forays forward have become such a rarity. So what justifies starting Bonucci over someone who is more aggressive and less error prone as Demiral? Is it seniority? Is it his past with the club? Is it a bias by coach Pirlo who was his former teammate when Bonucci had his peak days? Playing Bonucci raises several questions because Juve look fragile whenever he is targeted and exposed by his opponents. He has become a weak link.

Club’s Management: While left for last, this is perhaps Juve’s greatest worry at the moment because management- particularly Fabio Paratici and those who work with him- has the club running in the wrong direction.

First of all, Juve’s glaring concerns at full-back (particularly the left-back position) have not been addressed since Cardif 2017. Alex Sandro has stagnated since the 1-4 defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League final yet he has remained as the club’s only option as full-back with no one challenging him either because management chose not to sign a left-back or because no one else is worthy of starting in his place.

While Luca Pellegrini is unproven at the big stage, he was immediately loaned out instead of being given an opportunity to push Sandro. The starter against Inter Gianluca Frabotta does not seem to have anything on Pellegrini yet the latter was inexplicably shipped out on loan to Genoa. In fact Pellegrini has more Serie A experience than Frabotta.

Perhaps management’s biggest error is trying to paper over the weaknesses in midfield. Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba, Claudio Marchisio and of course Andrea Pirlo were never replaced in way or another. It’s near impossible to replace them as a whole unit, but at least signing a couple of elite midfielders would have helped. Instead, only Miralem Pjanic could be considered as an established and quality midfield signing when he joined Juve from Roma. He initially did well before he faltered in his last 18 months.

Without going into detail because the list of midfielders signed to complement or replace the departed Pirlo, Vidal, Pogba and Marchisio includes some very mediocre players including Stefano Sturaro, Mario Lemina, Hernanes and Tomas Rincon.

Even the two signings who were supposed to lift the club in 2019 Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey have come at a heavy cost. While both joined as free signings, they are both among the top earners in terms of salary in the Italian league. This means it is also hard to sell them and find a potential new club if they need to be moved.

Ramsey has the skills and can be a delight to watch but he is often unfit and the stats show he cannot play more than 60 minutes so signing him to begin with was a massive gamble. As show in the graph below, only 2 of his starts saw him play at least 90 minutes this season:

As for Rodrigo Bentancur, well he has stagnated and has shown little improvement during this season. In fact, Bentancur’s most telling contribution this season has been the accumulation of yellow cards. He already has 4 yellow cards in league play compared to 9 yellow cards for the entirety of the previous league season.

Only Weston Mckennie has shown great potential and has performed well in a number of games in Serie A and the Champions League. However, he needs to play regularly to grow into a consistent and reliable option for Juve’s midfield. At least he is heading in the right direction. The same cannot be said of Juve’s other off-season signing Arthur who joined from Barcelona (in the deal to offload Pjanic) and has not impressed despite his clear ability to keep possession and move well in tight spaces and when marked by an opponent.

Against Inter, the two goals came from midfielders- Vidal and Barella- while Juve’s midfielders looked inept and incapable of tracking their opposing midfielders who were able to freely roam and score from two opportunities presented to them. In fact, Barella was able to dictate play and perform almost as he wished while the likes of Rabiot and Bentancur looked both uninspired and toothless.

Why did Juve not make a move for Sassuolo’s impressive midfielder Manuel Locatelli who not only is a regular for his club but has also grown into a reliable midfielder for the Italian national team under Roberto Mancini. Locatelli played 6 times for the rejuvenated Azzurri in 2020. Juve could have perhaps tempted his club to sell in exchange for players or perhaps a fee and one player of Sassuolo’s choosing from the likes of Mattia De Sciglio, Daniele Rugani, Luca Pellegrini, Gianluca Frabotta etc…

I would not mention the likes of Douglas Costa because he earns a massive salary (for what he provides) and he probably does not fit the profile of players they would sign on top of the fact Douglas may want to player for a bigger club.

So management has erred by overlooking the dire need for a left-back as well as not strengthening the midfield with at least one quality midfielder who can make a difference and help Juve compete better in Europe. Another name linked with Juve is Lyon’s Houssem Aouar who can solve many of the club’s issues from retaining possession to creating on top of being young and experienced enough after several impressive appearances for Lyon in both Ligue 1 and the Champions League.

