So, onto business. Danny gave me the opportunity to contribute a piece here at BWRAO, and it struck me that while we had done a pretty comprehensive ratings for our players for the season gone by, and had even done a wonderful rating for Beppe's many Bosman specials, we haven't yet rated Messrs Marotta and Paratici for their performance in last summer's mercato madness.
The 2015-16 season can be considered the start of the second cycle with the current management in place. The "five-year plan" outlined by Andrea Agnelli when he became club president in 2010, concluded with the most successful year Juve has had in decades in 2014-15, as new coach Max Allegri's wonderfully rounded and tactically diverse squad ended up one game away from doing the famed Treble. The summer that followed, featured the largest shuffling of squad personnel since Agnelli, Marotta, Paratici and Nedved took over in 2010. There was a need to reinvigorate the squad with younger blood, and as such, core veterans of the squad like Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez, Marco Storari and Simone Pepe left, while others like Arturo Vidal, Fernando Llorente, Angelo Ogbonna and Kingsley Coman sought different pastures on which to continue their journey.
Similarly, there were no less than 10 new players join La Vecchia Signora and don the famed Black and White stripes this past season. I will be rating these transfers from ten to one, with ten being the least impressive, and one being the most impressive transfer. Naturally, the primary factor being considered while rating these transfers is the performance of the player over the course of the season. However, other factors which I think are of almost equal priority, are the transfer fee paid for the player, and role in the squad. (No, stats is not the primary factor. Sorry, Semperty!)
Note: I am not including players who were redeemed, having previously been on loan with us, like Roberto Pereyra, and youth prospects who haven't played for the senior team yet, like Rolando Mandragora and Guido Vadala.
10) Hernanes (Purchased from Inter Milan for €11 million)
Shocked eh? After an entire summer spent searching for that elusive Mr. X that Max could employ as a trequartista behind two forwards, a search that included names such as Julian Draxler, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Domenico Berardi, Marotta was forced to settle with signing Hernanes on deadline day. Considering his age, a transfer fee of €11 million plus a potential €2 million more if certain sporting targets were achieved, and the club he came from, Hernanes' every touch of the ball was heavily scrutinized from the get-go.
Initially signed to provide Allegri with another option to play at the tip of his midfield diamond, Hernanes seemed to struggle with the tactical demands of the coach both in training and on the pitch. He didn't seem up to the task, and was quickly converted into a pseudo-deep-lying playmaker in the absence of Claudio Marchisio. Poor performances such as those in the 2-1 loss to Napoli at the San Paolo, where he gifted possession to Gonzalo Higuain, enabling him to score the winning goal of the game, and a red card that killed our chances to chase a victory away to Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League group stage, seem to best summarize his first six months at the club.
However, despite reduced game time following Marchisio's return to fitness, he showed much improvement in the second half of the season, including two very assured performances in the ill-fated Round of 16 ties against Bayern Munich. That said, those were two of the very few redeeming moments of Hernanes' first season in Turin. A summer that started with the promise of Draxler ended with Inter seemingly robbing Juve blind for Hernanes. It'll take more than the paltry return of one goal and assist each to convince me that he wasn't the worst transfer of the season.
9) Norberto Neto (Signed from Fiorentina for free)
Who woulda thunk it, but Neto was signed to fill the very large shoes of everyone's favourite backup goalkeeper, Marco Storari. The traits that made Storari such an excellent member of the squad were his locker room presence and the fact that he could play a game for the first time in months without any visual signs of rustiness. Surprisingly, Neto made the decision to go from first-choice goalkeeper at one of Serie A's stronger teams to playing as Gigi Buffon's backup. He ended up making only eight appearances for the squad — three in Serie A (although 2 were the final two games of the season after the title was won) and five in the Coppa Italia.
He performed satisfactorily when given the chance, sans a pretty poor Coppa Italia semifinal second leg against Inter. However, it can be said that he doesn't exude the same sense of calmness and safety that Storari used to. I don't think he's a prime candidate to be a long-term successor to Gigi's Numero Uno jersey, but I do think he's quite the luxurious backup goalkeeper for a squad to be able to boast of. That said, considering his age, I wouldn't blame him if he left next season in pursuit of more playing time. He was an absolute bargain on a Bosman transfer, however, and it was a largely satisfactory season from him.
