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Sunday Musings: The curious case of Federico Bernardeschi

This season has not been kind to one of Juve’s recent big-money buys.

Juventus v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Giorgio Perottino - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Federico Bernardeschi is not a bad player. Not by any means.

He is a good player. He is a talented player. He is a player that a lot of teams both in Italy and across Europe would probably quite like to have on their own roster.

Sure, that’s coming from a guy who will love the man no matter what he does. In a world of calculated public personas, Bernardeschi is a real one. (And that’s not just because he’s an Italian dude who has a pair of English bulldogs and named them the very un-Italian Spike and Wendy.)

Remember, this is the same dude who, during the first episodes of Juventus’ Netflix documentary that was released a couple of years ago, made it known that his skills in the kitchen pretty much resemble that of a 3-year-old child.

The problem is, as we get closer and closer to Bernardeschi’s third season in Turin coming to an end — and obviously that depends on when the resumption of Serie A takes place — there’s a giant feeling of unfulfilled promise. And that has nothing to do with his inability to cook you up something good for dinner, folks. He’s not the young rising star of Serie A and the Italian national team. He’s no longer the player who is young and growing into his very apparent potential.

Juventus signed Bernardeschi in the summer of 2017 when he was 23 years old.

This past February, Bernardeschi celebrated his 26th birthday, a point in a player’s career where he is truly getting ready to hit the very start of his prime, if not already there.

As we’ve seen throughout the 2019-20 season, Bernardeschi has been ... not very good. And because of those really not-very-good kind of performances that Bernardeschi racked up when games were actually being played, there has been a good amount of speculation over the last week or two about just how much longer he will be a Juventus player.

That might be a surprise to some. But with the way that Bernardeschi has played this season and with a way that a certain Swedish teenager has impressed on loan at Parma both before and after his January move to Turin, is Juventus really in a position to continue to wait for Fede to truly fulfill that potential? Or, after three years of up and down play, is it time for Fabio Paratici to try and recoup as much of the €40 million Juve forked over to Fiorentina three years ago? The second question is about as tied to the first as much as newlyweds are on their first dance after saying “I do.”

But here’s another question: How have we gotten here?

Before Cristiano Ronaldo signed with Juventus or there were an avalanche of rumors about Paul Pogba coming back for Round 2 in Turin, Bernardeschi (as well as Douglas Costa) was looked as the thing that would bring a brand element to the Bianconeri’s attack. It was supposed to be the added element of the 4-2-3-1 “Five Star” formation that flipped the script on Juve’s season and got them to the 2017 Champions League final. Allegri wanted wingers, and Bernardeschi was obviously one of the best options that Juventus could have signed in the summer of 2017. And, seeing as he was just 23 years old at the time, there was still plenty of room for him to grow into his full potential.

We’ve seen Bernardeschi’s immense talent in glimpses. He was one of Juve’s best players through the first two months of last season. He will always have that performance against Atlético Madrid in the Champions League. The problem is, they’re flashes, short periods of time where he played well. There aren’t prolonged periods of time where Bernardeschi is one of Juventus’ best players on the field. Essentially, his Juve career has been marked more for what he hasn’t been able to do rather than just how well he’s played.

Take the consistent theme of Bernardeschi’s 2019-20 season has been just how things never clicked when Sarri tried (and tried and tried and tried) him as a trequartista after the early-season switch to the 4-3-1-2. As much as the switch catered to somebody like Paulo Dybala because it got him into more of a natural position, Bernardeschi’s struggles as a No. 10 was a lot like the squad’s struggles as a whole. As time went on, you expected things might start to improve, but they didn’t — and that was despite the fact that Ronaldo was starting to hit good form and Dybala was really hitting his stride.

The catch in all of this is that while he struggled as a trequartista with Juventus, Bernardeschi was often quite good when on international duty with Italy. Where did Roberto Mancini play him? Well, that would be out wide, which might have made things a little easier to understand as to why his struggles on the club level were happening.

What does this all mean?

Well, I think you can see where it’s going.

As much as we’ve heard lately about Dybala agreeing to a contract extension and securing his future with Juventus, Bernardeschi’s future in Turin is anything but certain. And you wouldn’t blame the club for parting ways with Bernardeschi this summer based on how he’s played this season. It’s been tough, and there’s already more competition up front waiting come the start of next season with Dejan Kulusevski waiting in the wings.

Maybe that would be the best thing for all parties involved. It would be tough for a Bernardeschi fan like myself to see him go, but seeing how this season has gone, a new and fresh start at another club could be the ultimate key to trying to unlock all of that potential.