A main hurdle to signing Aouar is obviously the fee involved, but perhaps Juve could tempt Lyon by negotiating a move of certain players in the opposite direction- someone such as the aforementioned Douglas Costa or even Federico Bernardeschi and Sami Khedira (expiring contract soon). Other options may include sending out someone as Dejan Kulusevski on loan for a season in return for facilitating the move of Aouar to Turin.

Juve have also an opportunity to sign someone such as Lyon’s other star Memphis Depay who will be out of contract in the summer of 2021 yet the club continues to be linked with older, makeshift and unimpressive attackers.

There is no doubt another problem created by management’s mistakes is the financial situation. The club cannot afford to spend without selling first. Obviously signing players on a free transfer helps but such moves are often negated when you are paying massive annual salaries to the free signings (again examples are Ramsey and Rabiot).

The club has also moved into the direction of signing stars, expensive ones for that matter, over methodical and opportune signings that were the hallmark of Juve’s rebuilding and rejuvenation process early on in the current successful era. There are plenty of examples including Andrea Barzagli (now retired), Pirlo (mentioned previously) and Paul Pogba as well as the key signings of Vidal and Carlos Tevez who came for relatively low fees.

So the club has signed the world’s biggest sport brand in Cristiano Ronaldo and the best young centre-back in the world in de Ligt but both came at a very high cost. Surprisingly, the club did not sign another high profile player (upcoming star just as de Ligt) in the form of BVB’s young star Erling Braut Haaland.

Another mistake by management was the initial hiring of Maurizio Sarri- his profile certainly does not fit with the ethos and the standards set by Juve over the past 8 seasons prior to his signing. He was expected to revolutionize the club’s performances yet he stumbled to the league title relying heavily on the likes of superstar Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and de Ligt.

The club had to fire Sarri after his seemingly distant relationship with a number of the squad’s players, the poor run in Europe (exit at hands of none other than Lyon) and the unimpressive performance throughout the season with very few exceptions, including that impressive 2-0 win over Inter punctuated by Dybala’s delightful goal.

The club compounded the situation above by hastily assigning the novice Pirlo as the next coach. However, for management Pirlo serves as the perfect ploy because if Juve fail then he can serve as a scapegoat while his initial hiring would be accepted by the club’s fans since he is a beloved figure based on the not so distant successes under both Antonio Conte and Max Allegri. In addition, Pirlo’s hiring and potential firing would not cost the club’s coffers anything worthy of note when compared to Sarri’s wages (by the way Juve continue to pay his salary).

Hence, it is a trifecta of errors by management summed up by three key elements which are the missteps in the transfer market, the hasty hiring for the coaching position last summer and this one and of course the financial constraints inflicted on the club due to the management’s policies.

Will management rectify the mistakes done since 2017? In fact, the club began to move away from a trusted process even before the disaster in Cardiff in 2017. Gonzalo Higuain was one example- the record signing by an Italian club prior to the addition of superstar Ronaldo by the Bianconeri of course. Higuain- just as CR7 after him- was signed to expedite Juve’s rise in Europe and to supposedly bring the Champions League trophy back to Turin.

Has either move turned out to be a success? That is a divisive topic depending on how fans perceived the signing of Higuain- many were for it but there are some who were against it. Higuain did not help deliver the much desired European trophy. The same applies to the signing of CR7 with the majority being for it yet there are some who are  against splashing such massive sums that could in turn be detrimental to reinforcing other positions in the squad such as the midfield.

The same dilemma arises when questioning whether management’s philosophy in recent years- in terms of transfer campaigns, branding and financial planning- has yielded the desired outcome or perhaps turned hostage the club’s future standing.

Time will tell… and obviously how far Juve will go in Europe will have a big say in this assessment.

Is winning Serie A enough for Cristiano Ronaldo as he winds down at Juventus?

The Italian football season is set to restart following the well documented Covid-19 pandemic- which greatly affected the Italian peninsula. The date is set for June 20th, and Juventus, the current champions, could be heading for a historic 9th league title in a row.

