Like Paul Pogba, I’m back.
Unlike Paul Pogba’s knees, I bring good news: I am here to lift your spirits.
I see that the general tenor of the mood around these parts has become dour. Indeed, it’s not difficult to see why: Paul Pogba, the club’s new No. 10 and prize offseason acquisition, is out for an undetermined period with arguably murkier prospects for full health after his return; Weston McKennie is injured; Federico Chiesa won’t be available for some time; and Real Madrid made easy work of the Bianconeri.
If you want to dig further into the darkness, you could see the lingering presence of players who, shall we say, are not the global paragons in their respective positions — Arthur, Mattia De Sciglio, Luca Pellegrini, Adrien Rabiot. Or you could rue the notable absence of one former No. 10.
You could even — as many do — bemoan the prolonged presence of Massimiliano Allegri, Juventus’ coach whose results last year were not up to par with both his own and the club’s standards.
But I shall ascend the highest heights of optimism and tell you this: do not dismay! Good things are happening at the club. Despite the setbacks, despite the lingering fear that maybe this isn’t going to work out, I, at least, for the first time in years, firmly believe the Old Lady finally has her rickety wheelchair on the right track.
First things first: Juventus are not John Wick
The John Wick movies rock, and if you tell me otherwise I will block you out of my mind for eternity. John Wick is good at beating the bad guys, and he’s really good at reloading his gun — I can’t tell you how many times he reloads his gun in the whole series. There may be no way of knowing! So many reloads.
But Juventus are not John Wick: this club isn’t capable of reloading. Remember, this is an Old Lady. Juventus are not John Wick; they’re not Real Madrid. Juventus are more like Rome: sacked and razed a few times (Gauls, Visigoths, Vandals, oh my! ... super sidebar for a different blog/podcast, but despite all the fascination with Rome and focus [love or hate] on its empire and various phases, the city and even empire’s ability to endure remains vastly underrated and overlooked) with substantial time needed to rebuild.
Rome wasn’t (re)built in a day.
For this club, which for several years has endured various bouts of financial difficulty and imbalanced positional units, there was never one transfer window that was going to fix the entire roster. First, Juve don’t have that kind of money. Second, when slinging deals on the transfer market, even the best scouting departments, managers, and sporting directors on the planet make mistakes and miscalculated gambles; that’s the game. Even the smart regimes will necessarily take plenty of losses along with the wins.
So, yes: this is a multi-year rebuild. Don’t kid yourself that it’s not. Acknowledging that fact does not mean this squad can’t still aspire to win the Scudetto; nor does it mean that a fabled dark horse run in the Champions League is an impossibility. It simply means Juventus, as currently composed, are not the favorites domestically or in continental play.
Here, though, are the good signs
When Juventus procured the services of Dušan Vlahović in January, many of us were shocked. I was. Not only because it didn’t seem like we had the money — we probably didn’t/don’t, but that’s not my problem — but because the move made almost too much practical sense for it to be something that was going to happen. But happen it did, and now the club feasibly has a young, ferocious, dynamic No. 9 who ostensibly wants to be in Turin and who could be a mainstay for years to come.
The longer I think about the transfer, the more I feel like it was extraordinarily prudent foresight to land Vlahović in the winter transfer window rather than waiting for summer. Imagine a world in which Vlahović had lingered at Fiorentina until midsummer, at which point Chelsea — with their Romelu Lukaku debacle — and Bayern Munich — with their tough Robert Lewandowski breakup — were sharks circling the water. Hell, even Real Madrid might’ve taken a swing after Kylian Mbappé spurned Los Blancos. In that world, does Juve win the race for Vlahović? And if Juve hand’t won that race, where would it have turned for a No. 9?
In other transfer moves, the expedited acquisition of Bremer was nothing short of Machiavellian. Rumored to be Inter-bound for months on end, the Brazilian center back never, of course, made the move over to our dreaded rivals; Maurizio Arrivabene and Federico Cherubini decided otherwise with astounding menace, surely a swoop that, like the Vlahović transfer, sent more than one kind of message throughout Italy.
Not only did Juventus find arguably one of the best replacements one could feasibly imagine for Matthijs de Ligt, they offloaded a player who didn’t want to be at the club. No matter what motivations you think de Ligt had for leaving, in the end it doesn’t really matter why he wanted to leave: he wanted to leave. Now he’s gone. And we can forget about it.
De Ligt hasn’t been the only departure, though, and he probably won’t be the last. Perpetual space- and money-waster Federico Bernardeschi — I shall not even apologize to the cult — is literally playing in Major League Soccer, where, frankly, he belongs. Aaron Ramsey is finally gone. Arthur might be on the brink of leaving. Others — Rabiot, Daniele Rugani, Moise Kean — are somewhere on the spectrum of on the way out or at least (according to the tweeters) being discussed.
As I said: there will be mistakes and throws of the dice that don’t win, but for my money this has been a focused couple of transfer windows. There are still holes — major holes — most notably with the fullbacks and (still!) the midfield. There are decisions to be made, mistakes to be made. But most importantly: there are games to be played.
Just as I feel positive about the direction of the club for the first time in years, I honestly feel (genuinely, gleefully) excited to watch this team kick off Serie A for the first time in a couple of seasons. I don’t expect the Bianconeri to steamroll the competition; I don’t expect us to win the Scudetto, even. But I expect to watch a team find its identity. I expect to watch a tantalizing collection of young talent like Vlahović and Chiesa pair with the experience of Angel Di Maria. I expect to watch Manuel Locatelli level up, to watch the Federico Gatti story write itself another chapter. I expect things unexpected that will make many of us realize how wrong we were in our armchair pontifications.
I expect to watch this team, this club, gel. It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen without consternation, but I believe it will happen.
Welcome back to calcio, dear friends.