8) Mario Lemina (Signed from Marseille on loan, with option to buy exercised at €9.5 million)
Alongside Hernanes, Lemina was the second player to become a Bianconero on deadline day. The 23-year-old Gabonese is a combative midfielder, who apparently impressed the management to such an extent when Juventus played Marseille in a pre-season friendly, that they decided to make a move for him. On his very first day, he introduced himself as a box-to-box midfielder, but Allegri was impressed enough by his technical abilities, he was soon given a shot at playing as the midfield anchor in Marchisio's absence.
He seemed like a very able deputy to Il Principino, until a long-term injury hampered his progress in his first season here. He missed a solid few months, but to his credit, he returned in March and fit into the squad quite seamlessly, impressing me immensely after Marchisio's season-ending injury in April. He is a very different player to Marchisio, though, and brings a more direct and physical presence to the midfield. He has shown glimpses of excellent strength, dribbling abilities, and an eye for goal. I, for one, am very excited to see him given an extended run in the team. Eighteen appearances, two very well taken goals, and the fourth highest WhoScored rating in the entire squad makes for a very decent first season.
I feel a little sad, though, because I feel like injury robbed him of the chance to have a higher place on this list. However, considering his age, potential and the relatively low fee we got him for, he could prove to be a very shrewd signing going forward. I am excited to see more of him.
7) Juan Cuadrado (Signed from Chelsea on loan)
Ahh, the hardest player to talk about, and one of the most frustrating players I've ever seen. In an alternate universe where Forrest Gump is about Stephan Lichtsteiner instead of Tom Hanks, the movie's famed quote would be "Momma always said life was like Juan Cuadrado. You never know what you're gonna get." Cuadrado can both delight and infuriate in equal measure. He started the season off playing as a right winger in Allegri's unusual zona mista formation, before becoming Lichtsteiner's deputy at RWB after Allegri reverted back to the 3-5-2.
Capable of steaming down the right flank almost as well as the Swiss Express, and bamboozling his man with his quick feet, Cuadrado was more suited to play as a RWB than an out-and-out offensive winger. However, despite frequently finding himself in an excellent position to wreak havoc on the opposing defense, he was guilty of making the wrong choice, or just not delivering any serious end product far too many times for me to consider him an elite offensive outlet. In the first half of the season, I also found him a little counter-productive to our offensive system, as he was visibly on a different wavelength than his teammates. Where those around him played more directly and at a quicker tempo, he himself was a little guilty of holding on to the ball for far longer than needed, and just not being where his teammates needed him to be.
However, like many of Juve's signings this past season, he looked far more in-sync with the rest of the team in the second half of the 2015-16 campaign, and found a position suitable to his skill set as a wingback. Five goals and five assists in 40 games is a decent output, but you can't help but feel he could have almost doubled those numbers had he been more clinical in the final third. That said, he did have a knack for scoring vital goals, such as the winner against Torino that started our resurgence in the league, the equalizer against FIorentina, and the wonderful second goal in the second leg against Bayern.
While he was definitely a decent signing, I must admit I can't quite understand his signing. At a time when Max was clearly trying to implement his 4-3-let's see formation, and the only other wingers in the squad, Simone Pepe and Kinglsey Coman, were both on their way out, I couldn't quite fathom his addition. This further inspires confusion considering there was no option or obligation to buy, and with Anotnio Conte's imminent reign at Chelsea, he's highly likely to want to keep Cuadrado.
Even Conte's willingness to keep him aside, with Dani Alves incoming and Juventus not being able to negotiate from a position of power, I find it unlikely that Cuadrado will return to Turin. It was an interesting season to say the least, and thanks for the memories Juan, but I won't lose too much sleep if Juve can't redeem him. I do hope he stops going down under the challenge so easily, though. He does it Juan time too often for my liking. Okay, that's the last pun I make, I promise, the last Juan. Sigh. Puns are Juanderful.
