The Summer of the Plusvalenza

The first time I ever heard of the word was while reading Luciano Moggi’s autobiography “Il Pallone lo Porto io” which in many ways is so fitting. Juventus’s notorious former sporting director used the terms “plusvalenza da urlo” (a capital gain to scream about) in two different chapters to describe the substantial positive financial impacts of selling both Zinedine Zidane and Zlatan Ibrahimovic while he was running the bBianconeri’s mercato before the Calciopoli scandal.

Because he had acquired the two legendary players for a bargain fee before they broke out on the international stage and kept them a few seasons in Turin, there was a substantial gain to be made even with Ibrahimovic who left for Inter at a below market value when Juventus were abruptly relegated. As many remember, the Zidane sale to Real Madrid brought in such a big pluslvalenza that Moggi was able to acquire Lilian Thuram, Gianluigi Buffon and Pavel Nedved with the proceeds.

So while the term “plusvalenza”- which is the amount a selling club earns above the remaining amortized value for a player they are moving to another team- has been around for a long time, it feels that this is the summer where even a Serie A fan who has no interest in accounting has finally heard about it.

While a plusvalenza has a positive impact on clubs’ bottom line, this summer it has often been used with a negative connotation. As a matter a fact, Plusvalenza FC is now competing with Piemonte Calcio as the new ironic way to refer to Juventus while both Roma and especially Inter have been accused of using creative accounting with their sales in an effort to use plusvalenze to meet their Financial Fair Play parameters (this is even more relevant when you consider that Chievo received a point deduction at the start of last season as punishment for a series of questionable plusvalenze with Cesena).

Moggi certainly was the Godfather of the plusvalenza, but the prime of his management career came in Serie A’s glory days when almost all teams were flush with cash. Nowadays between Financial Fair Play and most Italian clubs carrying substantial debts, plusvalenza is becoming an essential tool when it comes to survival and fielding competitive teams.

Juventus fans have seen the good and bad sides of plusvalenze in past two years. The club was essentially able to cover the cost of the transfer fee to acquire Cristiano Ronaldo by selling likes of Audero, Sturaro, Cerri and Mandragora to mid-table teams in Serie A. These players had been previously bought more as future financial instruments than building blocks for the team and after owning them for a bit, Juventus flipped them for a considerably higher amount than their remaining amortized value.

Plusvalenze used to acquire an all time great like Cristiano Ronaldo are easy to digest, especially when they involve players that aren’t able part of the squad, but it then becomes much more painful to see the likes of Moise Kean, Leonardo Spinazzola and Joao Cancelo leave to generate the profits necessary to maintain a squad that features Ronaldo, newly acquired De Ligt and numerous veterans earning over 7 million after taxes a season.

Cancelo and Spinazzola generated a substantial profit despite spending just one season in Turin, as part of those deals Juventus also acquired Danilo and Luca Pellegrini. It’s hard to argue that the Bianconeri are considerably weaker at the wing back position as a result of the two transactions, but the financial gains on the transactions are what helped pay for acquiring the likes of De Ligt and Demiral. The same applies to Rabiot and Ramsey, who despite signing on a Bosman deal come with substantial annual salaries.

On top of paying for an expensive squad, Juventus posted a significant loss during their last fiscal year. There is the obvious spending to secure Ronaldo (and to pay for his salary), but also the Bianconeri didn’t make a very deep run in the Champions League thus limiting their revenue. To help compensate for the recent expenses and difficult financial outcome, Juventus had to also sacrifice Moise Kean who was sold for 30 million to Everton.

While some complained about the low return, Kean was also in the last deal of his year and at least his entire transfer fee was a plusvalenza since he had no amortized value as a home grown player. For the same reason, Milan strongly encouraged Patrick Cutrone to accept Wolvehampton’s offer- the plusvalenza generated by that transaction can essentially cover the annual cost of all of the Rossoneri’s new additions this summer.

On the other side of Milan, Inter have perfected the art of generating plusvalenze to help meet their Financial Fair Play parameters. While moving Nicolo Zaniolo in the Radja Nainggolan deal certainly came back to bite them, overall the Nerazzurri have done very well selling their Primavera players (who in almost all cases are pure plusvalenze when sold since they tend not to have amortized values to offset) to balance their budget, their most recent accounting masterpiece featured Zinho Vanheudsen joining Standard Liege for over 12 million.

It’s certainly understandable that fans mainly just care about seeing their squads improve in the summer, and someone who is Juventus’ sporting director has to accept that you can go from being a called a genius on the day you sign De Ligt to being called a bumbling fool for selling Cancelo on top of considering selling Dybala- but there are usually connections between the two things, as Moggi taught us a “plusvalenza da urlo” can also net you three champions like Buffon, Thuram and Nedved because you sold Zidane at the right time.

 

Last month of transfer window in Serie A

While the transfer window closes in the Premier League next Thursday, we have another four weeks of rumors, deals, plusvalenza calculations to go in Serie A. What do the top teams need to address in the final third of the Mercato? Let’s take a look by asking a key question for each

 

Do Lazio have to sell Milinkovic Savic?

