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On the new-look Juventus, building chemistry and teaching

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Running a football team is harder than running a class.

A few summers ago, I was offered a position as a professor for summer school at a local high school. At the time, I was a sophomore in college majoring in business and this class would have me teaching remedial “Intro to Business Theory” for incoming seniors. Talk about the blind leading the blind.

I took the job because the hours were good, and I needed the money. Beer, unfortunately, still does not buy itself. I also took it because I thought, how hard could it be? These are 16- and 17-year-olds. You could tell them anything and if you sound authoritative enough, they will believe it. I half assed a curriculum, dug up a couple interesting documentaries and TED talks and showed up to my first day of class, wearing a button-down shirt and a blazer because in my mind that’s what cool teachers use.

Full disclosure, the job wasn’t nearly as easy as I thought it would be, and I don’t think I thought those kids a whole heck of a lot. Maybe a few of the basic business theories that anybody with a pulse and Wikipedia could have taught them. I think they enjoyed the TED talks and I know they enjoyed the documentary “Inside Job” which talked about the 2007 real estate crisis.

(If you take nothing else away from this piece, do watch “Inside Job” it is outstanding and well worth your time.)

The kids were generally nice, outside of a couple troublemakers. They all passed so they could go into their senior year with no issue and I got payed, so I could buy beer and cheap liquor with no issue.

Win-win.

While the experience didn’t leave me with a lot in terms of résumé building, it was fascinating to see the kids interact from an outsider’s perspective. And it was very rewarding to see them develop and learn during the time we had together. Most of the kids didn’t know each other, so when we started most of them were quiet, guarded and didn’t talk much. However, as the days went by you could start to see them develop a rapport with one another.

It started with a joke or a cheeky comment by one of the more outgoing kids, a couple days later that joke would be followed by a retort from someone else and a follow-up joke. Cliques started to develop, so did little rituals and habits, like everyone getting Starbucks on Thursday’s. Truly the epitome of coolness in High School. By the end of the course, the difference was night and day, you could see the group ebb and flow according to how the day was going or how a couple of the groups were behaving. While they all didn’t get along, they still managed to work together to gang up on me and try to force and early exit on Friday’s, this generally involved an all or nothing bet with a pop quiz, or something along those lines. We usually left early.

I started to get a better feel for them too. At first, I would ask questions at random, soon I realized that there were kids that didn’t like talking in public and got rattled, so instead of putting them on the spot, I would assign them to work on a short essay or loft a softball question that I knew they would answer correctly so they could build their confidence up. Likewise, there were kids who were terrible writers, but they would thrive during public speaking opportunities. I wanted them to do good and to put them in the best position for them to succeed, after all isn’t that what a teacher is supposed to do?

While watching Juventus’ season-opening match last Saturday, I couldn’t help to think back to those early days of teaching, when everyone was confused and unsure, but you could still see flashes of something great.

I don’t think I have to go into a lot of detail into why this was a summer of turnover and chaos for Juventus — between the huge, game-changing signing of Cristiano Ronaldo, the swing-for-the-fences signings of Joao Cancelo and Emre Can, the re-signing of troubled Juve great Leo Bonucci coupled with the unceremonious dumping of Gonzalo Higuain and Mattia Caldara and the departures of club legends Stephan Lichtsteiner, Claudio Marchisio and Gianluigi Buffon. It’s fair to say this might be the craziest summer we’ve had in a while, maybe ever.

All things considered, it was expected that Juve would lineup with the fewest changes possible, of the new signings only Ronaldo, Bonucci and Cancelo started.

(Seeing Bonucci back in the starting lineup almost didn’t feel like a new signing. It felt like we had lost him last season due to some sort of season-ending injury and he was finally back where he belonged. A tear of his Milanitis tendon, if you will.)

Despite only starting three new players, you could see at times how the team struggled to develop chemistry — after all the full team has only played the Villar Perosa game, so not exactly a whole lot of running time together for the squad. Cancelo and Juan Cuadrado had a couple of plays when they were out of sync. Douglas Costa, Dybala and Ronaldo might be some of the deadliest attackers in European football, but they too misplaced a few passes. The first goal was a defensive lapse by Bonucci, and the penalty call was a rookie mistake by the young Cancelo. Even Ronaldo, at times, looked on an island playing as a prima punta. A claw and fight, tight win over Chievo with no goals from the new guy wearing No. 7 wasn’t what anyone was expecting for the first Juventus match of the season.

Despite all of this, you could start to see flashes of what this team might look after some time together. And, boy oh boy, did those flashes look amazing. Some thundering runs by Costa and Cancelo, flashy quick plays between Dybala and Ronaldo, a couple backheels here and there. There were lapses of time when it seemed that Juve could score on command and were only being denied by absolute heroic play coming from Chievo’s goalkeeper, Stefano Sorrentino, who played an outstanding game.

(Regardless of the result of the game, it was a scary moment when Sorrentino was knocked unconscious in the Bentegodi field. It was even scarier that their teammates tried to wake him up by shaking him, while he was clearly concussed. It doesn’t happen as often as say, American football, but concussions are still a problem in football and both players and refs should be more aware when it happens.)

Federico Bernadeschi coming on and Ronaldo moving to the left wing when Mario Mandzukic came off the bench ended up opening the game in a huge way and the win was secured in the dying moments of playing time. It is an embarrassment of riches that both of those players can come on from the bench.

For Max Allegri, this season is going to be as much about developing chemistry and rapport between the new look roster as about finding out in which way to deploy his impressive new arsenal. Berna or Cuadrado on the right? Should Ronaldo get more minutes on the left wing? What do you do with Costa then? Can Dybala thrive in the trequartista role? Is Cancelo’s offensive output enough to compensate for his iffy defending?

This doesn’t even include all the other questions that Allegri needs to solve with this roster. How many minutes will Rodrigo Bentancur get? Will Emre Can unseat Sami Khedira in the midfield? Or Blaise Matuidi for that matter? With Leonardo Spinazzola injured, there is no real backup leftback in the roster, what happens when Alex Sandro gets tired or, God forbid, injured? Wil Allegri do it? Will we see Ronaldo as a leftback?!

My job as a teacher was to give every student in my class the best possible chance to succeed, to put them in the best position that I could considering their strengths and weaknesses. I reckon Max Allegri is going to have to figure out a way to do the same.

I think he will have a harder time finding out how to do it than I did though. I doubt that an early Friday exit will help the same way that it helped me.

Juventus football is back, and I can’t remember the last time I was this excited for a new season. In bocca al lupo, lads.

Class dismissed.