6) Simone Zaza (Purchased from Sassuolo for €18 million)
Over the past few years, Juventus have established a wonderful working relationship with Sassuolo, and with more than one of Juve's young prospects playing there to gain experience in the top flight, it should come as little surprise than one of their exciting young Italian strikers made the jump from the team in Modena to Vinovo. However, while many were expecting the versatile Berardi to be the first one to make the jump, it was his partner in crime, the battering ram of a prima punta, Zaza, who battered his way to Turin last summer. It speaks volumes of his confidence that the man reportedly asked for the no.10 jersey on his arrival, however the recently-turned 25-year-old from Policoro, ended up donning the No. 7.
A very physical and quick striker, Zaza possesses the kind of sheer physical dominance and dogged determination that makes Mario Mandzukic, a fellow summer arrival, such a nightmare for defenders to deal with. However, considering the calibre of the players in front of him, Zaza was reduced to having a bit-part role for most of the season. You can't fault the man's dedication, though. He played with bucket loads of heart, grinta, and near recklessness, every minute I've seen him on the pitch, whether the score was 0-0 or 4-0. Despite this, he scored a very impressive eight goals in only 24 appearances in all competitions, out of which only eight were starts. Some of these were crucial goals, like the vital goal that helped us leapfrog Napoli into first place in February, and the security providing late goal against Sevilla in the Champions League group stage.
He doesn't seem to have the same impact when he's a starter compared to as a substitute, but he seems to be very determined to prove he belongs at Juventus and deserves as a starting shirt, and I am very keen to keep him. He's young, a very suitable Mandzukic replacement, and his best years are ahead of him. I think we're yet to see the best of him.
5) Alex Sandro (Purchased from FC Porto for €26 million)
Do you remember this lovely time when Paolo De Ceglie and Federico Peluso were potential starting left wingbacks? I do — and I don't know about you guys, but I still wake up in the middle of the night sometimes in a cold sweat, having had vivid nightmares of the horror that was. But enough with the melodrama, for how times have changed.
Juve are now able to boast not one, but two elite left backs/left wingbacks in the squad. While Patrice Evra brought bucket loads of experience, leadership and winning mentality — both on the pitch and off it — to the squad, it was clear that aged 35, he's a short-term solution. With the near future looking secure, the management decided to focus on the long term at Left Back, and quickly moved to bring Alex Sandro to Turin from Porto, for a €26 million fee.
It took Sandro a while to adapt to the new surroundings and the demands that come with representing La Vecchia Signora, and the team's turbulent start to the season didn't help his cause either. Soon however, he carved a role for himself in the team, and that role was ‘Bomber down the left flank,' Possessing speed, power, Brazilian flair and dogged determination, Alex Sandro proved to be the perfect contrast to the steady and solid, but somewhat more offensively limited Evra.
Making a total of 32 appearances in all competitions, including 22 starts, as the season progressed and its rigors took their toll, Sandro found himself playing with increased frequency. While Mad Max preferred the experience of Evra for the majority of the "big games," the need to utilize him carefully meant that Sandro was given lots of time to impress on the pitch at other times. While perhaps not inspiring the same level of safety as Evra at the back, Sandro proved himself to be a dogged, determined wing back, with the stamina to rival that of our Swiss Express on the opposing flank. His decision making at the back is where he could maybe show some improvement, but I must admit that even I am surprised at the relative ease with which Sandro adapted to the tactical demands of the Italian league.
Focusing on the pros now, he is a real livewire in attack. There was a spell in late 2015 where he was racking up the assists, most crucially, a gorgeous exchange with Paul Pogba, and delightful cross into the box that Paulo Dybala converted brilliantly, which ended up being the winning goal of the game against Milan at home. Two very well taken goals, and three assists do give an indication, but not the whole story, of his offensive output. His blossoming synergy with Pogba on the left wing has been the orchestration for many goals, and expectations are high heading into his second term with the club.
That said, I do think the club could have negotiated a little better for a player heading into the final year of his contract, but Porto are notoriously difficult to haggle with, and the long term pros of this move more than justify his fee.
