Last night in Austin, a thunderstorm poured down a thick sheet of hail. My friend Matt’s windshield was decimated a mere two days after replacing the thing. All of this, of course, comes somewhat on the heels of a snowpocalypse that crippled the grid of the city and, really, the entire state.
Austin right now is a fair metaphor for Juventus: a disaster.
The Old Lady has a new coach in Andrea Pirlo who has done, at best, a questionable job; she pays a global superstar an offensive amount of money to not move the needle; she stumbled out of the Champions League in embarrassing fashion for the third-straight year; her roster is imbalanced and riddled with risks.
Yet, despite all the doom and gloom, and there sure is plenty, despite the impending snap! of the Scudetto streak at the hands arch-rival Inter Milan, there have been a few faint glimmers of hope and joy throughout this precarious campaign. Given the sour and rather bellicose state of the BWRAO comment threads lately, I thought I’d dwell on three positive things I saw throughout the year, and I’m sure if we look hard enough, there are even more buried in the sadness.
Let’s find some joy, people. Here’s what I saw, in descending order of importance.
3. Wojciech Szczęsny remains very good and criminally underrated
If Juventus do nothing between the pipes on the transfer market for another year, that’d be fine by me: Woj is still incredibly good, and incredibly underrated — even by his own fans.
I’m sure there will be some inevitable clamoring for the generational talent Gianluigi Donnarumma, a kid who’s still 22 years old (can that be right?) and who many feel like would be the perfect heir to Gianluigi Buffon. But with how good Woj has been over the past few seasons, and with the fact that he’s still in a good window in terms of age for the position — he turns 31 next month — in my opinion it’d be absurd to spend large amounts of money on a goalie.
The whole Woj narrative is pretty amazing to think about, and like his being underrated it’s something that’s not discussed very frequently. This is a guy who joined the Arsenal youth ranks, completed a loan spell with Brentford in EFL League One, ascended to the Gunners’ first team before slowly bungling the job over time only to be shipped out to Rome as a castaway. For many goalkeepers, this is where their career would’ve ended — a spell with Roma, another loan to Turkey or Portugal, a few more seasons and an early retirement.
Woj didn’t break, though; he grew stronger. With Roma, he became one of the best Serie A goalkeepers, and he’s been so since coming to Turin.
That’s not even an adequate summary of his career trajectory. But his determination and consistency have been immense for Juventus. Has he been a perfect keeper in every single match in this kit? No. But then again, no one really is. Woj is about as good as they come these days.
2. Weston McKennie is the real deal and he’s just getting started
Although McKennie’s form has dipped as of late, a trend which, at least in part, might be due to injury, the American’s ascent was not something many really projected, myself included. I was bullish on the move, to be sure, though I hedged my bets pretty hard by predicting he’d be an important situational piece; he’s much, much more. I also misjudged the exact talents that he brings to this team; when McKennie has been at his best, it’s been near the box and almost acting as a faux-striker in the box once build-up play is complete (I think Barcelona remember this!). He’s had technically beautiful assists and thunderous tackles. He makes things happen at both ends.
McKennie is 22 years old, with not yet a single season at a top club under his belt. He’s going to continue to develop, and I’m excited to see exactly how he settles. Will he continue to morph into an offensive-minded weapon, an attacking midfielder? Will he sharpen skills at which he’s currently not as strong and become a more traditional central midfielder, a No. 6 or No. 8? Or will something crazy happen and will he become a big physical winger? The possibilities feel endless, but no matter where he lines up it always feels good to have him running around.
1. Federico Chiesa might be the future of the club
I was doubtful of Chiesa’s move to Juventus. Many of us were. Maybe it was the fact that another high-price transfer from Fiorentina has failed to blossom with the Bianconeri. Maybe it was that Chiesa’s history of decision-making in the final third seemed dubious at best — and these fears felt at least partially confirmed in the beginning of his time at Juventus. Or maybe it was a combination of these things.
But whatever fears existed with Chiesa at the time of his transfer have since dissipated. Not only has he shown the potential we hoped was there; he’s arguably been the club’s best player for the last several months. In a season devoid of Paulo Dybala and with erratic performances from new No. 9 Álvaro Morata, Chiesa’s production — 11 goals and seven assists — has been instrumental. He’s proven his lethality on the right and on the left; he’s committed to tracking back and helping defensively; he’s dangerous with the ball at his feet; he scores in all sorts of ways; and every now and then he flourishes the type of skill that drops your jaw to the floor.
He’s a keeper. He’s a building block. He might be a cornerstone.
The second and third overall points of encouragement, McKennie and Chiesa, become even more encouraging when you dwell on the fact that, even if Cristiano Ronaldo stays, this club is very much in rebuild mode. Both the American and the Italian are young and voraciously hungry; each brings his own brand of grinta to the pitch, and it’s a joy to watch them wear that intensity in the shirt.
There are other young building blocks on this team, like I mentioned in my last post, but the attitudes of McKennie and Chiesa really stand apart, and for a club that’s going to be something very different next year than they have for a long time — i.e. avenging a title rather than defending it — I think the fire they bring is desperately needed.
I’m sure there are other bright spots: share them!