Here's Part 2 of my end-of-the-season musings. After pondering about what needs to be done for the long-term good of calcio in my last opinion piece (you can find it here), let's address what is more immediate and pressing concern going into this summer: squad planning for next season.
We are still in April now. The Scudetto race has just been concluded, and there's still another final to be played against a Milan side who have now switched tacticians, yet again. Despite having so much to play for still, it is somehow inevitable that our thoughts have shifted towards next season (well, at least for most of us), because at the moment it seems almost inevitable that Juve will win the Scudetto again this season; and if all goes well we might also win the double two years in a row.
We have to remember, though, that this season was supposed to be the rebuilding year. Juve lost a number of players, many of whom played a critical role in the near-treble season we've had last year. Carlos Tevez, Arturo Vidal, and Andrea Pirlo were the most cited, but in addition to them we also lost important players, especially in the dressing room. Fernando Llorente, Simone Pepe, Marco Storari. Even Alessandro Matri returned to his parent club after helping i Bianconeri clinch the silver star (which is still NOWHERE TO BE SEEN! DAMMIT, ANDREA!). In their place came no less than 10 players. Paulo Dybala, Sami Khedira, Mario Mandzukic, Juan Cuadrado, and Alex Sandro are probably the most important ones. Neto, Mario Lemina, Daniele Rugani, Simone Zaza, and even Hernanes played some role too, although some more than the others.
We might have moved past the dreadful days that we experienced between August and October last year, the memory vague after the amazing recovery to the top of the table. But I believe no Juventini would want to see the same thing happen again next season. As such, the theme right now should be "improvement" rather than "rebuilding"; and therefore it is critical that key squad members are retained this time around. At the same time, we have to admit that Juventus has a rather large squad at the moment, which forced them to leave two squad players out of the Champions League roster list. That's why Juve have to sell before we buy, both for the funds and for the space in the squad.
To do this, my approach is to take a look at individual players, assess their overall contribution this season, and assign one out of the following three self-explanatory statuses: Not for sale, Questionable, and For sale/release. Not for sale either means that we have to keep them whatever it takes, or at the very least we shouldn't be actively trying to sell them. Questionable means we can probably retain them, but we should have no issue even if they leave. For sale means that for the good of everyone involved, they should look for a new home come next season.
So without further ado...
GOALKEEPERS (3 players total)
Buffon: Not for sale. Next.
Neto: A very solid goalkeeper that would start in any other Italian clubs with no fuss about lack of playing time. No reason not to keep him, especially when we consider that to replace him with a goalie of comparable quality would require considerable investment. We should keep him unless he wants to leave, and only if we can find a suitable replacement. Not for sale.
Rubinho: I would prefer to have a third goalkeeper from the primavera, for Champions League homegrown quota sake. For sale/release.
Summary: 2 NFSs, 1 FS/R. Replace Rubinho with Audero (or other youth product GK), and we're set here.
DEFENDERS (9 players)
Bonucci: As we go along the list, we will realize that Antonio Conte is partly right: there is so little quality for Italy compared to the past. And as part of Juve's identity is as La Fidanzata d'Italia, we need to ensure that the best Italians play for Juventus. Well, unless we can't afford them (*cough*Marco Verratti*cough*). So, Bonucci, not for sale.
Chiellini: Ditto. Not for sale.
Barzagli: Not. For. Sale.
Rugani: Pretty obvious despite what his loudmouthed agent says. Not for sale.
Lichtsteiner: He extended his contract, and with virtually no other right back in the squad, I think this one's pretty clear. Not for sale.
Caceres: While I personally will put him as Questionable, I think Caceres will most likely be gone next season. He wants more playing time and better pay, and being out of contract he has the upper hand in the negotiation with us as well as with other clubs. I think for good or for worse, he will leave. So for simplicity's sake, I will put him as for sale/release.
Padoin: I put him as a defender because with our current squad, he's more likely to find playing time as Lichtsteiner's replacement rather than at center mid. But in any case, I think his time at Juventus is up. He was a useful squad player covering several roles, but as we grow bigger and better, a backup of Padoin's quality is no longer sufficient. For sale/release.
Alex Sandro: Not for sale. Sorry, Pep, have fun with Kolarov and Clichy. PS, in my FM save, City — who incidentally hired you as well! — bought Jose Gaya from Valencia. So there you go.
Evra: Now this is a difficult one. Juve have offered him a two-year contract, he said it himself. I think the management genuinely wants him to stay (and worry about finding another left back the season after next). But it's pretty clear that he will be the second choice next season, and I'm not sure Evra would accept being the dressing room leader without playing on the pitch. I think he'll go. But for now let's put him down as Questionable.