4) Mario Mandzukic (Purchased from Atletico Madrid for €19 million)
In a move that might have been considered surprising at the time, but in hindsight, is wholly consistent with the club's growing ambitions, everyone's favorite, classy, dapper Spaniard, Fernando ‘El Ray Leon' Llorente left the club on the most amiable of terms, to make way for the 29-year-old Juggernaut that is Mario Mandzukic. At the time, when I thought of Mandzukic, I remembered the battering ram that went toe-to-toe with BBC for Bayern back in 2012-13, and who actually managed to give me the impression that Giorgio Chiellini WASN'T physically dominating a forward. Following a very successful stint at Bayern Munich, including that phenomenal treble from the aforementioned year, Mario swapped cities to Madrid, and Atletico Madrid. Following a moderately successful season, and another brutal contest with him, this time in the Atletico colors in 2014-15, Mario found himself on the move again, this time ending up at our door step.
It is very gratifying to consider our steady growth from Alessandro Matri and Fabio Quagliarella, to Llorente, and finally Mandzukic leading the offense. Mandzukic might not be an instant gamechanger, a-la Lewandowski or Suarez, but what he is, is the ultimate team player. With ferocious strength, a hardened never-say-die attitude, a supreme willingness to sacrifice himself for the team, a supernatural ability to bring those around him into the game, and a very smart positional awareness, Mandzukic formed one half of Allegri's undisputed starting offensive duo, with a certain young Argentinian who also finds a place on this list. Despite recent reports that he played through pain for a significant chunk of the first half of the season, Mario ended up making 36 appearances in all competitions, and contributed a very respectable 13 goals and five assists.
What is important to note, however, is that more than just his numbers, he brought bucketloads of grinta, a champion's mentality and loads of experience to the squad as well. He noticeably struggled with the rest of the squad in the first half of the season, where the demands of the Italian league, question marks over his fitness and the inconsistencies of the team's performance all played a significant role. However, crucial goals against the likes of Manchester City (home and away), Fiorentina, Milan and Lazio, and a blistering April, where he scored in four out of five games, testify to the fact that we'e yet to see Mario at his finest. The prospect of improved game time for Sandro, the addition of Dani Alves and Miralem Pjanic, and the continued emergence of Dybala, all point to Mario being capable of boosting his numbers for the upcoming season.
3) Daniele Rugani (End of loan with Empoli, having been purchased from them for €3.5 million)
I debated long and hard over Rugani's standing in this list. I made three different rough drafts, and his position varied from fifth to third, and finally, I've decided to stick with the latter for a number of reasons. First and foremost, some history. Having been a member of the Juventus Primavera squad for the 2012-13 season, Rugani was sent out on co-ownership to Empoli in Serie B for the following season. He quickly developed a stellar reputation at the Tuscan side. He was voted "Defender of the Year" in Serie B that year, and the following season, having helped Empoli secure promotion to Serie A, he famously went on to play every minute of the whole season, without picking up a single yellow card.
His performances were equally impressive as his stats, as he formed a formidable partnership with Lorenzo Tonelli, and was rewarded with a spot in the Serie A "Team of the Year" for the 2014-15 season, next to a certain Leonardo Bonucci and Chiellini. So impressed were Marotta and Paritici with him, they hastened to purchase the other half of his contract in February 2015, for an astonishing €3.5 millio. He was allowed to remain at Empoli for the remainder of the season, before making his way to Turin for the season gone by.
Initially, Rugani struggled to find game time, making a meagre handful of appearances before the new year, as the struggles of the club forced Allegri to revert to the 3-5-2, and rely on the BBC defensive foundation. However, with the change in year, the addition of Coppa Italia games and a series of long term injuries to Giorgio Chiellini meant that Rugani found himself getting loads of gametime as the season wore on. He ended up making 21 appearances in all competitions, with the bulk of them having been from the first minute.
In style, Rugani evokes memories of the classic Italian defenders of the eras gone by. With a very impressive reading of the game and tactical awareness, he fits the Juventus philosophy that makes our defense so fearful. He also boasts impressive strength and aerial abilities, and impeccable positioning. His mentality, as evident by his patience and mature interviews, are also worth commending. He does need to work on his passing and ability to carry the ball out of the back however, and I've also found him a little uncomfortable against attackers who want to take him on 1v1. That said, he seems to be a mature professional, who recognizes the value of tutelage under BBC, and I think the club expects him to form the backbone of this defense for the next decade.
