First of all, a very happy new year to you all! It’s been roughly a year now that I’ve done my monthly wrap-up series and I’m extremely grateful for having a platform to share my Juventus thoughts. It’s been fun growing and developing my style here as the months have gone by, so I thank you all for reading my crazy ramblings!
Anyway, let’s get into it...
December was an encouraging, strong month of action on the pitch for Juventus. Excluding the Supercoppa disappointment in Doha, the Bianconeri maintained a 100 percent win rate and (finally!) secured top spot in Group H of the Champions League. I know that I’ve expressed my worries about the general form/direction of the side in the past, especially in light of the tumultuous summer transfer window, but with the injuries clearing up, players beginning to understand each other more, and strong results on the pitch, I’m feeling much happier and more satisfied with the form of the squad. It’s far from perfect, but things are looking good.
Hate that I need you
As you all know, I like to analyze events off-the-pitch just as much as those on the pitch and give them equal attention. On Dec. 5, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s proposals to reform the Italian constitution were resoundingly rejected by the Italian public and, a few weeks later, the nation’s cabinet approved a €20 billion bailout plan to support the world’s oldest bank, Monte dei Paschi. What on earth does this have to do with Juventus, you say? Potentially nothing, but just as likely it could be everything.
I point out that most of the problems he complains about are problems of Italy – of the country whose economy grew more slowly than that of any country except Haiti and Zimbabwe in the decade to 2010. Agnelli’s father Umberto once said, “The team has followed the evolution of the nation.”
Today, is the nation dragging down the team? “Correct,” Agnelli replies.
“My Juventus” article on the Financial Times
Analysts speculate that if the bailout is not handled properly and savers aren’t adequately compensated for this mess, the nation could fall into economic turmoil yet again. We’ve already seen how the dire state of the country’s economy negatively affects the financial health of Italian clubs — which might partly explain the bankruptcies of clubs like Siena (who were actually sponsored by Monte dei Paschi before they collapsed) and Parma — so it would be bitterly disappointing to witness yet another drag on the country and the sport. Juventus, as much as it tries to look across the borders for growth, has to accept that the state of affairs in the country is intricately linked to its own success on and off the pitch.
It’s a painful truth to admit, but we need our dysfunctional leader more than we like to admit.
Cash Rules Everything Around Me
Almost exactly a year ago, I discussed China’s loud arrival onto the global footballing scene fueled by their new financial might and political backing. Unfortunately, I cannot say that I had the divine insight to have seen this trend coming before it came to light, but I’m not surprised to see that it has continued to gather momentum. It’s the talk of the hour all over the world: China’s newfound obsession with football. So, what does this have to do with the Bianconeri? Well, I’m sure we’re all aware of the remarkable news that Axel Witsel is on his way to Tianjin Quanjian for quadruple the wages that Juventus reportedly offered him.
Juventus will be missing out on a second transfer target in the same month in what would be a terribly unpleasant way to start the transfer window. I believe Julian Draxler was also somewhat interested in joining Juventus, but it wasn’t as explicit and clear as in the Belgian’s case. What is most disappointing to me, however, is that Witsel genuinely seemed keen on joining us for sporting reasons which was refreshing and nice to see. Then again, the matter has been discussed passionately in the comments section lately, so I don’t really want to beat a dead horse too much.
Instead of taking the moral high-ground and criticize him for this financially-driven decision, I prefer to stress the more objective aspects of this situation and figure out what we can do to not get into this mess again. Honestly, there was little that management could have done to prevent this event; we were outbid by epic proportions, Zenit’s behavior in the summer made negotiating extremely difficult, and, despite what we all might think, money makes all the difference even when earnings are already so high. Given my background in economics, I’m still bewildered by this last point because, as I mentioned in the comments a while ago, the extra satisfaction I get from quadrupling my income when it’s already so high should simply not be large enough to justify me choosing money over sporting prestige. Sure, footballers have finite careers of +/- 15 years when they receive income but I still firmly believe one thing: if players at the top earnings bracket were seriously educated about financial management and supported adequately, they would very realistically be able to support themselves financially for the rest of their lives.
I continued to climb that corporate ladder because I realized that, you know what, $50,000 [annual income] I thought that was gonna make me happy, but it’s not. I’m spending $65,000 ... so when I started making $65,000 of course I’m spending $80,000. It’s never enough right?
Joshua Fields Millburn - School of Greatness
All in all, this case serves as a warning for times to come: the margin of error for future transfer negotiations will be even smaller now that there’s a new player in town. Any second wasted dilly-dallying will be punished ruthlessly with more heartbreak and disappointment. Happy Hunger Games, right?
More than just a game?
I’ve been working on my Master’s thesis recently (due in June) which is about the social impact of CSR activities of football clubs. Thanks to some very kind staff at the ECA, I was able to get the 2015 version of the CSR in European Club Football: Best Practices from ECA Member Clubs. Naturally, the first thing I did was to flip over to the Juventus section to check out what the Bianconeri was up to and I thought heck, why not share the featured project with you all. It’s called Reintegration of child soldiers in Mali and Central African Republic and is conducted in partnership with UNESCO. It involves providing technical training (e.g. woodworking and painting), cultural activities, psychological support, and sport events to 148 former child soldiers at three training centers across the region. The allocated budget for the project is between €100,000 and €250,000.
Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
What’s most fascinating to me is how little publicity there is about the CSR policies of (European) football clubs — though I have to say that I never knew that so many clubs had explicitly set up actual CSR departments. This is also surprising because of the public cynicism there is about the staggering revenues posted by clubs (particularly the top clubs), the sport’s reputational disaster caused by last year’s FIFA scandals, and the ever-inflating transfer fees being paid out to players. Perhaps even more curious is the small budgets allocated to these activities; 23 percent of the featured projects had a budget between €10,000 and €50,000, 22 percent had a budget between €50,000 and €100,000, and 20 percent had a budget between €100,000 and €250,000.
For the second time in this post, I’m threatening to take the moral high-ground so again I have to stop myself from being a keyboard warrior. Hence, I have to stress that this study includes clubs ranging from the mighty Manchester United to little clubs like the tiny Esbjerg fB (located a mere 15 minutes from where I currently live). Thus, not all of the clubs have the big bucks to spend on such activities – I guess looking at what percentage of their turnover they spend on these philanthropic endeavors would be a more accurate measure, but that’s just a hypothesis. Still, I have to admit my disappointment at the relatively paltry sums devoted to helping those who need a glimmer of hope in their lives more than anything.
Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that.