Defense Summary: 6 NFSs, 1 Q, 2 FS/R. While at first glance we look OK-ish here, unfortunately with Caceres and Evra potentially gone, Juventus will probably need to find some cover for the fullback positions. It can even be argued that we're going to need another centerback cover should Allegri want to primarily utilize 3-5-2 next season. Potential need: 1 CB (if we keep 3-5-2), 1 RB, 1 LB. Looking at this you'd understand why Caceres was such a good backup. He covers 2 roles, saving space in our roster. If we want to replace him, De Sciglio or Vrsaljko, who can cover both flanks, would be a good choice. As for the CB, we would be hard pressed to find a quality CB who won't mind sitting on the bench week in week out, for a logical price. Tonelli, maybe? I personally don't think Benatia is a realistic option, to be honest. In any case, Juve should keep the number of defenders in the squad down to eight players, max.
MIDFIELDERS (8 players)
Marchisio: He just got a very nasty injury, and could miss the first half of the season, and maybe even spend the whole next season in "recovery" mode. Prior to his injury, he's arguably the most important player in this Juventus squad. Italian. Club-grown. Third captain. Do I really need to write it down? Not for sale, folks.
Pogba: The money involved in his potential transfer is mouth-watering, to say the least. There is certainly merit to those that say that by selling him, Juve can speed up the squad rejuvenation. The thing is, he has now grown to be one of the undisputed starters when he's fit. Given that there's already a lack cover for Marchisio as well as Khedira's injury history, Pogba is needed for the continuity in midfield. If they are to let him go, Juve need to find another world-class midfielder who, first and foremost will not be cheap, and second might not be easy to get considering the reputation of calcio nowadays. Gundogan fits the bill, but recent development indicates that he wants to be with Pep at Man City. As such, I say he's not for sale, even for the quoted figures of €100 million.
Khedira: In my FM save, Munchen bought him for €32 million. I sold him immediately. In real life, though, he's not for sale. Not because he's irreplaceable, but because I don't think there will be many clubs interested in him for the money that Juve would ask. He is also happy here. I also like having national team captains play for Juventus, so there's that.
Sturaro: This is a difficult one. He's got potential, that's for sure. But if we look back at this season and ask whether he's done enough to warrant another year, then I'd argue that he hasn't. I don't know what his situation is, but I get the sense that he's satisfied just being a bit part player for Juventus. In other words, he's happy being the next Padoin, when what we need is a player that can challenge or even dislodge one of the starting trio of KMP. I agree with some of you who said that if he wasn't Italian, he would have been gone already. I think he hasn't grown as much as we'd like him to be, and therefore he should be loaned out next season. I mean, it's quite telling that when Max chose Padoin (maybe because we were already leading 3-0) to replace Khedira in the game against Palermo, Sturaro was still joking around on the bench. Although some would point out that it's a testament to the team's togetherness, I think at his age, Sturaro should feel more strongly about playing games. Does he have some kind of an inferiority complex to his teammates? I don't know. But he hasn't convinced this season, and moving to another environment might do him good. For sale/release. Well, maybe not for SALE per se, but you get the gist.
Asamoah: Another dilemma. Personally, I like him. He can cover LWB, CM, and even LB position when necessary. Like Caceres, he's useful to have around when healthy. But the problem is his injury problem just doesn't seem to dissipate. Over the past season he's been out more often than in, and if we want to grab Champions League before Buffon retires, then we have to be a little bit ruthless. Sorry, Asa. For sale/release.
Pereyra: He was a very important part of the Juventus team that stormed to the Champions League final not more than 12 months ago. He was, and probably still is, the only player in this list that Allegri trust enough to play as a trequartista in his beloved 4-3-1-2 formation. But here we find another case of too many injuries, lack of growth, and meaningless contribution over the past season. As much as I'd like to think that he has a place in this Juventus, his lack of contribution (and the fact that Juve still did well enough without him) makes me say that his time at Juve is up. He's for sale/release.
Lemina: With Claudio's season-ending injury, we (and more importantly, Marotta & Co.) will get more chance to see him play until the end of the season. Unfortunately, it might not matter much in terms of deciding whether we will buy him outright or not, because the deadline to exercise the option is reportedly at end of April, which is only a few days away. Some people would argue that with Claudio's injury, it is even more important that we keep him, but others will point out that Lemina himself had a long layout earlier this season, and as such we need to be sure of his fitness before we sign him permanently. The ideal scenario, of course, would be to extend his loan for another year, but I don't think Marseille — and probably not even Lemina himself — would agree to that. Irrespective of Claudio's injury, I think if he is to stay, then at least three (or maybe even all) of Sturaro, Asamoah, Pereyra, and/or Hernanes have to go. What I predict will happen is that we will let that option expires, and then re-negotiate with OM to get him back on loan. OM will refuse, and the player will be sold to a BPL club. But for argument's sake, I put him as questionable.
