Every fantastically mediocre disaster movie starts the same way: A soul-teasingly cushy beginning that masks the imminent threat.
Take World War Z, for example.
When the movie opens, Brad Pitt’s character is sleeping. He’s just a normal scientist dad in his normal Philadelphia suburb house with his normal wife and normal daughters, who come jump on the bed very endearingly. There is a bit of playful banter about his having to wake up so early. A few minutes later, Pitt is in the kitchen with his appropriately hip long hair cooking pancakes for his kids. About five minutes later, zombies are tearing everybody apart.
Without knowing whether the zombies are truly en route, Juventus have begun the season the exact same way — without a blemish. Nine fixtures, nine wins. In Serie A Juventus already have extended their lead to six points, and in the Champions League the lads have taken a commanding lead of the group with two key games versus Manchester United to decide the group (in all probability).
This perfect start has certainly seen hiccups — a come-from-behind win to open the year against Chievo and a near-draw versus Frosinone among them. There have been questions in the midfield, about the fluidity of attack. But, really, this is the truth: Juventus are probably the best team in the world right now. On the field, everything is going right for the Bianconeri, and Paulo Dybala’s three-goal stunner provided an emphatic distraction.
Off the field, the story is different. Off the field, Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo is facing a relaunched investigation, a lawsuit from Kathryn Mayorga. Off the field, former Juventus CEO Beppe Marotta has been let go for reasons, at this point, mostly unknown, despite his near-flawless tenure. This isn’t even to mention the recent racism from the Juventus ultras.
Off the field, the club’s best and most prominent player is facing a reckoning. Off the field, arguably the club’s most important executive is — suddenly, surprisingly — gone.
And Juventus fans ignore what is happening off the field to their own detriment.
Dybala reminds fans of Juve’s young core
Part of Marotta’s M.O. for the last several years has been securing somewhat older players on free contracts to see their careers revitalized in Turin. The run has been hugely successful for those players and continues to be, what with the likes of Mario Mandzukic and, yes, Sami Khedira playing crucial and important roles, respectively, for the black and white.
But aside from Ronaldo, Juve’s best players this year have been the kids. And whatever happens or doesn’t happen on the field, those kids wield immense promise and durability for the squad. Dybala remains foremost among the club’s (many) young stars.
As Sam and Danny have pointed out, Dybala’s performance against Young Boys is also the more impressive given the absence not just of Ronaldo but of Joao Cancelo and Douglas Costa. The Swiss side weren’t and aren’t the most imposing, but, as Allegri cautioned before the game, these are the types of fixtures that can sneak up out of nowhere and
Of course, there are others besides Dybala: Federico Bernardeschi wasn’t perfect, but he was very good. Cancelo has been a tornado of a fullback. Rodrigo Bentancur is an integral piece moving forward. There’s Daniele Rugani and Moise Kean — hopefully two players who see the field more in the coming months.
Yet the chaos is an inch below the surface
Winning is good. The talented youth Juventus has is exciting. An auspicious start to the Champions League coupled with continued dominance in Italy is all well and good. But the Ronaldo situation cannot be avoided.
I want to consider the situation from a Juventus perspective and outline, generally, three possible outcomes, granted the fact that there are essentially endless iterations of these outcomes and probably many more besides.
The first possible outcome is that the Mayorga lawsuit is settled out of court before any sort of trial.
The second possible outcome is that the investigation yields new evidence which sends the case to court, and the result — in whatever capacity and to whatever degree — is unfavorable for Ronaldo.
The third possible outcome is that the investigation yields new evidence which sends the case to court, and the result — in whatever capacity and to whatever degree — is positive for Ronaldo.
For the sake of a fixed point of reference, I am attempting to see the situation from Juventus’ perspective. From a marketing and PR point of view, surely even the best-case scenarios — the first or third — is already disastrous or, at the very least, extremely precarious. The acquisition of Ronaldo was and is, as we pointed out a couple of times, very much wrapped up not only in his current form on the pitch, but in his globally commercial appeal. He’s a brand unto himself, and Juventus positioned themselves to capitalize on that brand. Again, even in the first and third scenarios of this situation, the consequences are potentially very bad.
Of course, other global sports icons have faced similar outcomes to certainly the first of these scenarios and come out the other side relatively unharmed in terms of branding and marketability. The Kobe Bryant case comes to mind, in that the allegations were settled outside of court. Despite concerning details, Bryant is a key figure for brands like Nike, one of Ronaldo’s own sponsors.
There can be on-the-field ramifications, too, in the best-case scenarios, if only due to the mental and emotional drain that a protracted investigation and possible court case would take on Ronaldo as a player and Juventus as a club. For now, though, Juventus are ignoring the matter:
Juventus clearly pretending, along with many Juventus fans, that nothing is happening: pic.twitter.com/qYV6ShQC4i— Hunter Sharpless (@hrsharpless) October 3, 2018
The first screenshot was posted on their Instagram today. I don’t necessarily think it’s the wrong decision to shy away from the matter in some capacity, but there are very few scenarios in which I see this being a good look for the club. At the very least the image seems tone-deaf.
The second possible outcome — that the matter goes to court and ends badly for Ronaldo — would be a disaster for Juventus in that their recently acquired talisman, a world-class player and a commercial juggernaut, turned out to be a ticking time bomb. In another sense the outcome would be an opportunity for the club to make a moral stand. I would hope they would do so in that scenario.
For now, there are only possible outcomes. There is very little concrete. The investigation has been relaunched. Ronaldo has, on social media, called the renewed allegations “fake news.”
Whatever happens, the player is not the club. And the club is not the player. I think both facts are integrally important to remember.