Their superstar player is of course Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the true modern great players, but is the former Real Madrid player’s career winding down at the Old Lady? Will Ronaldo be satisfied without winning the full range of trophies after moving to Turin? Some may even say, does he regret leaving Real Madrid where he probably had a better chance of winning the Champions League again? In hindsight there could well be an argument for all that.

The question is what does Ronaldo want from the game? There is no simple answer because CR7 is looking to create more history. If we go back to Euro 2016 and asked Ronaldo if winning the European Championship was his crowning achievement, then surely the answer would be yes. This is another great example of Ronaldo creating history. Portugal winning their first ever silverware was and is a major statement.

Portugal had come close before particularly when they hosted the Euros in 2004, their star player that year was Luis Figo but in the final they lost 1-0 to the defend-first approach used by the Greeks. In France in 2016, it all came together for the Portuguese and Ronaldo finally won a major tournament with his country. Prior to that point he was heading for a similar theme as Lionel Messi, namely being a great club player but consistently coming up short with the national side. The sheer joy on his face when Portugal won was all too visible. It meant something much more than a club trophy for him, in a nutshell it was as if he had won something for the first time.

Now imagine Portugal had dominated for many years and this was, for example their 3rd silverware in a decade. True it would be special but for Ronaldo it wouldn’t be unique, not as unique as winning for the first time and being the driving factor in helping his side to win for the first time.

Ronaldo does two things- what motivates him the most is scoring goals and winning the big trophies. So if Juventus can shrug off Lazio, the only realistic team that can deny Juve this season, then the Bianconeri will have won the league 9 times in a row with back to back titles for Ronaldo. But is that really special for him? Is that enough for CR7? True it is for the club as they tear up the record books and for Ronaldo it is yet another trophy to mark down on his CV but let’s face it it is not as special as winning the Champions League with the Old Lady.

Ronaldo in effect was brought in to Juventus to deliver the Champions League after winning the competition 4 times with Real Madrid and once with Manchester United. Winning league titles and domestic cups is great but Ronaldo would certainly feel a big hole in his move to Italy if he couldn’t deliver the Champions League to a club which has been waiting for 24 years.

And that is the key here, winning the Champions League with Juve would be as important in many aspects as winning the European Championship with Portugal and winning the 3 Champions League trophies in a row with Real Madrid. It would feel more like an achievement bringing home a trophy to Turin that the Italian giants have not won since 1996 (rather than a league title).

Trophies are great of course but Ronaldo has set that personal bar of success so high that one wonders if the Champions League is beyond the club Ronaldo joined?

Time is moving on too and Ronaldo is 35. He’s achieved almost everything in his career and is going to be remembered as one of the greats. But if he leaves Italy without ‘Ol Big Ears’ as they affectionately call the Champions League trophy he will be the first to be upset.

Fan Zone: Enrico covers many Juventus topics including legends Buffon & Del Piero

In the latest Q&A, we welcome Enrico Passarella, a writer who covers diligently the Italian league, in particular fantasy football and transfer news. If you want the latest injury news as well as other updates regarding Serie A then you should give Enrico a follow on Twitter @Guardalinee. You will not regret it.

Check out the Q&A’s first segment below and read what Enrico has to say about legends such as Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon and others. Feel free to reach out to both Enrico and @RamiSoufi on their respective Twitter account. You should scroll below and look for Enrico’s take on Juve’s all-time best player!

1) Name your 3 favorite Juve players, and tell us why?

Gianluigi Buffon: This is a particularly easy one. I was a goalkeeper when I was a kid and that plays a huge role. It is very simple, I always looked up to him and felt a strong
connection because of playing in a similar position on the field despite of course the gap in levels.

Alessandro Del Piero: This is another simple choice. He is an undisputed icon for all things Juventus. He is one of those star players who brought endless joy to the Juve fan base.

Giorgio Chiellini: I always loved his grit and charisma. I absolutely admired the way he went toe-to-toe with the best opponents while still setting the tone for the whole squad, particularly in key matches.

2) From the current squad, list your favorite players per position & state why? 

Among defenders, I am going with Chiellini again for the reasons I just mentioned a short while ago. I feel confident Matthijs de Ligt can and will fill the void once the captain retires.

In midfield, Rodrigo Bentancur is my choice. Juve can always count on his contribution, including his fair share of yellow cards, and he has shown exponential growth since joining the club. He already has about 30 caps for Uruguay.

