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Manu’s Summer Grab Bag: Someday

We’ve reached the end of the summer and the end of the beloved — I’m sure — Summer Grab Bag. Also, all the titles were The Strokes songs. Guarantee, nobody cared or noticed.

Juventus v Atletico de Madrid - Pre-season Friendly Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Welcome to the very last edition of the Summer Grab Bag.

We have laughed, we have cried, we have lived, we have rued the fact that Juventus still doesn’t have one (1) top-tier fullback on the whole roster, but we made it through the summer of 2022.

In less than a week, we will be watching meaningful Juventus football once again as they take on Sassuolo to kick off the season on Monday — is it a good or horrible sign that Juve start the season on a Monday? — and we get ready to once again hope that this year ends up being better than the last one.

There’s honestly way too much to cover so we’ll skip the intro and get right to it. Football is back, get excited.

Let’s cook.

Serb and Destroy

Having teammates of the same nationality in a foreign team is something I always find kind of cool. Especially when it’s in a country that you wouldn’t otherwise think of as a footballing powerhouse, like, say, Serbia?

Well, Juventus is banking a large part of their offensive output for this year will come through the Serbian duo of Dusan Vlahovic and soon-to-be signing Filip Kostic, who was in Turin on Thursday for his medical exams. While we remain unclear on how in the world Juventus is even going to play heading into the season, signing a player that naturally plays on the left side is kind of a refreshing change of pace.

It seems crazy to think about it in a vacuum, but we have been shoehorning players unfit to play in the left wing for literal years now. Douglas Costa is maybe the last guy who has manned the left wing that you could make the case is a natural fit and profile and even that is a bit of a reach because he could technically play both wings and played the majority of his games on the right.

After him, it’s been a reluctant to play there Cristiano Ronaldo — and he would shift into a more central role as soon as he could — and a who’s who of right wingers, strikers and fullbacks that we have tried and mostly failed to turn into something they are not.

A few years ago, I threw out there that sometimes an average player that actually plays his given position is preferable over a better overall guy that is being put out of place. It’s similar to how we think of the replacement level” player in baseball. Well, consider Kostic the replacement level left winger/midfielder we have been missing for years.

(Calling him replacement level is kind of a disservice to Kostic, though. Dude has double-digit assists in each of his last three seasons and was a key part of the Europa League champions, that’s not nothing.)

In the latest episode of The Old Lady Speakssubscribe, listen, rate, all that good stuff — I made the case that Juve had been missing the value signings in the last few years. The Stephan Lichsteiners of the world. Guys that are not the most recognizable or sexiest names but that are solid, dependable and get the job done. The type of guys that make your team better even if they are not superstar-caliber players. Call me an optimist in thinking that Kostic fits that bill to a tee.

(Lastly, I know Transfermarkt figures are not the be-all end-all, but they value the guy at €24 million and Juve got him for something like €10 million less. Seems like a decent deal.)

Royal Dutch Reinforcement

Speaking of getting value, could I interest you in yet another free transfer in these trying times?

Thanks to FC Barcelona’s borderline — actual? — criminal financial mismanagement there’s a decent amount of Blaugrana players that seem to be on the outs that can be had for literally nothing. One of those — and, in my opinion, the biggest name overall — is Memphis Depay, who Juventus is rumored to be in the hunt for and in the lead, according to transfer guru Fabrizio Romano.

This to me is exactly the type of player that Juventus should be after, especially if they can sign him as a free transfer. I was shocked when I looked up and realized Depay is only 28 years of age, but it’s true! He debuted for PSV Eindhoven in 2012, so it feels like he’s been around forever but the guy still has plenty of thread on the tires.

He can play centrally or on the left side of the pitch, has panache and technique for days and while his Manchester United stint was a massive disappointment, he has bounced back with a few strong seasons at Lyon and a fairly decent year with Barcelona in which he tallied 12 goals in all competitions.

(At this point, good players having awful stints at Manchester United should be a normal thing we accept as part of day-to-day life.)

