On Sept. 18, Juventus fell 1-0 to Monza to reach domestic rock bottom.
On Oct. 11, Juventus fell 2-0 to Maccabi Haifa F.C. to reach rock bottom in Europe.
And on Nov. 28, out of nowhere, in the midst of the World Cup in Qatar, just as the Bianconeri clawed their way to third place in Serie A by blanking rivals Inter Milan and Lazio, the entire club board of directors, as well as president Andrea Agnelli, abruptly resigned. It’s a new kind of rock bottom.
At this juncture, the disclaimers are many and necessary to state: these events are ridiculously fresh, information and communiques continue to pour in at a daily rate, any sort of formal hearings are well in the future, and there may additionally be some sort of bombshell about which we currently know nothing. None of this is even to mention the fact that the information we receive as fans of the club is incredibly limited.
All of this is to say, take everything here with a pinch of salt. Or maybe a pint. These are first musings and gut reactions, initial thoughts, and in three days’ time I could look like a court jester (if I don’t already). Given the immensity of what is going on, as well as the freshness of it, there is no possibility here of an exhaustive exposé.
With all these disclaimers noted, in the wake of these fairly shocking events, I just want to say one thing: Agnelli’s time at the club has ended in total, utter disaster.
The money & the pitch
For five straight years, Juventus have recorded financial losses — losses that, starting in 2018, grew worse each year. That is not good.
I’m not a financial expert, and I’m not going to act as if I am. But the entire thread there from Swiss Ramble is a fascinating dive into the numbers — thanks to our friend Chuks for pointing it out to me — and the salient, aggregate point should not be surprising to us: Juventus have money troubles, and they have for some time. A fair amount of this is out of the club’s control (i.e. revenue from Serie A media deals).
For the most part, these losses haven’t been terribly particular to Juventus, and certainly COVID-19 is no small factor in this complicated equation. That the pandemic slammed into the world during the weighty Cristiano Ronaldo investment made things even worse. But the fact remains: it was the board’s and Agnelli’s job to navigate the club through that storm financially; they failed to do so. The losses had started before the pandemic, but the club recorded worse losses than any other Italian club over the 2021-22 period. (Atalanta recorded a profit; don’t ask me how!)
Here is the one dumb point I want to make, with my Michael Scott-esque understanding of the financial side of things: Juventus is a publicly traded company and needs to make money, but it has instead been hemorrhaging money. It does not appear as if Agnelli has been doing his job very well in this regard, even considering all the mitigating factors.
As far as the pitch goes, while it’s obvious and objective that the club’s performances have diminished over the last several seasons in terms of finishes, for those of us who watch the team in and out every week we know those tables only tell part of the story. For several years this has been a club in dire need of a thorough rebuilding, and that fact has not changed.
Even acknowledging the glimmer of hope that we experienced in the run up to the World Cup break, I don’t think anyone — certainly not me — is under the impression that the roster is a paragon of solidity. Both units on the back line are in need of at least reinforcements (but more realistically complete makeovers). The midfield might, just might, be crawling out of its hole, but I’m well from Sam’s level of confidence there. There are good attackers on this team, but questions remain about how they fit together.
Not all of this, of course, can be blamed on the Ronaldo escapades, but one does return to that moment and think about how all that cash could’ve been spent differently (or at least some of it). But we needn’t pretend that the money behind that venture didn’t seriously dictate the course — is still dictating, probably — charted in composing the roster afterward. The blame here doesn’t fall on the player at all, who performed reasonably well in his time in Turin, especially given the roster downgrade as compared to his time at Real Madrid.
If you buy a really fancy car while your house is falling apart, you’ve got to question your priorities.
The court of public opinion
Andrea Agnelli’s tenure at Juventus saw its share of successes and failures, but his reign ended, definitively, in failure in every regard. On the pitch, Juventus have stumbled to fourth-place finishes domestically in back-to-back campaigns, and in European play the Old Lady has not fought past the quarterfinals since the 2016-17 Champions League final loss to Real Madrid.
From my perspective, however, the most poignant, palpable, and damning failure of Agnelli is that, now, in the court of public opinion, Juventus’ reputation — fair or otherwise — as an institution of corruption is confirmed in the minds of many. Just as the shadow of Calciopoli was fading deeper and deeper into history, this has dropped. And even if the club is exonerated totally, these accusations will not fail to make a lasting impression.
This failure is the most significant in my mind because Agnelli, in his own words, has always ascribed such dramatic importance to the image of the club. In fact, he seems to have cared about the image much more than anything else — more than the money or the pitch. In his farewell letter, he counts the nine domestic titles in the same serial list of “extraordinary results” as Amazon and Netflix documentaries.
In recent years we’ve seen the simultaneous waning performances on the pitch with mounting financial losses alongside a new logo, premiers on streaming services, and the Cristiano Ronaldo investment. Whether you care about the bottom line or the back of the net, I’m not sure you see anything but failure here, especially considering the loft standards that should be present at Juventus.
There is surely more to come in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Information that comes to light might vindicate or it might condemn to an even greater degree. It is hard to imagine, though, that anything that could come to light will change the fact that Agnelli’s reign has ended in failure — on the pitch, in the bank accounts, and in the public perception of Juventus.