In attack, it must be Paulo Dybala. He is truly a joy to watch when he is able to express himself and when he is in good form. I would add that he is a true difference-maker and I strongly believe he can still improve to get to another level.

3) Name the most important Juve triumph in your lifetime, and explain why?

The first Scudetto under Antonio Conte back in 2011 because it meant Juve were finally back where they belong after several difficult years. It was also an incredible achievement as the squad was inferior when compared to other title contenders. At the end, the players pulled it off, with much of it thanks to their drive and perseverance.

4) Choose your favorite Juve match. Why?

No doubt when talking about this one. It is Juventus-Real Madrid in the semifinals of the Champions League in 2003 with the Bianconeri winning 3-1. Juve performed a remarkable comeback against a legendary team and the best Bianconeri players, Del Piero, David Trezeguet and Pavel Nedved scored while our number one Buffon saved a penalty. So all the key players from that squad chipped in on that memorable night. I cannot stress enough how it was a truly magical night.

5) Choose two from Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal for your midfield, and state why?

I am definitely picking Pirlo and Vidal -both unique contributors. There is really nobody like Pirlo, who remains unmatched for the way he was able to pull the strings and dictate the tempo with his class and vision. Vidal was an animal in his prime, he embodied the fighting spirit of the club and it was a gut punch when he decided to leave.

6) What are Juve’s weaknesses? Many focus on the midfield while some say it is the lack of creativity when Dybala is not playing. Your thoughts?

The current fullbacks are not great but the biggest issue lies in the midfield- an area that is too dependent on Miralem Pjanic from a creative standpoint. To make matters worse,  Pjanic has been subpar this year, and does not provide much scoring in any case.

Summer signings Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot were supposed to fix that, but the former has been too injury prone and the latter has yet to really settle in. It is another cautionary tale when it comes to signing free players as it can backfire too. I can see a major investment coming in to fill the gaps in midfield if Juve plan to compete regularly in Europe.

7) Who is the best player to ever wear the Juve shirt?

In the modern era I would confidently say a certain Cristiano Ronaldo. His achievements speak louder than all the words of praise any of us can give. In the past, I’d single out Michel Platini. The Frenchman achieved a lot on both the individual and team level while with the Bianconeri. Still, Buffon’s standing in the history of the sport should not be underestimated so his is a name we must always keep in mind. I am not going to single out one name, so I would let my fellow Juventini ponder on this point.

Fan Zone: Elio returns to talk Juve in Europe, coaches and CR7

Elio Salerno is back for the second segment of the Q&A. In the initial Q&A, Elio discussed club legends Pavel Nedved and Alessandro Del Piero as well as current icons Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini.

This time around the focus is on the Champions League as well as Juve’s coaches and Cristiano Ronaldo. As we have witnessed from the first Q&A and earlier exchanges, Elio is generous with his feedback and he talks in detail about his beloved Juventus. Will this be the season Juve win the Champions League? And has Cristiano Ronaldo impressed enough at Juve? Elio discusses all the points above and more in the sections below…

1) If European competition returns, will Juve overturn the result against Lyon? How confident are you?

Now that French football has been suspended I guess it is hard to say how this will play out. If football does return, will Lyon play the game? Will they be in a position to? I think so much has changed between the first leg and now. You would have to say Juve would do it because simply put they have to.

2) One team you’d like Juve to avoid meeting in the Knock-out stages of the Champions League?

I would have said Liverpool but they are out so I’d certainly go with Bayern Munich and perhaps PSG because of their pace going forward. They both appear to have the proper balance in their starting lineup, particularly the Germans. Aside from that, I do not think there is a standout candidate and again it will come down to circumstances- what team is in the best condition at the right moment.

3) Do you believe Juve will win the Champions League if they make the final?

Once they get there, of course they can win it. We all know Juve’s record in the finals. We have reason to be critical of their final performances in years prior to the most recent two. Reality is they were beaten by superior teams in 2015 and 2017- there weren’t any teams at the level of the Barcelona and Real Madrid teams at the time and even today.

4)  If the fee, club rivalries, availability etc are not an issue, who’s the one player you’d like Juve to sign?

