From 2008 to 2011, or the period I like to call the 'Dark Age of Juventus,' the Old Lady saw some of the worst players and teams to sport the Black & White jersey. Yet, among these players were some who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and could have given much more to the club if utilized properly in a more stable era like the current one.
Here are five players who could have featured for Antonio Conte's Juventus, most likely not sure starters but as competent squad players. Note, only their form when they were at Juventus have been considered, not how their form/fitness levels were in other clubs when Conte actually started coaching Juventus.
One player who I think can still make a return to the club. Candreva was an inexperienced youngster when he was loaned in during winter 2009. He had played just over 20 matches in Serie A in his entire career, and came into a team in complete chaos. Ciro Ferrara had at that point very little clue about how to turn things around and Candreva struggled initially while filling in for Claudio Marchisio. Then in came Alberto Zaccheroni and there were wholesale tactical changes -—Candreva was one of the few players to react positively. In last couple of months that season Juventus rarely played well but Candreva was possibly one of the better players in that period, notching up a couple of goals.
That summer the club went through an upheaval as Beppe Marotta arrived with Gigi Delneri from Sampdoria and a number of players from the previous era were cleared out. Candreva went back to Udinese after his loan period got over with Juventus not choosing to bring him in.
Fast forward to 2013 and Antonio Candreva has become a highly effective player for Lazio and is about to enter his peak. Candreva would have brought more options for Conte to experiment with formations, for one. He would have fit in seamlessly on the right side of a 4-3-3 and, seeing how he troubled Jordi Alba in Confederations Cup, he just might have been more effective than Simone Pepe on that side. When you factor in the transfer fee that Lazio paid for him and his age, he could have been a solid addition to the current squad.
Brazzo was past his best when he arrived in Turin and was a mere shadow of the player who was one of the best utility players in Europe while he was in Bayern Munich. And he was a top notch professional. He was frozen out of the squad by Delneri, but had to be called back due to an injury crisis. He kept his head down, didn't complain and came to do a more than competent job.
Salihamidzic was struggling with fitness in his last two seasons with Juventus and, with age catching up with him, he was unlikely to get much first team action if he played in the current Juve team. However, he could have deputized for Stephan Lichtsteiner when needed and who knows, his experience could have been utilized by the management after he retired by giving him some sort of coach's role — like it happened with Fabio Grosso, another player frozen out by Delneri at the same time.
For me, Diego remains the worst mistake made in those two turbulent years. He was a marquee signing the year he came in. He started with a bang, assisting on his debut before following it up with those two goals against Roma which made a lot of Juventus fans dream of brighter days. Then he got injured and, when he returned, the team had already started to slide downwards and he never recovered the same form.
There were multiple reasons for his poor eventual form. To start off, he wasn't as "poor" as he is made out to be. Ciro Ferrara started out with a 4-3-1-2 formation with a static Amauri and two poor passers in midfield, often leaving Diego the trequartista starved off service. The 4-2-3-1 formation brought out his best form, but with Mauro Camoranesi's injury, that formation was sacrificed. When Zaccheroni arrived another change in formation came in with him changing to a three-man backline. In all fairness, the amount of tactical chaos in Diego's first season was much more than that in the following season where Delneri maintained a reasonably set formation for most of the season. Diego never really got enough time to settle in or get used to the tactical difficulty of Serie A before he was shipped off. To make matters worse, he was not forced out because of performance but because he didn't fit into Delneri's rigid system.
Diego did suffer initially after leaving for Wolfsburg, mainly because of personal problems with Magath. However, he was back to form when he moved to Atletico Madrid on loan and played a vital role in them winning Europa League in 2012. He has fully recovered from his failed Juventus stint in recent seasons and scored 10 goals for Wolfsburg in 2012/13 season, his highest tally in four years.
Conte did say that he wasn't fully sure about Diego and he rather wanted Theo Walcott or Arjen Robben, but hypothetically the Brazilian could have been a perfect fit in the 4-3-1-2 formation that has been tried this season. Imagine this — Arturo Vidal, Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo with Diego playing in the hole behind Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente. That is potentially creative enough to win you the Champions League.
The ex-Roma and Liverpool midfielder isn't much of a popular figure among Juventini, but just like some of the players in this list, his time at Juventus is also often judged incorrectly. Juventus did finish a lowly seventh in 2010/11 but what people tend to forget is the fact that at some point Delneri's system did work. In Delneri's 4-4-2 system, Aquilani's partnership with Felipe Melo was at one point one of the better ones in the league. His 80 percent pass success rate that season isn't bad by any scale, and he also notched up five assists. For a player infamous for his fitness problems, his tally of 31 league games was also pretty good. The player himself wanted to stay, but his hefty price tag (Juve needed to bolster other areas) along with Pirlo's transfer ended any chance Aquilani had of coming back. Since then he had a decent season in Milan — where once again his price tag became an issue — and last season in Fiorentina his return of seven goals and six assists in 20 matches was crucial. Aquilani hypothetically could have been rotated more with Andrea Pirlo, keeping the veteran fresher for big games. His defensive work-rate was always suspect, but under Conte, Pirlo's defensive output increased, so the same could have worked for Aqua-man.
With an assist in every third game, Cristiano Zanetti, Luciano Moggi's last signing, was quite possibly the third best player for Juventus in the first season back in Serie A, behind Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezeguet. The former Inter and Fiorentina midfielder didn't play much in Serie B, but with Claudio Ranieri's entrance, he became a vital part of the team, getting the nod ahead of the likes of Tiago Mendes and Claudio Marchisio. One of the greatest mistakes of the Secco era was letting him leave for Fiorentina when Melo was signed. Zanetti was exactly the kind of midfielder needed to help Melo perform (unsurprisingly a better passer in Aquilani did improve Melo's performance significantly the following season).
Zanetti did suffer from injuries frequently in his last Juventus season, playing just nine games but that was an era where almost every player got injured every other day. In Florence, Cesare Prandelli used him more frequently in Champions League than Serie A, keeping in mind his experience in Europe. Zanetti played 5 matches in UCL as Fiorentina famously defeated Liverpool twice and almost knocked out eventual runners-up Bayern Munich but was denied by a refereeing howler. With Zanetti starting, Fiorentina didn't drop a single point in Europe. His next season in Fiorentina was one again marred by injuries and by the time Conte took over in Juventus, he was playing his last season in Brescia.