The comment threads of Black & White & Read All Over are littered with the indomitable minds of latent top-flight sporting directors. That, at least, would be the impression left many times, as Juventus roster-constructor Fabio Paratici often acts as a punching bag no matter what course of action he takes.
Why doesn’t Paratici sell Higuain? Why haven’t we gotten rid of Khedira yet? Can you believe we didn’t sign so-and-so?
Real-life football, though, is not FIFA. The circumstances are more complex, the motivations murkier. There are more hurdles and fewer clear-cut paths; there are more variables in each equation.
I admit, however, that I, too, have fallen into the easy habit of ruthlessly criticizing Paratici; I won’t shy away from that record. But weighing Paratici’s whole ledger indisputably shows that the Bianconeri sporting director has succeeded in his post. His losses are not as bad as they seem, his wins not as paltry, and the circumstances in which he is conducting business are brutal by any measure.
Examining the losses
Every sporting director is going to lose deals — maybe even a lot of deals. There’s not too much need to dwell on the losses that Juve have experienced under Paratici over the last couple of years, but my contention is that those losses are not as bad as they seem.
First, though, what exactly have been Paratici’s failures? First and foremost, probably, is the inability to offload Gonzalo Higuain and Sami Khedira. The Argentine striker is finally heading to a permanent new destination in the likes of Inter Miami in Major League Soccer, and the club is currently working on the situation with the German.
The bloated contracts — a subject to which we’ll return — made both difficult to offload, but Paratici actually succeeded in finding Higuain a new location ... twice! Pipita’s stints both at AC Milan and at Chelsea were mostly failed endeavors, and it seems strange to pin that failure on Paratici alone. Had Higuain actually been a better player at either one of those clubs, one supposes that selling him at a small price and moving his salary would’ve been much, much easier. The lesson here might simply be that players deteriorate at different rates, and Higuain’s production went downhill faster than any of us imagined.
For his part, Khedira remained an important depth piece until at least last season. Obviously, you don’t want to be paying a “depth piece” as much as Juve are paying Sami (hello, Weston McKennie!), and No. 6 hasn’t been consistently good for probably the last two to three years if we’re being completely honest, but there’s some logic to why he has still been on the team. I think this is still a loss, even a bad loss at the expense of looking for a more promising midfielder a year or two ago, on Paratici’s part, but it’s not as devastating as it’s made out to be.
There are also the missed opportunities — Erling Haaland comes to mind — those players who Paratici didn’t sign for whatever reason. For me, this is a near-impossible subject to treat equitably, partially because the number of variables involved is so extremely high, but mostly because many of those variables are at play exclusively behind closed doors. I am wary of leaks to the press beyond a few of the more trustworthy sources, and reading tea leaves isn’t a solid way to measure success. There are many great clubs going after many young, great talents. You can’t get them all.
Don’t forget the wins
Lest we forget, since Paratici took over the head sporting director job in the fall of 2018, Juventus have made a number of solid deals and a couple of absolutely stellar ones.
Sometimes, that same element that many of us feel dooms the club by tying up players for longer than they’re worth — i.e. gargantuan contracts — is the same element that draws important players. I don’t pretend to have any knowledge of the entire Matthijs de Ligt transfer saga, but it’s a point of fact that the 21-year-old is making a hell of a lot of money, second only to Cristiano Ronaldo at the moment, although I have a feeling Paulo Dybala might be leapfrogging him soon.
Yes, there are a lot of non-financial reasons to join Juventus. It’s a good club that wins a lot, Serie A is a great league for a center back to thrive in, and learning from Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, and Gianluigi Buffon is not a bad setup. Still, though: one imagines the salary played more than a small role in bringing the Dutch Hulk to Turin.
There are other wins, of varying sizes: offloading Joao Cancelo for an insane fee and procuring a decent rotational player in Danilo; adding Adrien Rabiot; finding and procuring Merih Demiral from Sassuolo; the business with Luca Pellegrini and Leonardo Spinazzola involving Roma; the sales of players like Riccardo Orsolini, Emil Audero, Stefano Sturaro, Simone Muratore, and Emre Can; and more that I could talk about if we had the time.
Paratici has a lot of wins. It’s time we give him credit for those and call them to mind when we’re feeling like petulant children regarding the addition of new players to this side.
The possibility of a crown jewel
Dejan Kulusevski is 20 years old and, in his first season of Serie A, as a teenager no less, he was the lynchpin of a decent mid-table side in Parma, scoring 10 goals and dishing out eight assists in all competitions. The Swede is the real deal; he’s more than the real deal, in fact: he’s a potential superstar, a potential galactico. I don’t think there’s any ceiling you could put over this player’s head that he does not have the ability to absolutely shatter. The praise he has garnered from the likes of Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimović, and pretty much everyone who has any exposure to his game, is incredible. And Paratici locked him down before the hype train had barely left the station.
Even with the coronavirus pandmeic, I believe Kulusevksi’s price would’ve gone up by at least €10 or €15 million if Paratici had put off the deal to the summer. Maybe it would’ve gone up €20 or €30 million. This deal happened so fast, not unlike the McKennie deal, during the last winter transfer window, that we didn’t really have too much time to dissect every single thing about Kulusevksi’s game. What’s more, since he had barely played a half-season, there really wasn’t that much to dissect. (Unlike McKennie, who even at 22 has 75 appearances for Schalke under his belt.)
Of course, de Ligt probably falls into the “crown jewel” category as well, but since his price tag was considerably higher than Kulusevski’s, and since his value and potential were known by anybody paying attention to the sport, he’s less of a diamond in the rough. De Ligt has had galactico written all over him for some time. The young Swede had played a single half-season of top-flight calcio when Paratici secured his rights for Juventus.
We need to face the facts: Bayern Munich is the exception, not the rule. The Bundesliga big boys and recent Champions League winners are, in my book, far and away the best club on the planet when it comes to creating a deep, talented roster with an insane blend of experience and youth, physicality and technical ability. And they do it all in a pretty fiscally responsible conservative way, too. Juventus are not that club; in fact, nobody is that club except for Bayern Munich, at least among the top 10 or so global powerhouses.
Paratici is doing a fine job as Juventus’ sporting director, especially considering the pressures and circumstances in which he must work. At Juventus, there is the constant pressure of winning, the specter of the Champions League, and, right now, the financial albatross of Ronaldo’s salary. Then the coronavirus happened and complicated everything further. Navigating all these precarious waters, Paratici continues and will continue to field a side that can compete with the best in Europe.