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.

What is Brazilian legend Ronaldo’s ultimate goal with Real Valladolid?

In 2018 when Ronaldo, the 1990s Brazilian version became the majority owner of Spanish club Real Valladolid it certainly raised eyebrows.Why would Ronaldo become president of a club who were used to either being relegated or fighting in a relegation dog fight? The answer is the challenge and of course the affordability of the club, Ronaldo now owns 82% of the team, but is his project go after 2 years?

In Ronaldo’s first season of ownership Valladolid came 16th and just 4 points was the difference between staying in La Liga and playing their next season in the Segunda. Everyone at the club was obviously relived. They also made it to the quarter finals of the Copa del Rey which was no mean feat but all in all it was a season with a few highs and one to forget.

The next season saw an improvement in the league when they finished 13th but they had only ironically finished with 1 more point than the previous season and had only won a lowly 23% of their games.

This season marks the clubs 90th in existence. The objective of course is to improve and keep moving forwards. The club lost Mohammed Salisu to Premier League side Southampton but got a small fortune for him 12m euros. Transfers in and have been mostly free ones, though Fabian Orellana from Eibar catches the eye.

The project this season is to try and reach 50 points and finish in the top 10 and then for the season after qualification for the Europa League- this would be the best case scenario. But when Valladolid aren’t playing well one could just imagine that Ronaldo would love to rip off that suit, go back in time 20 years and get on that pitch pronto. The club lose a lot of games and that includes home ones, and this will be a frustrating role for Ronaldo before it gets better, and the fact is football can be cruel, it may never get better, especially if the club are relegated.

Valladolid played four pre-season games losing 2 of them but gained a decent 2-2 draw away to Portuguese side Braga in their last game before the La Liga season kicked off on September 12th.

In the league the club have played two games, starting with a 1-1 draw against Real Sociedad at home and then a defeat away to Real Betis losing 2-0. Michel, the attacking midfielder has scored the clubs only goal so far.

It will be a long and testing season for the club with such limited funds, their next game is on September 27th when they will play Celta Vigo at home. Home games will be so important for the club, and they must pick up points here, that is going to be key for survival for the 3rd time in a row under Ronaldo.

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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

Juve still unconvincing despite Brescia win

Juventus are in the midst of a demanding stretch both physically and psychologically. Juve remain in both the Coppa Italia and the Champions League. This means Juve will play two more games than Lazio in the next 15 days.

On paper, Juve have a big squad yet with injuries to key players such as captain Giorgio Chiellini (who made his return near the end of the Brescia game) and the long-term absence of Merih Demiral, the squad is being stretched to its limits. On top of that the club’s management made some questionable decisions in the transfer market, such as signing Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman’s quality is not in doubt, however, his history with injuries and his fitness problems are well documented.

While fans should celebrate a precious win over Brescia (2-0) with Paulo Dybala scoring from a wonderful free-kick, it is hard to find many positives other than the three points and the return of club leader Chiellini. Brescia stand in 19th place and are one of the biggest candidates for relegation. They were missing Sandro Tonali as well as other players in addition to the first goalkeeper only for his backup to suffer an injury early in the game and get replaced with the club’s third keeper.

Dybala did hit the bar and whenever he moved the team looked better. Still, his partner Gonzalo Higuain looks off in recent weeks and his movement appears to get heavier with every passing week. Below are some of the key observations based not just on events during the Brescia game but over the last few weeks:

1) Higuain’s decline in form: Gonzalo has failed to score or assist in the last 6 Serie A matches. His last goal came in the 4-0 win against Cagliari on January 6th, 2020. The bigger concern is how he has looked heavier in terms of movement.

2) Injuries: Fans are well aware of Ramsey’s status and the fact he is injury prone. What makes matters worse is the absence of Douglas Costa who is currently sidelined as well. Danilo, signed to play as right-back or serve as a backup left-back, is also injury prone but he made his return against Brescia. Pjanic barely played versus Brescia before pulling out due to injury.

3) Lack of creativity: With Ramsey’s well documented status, Costa’s absence due to injury and now Miralem Pjanic’s scare, much if not all of the responsibility to create will fall on Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo. Opponents will pay special attention to both stars and perhaps even put extra players to keep an eye on them when they have the ball. This will effectively take away from Juve’s ability to do much during games.

4) Dependence on CR7: Maurizio Sarri did well to rest Ronaldo against Brescia on Sunday. The schedule ahead is demanding and there are some decisive games, particularly in Coppa Italia and the Champions League, around the corner. Ronaldo has scored in his last 10 Serie A games which is a remarkable achievement considering the Portuguese superstar recently turned 35-years-old.

Having mentioned the above, Juve should not keep relying exclusively on CR7 to win games and to score goals. Ronaldo was signed to help deliver the Champions League but on his own he cannot do everything. The numbers do not lie. Ronaldo has done the utmost to keep Juve winning in recent weeks.

5) Playing Dybala: At times, Sarri has opted to “rest” (or to bench would be the more proper word) Dybala but that has meant playing CR7 and Higuain together. Higuain’s recent form is well below the standard he set back in November 2019 when the Argentinian veteran was performing quite well.

With Higuain off-form, Sarri must start Dybala or else all the pressure will fall on CR7. Ronaldo has looked more isolated when Dybala is not starting or playing. It is up to Sarri to find the best formation and strategy to get the best out of both CR7 and Dybala because they have proven they are the difference makers for the Bianconeri.

6) Tough Schedule: Juve’s fixtures for the next couple of weeks will see the club play 5 matches compared to Lazio’s 3 games. Lazio is just one point behind Juve in the league table and can focus fully on the league while Juve must play the 2nd leg against Milan in the Coppa Italia and next week will face Lyon in the Champions League.

Without being repetitive but the growing injury list, particularly to the creative players, means the pressure will keep intensifying on both Dybala and CR7 who will be asked to create, assist and score goals. In addition, the injuries will mean the squad is stretched even further because when players such as Douglas Costa and Pjanic are sidelined then Sarri has no option but to use less convincing players or to use certain players in different positions.

Sarri must pick his Starting XI very carefully the next few weeks and as mentioned earlier, resting CR7 yesterday was a positive move. In the meantime, Sarri must not only find the ideal XI but also motivate the players, work on getting the best out of Alex Sandro and Juan Cuadrado- both of whom started the season quite well before gradually declining.

It is up to Sarri to push his players and to motivate them the right way. The next two weeks could prove decisive in terms of Juve’s push to win the treble. Making sure Ronaldo and Dybala are getting the proper support from their teammates on the field will go a long way towards determining whether this hectic stretch will be a positive or detrimental one for Juve.

Five keys to Juventus vs Napoli

This weekend of the 2019/20 Serie A season is one of the more anticipated rounds, with it having been circled on the calendar ever since it came out last month.

Saturday evening sees two of the league‘s main title contenders pitted against one another at Juventus Stadium in Turin as Maurizio Sarri’s Juventus play host to Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli. Though the attention and buzz surrounding this fixture stems from Sarri’s first match against his former club, his status for the bench remains unclear at the moment. In any case, this clash promises to deliver plenty of excitement, tension and drama.

Here are five key elements which could determine the outcome of this round 2 encounter. Continue reading

The Top Five Attackers From the 2018/19 Serie A Season

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Forwards are often on the receiving end of most of the attention and praise throughout the course of a season; after all, it is their end product after a build-up and impact on the scoresheet that decides matches.

There was a large selection pool to choose from, and in several forward roles, but here are the five top attackers from this past campaign. Continue reading

Allegri leaves Juventus- what can his replacement expect?

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“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.

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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.

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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.