What a question! I am torn between my personal preference for central midfield players like Frenkie de Jong and Toni Kroos. However, I would have to go with Kylian Mbappe. He is a phenomenon, a frightening match winner who still has years to come at the top of the game.

5)  What do you make of Ronaldo’s career at Juve so far?

If we say anything other than great then we are being too picky. It is easy to look at his transfer fee and wages etc. I expect the most but the reality is not even Ronaldo can make up for the gaps in this team. He has delivered on every front- on and off the pitch he has given the club what they need. There can be no complaints about CR7, it is a pleasure to watch him wearing the Bianconeri shirt.

6) Would you pick Antonio Conte, Max Allegri or Maurizio Sarri as coach, and why?

I would pick Mister Allegri every day, he is the complete package. He is the ideal representative for a football club, professional in his manner and an intelligent communicator.

As a coach he is adaptable, a winner and knows how to get the best out of a group, even if there are significant changes from year to year. He was unfairly criticized by many Juve fans, but he did what he had to do to win despite fundamental pieces being taken away from his squad.

In this first year at Juve, with a near complete team they played good football- enjoyable to watch and beyond that season he never had that luxury again. Instead, he was forced to adapt, yet still maintained a competitive edge across all competitions. He was an excellent coach.

7)  Who is your captain and his backup from among Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Paulo Dybala, Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic and why?

Chiellini is the captain and should remain the captain as I mentioned previously he is the ideal person and player to lead the squad. Next should be Dybala, I think too much has happened with Bonucci for him to have that privilege while Dybala has invested himself in the club, wants to be a Juventino and I think this resonates with the fans.

8)  Who is the best foreigner to ever play for Juve?

I would have to go again with Nedved for all the reasons I mentioned before. He dedicated many years to Juve and still has a special place and an important role at the club.

If we are talking all-time, then it is hard for me to assess the likes of Omar Sivori, Michel Platini & of course John Charles. I was never privileged enough to experience any of those legends and without having that connection with them I couldn’t separate them.

Fan Zone: Elio on Nedved, Pirlo, Marchisio and of course Del Piero!

In the latest Q&A, Elio Salerno- a football writer and contributor- discusses his love affair with Italy’s Old Lady, Juventus. Elio talks in detail about legends such as Alessandro Del Piero and Pavel Nedved as well as current stars like fan favorite Paulo Dybala.

Some of his answers may surprise you but Elio methodically proceeds to explain why he made certain choices- particularly that of Blaise Matuidi. Below is the first part of the Q&A:

1) Name your 3 all-time favorite Juve players, and why?

Alessandro Del Piero – This is the obvious answer for me. Del Piero is probably the name the majority of Juve fans would choose. Watching him when I was a young boy inspired me. He is the reason I support Juve. The person and the player were truly iconic and one of a kind. Obviously, the career he had also speaks for itself.

Gianluigi Buffon – This was a close call between Giorgio Chiellini and Buffon. I really cannot separate them. However, Buffon’s longevity and ability to play through different eras of the game while staying in the conversation as one of the world’s best goalkeepers sets him apart. It is an incredible achievement. He has brought so many qualities to the club over the years on and off the pitch. He has collected a large number of trophies and showed unquestionable loyalty even during the darkest of times.

Pavel Nedved – What a player! The level of intensity and ferocity at which Nedved played were admirable. He was a winner and a fighter but also had boundless quality with not one but both feet. A creator and scorer of wonderful goals, he is a timeless player & would be at home in the modern game. The Bianconeri could do with a player of his versatility now.

2) From the current squad, name your favorite Juve player by position (DEF/MID/ATT).

DEF: Chiellini – The captain, the leader and the squad’s foundation. It is a pleasure to watch the passion he defends with. The enjoyment he takes out of thwarting attacks puts a smile on your face. As a fan, he is the example you want at the top of your squad. I say enjoy him before he retires.

MID:  Blaise Matuidi – It is not easy to pick a midfield player out of the current group but, and surprisingly so, I am going with Blaise Matuidi. I am sure very, very few fans would pick him. On face value, Blaise isn’t the type of player I’d enjoy watching. I would not even choose to have him on my team but you cannot belittle what he does and what he brings to the table. Yes he has the obvious flaws but he is arguably the only Juve midfielder who offers consistency- he isn’t going to let you down and at the moment it is undeniable that Juve are better when he is in the starting lineup.

