On Monday, Aug. 21, Blaise Matuidi was officially presented to the media as a Juventus player.
It seemed weird to be holding the press conference for a player who had already made his first appearance with the club, but formalities are formalities. It was a transfer almost a year in the making — Matuidi joked “better late than never” in reference to last year’s failed attempt to sign him from Paris Saint-Germain — and gave Juventus the midfield reinforcement that fans had desired all summer long.
Matuidi is the kind of midfielder that Juventus have been missing for a while. He’s a hard-nosed tackler who can distribute the ball well and make contributions to the attack as well, the Frenchman has been a true box-to-box player. A good finisher as well — he scored 33 times in all competitions in his six years at PSG — he is essentially a poor man’s Arturo Vidal, and can fill a role that has been missing since the King left for Bayern Munich two summers ago.
Matuidi could prove very good for Juventus on the pitch. We’ve already seen the effect the can have on the team. Against Genoa there was an argument to be made that he was the best Juve player on the pitch not named Paulo Dybala — and he only played 32 minutes. He battled for the ball, regained it in midfield on several occasions and held possession on several others. His presence seemed to invigorate Alex Sandro, who to that point had had one of his worst games in a Juventus shirt, releasing him to bomb down the left side and join the attack the way we’re used to seeing.
Looking at how he’s played so far I’d almost call this signing a great move — except for one thing.
Matuidi is 30 years old, and he was entering the last year of his PSG contract. His cost to Juve was €20 million up front, with another €10.5 million in bonuses due to PSG if he makes certain performance incentives.
Just to repeat that: Juventus could pay up to €30.5 million for a 30-year-old in his contract year.
Beppe Marotta has made his share of missteps in the transfer market since he arrived at Juventus in 2010. The likes of Jorge Martinez, Milos Krasic, Eljero Elia, and Mauricio Isla all come to mind. But I can’t remember a time when he has been had.
We may have just seen that.
To pay that much money for a player who is past his 30th birthday is risky. To do so for a player in a contract year borders on absurd. While the bonus clauses, which are triggered by how many games Matuidi plays, are unlikely to be fully triggered, even the up-front fee seems high given the fact that Juve’s reported initial bid on Lazio winger Keita Balde Diao — who is also in his contract year but eight years younger — was €15 million.
Simply put, Juve have vastly overpaid for a player who, while perhaps providing a short-term boost to the midfield, probably only has two or three years of peak performance left in him. Add to that the fact that Claudio Marchisio can provide all the things that Matuidi can, and you wonder, as I did in our midfield roundtable last month, if a midfield move was necessary at all. While Marchisio will be out until the middle of September, it looks as though his issue is in the muscles that stabilize his knee rather than the ACL that he injured a year and a half ago — common problems for ACL patients that can be overcome for good with the proper therapy.
When that’s done, it’s likely that he’ll resume the form we saw in preseason.
Matuidi is a puzzling signing too in that Juve have been looking to get younger. Much was made of the fact that the starting XI at the Champions League final in Cardiff was the oldest in the history of the competition. Signing a 30-year-old is a strange way to rectify that problem. In fact, it could force Juve to pay an even higher price in the long run — one that transcends money.
Of Juventus’ top four midfielders only one, Miralem Pjanic, is younger than 30. Matuidi and Sami Khedira are 30, Marchisio is 31. Juventus has a stable of young midfielders that need minutes to develop, and the purchase of Matuidi is a major roadblock to that.
Rolando Mandragora impressed at the Under-20 World Cup this summer and has been showing great promise, but was loaned to Crotone just after the team’s summer tour ended. Nineteen-year-old Rodrigo Bentancour also turned heads in South Korea for Uruguay, and has remained with the first team, but he, as well as Stefano Sturaro — I may be in the minority here but I still firmly believe in his potential if he’s allowed to grow properly — seem unlikely to play the kind of minutes that they’ll need to properly develop with Matuidi on hand.
It’s a symptom of a disease that plagues all of calcio: a fundamental distrust of young players. It’s very rare that young players get to prove themselves worthy in Italy. The only places coaches deign to give their youngsters a chance are provincial sides like Sassuolo, Empoli, Torino, or Atalanta, who are forced by the economics of the modern game to give extensive playing time to promising youngsters. This is how we got players like Domenico Berardi, Daniele Rugani, Andrea Belotti, Mattia Caldera, and Leonardo Spinazzola to come to the fore. Three of those players are now under Juve’s control in one way or the other, but they would never have been able to find playing time at Juve, where the demand for the shiniest thing on the shelf in the transfer market often blocks them from getting any time in.
This is a trend that has to end, and Juve can be at the vanguard of it by giving players like Bentancour a solid chance at meaningful playing time.
This route is risky, but the club will benefit from it more in the long term than from making signings with only short-term upside.
For the next two seasons or so, Matuidi will likely be a solid contributor to Juventus. But in both financial and developmental terms, his price may end up being more then the club should be paying.