To clarify, the primary reasons behind my decision to place him at no.3, are his potential, the bargain fee at which we bought him, and the fact that our defense, while being our greatest strength, is also the region of the pitch that needs young blood the most.
2) Sami Khedira (Purchased from Real Madrid for free)
Big Sami is a frustrating player. Not the Cuadrado kind of frustrating, however. The problem is getting him on the pitch in one piece. That said, once he's there, he is nothing short of world class. I've followed Khedira pretty closely since the Under-21 Euros of 2009, and was always shocked at how much the world seemed to underrate him. It seems oddly fated though. The year Pirlo left, our very own Il Principino, Marchisio, ended up being the perfect readymade replacement. And on similar lines, while Khedira technically took Vidal's spot in our line-up, he reminds me most of Marchisio circa 2012.
He came to Turin having a reputation of being a startlingly solid and reliable player, but it was his skillset that really blew me away. Capable of almost ghosting all over the pitch without appearing to expend energy, Sami proved to be a real difference maker at both ends of the pitch. His reading and positioning at the RCM position, enabled Pogba to really express himself on the opposite side. At the same time, he was often the second line of defense after the forwards, as he presses relentlessly. He has an uncanny ability to sniff out the right position at the right time, and his late runs into the box also evoked memories of a devastatingly effective Marchisio from a few years ago. Five goals and six assists in all competitions from only 25 appearances, highlight the deadly effectiveness Khedira brings when he plays. He is world class, period.
That said, his biggest weakness is that he simply has not been able to guarantee us game time with consistency, a fact that's proved to be bothersome because his stand-in's have had a pretty poor year themselves. His injury problems from his Madrid days have followed him to Turin, and we can but hope that the change in medical staff at Turin will improve his fortunes. That said, a world class midfielder entering his peak for zilch, what an absolute steal. May the fortunes smile kindly upon you Big Sami! We need you!
1) Anrdea Favilli (Signed from Livorno on loan)
This brings us to number one... Andrea Favilli was signed from the Livorno youth squad, and took the primavera league by storm this past season! And I totally gotcha there didn't I?
I kid, I jest, please do not hate me.
1) Paulo Dybala (Purchased from Palermo for €32 million)
The real No. 1, da real MVP, the crown jewel of Marotta's shopping spree — La Joya himself, Paulo Dybala. After an extremely promising run with Palermo in Serie B in 2013-14, Dybala carried his team, and mammoth potential into Serie A the following year. So effective was he in his debut season in the Italian top flight, that Marotta swooped in like a hawk and signed the Cordoba native from under the envious gazes of some of Europe's top clubs, before Juventus had even played the Champions League final. On paper, €32 million plus a potential €8 million more in performance related bonuses might seem like a lot for a 21 year old with only one year experience in the top flight, right? Well, in hindsight, it seems like Marotta and Paratici struck gold.
Dybala is a natural. He was born to play football, to score goals, and to enthrall. Possessing blistering pace, fantastic control over the ball, dribbling abilities that exploit his low centre of gravity and a ruthless left foot, La Joya exploded in his first year in Turin. Allegri, being the brilliant groomer that he is, took his time easing Paulo into the squad, with minimum pressure. This was doubly crucial considering the struggles of the team early on in the season. As the team stabilized a little, Allegri unleashed Dybala on the world. Featuring 46 times in all competitions, Dybala rose to the occasion magnificently, smashing in 23 goals, with an impressive nine assists as well.
His first touch could use a little work, and he did seem a little daunted by the Champions League in his first year, but the sky is the limit for Dybala. With a composed head sitting on his shoulders, and strong determination to compliment his talent, he embodies the Juventus way. Expect Allegri to build a Juggernaut of a squad around this potential world beater, and considering his age, skillset, talent and mentality, €32 million — heck, €40 million even — seems like an absolute steal. I think both Paulo, and the fans, can see him leading this Juventus offense for years to come. What a great time to be a Juventus fan!
If you've made it this far, thanks for sticking with me guys! I wouldn't have been able to summon up the courage to give this a go, had it not been for the encouragement and support my many friends here have provided me with. Please feel free to give me your most honest opinions, and any and all suggestions are welcome! If there are other topics you think are worth writing about, or I should tackle, please let me know!
Thanks, and Forza Juve!