Say what you will about Claudio Lotito, but he certainly likes to handle transfer business on his terms. Sending Milan Badelj back to Fiorentina after previously signing him on a Bosman after his contract with Tuscan club expired is just his latest coup. Lotito’s ability to sell well, and find cheap and outstanding replacements for his stars, have ensured that Lazio have no Financial Fair Play concerns or even any significant debt.

For this reason, Lazio would be happy to keep the Serbian international at least through next January. But even though Milinkovic Savic’s main suitor Manchester United have only 5 more days to sign him, he could also be a target for Paris St Germain who have until end of August to strike a deal. Should Lazio be able to retain the Sergeant, they would be in great position to challenge for a Champions League spot considering that Vavro should improve their defense and Lazzari has shown in preseason why so many saw him a perfect fit for Simone Inzaghi.

Should Juventus fans panic?

Although the Moise Kean sale would probably look a bit better had the De Ligt signing been completed after it since it was done partly to finance the enormous expense of acquiring the Dutch defender, losing the teenager is a tough blow on the pitch no matter how big the plusvalenza. Still, things could get considerably worse on Juventus Twitter should the Cancelo for Danilo + cash deal go through (which looks very likely) as well as the Dybala “sacrifice” to acquire Lukaku.

While there are off-field and financial issues behind the desire to move Cancelo, Juventus would not only lose one of their best performers from last season, they would also considerably improve another contender for the Champions League (which at least isn’t a concern with Dybala in the short term).

Certainly there are reasons for concern when you look at the considerable talent potentially leaving Turin this summer, but Fabio Paratici has also added significant talent with De Ligt, Demiral, Ramsey and Rabiot- ultimately Juventus will probably go as far as their two new midfielders can take them because -at least with Maurizio Sarri on the bench- Juve won’t have to rely so much on an attacking right back to bring most of the creativity.

 

Can Napoli and Inter finally bolster their attack?

So far the likes of Lukaku, Dzeko, James Rodriguez and Lozano have yet to arrive which has left a very sour taste in the team’s fan bases. But when you look at Inter’s and Napoli’s moves so far the teams are certainly improved, especially on defense since they acquired Godin (who did suffer a minor injury) and Manolas respectively.

Napoli went through a very stressful negotiation with Mino Raiola for Kostas Manolas so it remains to be seen if that will carry over in a potential move for Lozano, who is more likely to leave PSV after the Dutch club failed to qualify for the Champions League. De Laurentiis is also hoping he can convince Real Madrid and James Rodriguez to accept a loan with option to buy deal- a formula which at the moment neither party is excited by. While haven’t been any confirmations on the reports of Napoli offering Milik to Manchester United for Lukaku, could the Polish striker be in play for a potential swap deal should Mauro Icardi agree to play close to the Amalfi coast?

Inter are monitoring the Dybala/Lukaku situation- they want to be ready to bounce for either player should the Juventus striker fail to agree to terms with Manchester United. Lukaku would be more than happy to play for Conte and maybe Dybala would look at them in a more positive light now that Juventus has made it clear they do not see him as an important part of their futures.

The Nerazzurri continue to pursue both Edin Dzeko and Ante Rebic as alternatives to Lukaku- their acquisitions wouldn’t be mutually exclusive and would give Conte different options to play alongside Lautaro Martinez.

 

How will Atalanta replace Mancini?

The Bergamaschi have had an outstanding window by adding Luis Muriel, Malinovskyi and retaining Pasalic. While there were concerns they would move their top performers, the only starter they sold is center back Gianluca Mancini to Roma. 

Atalanta are considering some options abroad with Sevilla’s Sergi Gomez and Fortuna Dusseldorf’s Ayhan, they could go with an internal solution by moving Hateboer to center back or giving a chance Roger Ibanez (who arrived from Fluminese last January) or Marco Varnier who tore his ACL last summer after arriving from Cittadella as Caldara’s replacement.

 

Will Milan have to sacrifice Frank Kessie’?

Donnarumma’s decision to stay and potentially extend his contract and the inability to find a team willing to pay Suso’s exit clause of 40 million, may force Milan to sacrifice Kessie’. The Ivorian midfielder was a much more logical fit playing for Gattuso than in Giampaolo’s ball possession system and he could net a pretty big plusvalenza since he has suitors in the Premier League- particularly Wolverhampton. 

Time is a factor in this potential deal since the transfer window in the Premier League closes on Thursday, but Milan would at least have almost a full month to reinvest the Kessie funds on Angel Correa.

 

Juventus first two kickoff times set and youth moves

The League communicated the schedule of the first two matches with Parma-Juventus opening the season on Saturday, August 24th at 6 pm local time, while the clash with Napoli in Turin will be played late on Sunday the following week, with kick-off set at 8.45 pm, the new ‘old’ starting time for night games after that they begun at 8.30 pm in 2018/2019.