If you were to make a case against the signing, it is — surprise! — injuries. He missed 15 games last season for Barcelona with several minor issues and he did tear his ACL while playing for Lyon in 2019. Here in Juventus land, we have ample experience with talented but injury prone guys, so he will fit right in if the signing comes to fruition.

But even with those relative injury concerns, this is still the type of guy that is worth taking a gamble on, especially if the contract numbers being thrown around —€5 million or €6 million a year net and only a two-year contract — are what is being discussed.

At worst, you are getting an overqualified Vlahovic bench option that can play in different positions and can do cheeky, fun stuff like this.

Not bad.

The French Dispatch

The much-maligned Adrien Rabiot seems to be on the outs with Juventus once and for all.

Cue the fireworks from Juventus Nation.

I’ve defended Rabiot more than most, but if this is it for the French international even the most charitable read of his stint as a Juve player is that he was a disappointment. He never really justified the massive wages that he was on and he never sustained a top level of play for large periods of time. He was mostly fine, with some good games, some bad ones and arguably his biggest contribution to the team was being available more often than not as he was pretty durable during his three-year stint as a Bianconero.

That’s not a bad player per se, but it’s not someone who you should be trying to build around or trying too hard to keep either. While the dearly departed Aaron Ramsey was an awful signing from the get-go, Rabiot’s made a lot more sense at the time.

He was a young, highly-touted guy that pretty much every big club in Europe was after. He filled a need for a team desperate for a midfield renewal and his potential and pedigree justified the gamble on his high wages. He flopped, true, and some of it was his fault, but it’s undeniable that some of it was due to the coaching changes and general malaise that has been the status quo for Juventus in the last couple of seasons.

(Honestly, Andrea Pirlo put him in a double pivot with Rodrigo Bentancur and pretty much went “hey, figure it out.”)

In the end, this is probably the best outcome for all involved. Rabiot gets to start fresh at a new club and Juventus gets to give a shot to a couple of young midfield prospects. Most folks are of the opinion that giving a shot to Nicolo Fagioli and Fabio Miretti is the better option than to continue to suffer through Rabiot’s big bowl of meh performances, and while I mostly agree with that sentiment I just hope that the kids are ready for primetime.

Sure, Rabiot was mediocre, but with injuries galore already and a brutal schedule ahead the two youngsters are going to have to sink or swim pretty quickly. Growing pains will occur and the list of young players that are thrown into the fire only for them to burn out is too long to list. Juventus are taking a big risk — a decent and necessary one — but a risk nevertheless.

Parting Shot(s) of the Week

For the last Summer Grab Bag, we are going to do some stray thoughts that didn’t make the cut on the Vegas Diaries. Think of it as the Vegas B Sides in some short observations.

In the first part of the Vegas diaries, I mentioned the general crappiness of the budget airline we flew in, VivaAerobus. What I did not consider was that they’d somehow outdo themselves on the return leg as they failed to do the literal very minimum and kicked us off the flight. In a rather amusing sequence — looking back on it — at the airline counter, a pretty aloof attendant informed us that the flight had been overbooked and we were essentially out of luck. She put us in a waiting list with 10 (TEN!) other people who got bumped off as well. Once the flight left without us, the strength in numbers paid off as we demanded retribution, which to their credit VivaAerobus obliged and comped us for an extra night in Vegas.

I halfway joked at the time that maybe they would put us up at a nice hotel for our troubles, but that was admittedly too naïve. This is VivaAerobus son, you are lucky we are not putting you up at a shack under an overpass. So, we ended up staying at The Orleans, an off the Strip joint with a Mardi Grass theme to it. It was fine, if slightly rundown and it ended up costing the airline like $600 per night — which is just insane to me and a poor business model as they ended up spending almost the entire cost of our flight there in the first place. VivaAerobus, never again.

With our extra night of forced vacations we hit the Strip again to catch a show, which was something that we didn’t find the time to do in the first draft of the trip. After realizing that most well-known shows will charge upwards of $100 for a ticket, we hit that “Sort by: Price” button pretty quick and ended up going to Cirque du Solei’s newest show “Mad Apple” performing at the New York New York hotel.