Hernanes: If they can sell him, sell him. I readily admit that I thought he was going to be a useful part of the team, but apparently he's not. I can admit that I was wrong, but can Marotta admit that he was wrong, at the expense of several million euros of loss? For sale/release.
Midfield Summary: This area is the big question mark come summer. We have a very solid starting trio of KMP, however the quality drop is very noticeable if more than one of them can't play, doubly so if the one not playing is our very own Principino who incidentally is the latest, newest long term tenant in the Juventus' infirmary. In my opinion, Juve need at least four world-class central midfielders with one backup and one youth cover. The plethora of backup that they have right now is just mediocre, or just too injury prone to provide cover. I mean, they get injured more often than the players they are covering!
So here's the ideal scenario for me: Keep KMP, get a quality fourth center mid who can compete against the starting trio (Gundogan?), keep one out of the five potential outgoing players (Sturaro, Asamoah, Pereyra, Hernanes, Lemina), and have Mandragora be the backup. Mandragora is 18 years old, and can be counted as club-grown if we keep him in the squad for the next three years. Even one year on loan would make him unqualified, so it is in our best interest to keep him in the squad.
In any case, max number of player for the center midfield position is six, with one being young player (Under-19) who won't complain being left out of the Champions League squad list. If we want to keep more than 6 players, then keeping Asamoah or Pereyra, assuming they can remain healthy, would be beneficial as they can cover several roles (Asa LB/LWB/CM, Pereyra CM/TQ). That would free up one slot for the UCL squad registration. One thing's for sure: with Claudio's injury, a world-class midfield signing is the most critical right now.
FORWARD (5 players)
Dybala: Boy wonder, no need to waste time on this. Not for sale.
Mandzukic: I don't think he wants to leave, and I don't think the management wants to sell him. Unless a drastic situation happens, I think we will keep him, not least because we can't afford another overhaul in the offensive department, particularly with the uncertain situation re: Morata. Not for sale.
Zaza: If Mandzukic in my view is a lock in to stay, Zaza is not so certain. He will no doubt receive a lot of offers this summer, and while I think the club will want to keep him, I'm not sure what his plan will be. I don't think he'll want to move to another Italian club, but if a foreign club come knocking... He knows he won't be the undisputed starter next summer, particularly given that he gets more yellow cards than he gets goals, so if a project centered around him is presented to his agent from, say, England, maybe he'll ask to leave. Questionable.
Morata: The big question this summer. The major saga. Discussion on this one will be so long that it could actually be its own article. I will try to keep it concise, though. 'Try' being the key word.
His last game in Champions League certainly did not harm his reputation. Two minutes after Allegri subbed him out, Bayern scored. While that specific goal might have been a coincidence, I don't think anyone disagree when we say that the Morata sub changed the game in Bayern's favor. So when British papers wrote that Arsenal wants him, they might not sound as stupid as the usual rubbish British papers produce on a daily basis.
Morata certainly has the skillset of a top player — although we can argue that mentally he's not there yet. He's the typical modern striker, not a pure prima punta, but not a pure second striker as well. He can score tap-ins, a long-range curler, header, left foot, right foot, you name it. He can dribble, he can hold the ball and turn around. He might not be the most creative, but he does provide for his teammates, as Zaza and Mandzukic (and even Lord Padoin himself) would testify. But ultimately, I think despite having played in Italy for almost two years, he has still not adapted yet to calcio where tactics are the focus. He enjoys playing instinctively, and often struggles when space is a premium. This, in my view, is going to always be a big issue for Spanish players in Italy. In Spain, young players are encouraged to play with the ball (hence their superb technique), while in Italy players are groomed to be able to perform well in accordance to the tactical requirement of the coach. Ball skill is not a priority for young Italian players. Morata can be a very useful player to have, but unless he finds a way to make himself useful against the tactical Serie A oppositions, he will forever be a Champions League-only player for Juventus.
