Almost as much as the trophies and the stripes, there is one thing that has put Juventus apart from the rest of the footballing world this decade. And that is the club’s savvy, almost transcendent ability to sign players for free on the transfer market.
There is no club in the world that has been able to get so much talent with the so-called Bosman transfers as the Bianconeri. In the last decade, by my count, Juventus brought in 15 players on free transfers that made first team appearances.
However, and as we discussed on one of our latest episodes of The Old Lady Speaks, not all that shines is gold and not all of those players were successes during their time as Juventus members. At the end of the day, if you are getting a guy for free is probably for a reason, so let’s figure out who got the short end of the stick in all these moves.
A couple quick disclaimers: We are only talking about the players who were brought in the last decade and we are only talking about guys who had meaningful first team minutes or were at least brought in with the intention of having first team minutes, AKA the Reto Ziegler rule.
Who’s Reto Ziegler? Glad you asked. He’s the Swiss defender was acquired as a free transfer on 2011, after four productive years at Sampdoria. However, he was immediately loaned out to Fenerbahce in Turkey, Lokomotiv Moscow in Russia, Fenerbahce again and lastly Sassuolo where his contract with Juventus expired after playing exactly zero minutes with the club who ostensibly owned his rights.
Fun fact, he is now an FC Dallas player, so for any Juventini in the Dallas metropolitan area who want to catch a technically former Juve player you can do so whenever we are allowed to have sports again.
Also, and before we start, just special mention to the signings of Andrea Barzagli and Carlos Tevez. Neither of them was free, but to think that Juventus got a premier center back for €300,000 and a goal scoring machine for €9 million is a bonkers thing to remember — especially in the incredibly bloated market we see right now where any decent guy will cost you at least a tidy €20 mill.
Anyway, done with the asides, let’s get right into it.
15. Nicolas Anelka
We start with the biggest misses for the Juventus brass. Funnily enough, both on the 2012-13 season. Lucio joined the team in the summer of 2012 on a free transfer from Inter Milan, and the Brazilian defender was expected to bring a veteran presence to the backline for the defending champs.
It was not meant to be as he only suited up for four games and was a shell of his former self, he lasted only six months as a Juve player as he was released during the winter transfer window and picked up by Sao Paulo of his native Brazil. The only reason Lucio is not dead last in this list is because of the other flop of the season, Nicolas Anelka.
The French international was acquired during that very same winter break from SH Shenhua of the Chinese league, where he played for a year after leaving Chelsea in early 2012. Again, the hope was for him to bring in some goal scoring ability, with the reasoning his days of high-level football were not that far behind him. Yet, the only thing he managed to do was make the Lucio signing look good by comparison. He appeared in three games for Juventus, scoring no goals and only playing 55 minutes total, after the season he was released and picked up by West Brom.
13. Luca Toni
12. Fabio Cannavaro 2.0
Two Italian mainstays on the wrong side of their careers.
Toni was signed during the winter transfer season of the 2011-12 campaign. With the team in the middle of what it would end up being a surprising championship run, Toni was brought in to provide a scoring punch to a lackluster offense that finished the season with Alessandro Matri and his 10 total goals as the leader in the department for the club.
Toni failed to provide that, and he would only score twice in 15 total appearances on 2012 as he failed to make much of an impact on an attacking starved Juventus team. He was acquired by Al-Nasr of the UAE after his release, the league destination of choice for old players trying to score a payday.
Cannavaro was one of the best defenders in the world during his first stint at Juventus in the mid 2000’s, he left the club during the Calciopoli firesale and after playing for Real Madrid for three years he was re-acquired by Juventus during the summer of 2009.
While he tallied 33 appearances for the team and played a large part in the season — a lackluster seventh place finish for Juventus in Serie A — it was noticeable he was not the same Ballon d’Or caliber defender.
His signing wasn’t a total failure, but it’s hard to say it was a successful move. After the one year back at Juventus, Cannavaro was acquired on a free transfer by Al Ahli of the UAE.
11. Emre Can
One of the many midfielders that was supposed to bring stability to the position ... but failed to do so. The German international was sold to Borussia Dortmund during the January transfer window earlier this year, after a lackluster year and a half as a Juventus player.
If you can say a good thing about Can’s time in Italy, it’s that he provided some depth and had a couple good games overall. I wouldn’t consider his transfer a total failure, especially after Dortmund paid €25 million to acquire him.
Still, considering the expectations for some of us was that he would be a difference maker for the team, his time in Turin fell well short of that.
10. Kingsley Coman
Similar case as Can, acquired from Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2014, Coman was a highly touted winger who mostly failed to break into the Juventus lineup during his time in Italy.
He featured for Juve for only 22 games with one goal and a couple assists. Truth be told, the formation deployed by then-manager Max Allegri didn’t do him any favors and he was considered expendable by the end of the 2014-15 season as he was loaned out (and then bought outright) to Bayern Munich where’s become a regular on the German side.
