Christian Eriksen. Achraf Hakimi. And perhaps Sandro Tonali.
Former Juventus executive Beppe Marotta and his new club Inter Milan are kicking butt and taking names on the transfer market, revamping a perennially underachieving side under the searing energy of Antonio Conte into a team destined for the Champions League and competing legitimately for the Scudetto, although their efforts will probably fall short to either the Bianconeri or Lazio.
This fact, however, remains: through devoted pragmatism and multi-lever maneuvering, Marotta is beating Fabio Paratici on the transfer market. Juventus have actively ignored pressing tactical needs for years (e.g. the midfield), while nearly every move Inter make seemingly accomplishes multiple ends. Juventus quite often focus on star power, which of course comes at a steep price, only to miss on alternative candidates perhaps equally viable.
Juve’s recent move to acquire Arthur Melo from Barcelona — an act, more or less, of financial trickery designed to create large capital gains for both clubs — took advantage of the Catalan side’s dire fiscal straits, but in the end the 23-year-old Brazilian isn’t going to be the total answer in the midfield that this club has needed for some time.
There are naturally a lot of qualifying statements to be made, as is the case with any evaluation of an issue as complex as this one. Among the many one could make: none of this is to say Juve have had an awful 12 months, any side is going to have misses on the market, and to a large degree some of the moves being currently made might not be able to be truly evaluated until years down the road.
Even so, over the last 12-18 months Inter have improved much, much more than Juventus. And that should be concerning.
The virtues & schemes of Beppe Marotta
Juventus fans might not need (or want, at this juncture) any sort of lessons in how brilliant Marotta is when constructing a roster, but seeing the man do what he does best with a side that struggled for years with incompetency is still impressive — the fact that it’s Inter notwithstanding.
1. Beppe identifies positions of need and executes.
When news broke in the last week or so that Inter were set to sign Real Madrid fullback Hakimi, currently on loan at Borussia Dortmund, I wasn’t the only Juventino who — looking at our own situation at left and right back — cursed under my breath. Whether or not Hamiki would’ve been a perfect fit for this club is a question up for debate, but he probably is a perfect fit for Conte and Inter. With aging and/or underperforming wingbacks like Victor Moses, Kwadwo Asamoah, and Ashley Young, among others, Beppe saw a need and filled it with one of the brightest young defenders on the planet.
2. Beppe addresses the age and experience makeup of the roster.
Like Juventus, Inter have a whole lot of players who are older. Beppe has addressed that fact in his tenure by signing youngsters like Nicolo Barella, Stefano Sensi, and Hakimi, as well as players in the early or middle points of their peaks like Eriksen and Romelu Lukaku. Yes, Beppe is taking advantage of the fact that Inter is a location where these young players can earn immediate first-team minutes. That’s something Juventus should probably look closer at, if we’re honest with ourselves; the club has let a player slip away in the last six months who already seems like a mega-star (Erling Haaland, if the reports are to be believed that the club was firm about his place behind Gonzalo Higuain).
3. For the most part, Beppe avoids spending ridiculous amounts of money.
Lukaku cost a handsome chunk of change for Inter. The former Manchester United striker was undoubtedly the biggest financial risk taken so far by Beppe, but the No. 9 has proved worth every penny. Not only has his production been solid (third in Serie A with 19 goals), not only has he paired delectably with starlet Lautaro Martinez, but perhaps most importantly he is exactly the kind of attacker that Conte needs up top.
4. Beppe takes low-risk gambles.
Beppe is the king of low-risk gambles, whether or not they work out. We Juve fans are more than familiar with this habit, but he’s continuing it with Inter and it’s always interesting to watch. Not all of the low-risk gambles are successful, but that’s the point of low-risk gambles: they’re low-risk! The Nerazzurri inked Moses, Young, and Alexis Sanchez out of the Premier League on free transfers to bolster squad depth. Now, look, none of these players has been consistently great, but Inter are at the stage of club-building where that kind of experience is nonetheless valuable for building overall depth. As if to illustrate my point, Inter’s first goal against bottom-dweller Brescia was an absolutely beautiful connection between Sanchez and Young.
