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Has the Old Lady lost her way? Juventus, Ronaldo & the summer of change

Some Juventus fans wonder if the Bianconeri have wandered from their principles.

Juventus v Parma Calcio - Serie A Photo by Massimiliano Ferraro/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Has the Old Lady lost her way?

Under the last couple of seasons under Fabio Paratici, the Old Lady has taken a decidedly different course to the transfer market and club presentation in general — from the kits to the social media presence — than Beppe Marotta, who somewhat abruptly left the club in October 2018. It seems like everything these days is big and flashy and fancy; there’s a lot of fanfare involved, glitzy presentations, sleek finishes. Juventus is the one percent of calcio, and the club wants you to know that fact.

Under Marotta, Juventus were a global power on the pitch but a shrewd and cunning actor in the market. There were prudent free transfers, squad needs addressed through multiple means, and an overall cohesiveness to the roster that mixed experience and youth, talent and promise. Sure, of course there were players who didn’t work out; there are always players who don’t work out. But all in all Marotta’s regime was effective, if not particularly flashy.

Then the summer of 2018 happened.

So here’s the question, one that was asked on Twitter before Episode 2 of The Old Lady Speaks — we have a podcast! — but which the lads couldn’t address because there are just too many good Juventus topics to discuss even during quarantine: Has the Old Lady lost her way? Is the club still looking for players with grinta or prioritizing commercial appeal? Has pragmatism eroded into something not quite as effective?

Evidence for: the summer that changed everything

So what are the reasons to believe that Juventus have, in fact, lost their way.

Exhibit No. 1: Before Cristiano Ronaldo, there was only Juventus.

The Ronaldo saga seems just as freshly insane now to me as it did those few weeks in the summer of 2018. I remember reading, writing, thinking, and firmly believing that there was no way in hell that Cristiano freaking Ronaldo was going to come to Juventus. It didn’t particularly make sense for the roster, but more importantly it didn’t particularly make sense for how Juventus had been operating for years before that momentous occasion.

Then the transfer actually happened. And I remember, like most of us I think, getting swept up in the fervor. My gut told me it didn’t make a ton of sense to sign Ronaldo when, even back in 2018, it was the midfield that clearly needed reinforcements or a substantial change. But I also remember the pervading logic — which I bought into — was something like this: it doesn’t matter if Ronaldo fits or doesn’t fit on your roster tactics-wise; if you can sign Ronaldo, you sign Ronaldo. And that’s what Juventus did. Whether or not the move has made the team any better at all is subject to debate (whether or not the club is actually worse on the pitch is equally subject to debate).

But when the CR7 factory rolled into Turin, the entire club was transformed. Now he was the guy at Juventus. He was the talisman, the marketing play, the face of the club, the icon. Before his transfer, Juventus didn’t really have that. They had great players, heroes in their own right — Gigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Gonzalo Higuain — but they didn’t have a single player who defined the franchise.

So here’s the logic for me if you want to use this as evidence that Juve have indeed lost their way: Against tactical logic and fiscal responsibility, they signed a very expensive player with one of the most expensive salaries in the world — at the ripe age of 33.

Then Marotta was gone. Later, Mario Mandzukic was more or less squished out of the picture. And now the club may be going after Paul Pogba only to lose out on Sandro Tonali.

The flashy names seem to be the club’s first priority.

Evidence against: a player who doesn’t wear No. 7

In my book, Paulo Dybala is the face of Juventus. I think my favorite Dybala goal of all time is that nutmeg-and-dragged-to-the-ground game-winner vs Lazio back in 2018, and I think that goal sums up that the little Argentine has a powerful grinta and is still the soul of the club. No, he’s not a Mandzukic or a Chiellini who could easily cameo in Braveheart with warpaint all over him, but he’s gone through ups and downs in his Juve career with admirable calm and loyalty, and he’s come up huge time after time.

Speaking of Chiellini: he’s still here. Buffon is still here. Leonardo Bonucci, who you might not like but who certainly has grinta, is still here. Rodrigo Bentancur is tough as nails. Merih Demiral and Matthijs de Ligt have fire in the bellies.

Even Ronaldo, strange a figure as he is, has a hell of a lot of grinta.

So what’s the verdict? I have no idea. I can still be persuaded one way or another whether or not the Ronaldo move is a good one. The club was humming along just fine without him, and it doesn’t seem to be doing much better with him. But if having Ronaldo now means that Juve are seen as “that kind of club” down the road for the next Ronaldo (hopefully not at 33 years old), then maybe, years from now, it will have been worth it.

Even so, there’s still fino alla fine here. And I don’t think it’s going away, no matter how fancy J-Medical gets.