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September’s Monthly Juventus Thoughts: The Dark Side

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Thirteen goals scored, four goals conceded, and only one defeat to speak of. September was not too bad if I may say so myself.

Juventus v Torino FC - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

So many Juventus games, so many goals, and, barring one unfortunate evening in Barcelona, so many victories! Despite a summer transfer window that had many fans feeling uneasy and insecure (myself included), the start of the Juventus season continues with remarkable swagger. That means that there is more than enough Juventus news to discuss, even though there’s not nearly enough time to do so.

Andiamo!

The Boss

First of all, I have to extend my congratulations to our very own club President Andrea Agnelli for succeeding Karl-Heinz Rummenigge as the new president of the European Club Association (ECA). Given that the ECA was only founded in the year 2008 — and Rummenigge has led the association ever since its inception — Agnelli gains the distinguished honor of being its second-ever president. It continues the extraordinary career trajectory of the gifted 41-year-old who has only been in charge of Juventus since 2010, even though he faces some rather unfortunate issues elsewhere.

This power is mine to command! – Syndra

All that being said, his reign at the helm of the ECA comes at a curious time in European football. The man currently in charge of UEFA, Aleksander Čeferin, has been in his role for little over a year after taking over a fractured and increasingly divided UEFA. The Slovenian lawyer has wasted little time in floating some rather intriguing ideas — certainly from the perspective of an economist like myself — regarding potential changes to the game. This includes luxury taxes, limits on spending, and adjustments to the transfer system to address the growing divide between the rich and the poor in Europe. Bless him, because he seems keen on at least addressing the most serious problems that blight European football at the moment. (Problems which, on that note, have made yours truly much less enamored with and interested in European football.)

“Ceferin’s remarks are basically currying favour with people from smaller leagues. Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland, Ireland, these leagues are his constituency.” (LINK)

On the other hand, Agnelli has previously hinted being open to the idea of the infamous European Super League, but made sure to quickly vanquish the thought when he was appointed to his new role:

"I am comfortable in stating that the majority is in favour of the Champions League as it is, and also for the 21-24 cycle, and that will give it some stability going forward," Agnelli, the chairman of Italian champions Juventus, told reporters.

"We are not expecting a soap opera going forward as the Champions League cycle is pretty much set for 2021-24." (LINK)

Let’s not forget one thing: Agnelli is a pure businessman and a damn good one, too. He undoubtedly wants to see financial growth and value creation in the game. That said, he is probably politically astute and eloquent enough to not cause too much trouble with a UEFA president who is intent on bridging the gap between the have-extremely-much’s and the clearly-don’t-have-very-much-at-all’s in Europe. Hence, the topic of interest will be to see how the Italian will navigate these delicate waters.

I was surprised to see that this piece of news flew under the radar in the Juventini space, perhaps because we were all too busy counting Paulo Dybala goals. Nevertheless, I’m particularly fascinated by how an astute and business-minded man like Agnelli will work together and compromise with Čeferin given the current delicate and political state of European football. It’s going to be an interesting dance between two very intelligent gentlemen.

Teen Titan: Rodrigo Bentancur

Woow, is this kid enjoying his football or what?

And I mean that in every sense of the word because the tall, lanky Uruguayan youngster genuinely looks like he’s having fun while playing in this Juventus midfield. In my opinion, the best thing about this Ben10cur Bentancur situation is that we don’t desperately need him. I mean ‘desperately’ in the sense that it’s not a situation like “Ooh no, we don’t have any other midfielder in his position playing well right now so we’re completely doomed and need him to be the next Ballon D’Or winner right now!” How often don’t we see young players, at the first glimpse of looking like hot stuff, become forced to be good immediately because the team needs a hero and savior in that position right away?

Juventus v Torino FC - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

This kind of pressure cannot be healthy or good for the development of such a young player, which is why I’m glad that he does not seem to be under that pressure at the moment. Thankfully, we have Blaise Matuidi quietly performing very well and Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira soon returning from injury (although the German really has his work cut out for him to regain his position) such that if Bentancur shows a dip in form or needs some time away from the spotlight, he has all the mental space he needs to regain his mojo.

I really hope we continue to give him the steady, under-the-radar environment and space he needs to develop fully and at whatever pace he desires to because, at the age of 20, the future is remarkably bright for this young man.

The Dark Side

The trials and tribulations of Gonzalo Higuaín have been well documented elsewhere, so I won’t spend too much additional airtime on this topic. That said, there’s one thing that always caught my attention about Higuaín and was particularly brought to light when I saw his celebration after his goal against Olympiakos: there’s something about the look in his eyes that tells me that this is a man that has a far deeper and darker inner drive for football.

I’m obviously no psychologist, but there’s something about him that tells me that he carries some kind of anger — something different — that fuels him in his footballing pursuits (hopefully not the type that fueled Vegeta though). That’s why I not only really relate to and am utterly fascinated by Pipita on a human level, but also know that this is a man that will never just fade away into obscurity when faced with obstacles in his life.

Remember that darkness lingers in every heart.

Master Eraqus

It reminds me of a fascinating interview I heard a while ago of Tim Grover, former personal trainer of Michael Jordan, Dwayne Wade, and Kobe Bryant. I transcribed the part that really captures the essence of it below but if you’re curious, listen from around 27:00 (or just listen to the entire thing):

You cannot be great, you cannot be unstoppable, you cannot be special unless you have a dark side and you know how to harness it. The dark side is something that’s unique to each individual. It’s what fuels and drives that person and that’s unique to you. You’re not willing to share [it] with anybody, it’s special to what you do and you’ve learned to control it and to harness it.

Tim Grover

The Metronomes

From darkness to light then, as there were two Juventus players that stood out head and shoulders above the others in the team in September: Miralem Pjanic and Paulo Dybala. Yes, Bentancur continues to progress in leaps and bounds for the team, but Pjanic has been absolutely running the show in midfield. There’s no doubt that he is our best midfielder at the moment as his creativity and guile and the ball set the tone for every Juventus attack.

You will learn what beauty truly is! – Jhin

Moving further up the pitch, boy-wonder Dybala already has a whopping 12 goals in 10 appearances in all competitions so far. Despite his noticeable struggles against big-time opposition, it is an absolutely surreal start to the season for the young Argentine who continues to progress very well in Juventus colors. Let’s hope that La Joya, (and Pjanic of course) is only getting started!

Common Goal

In closing, I would like to give a big shoutout to Giorgio Chiellini for joining the wonderful Common Goal charity initiative. The program, which aims to have players pledge 1 percent of their annual wages to the charity Streetfootballworld, was only started in August when Juan Mata was the first player to join. Now, the likes of Giorgio Chiellini, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Mats Hummels have joined the crew.

Obtained from the official press release

Given the barrage of negativity that the world finds itself in these days — mostly due to the current political climate — it’s nice to be reminded of good things once in a while. According to my rough calculations, the fund should currently be at approximately €219,500/year. Granted, I’m not sure if players like Rapinoe and Morgan, who probably earn the bulk of their income from endorsements, are donating just their salaries or also part of their additional incomes. But, on the bright side, that should mean that this estimate is a minimum.

Hence, if that’s the progress that the program can make in just one month, then I’m extremely optimistic about its future. This could really grow into something special! Let’s hope more players pick up the batton and join the race because as a wise controversial man once said, you can’t change the world without getting your hands dirty.