While the top officials are defining two blockbuster trades with English clubs, the rest of the management is assembling the U23 squad and earlier this week added a pretty big piece in Erasmo Mule from Sampdoria, who was purchased for €5M. The 20-year-old defender was signed by the Blucerchiati in January, but stayed on loan to Trapani, which he helped gain the promotion. Continue reading

Allegri leaves Juventus- what can his replacement expect?

allegri

“When Conte abruptly left, many felt the sky was falling. The Allegri hiring was universally mocked on social media and rocks were thrown at his car when he arrived for his first training session.” I know you’ve read and heard a variation of that line many times, I can vouch for fact I used it many times myself to illustrate that we shouldn’t take for granted Allegri’s success at Juventus.

The expectations were so low when a manager who had been sacked at Milan after being constantly mocked by Rossoneri fans, and even Silvio Berlusconi publicly at a political rally, replaced Antonio Conte, a club legend who had brought Juventus back from the ashes of Calciopoli. 

I bring this narrative once again to illustrate that Allegri’s stature as a candidate for a top club has only risen compared to five year ago and Juventus could very well keep winning even if his replacement doesn’t appear to be adequate at time of hire which is in line with both Giovanni Trapattoni and Marcello Lippi, who won the Champions League at the club, as well as Antonio Conte.

There also appears to be the potential for some Allegri remorse amongst some of his biggest critics based on the same the names being discussed as his replacement (Simone Inzaghi and Sinisa Mihajlovic) but make no mistake about it- it was time for both Allegri and especially Juventus to part ways. 

It was bad enough that most of the club’s fans were done with pragmatic, defensive and “just do the bare minimum to win” approach, we now had Dybala’s brother and agent publicly stating many of the players were unhappy and ready to leave. Sacrificing all of the likes of Cancelo, Dybala and Douglas Costa (some of whom could still leave) because of their issues with the manager was too much of a price to pay for even the most ardent Allegri defender.

While Allegri will almost certainly land a top job abroad based on the fact he has a much higher approval rating outside of the Serie A bubble (it’s more a matter of when, since he could also take a year off and collect the checks from the last year of his deal at Juventus) it remains to be seen if the name of his replacement will be equally prestigious.

Certainly Juventus made a very significant and surprising splash by landing Cristiano Ronaldo last summer after years of being mocked for loan with option to buy deals, but they historically have always hired an Italian manager- the only exception in past 30 plus years was Didier Deschamps who had some black and white DNA after being a club captain as a player but was also hired when the club was relegated to the second division.

Zinedine-Zidane(1)

The fact that Zidane decided to return to Real Madrid was a game changer- just like Deschamps he has a strong tie to the club already and of course has a remarkable track record at the club. While Juventus would love to make an exception for Pep Guardiola, there appears to be no chance he leaves the club despite their potential escalating Financial Fair Play issues. 

While Mourinho is represented by Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes, the biggest complaint about Allegri was his defensive and pragmatic approach and on top of that there’s the Special One’s iconic past at Inter to consider. Hiring Pochettino would be very expensive because of his release clause and he could be a candidate for Barcelona.

Maurizio-Sarri-Chelsea-1(1)

Recently Maurizio Sarri has also been discussed as a possibility. While there’s a distinct possibility he’ll leave Chelsea after the Europa League final, he would be an awkward fit culture wise at Juventus because of his style. It would also be interesting to see how the former Napoli coach would be greeted by all the Juve fans who loudly commented on the fact he hasn’t won anything despite playing beautiful football (at least at Napoli and Empoli)

While there has been a lot of buzz for Antonio Conte’s return, Inter are still confident they will appoint him as their next manager and there appears to still be some bad blood between him and president Andrea Agnelli based on the way he left 5 years ago- many have also noted how much warmer Juventus’ brass was with Allegri when announcing his departure compared to Conte.

Lazio v Salzburg - UEFA Europa League - Quarter Final - First Leg - Stadio Olimpico

That would leave two former teammates of Juventus’ most prominent directors- Simone Inzaghi is close to Fabio Paratici and has been successful at Lazio, while Pavel Nedved played alongside Sinisa Mihajlovic and was one of the finalists for Juventus’ coaching job in the past and has recently raised his stock by turning around Bologna this season.

What is Allegri’s successor walking into? Juventus is focused on winning at least two more Scudetti to make it ten in a row, plus the fans also expect a much more attractive style of play. If that weren’t enough, Allegri had already substantially raised the bar in the Champions League- you can mock him for taking credit for making two finals and losing them, but without the substantial revenues that came with those deep runs, Juventus would have never been able to sign Ronaldo and Allegri is the last manager to eliminate the two coaches in the current final.

While the expectations will be enormous, the next Juventus manager can draw inspiration from his predecessor- Allegri leaves Turin with his profile raised despite fact many assumed he would fail as Conte’s replacement.