(It’s New York themed, in case the title and hotel it presents at didn’t queue you in on that)

It was pretty fun, all things considered. It’s a decidedly budget-friendly version of a Cirque du Solei show as the stage is smaller and there is only one act going on at the time. There’s a couple standups, some air dancers, contortionists and all that good Vegas stuff. It’s overall a good time — especially for 25 smackers per ticket — the only disappointment was the last act in which a performer gets into a contraption called the Wheel of Death which is exactly what you imagine it is:

The guy started doing the act with some hype inducing drum line going on behind him, but as soon as he did the first few loops he started motioning to the crew in the ground to check something. At first, it looked like maybe part of the act, but quickly we found out that it was a malfunction in the aforementioned Wheel. The act obviously stopped, but the music kept going — my guess is they are instructed to continue playing to distract you or until the issue gets fixed — so we were left watching an increasingly agitated performer motion to a bunch of crew members with differing levels of confusion while the musicians in the drum line played their hearts out and did their best to hype the crowd up for an act that was evidently not going to happen.

The lights came on and one of the earlier standup acts came out to explain that the device had a safety issue and while the performer could have maybe tried to keep going, an act called the Wheel of Death is probably not one you want to take chances with. We wholeheartedly agreed and the show ended in a bit of a letdown. I wanted to do and see a lot of things in Las Vegas but a dead guy was decidedly not one of them, so overall I’m glad the pulled the plug.

Lastly, the list! I wrote down a list of things I wanted to do in Vegas and then I just didn’t give you the conclusion. I’m sure everyone was devastated and haven’t been able to sleep without knowing. So to wrap us up, here’s what I wrote in the very first entry of the Vegas diaries and how those things turned out:

  • Someone wearing an obscure Juventus kit - Not particularly obscure, but I did see a guy with the latest Kobra edition 4th kit and a girl wearing the EA Sports FIFA themed jersey before kickoff at Allegiant Stadium. We had that on our Instagram — follow us! — and people voted on a landslide for the EA Sports one.
  • At least one (1) item from every American fast food chain unavailable in Mexico Quick hits: Smashburger, awesome but overpriced. Taco Bell, unnecessarily maligned, it’s pretty good and obscenely cheap, just don’t call it Mexican food. Raising Cane´s, they just do chicken fingers exclusively, which seemed dumb, but they are really good chicken fingers so what do I know. Wendy’s, biggest letdown, spicy chicken is below average.
  • Drink a novelty drink in a novelty containerUnfortunately failed this one, though I did double fist Margarita’s in plastic cups while walking the Strip, which I guess captures the spirit?
  • Buy a souvenir specific to the Juve U.S. TourAnother L. I covered this in the last entry in the Vegas diaries. Get it together, Juve merch people.
  • See at least one player of any of the clubs partaking in the Vegas game at a casinoShoutout to the Chivas players getting a drink in the exact same bar that Danny, Hunter and myself were having drinks after the game. Don’t know if to feel bad for them or really good for us.
  • Place a long-shot bet that pays an insane amount, even if it losesUnfortunately Vegas casinos don’t take F1 qualifying bets as I wanted to bet my favorite driver, Sergio Perez, to take Pole in that weekend’s Gran Prix. He placed third anyways.

And one that’s a bit cheating because I didn’t put it in the original list because I forgot, but whatever.

  • Eat at a restaurant with the name of a famous TV chef, even if I don’t know who the hell that chef is - Were you familiar with Buddy Valastro AKA the Cake Boss? I wasn’t, but that dude owns three restaurants in Vegas after he gained fame with his cake-themed reality show. He also sells surprisingly good slices by the Harrah’s in a fast food-ish local. It wasn’t a restaurant per se, but I’m counting it and the Girlfriend was pretty hyped to eat the the Cake Boss pizza.

Finally, thank you so much for reading all summer. These pieces were obviously a whole lot more personal and less Juve-centric and I enjoyed doing things a little bit differently than in prior years. For those who liked it, for those who didn’t, either way thanks for sticking with us throughout another summer of transfer rumors and overanalyzing friendlies. It’s time for the good stuff.

See you next week.