Abdication is never fun.
I remember playing board games with my younger brothers when I was a kid, games like Risk or Lord of the Rings Risk or Axis & Allies or, I think just once or twice, Settlers of Catan. I was never very good, but each game would bring a renewed sense of hope, the faint glimmer that maybe this was the time I’d exact my vengeance. Inevitably, however, at about the halfway point of the campaign, I’d start to see the cracks, the little mistakes I’d made, the weaknesses. And two-thirds through, I’d see my end a long ways off.
The end is here for Juventus. Unlike me and board games, though, this club should, in theory at least, always be in position to avenge its losses.
On Christmas Day, I wrote that Juventus predicted that Juventus would not win the Scudetto. I made the statement not so much because of where the race was in terms of points, but because the same old problems that have existed for several years now still existed, in some cases festering quite badly, and also because of outside factories like injuries to key players — I wish I hadn’t been as prescient.
We can now see the end for Juventus: after nine straight years of being crowned champions of Italy, that streak is over. The Champions League, even if the Bianconeri stage a comeback against Porto, is, frankly, a pipe dream. Perhaps a Coppa Italia victory will be just a tiny morsel of joy.
The sport goes on, though. There will be another season, and another one after that. So with the fact in place that this one is over in all but matches, what does the Old Lady need to do to start the revenge tour? There will be and ought to be many things the club addresses over the coming offseason, but these two stand out the most to me.
1. Make (another) Cristiano Ronaldo decision
Part of me still quite can’t believe this is CR7’s third season with the Bianconeri, but I guess it’s true. While the global superstar initially signed a four-year dear with the club, there have already been rumors of extending the deal forward — but there has also always been at least some kind of speculation that this marriage, which seemed questionable from the start and has since not proven particularly fruitful.
I think all in all Cristiano has performed well. It doesn’t take a calcio mastermind to point out the fact that Juve’s midfield is “serviceable” in a generous interpretation. The stops and starts trying to pair Ronaldo with Paulo Dybala have been ... stops and starts. It’s never really looked great, no matter what formation any coach has used (it’s strange to now be a club with a different coach every year).
Ronaldo has been good to very good to occasionally great, but no matter how great he’s been, this is a sport in which 11 players compose a side; this isn’t basketball, where a single person can control both ends of the court and single-handedly drag a group of rag-tag players to a trophy. This isn’t to say, of course, that Juve are made up of rag-tag players. They’re fantastic in goal and solid (when healthy) in defense, but the midfield issues mean that the seaworthiness of this vessel in in serious question each week.
Ronaldo has been good, but one cannot escape the fact that he’s exorbitantly expensive, and with Juventus continually faltering in the Champions League, plus the losses incurred because of the pandemic, this means there’s very, very little money (there’s negative money, in fact) to invest elsewhere to create a more stalwart side.
I’m not especially equipped to discuss the club’s financial status with great authority, but even rudimentary ol’ Hunter understands you’ve got to put more coins in the piggy bank than you take out.
2. The club is finally, finally, finally doing midfield things
Last summer Juventus signed Arthur from Barcelona; it was a books-fixing move and in the short-term it didn’t really seem to work out. But in his last few appearances the tiny Brazilian has shown abilities that nobody on this roster has, and when you look at the Old Lady’s record in the games in which Arthur has played vs those he hasn’t, his presence seems all the more important.
Juve also grabbed Weston McKennie from Schalke on what can only be called a bargain deal, one that is now officially official, and when the American is healthy and humming he’s an absolute wrecking ball of an attacking midfielder.
The rumors about Juve’s pursuit of Manuel Locatelli have been swirling for months now, and I hope they continue to swirl: it’s difficult to imagine a player right now who’s more suited to what the club needs. Neither Rodrigo Bentancur nor Adrien Rabiot is able to play that role of regista even somewhat well, and I think many of us prefer Arthur’s ball-possessing abilities a little higher up the pitch; his passing range isn’t necessarily one to write home about, either. McKennie is an attacking midfielder, a leveled-up Aaron Ramsey, and Aaron Ramsey is always hurt. In short: that’s a seriously vacant slot.
There’s also Nicolò Fagioli.
If and when Juventus secure a Champions League position, I dearly hope they use the youngster repeatedly in the starting lineup. If Andrea Pirlo believes in Fagioli even half as much as he’s praised him, then this kid could become a legitimate option for years to come, even if he’s just backing Locatelli (or whoever the club acquires) in that spot.
For Ramsey, Bentancur, or Rabiot, the writing is on the wall. It seems that one but perhaps two of these players could be leaving over the summer, and I don’t think anybody here is going to be upset about that fact.
When I wrote that post back on Christmas Day, there were a number of responses: from “mark my words Juventus will actually win the Scudetto” to “you are wrong and Juventus is the most talented team in Serie A” — which is not something I was writing about — to a few sympathizers, we are all now in the same sinking ship. I am sorry to have heralded the news too early for some of you.
Here’s one piece of good news, though: revenge can be very satisfying. Just ask John Wick.