 

  

Assessing the Center Back Market in Serie A

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After looking at the goalkeeper position earlier this week, let’s review the market for center backs in Serie A. Let’s start with which top teams could use an addition or two

 

 

Juventus- Chiellini proved to be Juventus’ most important player this season and the fact that he’ll be 35 this year should give the team urgency to bolster this position especially since Bonucci was often a liability defensively while Rugani showed he’s not ready to be a starter at a club of this caliber. Emre Can could be used a center back more frequently but that would further weaken a midfield that isn’t great to begin with.

Napoli- there will be a lot of suitors for Koulibaly, and even though he’s expected to stay at the club, Albiol’s age and recent injuries, make the center back position a key need moving forward regardless of what Koulibaly does.

Inter- the nerazzurri are loaded at the position with Diego Godin joining Skriniar and De Vrij. Should Conte replace Spalletti, he’ll have a new version of the BBC waiting for him at la Pinetina.

Atalanta- the Bergamaschi could use an upgrade at the position especially since there’s a lot of suitors for Gianluca Mancini.

Roma- not upgrading this position in January is one of the many significant mistakes Monchi made at the club. The situation could get even more dire when you consider Kostas Manolas has a 36 million euro exit clause which is also valid in Italy.

Milan- Romagnoli took another step forward this season while Musacchio was considerably better than in his first campaign in Serie A. If Caldara can fully recover from his recent ACL injury, this will be one position where Milan can stay put with on the market.

Lazio- while Acerbi proved to be a more than adequate relacement for De Vrij, the rest of the biancocelesti’s center backs aren’t good enough to start for a team that wants to consistently compete for a Champions League spot. Should Inzaghi leave this summer, Lazio could also move away from a 3 center back defense which would have an impact on their summer plans- but regardless sporting director Tare’ needs to find at least one above average center back.

 

Now let’s look at the center backs in Serie A who will almost certainly be in the transfer news headlines

 

Koulibaly, Skriniar, Romagnoli- all three are expected to stay at their respective teams, but because of their impressive ability, they will certainly be targets for rich clubs abroad.

 manolas

Kostas Manolas- while De Ligt and Varane are Juventus’ top targets to build their defense around in the post Chiellini era, the Greek defender could be a very good stop gap. His speed would be an asset on a team that got run over by Atalanta and Ajax this season and the bianconeri have a great relationship with his agent Mino Raiola. Manolas’ profile was raised internationally last season thanks to Roma’s deep Champions League run, so he could also receive offers from outside of Serie A.

Nikola Milenkovic- the versatile Bosnian defender has been previously linked to Manchester United but Fiorentina’s very disappointing season has taken away some of his luster. But considering his ability to play as both a center back and right wing back, despite his considerable height, he will still be attractive to many teams.

Fiorentina spent just 5 million for him, so they can easily turn him into a massive profit. It will be interesting to see if Napoli or Roma get in the mix, considering he’ll turn 22 in October, MIlenkovic would still have considerable resale value down the line.

 mancini

Gianluca Mancini- between Atalanta’s magical run and making his debut for the Azzurri senior squad, this has been a magical season for the 23 year old defender from Pontendera. Roma has been targeting him for quite some time to either be Manolas’ partner or replacement and despite Monchi’s departure, a move to Italy’s capital still makes the most sense.

 

Nicholas NKolou & Armando Izzo- assuming he lands the Roma job, Petrachi would love nothing more than to bolster his new defense with one or two of Torino’s current key players. But the expected divorce from president Cairo looks to be quite acrimonious so it’s unlikely the granata would let either be reunited with Petrachi. Keeping both would be quite the statement from Torino especially when you consider their performances this season have elevated their profiles on the market.

Merih Demiral & Cristian Romero- while Juventus is expected to sign at least one big name at the center back position, their sporting director Paratici will also look to add a young player or two for the future. Juventus worked in synergy with Sassuolo to bring Demiral to Serie A from Turkey and he has more than distinguished himself since arriving, he’s very tall and has significant margins for improvement when you consider he’s only 21 years old.

Juventus is also expected to acquire Romero from Genoa, don’t be surprised if the transfer fee is rather substantial in light of the fact the amount of the Sturaro signing raised eye brows (remember that it’s very flawed to look at deals in a vacuum when clubs do a lot of business with one another). Both Romero and Demiral could however stay at their current clubs for another year.

 

Bruno Alves & Nicola Bastoni- Parma’s two stand out center backs could be on the move this summer. The veteran Portuguese international was linked to Juventus and Inter in January as a potential replacement for Benatia and Miranda respectively but ended up staying put. Bastoni on the other hand is on loan from Inter but would likely be better off staying on D’Aversa’s squad one more season so he can play regularly.

Joachim Andersen & Omar Colley- while Quagliarella has rightfully dominated the story lines surrounding Sampdoria, sporting director Osti has continued his streak of discovering intriguing center backs following Skriniar’s explosion. Considering that Colley is four years older than Andersen, he could be sold first.

 

Allegri’s time is up

When Massimiliano Allegri was hired to replace Antonio Conte, many Juventus fans were opposed to such a move. He was met with discontent and his car was pelted with eggs and even spat at by fans lined up to “welcome him” to Juve.