ATT: Paulo Dybala – La Joya has been a favorite of mine from the day he arrived. Yes he has had his problems in recent seasons but his love for Juve is apparent and it is a trait we all want from our number 10. Dybala’s name in the Starting XI always bring joy to my heart. The way he controls the ball so smoothly and can change the course of a game in one magical moment is the reason why we watch football. I hope Juve can build a more complete team because Dybala has more to bring.

3) Name Juve’s most important moment in your lifetime, and why?

It has to be the first Scudetto of the current historic run- it came under Antonio Conte. After everything that happened and everything that has followed this was a pivotal moment and a welcome, much needed success. It felt like the beginning of something special and it has turned out to be the case.

4) Pick your favorite Juve match, and why?

The return leg of the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid in 2003. Everything about that night was perfectly scripted except for the Nedved yellow card!!! Where to start? The Delle Alpi was on fire. That Juve team, the Del Piero & Nedved goals and of course the Buffon penalty save on Luis Figo’s attempt. The game had it all.

5) Pick two from Marchisio, Pirlo, Pogba, and Vidal for your midfield, and why?

It has to be Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio. Pirlo is unique, there won’t be another Pirlo. To watch him in full flight is football poetry. As for Marchisio, aside from what he means to Juventus and the fans, he was an underrated and superb midfield player. He was the glue in almost any midfield set-up, his versatility and ability to adapt allowed for others to shine and he was a huge asset to the coaches and the team.

6) What are Juve’s weaknesses? Is it the right-back position or the midfield which is under constant scrutiny? 

The glaring weakness is in midfield and it has been since 2015. It is the primary area that needs addressing and needs an injection of youth and energy. Juve need midfielders who have a more complete game combined with strong physical characteristics.

Beyond that, do the full back areas need an upgrade? Yes but it isn’t a significant problem and there aren’t many great or available full backs in Europe so I would not waste time in that area unless it is to sell one who is already in the squad.

I also would add that Sarri must decide what formation he will be using going forward. Since it is obvious Sarri favors 4-3-3, I would say a creative attacker/wide player would be a welcome & important addition. A fit Douglas Costa is that player, but we all know his injury problems.

Juve must also sign a versatile striker to replace Gonzalo Higuain- someone such as Timo Werner who can play wide or centrally. Werner would allow room for Ronaldo to be Ronaldo.

7) Who is in your opinion the best player to ever wear the Juve shirt?

It is really tough for me not to say Del Piero. I can only comment on players that I have been fortunate enough to watch in my lifetime & Del Piero succeeded in every way. He has the trophies and the stats to back this up. He was a complete forward, scoring & creating goals, able to link up the game and take on defenders with a sharp turn or a piece of skill. Del Piero was strong physically and difficult to dispossess and he gave you a chance to win whenever he was on the pitch.

8) Who is the one player you would sign from Erling Haaland (STR), Arthur (MID) and Achraf Hakimi (DEF)?

That’s a tough choice. I don’t particularly have a strong feeling towards any of the three names. I would favor Haaland for the simple reason he is a player set to take Europe by storm. He has everything you would want from a modern center-forward and more importantly he knows how to find the net.

9) Juve built a strong reputation signing free agents. Who will be Juve’s next bargain signing?

I feel this is something Juve should move away from unless it really is a deal they cannot afford to pass up. These free players come with a heavy wage, older age and are not always a big enough improvement to really help the team. I would like to see Juve invest more in Italian youngsters but keep them, perhaps even allow room for players currently at the club such as Hans Caviglia, Nicolo Fagioli and Manolo Portanova.

10) What do you make of Mauro Icardi? His stats are decent despite being mostly used as a substitute. Would you sign Icardi, Gabriel Jesus or Harry Kane

I would go with Gabriel Jesus, for the reason I mentioned earlier with regards to versatility, a player that is not a typical 9 and can allow for Ronaldo to express himself. Harry Kane is a fantastic player, arguably the best in his role but similar to Icardi. I don’t see them at Juve whilst CR7 is still on the books- it just doesn’t make sense to me.