9. Adrien Rabiot
8. Aaron Ramsey
Both of these guys could ostensibly be graded as incomplete.
Acquired for the current season as a hopeful answer to the midfield problem of the club, both have struggled with injuries and a lack of form respectively, as they have failed to establish themselves as difference makers.
Ramsey has fared better overall and his form was improving before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the season to a halt, Rabiot, on the other hand, has failed to earn a consistent spot in the rotation and is already being discussed in rumors galore as being on the outs with the club.
Their respective Juventus stories are not done yet though, so we’ll see where they end up on this ranking.
7. Gianluigi Buffon
6. Neto Murara
Free backup keepers!
While Buffon is the greatest goalkeeper of all time, he’s been the primary backup to Wojciech Szczesny this season, and when called into action he’s performed adequately enough after his free transfer from PSG.
Neto gets ranked higher on this list purely because of the fact he netted Juve a solid re-sale value. The former Fiorentina man was sold to Valencia for €7 million, after deputizing Buffon from 2015 to 2017, so Juventus got something out of his time as a Bianconeri, something that will almost assuredly not happen once Buffon decides to hang up the gloves.
5. Dani Alves
Bringing up the rear in the top 5, the Brazilian fullback had a short bur meaningful stay donning the black and white.
The Barcelona legend was acquired during the summer of 2016 to take over the right back position and be a significant part of Juventus quest for the Champions League trophy. While he was a starter during the majority of his time in Italy, tallying 33 appearances total with 6 goals and 7 assists, he wasn’t the immediate spark plug that many Juve faithful expected him to be.
He did improve massively in the second half and his contributions, specially helping shut his former club down in the quarterfinals and a master class performance in the semifinals against Monaco, propelled Juventus to the final.
His alleged participation in a locker room confrontation during said final and a number of unsavory comments towards the club after his release have marred his stint as a Juventus player. However, it’s fair to say that without him Juventus might not have made the final during that campaign. All in all, a solid addition, especially on a free.
4. Fernando Llorente
A beloved locker room presence wherever he’s played, Llorente was a solid player during his time at Juventus.
Brought in during the summer of 2013, the Spain international was a regular for a team looking for a strike partner for their newly signed No. 10, Carlos Tevez. A prodigious threat on the air, Llorente tallied 27 goals and 10 assists over the span of 92 appearances for the Bianconeri.
His playing time diminished after the loan signing of Alvaro Morata, so he wasn’t as featured during Juventus surprise run to the Champions League final in Berlin. However, he still provided minutes whenever necessary and continued to be a beloved teammate until he left for Sevilla on another free transfer after spending two seasons in Italy.
3. Sami Khedira
Friend of the blog Sami Khedira makes the podium! And while he has been the object of a fair amount of criticism here at BWRAO for his performances over the last couple of years, it would be unfair to judge his entire stint — and his overall success as a free transfer — by his dip in form the last couple of seasons.
One of the longest tenured players in the current roster, Khedira has been a Juventus player for a half a decade now after his free transfer from Real Madrid in 2015 as he has featured 144 (!!!) times for the Italian champs.
Injuries and the relentless passage of time have slowed down the German midfielder, but at his peak he was a key cog in several of Juventus Serie A league and cup wins and a featured player for Allegri.
Khedira would have been a good signing even if Juventus had payed a fee, on a free transfer his time as a Juve player has to be considered an unabashed success.
2. Andrea Pirlo
One of the great steals of all time.
After anchoring the AC Milan midfield for a decade, the Rossoneri released Pirlo under the assumption his best days were behind him. You cannot convince me that was not the irreversible moment that AC Milan went to absolute hell.
Juventus signed him prior to the start of the 2011-12 season and the rest is history; Pirlo played a key role for Juventus as they won the league on every single one of his seasons with the team. 164 appearances, 19 goals and 38 assists tell the statistical tale, but they fail to truly convey the massive impact he had on the midfield and the squad as a whole during his time in Torino.
1. Paul Pogba
Juventus acquired the relatively unknown young French midfielder for free in 2012.
He went on to become a four-time Italian champion and two-time Coppa Italia winner, one of the most famous and marketable guys in the world, someone shortlisted as one of the best midfielders currently playing and a player deemed worthy enough to be the highest transfer fee in football history.
Pogba was not only a success story for Juventus savvy scouting prowess, but he was an institutional success thanks to his development during his time at the club. It established the team as a premier destination for players with expiring contracts and was a key part in bringing Juventus back to the top of European football.
He could also do this on a relatively regular basis:
Bottom line, if you get a guy on a free transfer and then sell him for over €100 million? That’s it, that’s the best free transfer you ever made. Paul Pogba is the best free transfer Juventus has ever made.