Fast forward to the end of the 2014/15 season and Allegri has turned doubters into believers making himself a hero in the eyes of many Bianconeri fans… So what changed and when was the turning point? There are several factors to consider:

1) First turning point was the 2017 Champions League Final in Cardiff. Whatever happened at half-time has left a mark on certain players with Dani Alves and Leonardo Bonucci leaving and so forth. Alves would later claim he was “unhappy” at Juve

2) Why would Alves be unhappy? It does seem he was not enjoying his football. He only improved after returning from injury and after being given some freedom to attack on the right flank. Could it be the same story again with another attack-minded right-back in Cancelo? Cancelo seems unhappy too. The same could be said about left-back Alex Sandro who had a remarkable stretch with Juve before everything changed after Cardiff too. Sandro seems disengaged in most games the last 22 months.

3) Could it be Allegri is just allergic to talented players who have the desire to attack and attack more as opposed to track back and focus on defensive duties? This could explain why Allegri has often preferred Mattia de Sciglio over Cancelo?

4) What about the fate of two attackers: Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala? Mandzukic has played as a left-winger, even at times as a left wing-back, for over a year before returning to central striker following the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo. As for Dybala, he’s been used in multiple positions which do not suit his characteristics. Again, imagine Dybala, who is not physically imposing, has been asked to track back!

5) Not only attackers and full-backs are being misused, but also Juve’s most creative midfielder Miralem Pjanic is tasked with tracking back, defending, tackling and other defensive duties instead of saving his energy and turning his focus into creating chances for Juve’s attackers! Who’ll create if Pjanic is too busy tracking back! It sure is not going to be Blaise Matuidi, whose control and first touch leaves a lot to be desired, and it is definitely not Sami Khedira- who’s been injured this season and then had other health problems plus is slower than ever and never was a creative player.

Juve’s other midfielder Emre Can can play as a right-back, centre-back or a defensive midfield but he too is not a creative force. The same applies to Rodrigo Bentancur who is still very young and needs time to mature and find consistency.

6) Initially, Allegri’s football made proper use of rotating players and changing tactics- even in the same match at times. However, this has proven to be a failure the last 22 months with the XI coming out often looking like complete strangers. Top teams build harmony by often using the same XI and of course making the necessary tweaks on a regular basis. Allegri went too far, just have a closer look at certain Serie A match. It proved costly.

7) To make matters worse, Allegri not only rotated players and changed tactics, but he also changed the position of certain players on multiple occasions, and often at the expense of the team’s performances and results. How often have we seen Juan Cuadrado used as a right-back? What about the older, slower Andrea Barzagli also being used as a right-back? What about Alex Sandro used across multiple positions from left-back to left midfielder and even left-winger. And the list goes on.

8) Undefined tactics are also one consequence of Allegri’s constant change. What makes matters worse is coaches- such as the ones of Atletico Madrid (well, for the 2nd half of the game in Madrid) and of Ajax as well as even Young Boys have outsmarted and outfoxed Allegri. Diego Simeone saw how predictable Juve were in the 1st half in Madrid and he simply urged his team on to expose Juve and their tame football.

9) The repetitive mistakes are of grave concern. They could have been more costly yet in Serie A the weak opposition, lack of consistency and other factors have meant Juve a big margin of error to work with. Even last season, Napoli left Turin with a precious 1-0 win yet failed to build on it… Napoli had the momentum yet they bottled it.

10) Allegri’s reputation in big games has taken a hit: against Napoli last season, Juve needed a draw and he seemed intent on settling for a draw, even the 0-0 tie without showing much attacking desire even at home! Eventually he was punished with a 1-0 loss before Napoli gave it all away.

Against Atletico in Madrid, Allegri was pleased with a 0-0 draw as well and aimed to do nothing more than sit back and let Atletico have their way. The outcome was a 0-2 defeat.

He also made mistakes against both Young Boys and Manchester United. Against United in particular, with the score reading 1-0 Juve’s way, he opted for an unnecessary change by bringing on Andrea Barzagli. The outcome was a 1-2 defeat in Turin.

11) Juve’s defensive unit has conceded many times from set-pieces- via both corner kicks and free-kicks. A wise coach would work on those visible weaknesses. Instead Juve conceded against Atleti from a corner-kick followed by a free-kick. Against Ajax, the winning game for the Dutch team came from a corner-kick!

12) Several bad results hinted the future was not going to be all bright: The home defeat versus Man United was the first warning. Yes, Juve put in a good display for 80 minutes, but in football you need to play well and focus for 90 minutes. Allegri’s substitution and the team’s obvious weakness from set-pieces proved costly.

Against Swiss side Young Boys, Juve lost as well. The excuse was the game did not matter, however, in Europe a team must always try to win regardless of how important or unimportant the game is. You send a clear message when you take every game seriously.