Real Madrid: Total Overhaul?

Few football clubs have enjoyed prolonged glory like Spain’s Real Madrid. In fact, Real is considered one of the most prestigious clubs in the football world, and across all sports fields for that matter. Real achieved this acclaim in a different way than most other clubs, utilizing socios, or club members, who own and operate all facets of the franchise.

Founded in 1902, Real Madrid was estimated in 2019 to be worth 3.8 billion Euros as the second highest-earning football club in the world. For any football pundit, this information isn’t surprising. After all, in their 118 years of existence, Real Madrid lifted 33 domestic league titles, 19 Copa del Rey trophies, a remarkable 13 Champions League trophies, and 4 FIFA Club World Cup titles. Some of these wins stretch back over a century ago, like the club’s first Copa del Rey triumph in 1905.

Real has entertained the fans with some of the greatest athletes of all time, as well. Top goal scorers and creative stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Raul, Alfredo di Stefano, and Karim Benzema called Madrid home for years. And players like Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos have appeared in upwards of 500 football matches wearing the Real Madrid jersey.

Others, like Ronaldo- the Brazilian or original one as some call him, Luka Modríc, and Cristiano Ronaldo received their prestigious Ballon D’Or awards while on the team. In fact, to this day, Real Madrid’s head coach, Zinedine Zidane, is one of his generation’s greatest players, and won the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year award in 2002 while playing for the club he now leads.

 Future Plans

Most recently, Real Madrid have been associated with the superstar power of Cristiano Ronaldo. A dynamic and powerful goal scorer with an unstoppable drive, Ronaldo led a highly talented cast for nine years at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. The team flew high and attracted record number of fans to the stadium, remote viewership of games, and title wins, leading many to consider this era as Ronaldo’s.

However, in 2018 Ronaldo moved to Juventus to play in Italy’s Serie A. Despite this move, Real Madrid have not crumbled, though president Florentino Pérez seems likely to address the club at its foundational roots in an attempt to revitalize the team following their leader’s departure.

Meanwhile, in the US, NBA franchise the Golden State Warriors have also recently overhauled their mediocre team, drawing in star players as well as solid, vetted athletes. In fact, the Golden State Warriors have a near monopoly on NBA basketball odds in the US since winning the NBA Championship in 2015, 2016, and again in 2018. It seems Real Madrid is looking to rebuild its squad in a similar manner, though this change isn’t motivated by disappointing play. It’s preventative, if anything.

 Stadium & Roster

First, Pérez has shown interest in demolishing Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in order to begin construction on a ‘digital stadium of the future’. However, his comments have left some fans in mourning, and others confused. While many will mourn the loss of a stadium as well-loved as Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, most are waiting for the club to roll out its plans to understand what exactly a ‘digital stadium’ entails.

The stadium is set to have a capacity of 90,000. Other plans for the updated stadium include a wrap-around facade onto which images can be projected, retractable roofs that will cover all seating, and additional leisure and entertainment activities within, like shopping and a museum.

However, Perez also seems hellbent on revamping Real Madrid’s once-motley crew. While some franchises, like the Golden State Warriors, have to start from scratch to build a strong team, Madrid won’t face such challenges. While rebuilding a team is often undertaken for many top clubs that lose a star player, Real Madrid is full of star power.

Still, some athletes may be moving on. Rumor has it that in order to welcome in shining young recruits, Zidane may be letting go of players like James Rodriquez, Gareth Bale, Lucas Vasquez, and Mariano Diaz. Even important figures such as Marcelo and Luka Modric also face uncertain future despite historic wins with the club.

The above moves could be made in order to welcome new talent like Eduardo Camavinga, a 17-year-old midfielder with great promise. This comes after attempts to land Paul Pogba from Manchester United have fluctuated between cold and hoot. There is also interest in Raul Jiménez, a forward who may be able to pick up some of the pieces in attack in case Benzema leaves.

Fan Zone: Alberto returns to discuss Sarri, Higuain, the market and more!

In the second part of our Q&A, Alberto- you can follow him here @alljuvecast- discusses Juve’s weaknesses, coach Maurizio Sarri, Gonzalo Higuain and a few other topics! Without wasting more time. Here goes:  Continue reading