Due to the international break at the beginning of the month, Juventus only negotiated five games in all competitions in November. Despite the relative lack of games, however, there was still more than enough to talk about as a tipsy-turvy month took a heavy mental and physical toll on the team. Here are some of the things that stood out to me in November.
The Great Houdini
Last month, I discussed how, Hernanes had seemingly won the battle of the understudies between him and Mario Lemina. What I didn’t anticipate, however, was that the young midfielder from Gabon would effectively disappear off the face of the planet. It was remarkable to note that Lemina’s last performance was on Oct. 26, which was a short 17-minute cameo in the 4-1 home victory against Sampdoria. In the meantime, he was only out for one match-day with the flu just last week. So ... what’s going on?
Sometimes I wanna disappear!
Has Hernanes truly supplanted Lemina so convincingly that Max Allegri doesn’t view him as a viable option at all anymore? I doubt that Claudio Marchisio’s return from injury had a detrimental effect on Lemina’s playing time given how Allegri (very wisely) wants to ease him back into business by playing him very sparingly. On the contrary, I would think that he would want to use Lemina more so that Marchisio has less pressure to play too many consecutive games in the early days of his return from injury. It certainly seems that Mad Max views the Gabonese midfielder strictly as a regista and nothing else (i.e. an RCM or LCM) given that Stefano Sturaro has been consistently picked ahead of him in midfield. It’s a strange scenario and one that has very much surprised me; but given that the Africa Cup of Nations is just over a month away, I don’t think we’re going to see much more of the scruffy-haired midfielder for a while to come.
An unexpected opportunity
To continue another theme from last month, I expressed my worries that Daniele Rugani might struggle for playing time given the surprisingly impressive performances of Medhi Benatia. However, what I didn’t see coming — but very well should have given how this season has proceeded — was the avalanche of injuries that the team would experience. With Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli out of action until the new year, and Giorgio Chiellini still in a precarious physical state, there is no better time than now for Rugani to step up to the plate and stake his claim. He already displayed remarkable maturity in the challenging victory against Sevilla in Spain so he certainly seems ready for his time in the spotlight.
The only potential problem is that he has had very, very little time playing together with Benatia, which is mainly an issue because the Moroccan will probably be his most frequent partner in defense. A central defensive partnership, of all positions, is arguably one of the most crucial ones on the pitch where the concept of a partnership truly has to be fostered. I hope that the time that Rugani needs to develop an understanding with Benatia doesn’t take away from his performances on the pitch (or from those of Benatia, for that matter). But the opportunity is there for the taking, Daniele. Show us your best.
Test of Heart
Patrice Evra and Giorgio Chiellini. Two players that seemingly have little in common, but have caught my attention in similar ways. The Frenchman has had some unimpressive performances lately; not catastrophic by any means, but certainly not to the level that we’ve come to expect from him. On the other hand, Cheillini has been battling injury after injury for months, leading to much concern about his long-term health. What the two of them, therefore, have in common is that they have some convincing to do to both Allegri and the fans. Can Chiellini still handle intensive fixture pileups or will he have to be rotated frequently to conserve his physical condition? If so, will this come at the cost of good performances?
You will be examined for the Mark of Mastery... but this is neither a competition nor a battle for supremacy—not a test of wills, but a test of heart. Both of you may prevail, or neither.
What about Mr. I-love-this-game? His physical condition is absolutely impeccable (according to his Instagram page at least) yet he has seemed sub-par recently, especially against Sevilla and Lyon. Can he restore his performances to the fantastic levels of last season or will he become permanently supplanted by the constantly-improving Alex Sandro? All in all, I still have faith in the capacities of both Chiellini and Evra but given that they are on the wrong side of 30, I believe that these are necessary questions that need to be asked. We need to know if the transition towards younger lads like Rugani needs to be accelerated or if the future can wait, just for now.
Glass half full or half empty?
Just over a week ago, Bayern Munich posted an absolutely colossal record turnover of €626.8 million for the 2015-2016 fiscal year. This translates into an increase of 20 percent, or €100 million, from the previous year and a pre-tax profit of €53.9 million. On the other hand, Juventus posted a Serie A record-high turnover of €387.9 million and a pre-tax profit of €11.6 million (€4.06 million after tax).
I don’t know what they want from me
It’s like the more money we come across,
All right, that was a lot of numbers so let’s get down to the actual English. On the one hand, Juventus continues the astonishing progress from the money-hemorrhaging disaster it was a few years ago to the remarkably stable financial entity it is today, mostly thanks to Agnelli’s fantastic work as president. Alongside clubs like Sassuolo and Udinese, we are clearly an example to the rest of the country for savvy financial management and stability and thus far ahead of the curve in Italy. Cast your gaze a little further, however, and the picture is not as rosy. Clubs like Bayern are lightyears ahead of us in terms of revenue growth and, particularly, profit growth (71.6 percent vs. 7.4 percent - Thanks Fefu!).
We’ve often discussed Juventus’s progress on the pitch, particularly relative to our European rivals, but the discussion recently pivoted to our progress in the money room. As much as the purchases of elite players like Pjanic and Higuaín have certainly been noteworthy statements of intent, I wonder if such transfers (and their accompanying wages) can be sustained in the future if our bank account cannot grow at the same rate as our sporting ambitions. Progress is being made, but a titanic chasm remains to be bridged if we are truly to be the world’s greatest.
When I was young, I thought that money was the most important thing in life.
Now that I’m old, I know that it is.
In a way, it’s funny how the world of football reflects the real world in terms of income inequality. Global football is experiencing a staggering concentration of financial and sporting power in the hands of very few while at the same time we’re also witnessing an alarming degree of income inequality in the ‘real’ world. But let’s leave that aside. The most important thing is that Juventus must continue to pursue new and innovative avenues for financial growth because the big boys are not going to wait until we catch up. Once again though, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder: we’re either fantastic for our astonishing financial progress in the last 6-7 years or simply the dorky kid trying to fit in with the cool kids because we’re so far behind the elite.
I obviously cannot dissect the entire financial report, so if you’re interested, you can download the file here at “Annual Financial Report at 30 June 2016.” The most interesting part starts from page 45 of the document, Review of the results for the 2015/2016 financial year.
As a closing note, remember to vote for your UEFA Team of The Year 2016: Bonucci, Buffon and Higuaín are among the nominees! I mean c’mon, if Joe Allen is one of the nominees, how can you not vote?