The last few days haven’t been eventful at all, have they?
Upheaval doesn’t even begin to describe the atmosphere at Juventus right now. Out of what seemed like absolutely nowhere, the entire board of directors, including longtime president Andrea Agnelli, resigned on Monday night. As the information trickled out, it became clear the resignations were spurred by what could be a significant scandal that could have some major repercussions for the Bianconeri. But with so many reports swirling everywhere and things developing seemingly by the day, what do we know and not know about what’s happening with Juve?
That’s what this article is here to help with. Using a format that I totally have not in any way, shape, or form ripped off from a prominent ESPN writer whose name rhymes with manicotti, we shall attempt to give some semblance of clarity to the events of the last few days.
What the heck happened? What caused all this?
This whole mess is an offshoot of the plusvalenza investigation into the alleged inflation of transfer values. Juventus, and several other clubs, were all cleared of wrongdoing in a sporting court in April, with the sporting judge essentially ruling that it was impossible to prove a player’s value beyond what two clubs agree his price is.
There was, however, a concurrent legal investigation by the Turin prosecutor’s office into the matter, and that produced some more damning — and provable — allegations.
Said allegations stem from the club’s claim that the players, during the height of the pandemic in 2020, had given up four months wages. It seemed, at the time, a noble gesture from the players with the club in significant hardship during lockdown, but the prosecutor’s office seems to have uncovered evidence that the team paid the players most of those wages under the table.
If that allegation is in fact true, it’s a significant problem for Juventus. Falsifying a club’s books is bad on a number of levels, but in Juve’s case it’s actually worse that it would’ve been, because Juventus are publicly traded and listed on the Italian stock exchange. That means their accounts are subject to far more stringent rules than most other clubs.
The board members were spurred to resign in the face of these mounting investigations into potential financial malfeasance — although it should be noted that one member, Daniela Marilungo, who was a member of the Control and Risk Committee, resigned separately from the rest of the board, stating that she was not fully informed of the situation and therefore unable to function properly in her role. The rest of the board stood in disagreement with that assessment.
Why do the authorities particularly care?
Ordinarily, they might not. But, as I mentioned before, Juve are listed on the stock exchange, which complicates matters quite a bit. Cooking the books would obviously have an effect on Juve’s share price, which would break all kinds of laws.
It’s also significant from a sporting perspective because teams have to pass a financial review before they register for their respective leagues. These reviews have become more stringent in recent years as a spate of bankruptcies have run through the Italian footballing pyramid. Things started to tighten up after the protracted and embarrassing collapse of Parma in 2015. UEFA also considers finances for both Financial Fair Play regulations and for issuing clubs license to play in continental competitions, which is why they announced an investigation into the matter on Thursday. The FIGC will also open an investigation into the salary issue in particular to see if Juve circumvented any domestic financial regulations.
Aside from the resignation of the board, how has the team responded?
Juventus has, somewhat predictably, denied wrongdoing.
It is important to note that they have not denied the substance of the allegations, but have insisted that the accounting practices they used are not illegal. In a statement on Wednesday, they stated that “the accounting treatment adopted in the contested financial statements falls within those allowed by applicable accounting principles.”
This seems like what Juve’s defense is going to be: that what they did may have bent the rules but didn’t break them. That kind of affirmative defense is going to be a bit of a tough sell, but it may be all they have given the evidence that the prosecutor’s office might possess.
Why would Juve have even done something like that in the first place?
It’s no secret that Juve’s finances have been in bad shape for some time. In September, they announced a loss of €254 million — a record for an Italian club.
More than a few news outlets have opined about whether or not the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo had anything to do with this investigation, and while it’s annoying that the media can’t go five seconds without saying Ronaldo’s name out loud, they’re also not fully wrong to ask.
While the actual transaction of signing Ronaldo has nothing to do with the case, signing him put some clear strain on the team’s finances. Look no further than the mad scramble to offload Gonzalo Higuain — who at that time was one of the top earners at the club — after the transfer went through to see that things were stretched thin since the moment he was brought in. The gut-punch of the pandemic and nearly a year and half deprived of one of the team’s biggest revenue drivers, the Allianz Stadium, punctured the drum. It’s no wonder that the front office was looking for ways to keep losses down. It was also an alleged document between the club and Ronaldo that started the investigation into the phantom salaries in the first place.
So who’s in charge now?
Maurizio Arrivabene remains in his role as CEO until the new board is named in January. Maurizio Scanavino, the head of Exor’s newspaper arm who has been described in some media as Exor CEO John Elkann’s right-hand man, has been announced as the team’s director general. Exor has also indicated who will be appointed as Agnelli’s successor as president in Gianluca Ferrero. The rest of the new board will be announced on Jan. 18 at the team’s much-delayed shareholders’ meeting. It’s generally assumed that Elkann will fill the board with people who can bring the business side of things under control.
I’ve seen a whole lot of buzz around Alessandro Del Piero joining the new board. Could this finally be the time?
Maybe. Possibly. We don’t know.
But this new board will need someone who knows football and who knows Juventus, and Ale would check both of those boxes in spades. If Fabiana Della Valle of Gazzetta dello Sport is right, Ferrero has already had that idea and will ask the legend to replace his old teammate Pavel Nedved as vice president — although it’s important to note no talks have taken place yet.