Against Atletico in Madrid, Juve’s players and Allegri were outfought, out thought and out played by Atleti’s player and manager Simeone. Allegri was too late to react to Simeone’s changes even though one could sense the game’s momentum had completed shifted towards Atleti’s advantage.

13) Even Juve’s greatest win this season, the 3-0 triumph over Atleti to overturn the result and advance to the quarter-finals was also aided by Atletico’s own mistakes, including those of manager Simeone who surprisingly tried to defend a 2-0 lead from the first minute. When Juve were up 2-0, one felt it was too late to even contemplate an Atleti comeback of sorts. They wilted and duly got what they deserve with a 3-0 resounding defeat. Ironically, Juve’s win would serve as their downfall as Ajax’s players and their coach took a hold of the game’s video and surely noticed Atletico offered no fight. Ajax did not sit back in Turin.

14) Other notable Juventus wins are very few to the extent they can be counted on one hand. The 1-0 away win at Old Trafford was a great performance with Juve utterly dominating the first half against Manchester United. The other decent performance was the 2-0 away win over Valencia despite Cristiano Ronaldo receiving a red card in the first half

15) Allegri last season depended heavily on Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain to save him. This season he is counting heavily on Ronaldo. No one can deny how last season Dybala saved Juve time and again earlier in the season and then Higuain as well as Dybala combined to save Juve against Tottenham over the two-legged tie to advance to the quarter-finals to face Real Madrid. Hence, Allegri has not been playing a team’s game but rather relying on individual talents to tip the balance to Juve’s side.

16)  Allegri used to complain about how Barcelona had Lionel Messi and Real had Ronaldo, yet here he is in Ronaldo’s first season not taking proper advantage of the Portuguese star’s presence. While Ronaldo has taken most of the team’s free-kicks this season, that is exactly where one can first claim Allegri is losing the plot. Why would you have Ronaldo take most, if not all, the free-kicks when you have in Pjanic one of the best free-kick takers in both Italy and Europe? And to add to that, you also have Dybala who is very lethal from the right side of the pitch.

Allegri should have integrated Ronaldo in a better and more appropriate way. In addition, the team does not create enough for Ronaldo. Imagine the best finisher in the history of the Champions League is playing for Juve, yet he has been starved of service for majority of the games in Europe due to Allegri’s approach.

17) Just as Allegri’s hiring was a gamble, if Allegri is fired then Juve will simply be taking another gamble though a very necessary one. If the objective is to win Serie A, then there are several managers who could have achieved that with this squad. If the main objective is to compete in Europe, then Allegri’s approach has proven futile on multiple occasions.

18) Fitness and injury excuses have been used as well yet why are several of the the main contenders not complaining or suffering the same way? The likes of Barcelona, who used Messi often and even against weaker sides in La Liga, are still cruising and have made it to the semi-final. Forget about Manchester City who are battling on three fronts and forget Liverpool who are still battling on two fronts, but what about even Ajax, who are also locked in a tight title race with domestic rivals PSV?

19) Of course Allegri is not to blame for everything but why was he so easily convinced of Bonucci’s return? Allegri was the one to leave Bonucci with the crowd when Juve hosted Porto in the Champions League. At the time, Allegri was praised for being brave enough to bench a key starter in an important game. Is there a complicit agreement between management and Allegri to keep him in charge as long as he did not demand much in the market? Above all the signing of Ronaldo must be every manager’s dream and by clear indication coach Allegri had nothing to do with it.

20) With former France and Juve star Zinedine Zidane returning to Real, that took away one more option for Allegri in terms of available jobs. Italy is in the hands of Roberto Mancini while Chelsea are facing a transfer ban, and Manchester City are firmly under Pep Guardiola’s guidance. Barcelona will not be making a coaching change, in particular with everything appearing to be in order at this point. This leaves Arsenal and Manchester United, yet even United seem to have settled for Ole Gunnar Solskjær. This means Allegri senses his options are limited yet also Juve’s options to replace him are limited as well. He perhaps feels a greater sense of security in this ironic situation.

It is highly unlikely to see Juve come to agreement with Jose Mourinho- a coach who appears in decline and whose methods have been questioned regularly in recent years- while Jurgen Klopp seems to be happy in charge of Liverpool.

21) Again the focus returns on that Atleti game in Turin. The 3-0 win over Atletico masked all the squad’s visible weaknesses. Ajax were clever enough to know the team’s defensive unit is shaky and would be even worse without Giorgio Chiellini. Had Juve faced a better equipped side, the results may have been much worse. In addition, Juve’s midfield lacks those who can string a few passes together and is not imposing. When Juve lost to Real in Cardiff, the 2nd half showed how the likes of Casemiro can make a difference. Midfield battles win you games, and consequently can cost you games.

22) Allegri does not care to entertain the fans, and he has made that clear more than once- even stating those seeking entertainment ought to go watch a “circus!”