So while people like to compare Kingsley Coman to Thierry Henry with regards to The-One-That-Got-Away situation, I think if Morata ends up leaving, it could prove to be more strikingly similar to Henry's situation. He would flourish in the more open world of the Premier League, and Juve would look incredibly foolish to let him go away. But it actually is deeper than that. Morata, as he is right now, simply struggles to produce consistently against the more rigid, tactical Serie A defenses. It's not that Juve is using him wrongly (as probably was the case with Henry); it's just that he suits faster, more open games better.
With that in mind, I'm actually on the fence with regards to Morata. On one hand, he is young, talented, popular and handsome (which helps to build a fanbase, particularly with social media being a priority for Juve), proven in the big stages, and very useful in Champions League which is still our pipe dream. On the other hand, should we actually pay an extra 20-30 million euros for a player that is already in our roster? Or should we receive the €30 million from Real and move on? The difference here is €50-60 million, guys. Can't we find a more suitable player, albeit probably less talented, for that amount of money?
Personally, I don't think losing him would be a disaster. This one is questionable, with capital Q.
Cuadrado: I group him with the forwards because I would like to keep the "Midfielders" section clean; just talking about the central players. He's one of a kind in this list, a tactical dilemma for Allegri, not least because the guy himself doesn't seem to do "tactics" very well. One thing's for sure, he's an impact player coming off the bench. I don't think Cuadrado is good enough that he should start games consistently for Juve, but I'm also not sure if we should spend €25 million (IF that is indeed the magic number considering that Conte might just want to keep him at Chelsea) for a bench player. Questionable for me.
Forwards Summary: Aside from Dybala and Mandzukic, the rest are questionable. I don't think Juve should only retain two layers, hence if Morata ends up leaving, they should definitely hang on to Zaza. Cuadrado is out of our hands as there is no buyout clause, and besides it would also depend on Allegri's tactical gameplan going forward. I think if we can sign Berardi, then losing Morata won't be a huge loss. My preference would be to sign someone like Mkhitaryan who can play on the opposite site of Berardi in a 4-3-3 set up, but could also be useful in a 4-3-1-2 formation. Draxler would have been perfect too, but oh well, no use dwelling on the past. Juventus definitely need five players for the forward line, but that's including the wide forward and specialized TQ who can't perform as a center mid.
So after all the above, I guess my ideal squad would look something like this:
GK: Buffon, Neto, Audero (or any other club-grown GK)
DEF: Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini, Rugani, Lichtsteiner, Alex Sandro, and 2 new players (to cover 3 positions: CB, LB, and RB)
MID: Marchisio, Pogba, Khedira, retain 1 out of Asa-Pereyra-Sturaro-Lemina-Hernanes, buy 1 world class midfielder who MUST be able to play regista, and Mandragora.
FW: Dybala, Mandzukic, either Zaza or Morata, Berardi, buy 1 great TQ/attacker.
With the above squad, we'll have 22 players in the squad, two of which are club-grown (Marchisio and Audero). Juve still have one more spot before we hit the UCL player registration limit, and we can either add 1 defender or a midfielder. The shopping list would look like this:
- Two or three new players for center back, left back and right back. (Linked players: De Sciglio, Tonelli, Vrsaljko, Widmer, Lazaar, Masina)
- One world-class midfielder — preferably regista. This in my view is the most important signing for next season. (Linked players: Gundogan, Witsel (?) and Andre Gomes)
- One trequartista, or one attacker if Allegri thinks he can use Berardi as trequartista. (Linked players: Mkhitaryan, Isco, Lukaku, Cavani)
We will probably need to shell out 30 million for 2 defenders, 40 million for the world class midfielder, and 45 million for the TQ/attacker, plus another 25 million for Berardi. If we keep Lemina, then we'll have to pay 9.5 million too. In total, spending could go up to 150 million. Best case scenario, we will have 5-6 new players, so it won't take long before the team finds its identity on the pitch unlike earlier this season when we had 10 new players. And the starting XI will only see 1 or 2 new names, too, ensuring better continuity from this season.
While the outgoing players are:
- Out of contract/free: Rubinho, Caceres, Evra
- With minimum market value (less than €10 million): Padoin (€2 million?), Hernanes (€5 million?)
- With moderate market value (€10-19 million-ish): Asamoah, Pereyra, Sturaro (€15 milion each?)
- With good market value (€20-30 million-ish): Morata (€30 million)
Potential revenue could reach 60-70 million, so all in all net spend could reach 80-90 million. I think our budget would only allow net spend of 40-50 million, so some of the incoming player might be on loan, and we might have to choose between that world class midfielder or TQ/attacker.
So there you go, my borderline realistic squad planning for next season. Damn that was a long write-up. Now take it away folks. Let's hear what you think.