5. Beppe secures future and current stars.
Beppe’s pragmatism does not preclude him from identifying and securing some of the most exciting prospects and players in the world. When Eriksen is on, he’s one of the most dynamic midfielders there is. Hakimi could very well be a top-three or -five right back in the next few seasons. If Tonali ends up signing with Inter, we already know what kind of future he has in store. So for all the talk of Beppe being shrewd and pragmatic, which is certainly true, he also doesn’t turn away from talent.
The most impressive thing to me about Beppe, though, is that with any given move on the market he’s never pulling just one of these levers. He’s always pulling more than one. With Eriksen, for instance, he’s getting a top player in a position of need for a very good price because of the expiring contract. Although he paid top dollar for Lukaku, he found a perfect tactical piece for the manager and existing striker alike.
Qualifying remarks: Juventus are (probably) fine & Fabio could still prove me wrong
Like I said in the beginning, there are a number of qualifying remarks one should make when embarking on an endeavor like this. I think it’s important to make them.
1. Fabio has still inked some very good, very young players.
Matthijs de Ligt, Merih Demiral, Dejan Kulusevski, Arthur, Luca Pellegrini, Cristian Romero — Fabio is not without his own collection of great signings. To say that Beppe has done great things on the market is not to say Fabio has done nothing. One has the feeling that at least two or three of these players are going to be instrumental for the club moving forward. Fabio is well aware that the club is old and needs a youth injection.
2. We might not know how successful (or not) these signings are until well in the future.
If Kulusevski turns out to be the next Kevin De Bruyne, we’re going to judge this round of signings differently than if he comes to Turin and turns out to be the Swedish version of Federico Bernardeschi. Transfers are executed in a moment with a signature but may take years to come to fruition (or not, as the case sometimes may be). But I will go on the record saying this about Kulusevski: after watching some of his recent play against Hellas Verona and Inter, I think he might be worth double the price we paid for him in a year’s time. Maybe triple. I don’t think there’s any way to over-hype this player. In his first season of top-flight calcio (!), Kulusevski is currently tied for fifth in Serie A in assists with seven goals to boot.
3. Juve’s squad is still vastly superior and deeper than Inter’s.
This hopefully goes without saying, but from back to front Juve’s squad is still far and away the superior side. This is true both for the starting 11 — though maybe that gap is narrowing — and even truer on the bench. As we all know, the gauntlet of a full schedule with Champions League, Serie A, and Coppa Italia is grueling, and if you don’t have the depth to sustain that kind of competition your record will suffer.
4. There are going to be misses for everyone.
Fabio will make bad signings. Beppe will make bad signings. Everyone will make bad signings.
5. Fabio still has plenty of time to prove me wrong.
I am 100 percent certain that some people will skim this article and not quite make it to this section, but Fabio has loads of time to address Juve’s squad needs, pull of fantastic deals, and prove me to be an idiot. I, of course, would absolutely love to be proved an idiot, because that would mean Juventus are left with a great transfer window and squad direction. The midfield still needs at least one other player, hopefully two; the fullback situation needs addressing; and the club probably needs to move on from Higuain if possible and identify either a stopgap solution (someone like Raúl Jiménez) or their striker of the future (someone like Gabriel Jesus).
Just because Juventus have Ronaldo and a new website and fancy bells and whistles does not mean Fabio should eschew shrewdness on the market; what I fear is going for high-price, big-name targets (like Paul Pogba) only to miss out on very solid options available at much cheaper prices (Eriksen). There are gaps in the roster, there’s an aging core, and there’s a hell of a lot of work to be done. How Fabio approaches the next year or two could have huge ramifications for the foreseeable future of the Bianconeri.