However, there has to be some responsibility towards fans, in particular those who travel from across the world or pay hefty fees in order to watch their beloved team in the stadium. One thing is to entertain and another completely different criteria is being courageous in your approach. Allegri has chosen the cowardly path on multiple occasions. He did so in Madrid yet escaped after Ronaldo’s remarkable hat-trick. He did so again in Amsterdam, showing he did not learn from his mistakes, but this time it did not payoff since Juve exited in the quarter-finals.

Even in Turin, the XI he put on the field seemed disengaged and at times afraid though Juve were expected to prevail due to the experience factor among other things. A coach needs to prepare his team mentally as well. If the players are afraid as Allegri admitted, then he has failed those players at some points.

Perhaps, the biggest thing is that Allegri’s voice is no longer heard in the sense some players are tired of his demands- such as tracking back- while others have simply blocked him out completely in the sense they pretend they are following his instructions yet show little desire to do so during competitive matches.

The odds are stacked against Allegri. He did well till Cardiff in 2017, however, it has been a downhill ride ever since. Around 22 months of unconvincing football culminating with a heartless and toothless performance against Ajax in Turin.

His obsession with winning trophies and avoiding defeat have often led him to a fear of losing games. When he thinks a 0-0 would do such as versus Napoli last season or even against Atleti away and most recently Ajax at home, Allegri would do his best to get the 0-0 even if in his pregame press conferences he would claim otherwise. Allegri would promote attacking the opponent only for the expected to happen during games: Juve sitting back with the aim of getting the 0-0 draw.

Juve got what they deserve but above all it is time for Allegri to leave in May 2019.

Where would Conte fit best next season?

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Everything is breaking his way. His successor at his former club gets routinely mocked at home matches making his previous tenure look better in retrospect and there are potentially many openings at the top clubs in his home country. In many ways it’s hard to imagine Antonio Conte’s sabbatical season going any better when it comes to how he’s perceived and where he could go next.

Conte certainly has the qualities that many of the top teams with an expected coaching vacancy are looking for- he has a long track record of getting clubs back on track dating back to his time before he became Juventus’ manager and he knows both Serie A and the Italian media very well. 

But where does it make more sense for him to go next should he decide to return to Italy? Let’s look at the potential fits and likelihood the job will be available in the first place

 

Juventus

 

The last two managers to win the Champions League with the bianconeri, Giovanni Trapattoni and Marcello Lippi, both eventually returned to the club despite leaving Turin to go coach bitter rivals Inter. While Conte at least went to the national team and then abroad, it doesn’t feel like this is the right time for him to go back to Juventus. 

For one Max Allegri keeps saying he wants to be the Bianconeri’s version of Sir Alex Ferguson, and secondly the club seems more interested in keeping him after the impressive second leg against Atletico Madrid (but an elimination against underdog Ajax may change that). But even if Allegri leaves, it doesn’t feel like there’s much of an appetite for another defensive manager, especially one who unlike the current manager has yet to fully excel in the Champions League- the trophy the club is mainly focused on.

Likelihood job is available: 25 percent

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Inter

 

While having Beppe Marotta as the CEO isn’t necessarily a distinct advantage for the nerazzurri considering the rocky relationship between the two at Juventus, this is Conte’s likeliest destination. With Suning’s financial stability and the Financial Fair Play restrictions about to end, Conte would be able to count on the support in the transfer market he consistently craves.

Inter have already signed Diego Godin on a Bosman which would give Conte a new version of the BBC assuming Milan Skriniar stays alongside De Vrij- an outcome that seems rather likely. Should he follow in Trapattoni and Lippi’s footsteps, Conte wouldn’t have to go through a significant rebuild like at Roma and Milan or face huge expectations like winning the Champions League at Juventus. 

While Spalletti has a good chance of qualifying for the Champions League for a second season in a row and has a long term contract, he has openly clashed with Marotta over Icardi and Perisic and his hand picked addition Nainggolan has so far been a significant bust. Spalletti looks to have overstayed his welcome.

 

Likelihood job is available: 60 percent

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Milan

 

Before the derby against Inter, Gattuso looked to have earned the opportunity to start next season as Milan’s manager- but a recent streak of disappointing results, coupled with an uninspired offensive system have changed that perspective.

By joining the Rossoneri, Conte wouldn’t be able to expect significant additions via the transfer market because of Financial Fair Play and his style of play isn’t exactly in line with the club’s DNA. On the plus side, Conte is the master of taking clubs from A to B and he would have the opportunity to build the team in his image.

 

Likelihood job is available: 50 percent

Roma

 

The giallorossi are the likeliest to have a job opening as even if Claudio Ranieri were to able to get the team to the Champions League, there’s a chance he would step aside to give a chance to a younger manager to help his beloved Roma.

At Roma, regardless if they make the Champions League or not, Conte would face an even bigger rebuild than at Milan. As someone who has openly complained about the transfer moves of his employers, you don’t need much of an imagination to picture how he would react to the departure of players like Manolas. In addition Conte has become one of the highest paid managers at his recent jobs and it’s hard to envision Roma being able to pay him in line with his previous earnings.

