Since Saturday’s limp loss to Hellas Verona, there has been a lot of chatter over many forums of Juventus fans. A lot of that chatter has involved the managerial position.
There have been clever memes — that one forming Juve’s new logo with two cigarette stubs is creative — along with some general shouting, and all other manner of trying to convey the same message: #SarriOut.
It’s gotten to the point where there are reports coming from the likes of La Repubblica that some in the Juventus front office are putting forward the idea of dismissing Sarri and recalling Massimiliano Allegri for the rest of the season since the latter still has time on his most recent contract with Juve. My esteemed colleague Hunter has also opined that Sarri ought to go, although he hasn’t gone so far as to advocate such extreme measures.
I can understand the frustration. Sarri’s arrival came with the expectation that it would bring a more modern and free-flowing attack to a team that had started becoming stagnant and seriously lacking in an identity in the latter part of the Allegri era, and that in turn would bring the club a step closer to its ultimate dream of Champions League glory.
No one — at least no one who thought realistically — thought that this transformation would happen overnight. Time has always been an essential ingredient in Sarri’s system. All of us here at BWRAO have been preaching patience for months. Now, we’re closing in on the halfway point of February, and it’s about time to begin looking critically at the product that we’ve seen.
And what we’ve seen hasn’t met expectations yet. We’ve seen isolated instances where real Sarrismo has shone through. The first half of the win over Udinese comes to mind, as does, ironically, Juve’s biggest win of the season thus far against Inter in October. But every time we think the team is on the verge of a breakthrough, we see a step back, like Saturday’s flop or the one in Naples two weeks before that. The result is a closer title race than we’ve seen since 2015-16 when Juve made their epic comeback from 12th place to win the title with two games to spare.
All maddeningly frustrating, I grant. We’ve been waiting for months to see Sarrismo to sprout, but now as we get the business end of the season it’s no longer too early to wonder if it really can with this group of players. But here’s the thing: very little of it is really Sarri’s responsibility. He’s not the real problem.
What is? I’m glad you asked.
The Real Problem
A paragraph or two ago I mentioned it was finally valid to wonder whether Sarri’s system can be effectively deployed with this group of players. The key words there: with this group of players.
This group players put together by this front office. And that, my friends, is the real problem.
Juve’s front office is the real architect of the current issues that are plaguing this team. “But Sam,” you say, “look at some of the signings they’ve made in the last few years! Matthijs de Ligt! Cristiano Ronaldo!”
Yes, Timmy, those were some pretty impressive moves, and ones that have certainly moved the needle and, in Ronaldo’s case, considerably raised the team’s international profile. And yes, de Ligt certainly showed us just how much of a draw the team is starting to become, as well as injecting some badly-needed youth into the back line.
But the front office is responsible for their share of holes on this roster. The right back role has been in flux ever since Stephan Lichtsteiner lost his hold on it, and their decisions are the direct cause of the team’s biggest weakness: the midfield. The team’s power plant has been badly neglected for years now. It’s been the main reason why Juve have struggled in the latter stages of the Champions League in recent seasons, and with a coach like Sarri on board the problem is only highlighted more.
It’s here where my opinion diverges from the one Hunter expressed a day ago. He closed his piece by saying “instead of sticking by Sarri out of some strange sense of loyalty, management needs to cut losses ... and hire someone who’s going to truly maximize what the squad has without going to the very foundations.” At the moment, at least when it comes to the midfield, stripping things to the studs may be unavoidable. The unit simply isn’t adequate right now. Based on the way they’ve played this season, Rodrigo Bentancur may be the only guy I would carry into next season without question. The rest of them? Well, we have ...
- Miralem Pjanic, who started the season looking like the second coming of Andrea Pirlo but has regressed so badly that he’s heading toward his worst season since arriving in Italy in 2011. Unless he can learn how to deal with being man-marked or gets enough help around him to prevent it, it may not be a bad idea to move him on to offset any summer upgrades.
- Adrien Rabiot, who has obvious talent but needs to show he’s harnessed it before a solid determination can be made about his usefulness.
- Blaise Matuidi, who is a great ball-winner and can run for days, but has the touch of a cinderblock and will be 33 in six weeks.
- Aaron Ramsey, whose injury issues are well documented and have been felt this season, and hasn’t done much when he has been on the field.
- Sami Khedira. No.
This midfield isn’t good enough, and the coach that can elevate the current group to the point that they can reasonably contend for the Champions League probably doesn’t exist. The likes of Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba have never been adequately replaced. Fabio Paratici, and Beppe Marotta before him, have tried mid-level acquisitions and mass Bosmans in the hope of finding more gems like Pogba or Pirlo, but none of them have panned out so far. More has to be done.
Now, I say this with the full acknowledgement that that’s far easier to say than to do. High-level midfielders are one of the rarest and most valuable commodities in the sport, and they don’t often hit the open market. It’s not like your FIFA20 save where you can get a transfer done so long as the number is high enough. More often than not, teams won’t be willing to part with such critical players, and will only put them on the market if they are discontented or if they’re a small team that needs the financial gain.
As it happens, this summer will see at least one of each situation present itself — Paul Pogba in the former, Sandro Tonali in the latter — and the club absolutely has to take advantage of it and grab at least one. If they don’t, it won’t matter whether the team decides Sarri is a mistake and moves on or keeps him on.
And really, would it be that bad to engage in a long-term project? Juve have been relying on stop-gap solutions in various places around the field — particularly midfield and right back — for years now, and by the end of last season had very little in the way of identity thanks to Allegri’s constant tinkering. It may cause some short-term grief, but if that gives the team a more solid foundation down the road then it would be worth it.
At the end of the day, while I think it’s time to start asking questions, I don’t think the time has come to definitively say that Sarri has failed. He came in with an underpowered midfield that lacked the ability to provide adequate fuel to the system he brought. It may yet prove that an inability to keep the locker room or some other fault may indeed necessitate his dismissal in June. But until then, it’s disingenuous to pin the team’s struggles on him when the front office has provided him with midfielders that no coach could make lemonade out of, and the possibility of continuing the project beyond this year shouldn’t be discounted—at least not yet.