There is no overstating how integral Giuseppe Marotta has been in the renaissance of the post-Calciopoli Juventus. After a shaky first year, Marotta has built Juve into the dominant force in Italy and a viable power in Europe on a budget that is minute compared with giants like Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich. Even an average English Premier League club could throw around as much or more money than Juventus has over the last seven years.
Fantastic players acquired for a pittance (Arturo Vidal, Carlos Tevez) or for free (Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba) have made Juventus competitive in all arenas far earlier than initially planned when Marotta took over after coming over from Sampdoria in 2010, while the occasional flip of one of these players — Pogba, in particular — kept the team on solid financial ground as they built up a stable financial foundation, with the long-term goal to expand the team’s brand to the point where they could truly stand toe to toe with the big-money teams.
He’s had a few misses here and there (Milos Krasic, anyone? What about Eljero Elia?) but in eight years at the helm of the team he’s never done something out-and-out dumb.
But that may be about to change. If the reports all over the Italian papers and the Twitter machine really come to fruition in the next few days, talk of Marotta’s genius will take on a serious tarnish.
Fun fact: I’m not 100 percent against Juventus reacquiring Leonardo Bonucci. I was one of the few people that blamed club management more than the player for the breakdown in the relationship between the two by the end of last year. If he were to come back and return to the level he was at coming out of Euro 2016, it would probably benefit the team.
What doesn’t benefit the team is what is reportedly going the other way.
There is no universe in which exchanging Mattia Caldara for Bonucci is a good move. None. Punto basta.
One of Marotta’s undervalued qualities has always been his ability to play the long game in the transfer market while simultaneously strengthening the now. He’s always had his hooks in young players like Kingsley Coman, Rolando Mandragora, and Daniele Rugani, among others. Very often the team never finds space for those players — its the unfortunate disease of Italian football that young players are hardly ever given the chance to perform over an older, more experienced hand regardless of his potential — but the team still clearly goes into the transfer market thinking about tomorrow as well as today.
That mindset has seemingly never stopped. The acquisition of Caldara a season and a half ago was just one such move. Leaving him on loan with Atalanta until the conclusion last season was just as good a move as acquiring him in the first place. It allowed him to continue to develop as a first-team player in Bergamo before he came to Juve, ostensibly to take the place of Andrea Barzagli as the back line’s elder statesman’s days as a top-line player dwindled.
Caldara’s quality is undeniable. He showed that at the end of the 2016-17 season when he kept Gonzalo Higuain in his pocket the entire game during Juve’s 2-2 draw with La Dea in Bergamo. He is more than capable of starting alongside Giorgio Chiellini in a Champions League game right now, and be a keystone of this team for six to 10 years.
And Marotta is now prepared to swap him straight up for a player that, at 31 years old, is seven years older than him before he even plays a competitive game for the team.
This, along with the massive financial outlay for Cristiano Ronaldo last month, is indicative of two things.
First, after seven years of dominance in Italy and four years of agonizing near-misses in the Champions League — including two lost finals and a pair of last-second knockout round exits — the team’s upper management is going all in for the Cup With the Big Ears.
Unfortunately, that leads to the second takeaway: Juve are officially okay with mortgaging the future to do it now. That ... that’s not acceptable.
If this move goes through as planned, all of Max Allegri’s top four center backs going into the season will be 31 or older. If Daniele Rugani is off-loaded to Chelsea by the end of the transfer window, they won’t have a single center back on the roster in his 20s. This is a team that needs to get younger, but team management has suddenly seen fit to go in the opposite direction, and move on from one of the best young defenders in the game without so much as a buyback clause in order to do so.
This is not Marotta’s finest hour. To take one of the best prospects the team has and swap him out for a player that, while good, is at or near the end of his peak is simply madness. Add in the fact that he’s likely to get roundly rejected by the majority of the fan base after the acrimony that followed his departure last year, and it just doesn’t make sense. This is such an uncharacteristically shortsighted move by a man who is usually a wizard in the transfer market that it makes you wonder just what’s going on at headquarters in Continassa.
The only thing that would make this in any way redeemable is if Chiellini lifts the Champions League trophy in May, but even that would be hollow. After a year and a half with a clear plan for the future on the back line, Marotta has decided to blow it all to hell.
If the dynasty grinds to a halt in the near future, this move could well be where history points to as the beginning of the end — Beppe Marotta’s first stupid transfer move.