A few months after Andrea Agnelli, Beppe Marotta and Fabio Paratici took control of Juventus, they went on record to say that they will follow a similar path to Barcelona (in 2011). The implications of this statement were that Juventus will promote players from within, growing them in their youth academy, and seeing them move on to the senior team.
Fast forward four years, and what we see is that not a single player purchased by this management has made it to the senior team. Luca Marrone being the youngest player from Juventus youth academy joined the Bianconeri in 1998, on the days of Luciano Moggi and Co.
So, is Juventus youth policy flawed? Or does the club even have a youth policy? and if so, why haven't we seen any results yet?
Let me begin by stating that I am okay with the club not having a youth policy. Teams like Real Madrid have done fine without it in recent years, and as I said earlier, even Juve have done well in Italy with a more "seasoned" squad. If that is the way we want to go it's fine by me, however, the cost of such as system is generally much higher than taking players from the Primavera and moving them to the senior team.
Now, with that out of the way, the question of the youth policy is one that divides Bianconeri supporters and one that I can't imagine answering to anyone's satisfaction. Instead, I'll just pour out my thoughts on the matter and hope for a good discussion below.
Does Juventus have a youth policy?
In the 2010-11 season (Agnelli's first as president), Juventus brought in 20 players (some of them were loan returns such as Tiago). Of those, six players were under the age of 23 (considered young by Italian standards), and as many as four were 20 or younger. Sounds good, right? Not really, out of the six, only Sorensen saw significant playing time, while others were loaned or sold before the September transfer market closed (Pasquato, Lazafame, Camilleri, Ekdal). Traore was also included in the squad but to say his contributions were minimal would be an overstatement.
Although this sounds bad, it could be forgiven since Marotta had more pressing matters at hand than giving us the best Primavera team in Italy. So what about the current three-time scudetto champions?
I think at this point I can see the semblance of a youth project, but not one involving our Primavera yet. Two summers ago, a certain Paul Pogba joined the first team. I don't think I need to go into too much detail as to how that went. This summer, Juventus added an even younger Frenchman to the squad, Kingsley Coman. If that wasn't enough, Alvaro Morata, a 21-year-old from Madrid, joined the first team as well (notwithstanding what you believe of the deal). In reality, no one has really seen how these kids can contribute to the team, ideally they may have the impact of Pogba, likely they will have the impact of Marrone, and worst case scenario, they may be the new Traore (yikes!). Regardless of how they turn out, it is undeniable that when it comes to giving youth a chance, the management is willing to gamble a little more than in the past.
But what about Italians?
Morata, Coman, and Pogba sound great, but they all have something in common ... none of them are Italian. Marrone is the youngest Italian at 24 years of age. And we can all agree that he is not a sure name on the roster.
However, looking more closely, there is more to this story. The Italy U-21 side played a match against Romania a few days ago. Out of the 24 players called up, five players are half-owned by Juventus (of course none of them are currently in the senior team). In addition to being part of the most recent Under-21 squad, Leali, Rugani, Sturaro, Goldaniga, and Berardi have something else in common, they are among the youngest players in the team. It is no surprise that they don't see as many minutes as other team members despite their potential.
I can certainly see three out of the five players moving to Juve in a not so distant future. Leali could join the team as a replacement for Storari provided he has a good first season. Rugani is the most promising Italian defender in years. Berardi was, according to him and the management, coveted by the Bianconeri this summer, but decided to fulfill his commitment to the club that developed him. Goldaniga and Sturaro may or may not make the cut, but it is impossible to expect that all our youth will turn out into something special.
But why loan them out, shouldn't they be called back?
I really believe that Juventus tried to get Berardi this summer, and that Mimo requested to continue one more year with Sassuolo. In my opinion, that type of attitude these days is uncommon and should be lauded and not condemned. In 2006 when Juventus were relegated to Serie B, there were only a handful of players who chose to maintain their commitment to the Old Lady. If we support Del Piero and Co. decision we must do the same with Mimmo's, but I digress.
So what we have is a management that appears to have purchased the right kind of talent for the senior team. It will be naive to think that all these players will make the cut, but we are clearly devoting a significant portion of our resources into players in their early 20s or even younger.
But why are we not promoting directly from the Primavera?
The Primavera has a huge problems the lack of competition. Unfortunately for us, that problem is in the hands of the FIGC. Maybe Conte will knock some sense into those guys but I doubt it.
A comparison of Barcelona B (their equivalent of the Primavera) to Juve's youth team cannot be done without looking at the league. Juventus Primavera play against a bunch young players who are unlikely to even make it to Serie B at their peak. Because of this, the management has chosen to loan the players to a Serie B side, then to a Serie A side and then hopefully they'll find their way to Juventus. This transition is not only long but costly. Barcelona B players are already in the Spanish second division, playing regularly against older players who are physically ready for the big leagues and maybe tactically more aware and focused. Barca players need to beat them by aging tactically and by having superior technical skills. It is really no wonder why Italian youth take longer to develop.
Juventus could of course bypass this silly system and add all promising youth to the senior squad, but the reality is that the club can only afford making a gamble like that once a year, and right now, we have put our chips on Pogba, Coman, and Morata. Given how Pogba and Immobile turned out, I am glad we took a chance on the Frenchman and not the Italian, no disrespect to Immobile.
Until Juventus youth teams compete at higher levels, it is hard to imagine that we will be promoting from the youth teams soon.
It is a matter of time
The issue of youth is not something that can be cured overnight. Playing with teenagers lives and futures is not only an economic or sporting decision, but it carries its own set of moral dilemmas with it. Then there is the fact that most of the "promising youngsters" never make the cut. How many "new Maradonas" were crowned until Messi came along? or do you still remember the days when Palladino was the new Del Piero? More often than not, the media will hype a young player so much that we can't really see their true value and at that point we are left disillusioned holding a bag of goods that is not as amazing as what we thought we had. After all, the youth from 2010 (Ekdal, Lanzafame, Pasquato, Camilleri, Sorensen and Traore) are four years older and unlikely to challenge any of our current starters.
I think the club is serious about having a serious youth program. When the Continassa project is done, youth teams are moving to Vinovo to enjoy some state-of-the-art training facilities in Europe. Moreover, as the club continues to win and challenge for Europe, Marotta can devote more resources to young players who can come directly into the team and challenge some of the regulars. However, we need to know that only few young players will make the transition to the senior team while the others will be used as bargaining chips in other deals. And that is just the world of calcio.