Likelihood job is available: 85 percent

Ambition now bites the nails of Juventus’ success

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On one of U2’s best songs from the nineties “The Fly”, Bono mentions that “ambition bites the nails of success”, a fitting description of what has been happening at Juventus in recent weeks. After a resounding loss in the Coppa Italia to Atalanta, the Bianconeri now find themselves on the brink of elimination in the Champions League.

While Juventus has always made domestic success their priority, last summer’s acquisition of Cristiano Ronaldo, on top of redeeming the rights to Douglas Costa from Bayern Munich, bringing back Leonardo Bonucci after a season at Milan and acquiring Joao Cancelo made it quite obvious that the club was going all in for the Champions League.

This was a natural evolution for Juventus. When Max Allegri replaced Antonio Conte, one of the first things he said was that his immediate goal was to consistently get his team to the quarterfinals of Europe’s most prestigious competition. The thinking was that one year, things could break their way and they could finally lift the cup, something that had eluded Juventus since the 1990s.

Juventus did come close, ironically more so the first year Allegri arrived in Turin when a controversial non call on Dani Alves tackling Pogba in penalty box could have swung things the Bianconeri’s way. A few years later, Juventus went to Cardiff with much more confidence, only to be outclassed by Real Madrid.

But the Cristiano Ronaldo acquisition was not only a marketing bonanza, it was also a statement of intent. While the club’s brass had always been very cautious saying the Scudetto was the main objective and that the Champions League was a crapshoot, things changed across the board- from the president to the players- with statements that winning the trophy with the Mickey Mouse ears was the priority.

While Juventus did win their group, the first leg of round of sixteen against Atletico Madrid was a disastrous as the Pop tour was for U2. The bainconeri’s best player was keeper Szczesny, the duo of Chiellini and Bonucci struggled, Dybala played scared and Allegri’s decision to start De Sciglio over Cancelo was widely criticized.

Diego Godin

To make matters worse, Juventus gave up a goal to Diego Godin who is set to join their arch rivals Inter and Diego Simeone’s celebration went viral and will be added to the list of moments that illustrate the Bianconeri’s underachievement in Europe.

But despite all this, is it fair to describe Juventus as being a team in crisis? Or has the team’s consistent success in Italy given them an almost impossible bar to surpass to define success?

It’s certainly fair to say that Atletico Madrid was arguably the most challenging opponent they could have faced in this round. The last second injury to Sami Khedira, who despite being hit like a piñata by Juventini on Twitter, is a proven commodity in the Champions League and the midfielder who scores the most goals in Allegri’s scheme forced the Bianconeri to have to make a last second adjustment.

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While Rodrigo Bentancur has been one of the most pleasant surprises in the first half of the season, he doesn’t bring much offensively. If that weren’t enough, Pjanic came down with a fever the night before the game making him even less valuable than usual (it’s fair to say that Ronaldo taking so many free kicks had already made him less decisive this season).
But it’s also true that Atletico Madrid was without some key players in the match and they played with much more determination. Ronaldo was brought in for exactly these types of games and his only highlight was his mocking of the fans with the number of Champions League he won.
This wasn’t exactly an aberration for the former Real Madrid striker during this Champions League campaign. So far he has only scored one goal in Europe, and while it’s great that he’s leading Serie A in goals scored, Juventus really didn’t need him for that.
So where do Juventus go from here? In the short term, they need to try to come back for the first time from a 2-0 loss in the first leg and channel the same energy they showed at the Santiago Bernabeu last year when Simeone’s crew travels to Turin in 20 days.
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Should Juventus fail to overcome this deficit, which won’t be easy against a disciplined and staunch team like Atletico, they’ll have to think long and hard on what they need to do next season. While it’s fair to expect that Aaron Ramsey will make more of an impact than Emre Can has so far, it remains to be seen if he’s enough to upgrade a midfield that is a fair cry from the one Allegri fielded when he faced Barcelona in Berlin.
Considering the seven previous Serie A titles- and closing in on number eight- it’s going to be very hard for Juventini to talk themselves into how meaningful another Scudetto is. The rightful ambition the Bianconeri made by acquiring Ronaldo truly bites the nails of success- it is now Champions League or bust for Juventus and this is a good thing.

Ramsey & Juventus, is a good deal always the right deal?

paratici

 

“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.

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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?

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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.

Juventus Top Performers – Round 17

Juventus withstood Roma’s second half push and came away with yet another win mostly built thanks to a dominant first half, even though they were unable to seal the game.

Mattia De Sciglio (7 points): his growth has been visible, not only compared to his last days at Milan, when he looked lost, but also from last year. A real resurgence. At times in his two seasons at the club he was handpicked in some matches because he was a more defensive option than the alternatives, which is surely true, but, with Joao Cancelo out and the starting job on lockdown for the next few games, his confidence is skyrocketing and it shows when he attacks. In this one, he capped his recent satisfactory run with a majestic lefty cross for Mario Mandzukic, where he really looked like his Portuguese teammate. Continue reading