Unlike Nedved or David Trezeguet, Del Piero has always been hesitant to take on a major role with the club. That’s natural given his business ventures in Los Angeles, where he currently makes his primary home. It’s also possible that he didn’t have the best of relationships with Agnelli — who, let’s not forget, unceremoniously announced halfway through the 2011-12 season that he wouldn’t return the next year in what, in hindsight, might have been one of the first indications of his nastier side.
But now could be the best opportunity to come back. It’s also worth noting that while his business interests might be in LA, his two sons are now tied to Spanish club Getafe. His oldest, Tobias, scored his debut goal for their youth team only two weeks ago, and his youngest, Sasha, plays at the academy level. Being a lot closer to his boys than the west coast of the U.S. would certainly be an enticement.
Ultimately, though, it’s going to come down to what kind of role he’s offered. If the business guys simply want a figurehead, Ale won’t be interested. He’ll want a role similar to the one Paolo Maldini currently has at AC Milan — one with real influence over how things are done. Is Ferrero prepared to give him that kind of clout, though?
On Thursday Del Piero gave a response to the rumors connecting him to a return with what amounted to a highly eloquent “no comment.” But perhaps that was necessary after a TV appearance with beIN Sports on Monday night in which he said “I’m stand by [sic]” and couldn’t help but mention that he’s never given up his home in Turin. It’s very early to tell, but if he’s offered the right role, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him come home.
What would happen if the club is found guilty? We’re not looking at another 2006, are we?
Here’s where we move very much into the realm of speculation.
On the legal level, if the club and directors — there have been 11 people referenced for trial, including former Director of Football Fabio Paratici, now at Tottenham Hotspur — are found guilty, the individuals could face prison time, while the club as a business entity would likely be in line for one hell of a fine.
As for the sporting portion, it’s likely not going to be as apocalyptic as Calciopoli, regardless of the gleeful baying of the segment of the population who believe Juventus is the root of all footballing evil.
There is only one possibility in which another forced relegation is on the table, and that is if it can be proven that without any book-cooking Juventus would have failed the financial review for its registration for Serie A. Even with the enormous losses the team was enduring, given last year’s €400 million recapitalization plan and the backing of Exor in general, it’s hard to envision a scenario where that would be the case. If the FIGC investigation deems that there have been violations, the club would likely be looking at another significant fine, and perhaps a point deduction. The nightmare scenario, however, probably doesn’t come to pass unless something truly extraordinary comes out of the books.
UEFA might be another matter. Juventus only just came to a settlement regarding some FFP violations in August, and if they reached that agreement with inaccurate books, UEFA is not going to look kindly upon it. Juve are also not particularly popular in Nyon right now given the actions of Agnelli over the last year and a half. Would it be beyond the realm of possibility that the federation uses this as an opportunity to lay down the hammer and punish one of the clubs still clinging to the idea that the European Super League is a thing? Probably not. Still, it’ll be impossible to say one way or the other, especially since UEFA are usually quite tight-lipped about these things until they actually tell you what they’ve decided.
How is all of this going to affect the sporting side of things?
We won’t start seeing just what effect this has on the players until club play resumes in January. By all accounts, they were very much taken by surprise by this news, but whether or not it affects their play remains to be seen. But it certainly adds another variable onto the numerous ones that will be in play with so many players coming back from a mid-season tournament like this.
According to reports, both manager Massimiliano Allegri and sporting director Federico Cherubini planned to tender their own resignations upon hearing the news, but were either dissuaded from doing so or had their resignations rejected by Agnelli and/or Elkann.
Allegri’s resignation would probably have been cause for celebration for some (**whistles nonchalantly**), but it now falls on him to keep the players focused over the course of the rest of the season while these investigations proceed. The coach has dealt with some circuses in his time — he did, after all, work for Silvio Berlusconi at AC Milan, to say nothing of the media craziness spawned by Ronaldo’s arrival — but this is an entirely different beast. It certainly isn’t what he signed up for when he returned last year, but he has the confidence of Elkann and it’s likely that at the very least he sees out this season.
Cherubini is perhaps the highest-ranking club official that was not on the board, and most, if not all of the alleged financial improprieties happened before he had the authority to do anything about it. He would have had a heavy hand in any plans Juve had been making in the next few transfer windows, so there’s continuity there, but that leads us to our final question...
How will this affect the January transfer window?
God only knows.
For one thing, the club won’t even have a president until January 18. Until then, it’s not entirely clear who will sign off on any potential deals. It’s possible that Cherubini handles negotiations for a target and the parties simply wait until Ferrero is officially installed, or perhaps someone else (Elkann? Scanavino? Bueller?) handles it until then.
Of course, that’s if the club has even deemed it possible to make any deals in the first place. Between potential revision of the books, legal fees, and potential fines, it wouldn’t be a surprise if any potential transfer budget were to shrink substantially. If the assumption that Elkann wants to get the club in order financially is true, it’s also possible that the new board’s marching orders will include a period of austerity. Even if they do have the ability to spend, the chaos surrounding the club, and the uncertainty around their Champions League status, could adversely affect recruiting.
Juve’s roster very much needs augmenting, and this winter’s mercato is likely to be very different from most Januarys with teams looking to snap up some World Cup standouts. But it’s going to take some time before we have any sort of clarity as to how Juve are going to act on the market.