Nineteen Serie A games complete. Nineteen Serie A games to go. Welcome to the most diabolical halfway point you’ve ever experienced as a Juventino.
Here is an incomplete list of things that have happened to the Old Lady since the inception of the season back in August: the injuries persisted, the board resigned, and 15 points were deducted from the team’s efforts on the table. As far as the off-field legal battle, no matter where you think the proceedings fall in terms of the “sham to legitimate” spectrum, there is plenty of the story left; for now, the salient point is that this club we love has been submerged head to toe in utter chaos.
With the high probability that Juventus will be excluded from European play one way or another and the financial losses of recent years still looming, what, exactly, is the goal of the rest of the season?
Before we answer that question, though, it’s time to hand out some midseason hardware. Receiver beware: the trophy isn’t always flattering.
The Shroud of Turin Award: Paul Pogba
For the player who was never really there.
I remember Las Vegas like it was yesterday: late-night escapades with Danny and Sergio, glitz and lights all around, and the irrevocably ephemeral feeling I had, as I sat in the stands of Allegiant Stadium watching Juventus take on Chivas, that the midfield was, finally, after years of wasting in mediocrity or worse, going to be OK.
Just a few days later, word came out that Pogba was injured and might miss some time. At that juncture, there were probably like seven Juventini who expected Pogba to actually play before the World Cup, and the majority of us immediately started thinking about hanging around in decent position on the table (oh, naive us) until he returned in 2023.
Now it’s 2023, and though he’s allegedly about to return we’ve yet to see Pogba on the pitch. At this point, it seems to matter little.
Piazza San Carlo Award: Manuel Locatelli
For a potentially overlooked yet stellar showing.
Manuel Locatelli has been consistently good this year. Maybe not “stellar,” as the description of the award indicates, but the 25-year-old Italian has been the steadiest presence in the midfield, a unit that continues to be a revolving door of personnel, combinations, and formations.
I hope Locatelli stays a Juventus player for a long, long time. He’s still relatively young, but he’s shown a toughness and adaptability in the midfield despite being deployed in less-than-ideal circumstances over and over again. Juventus have been to hell and back before, and if they’re to do it again — even if this underworld doesn’t hold a candle to being forcefully relegated — they’ll need warriors like Locatelli.
Nietzsche’s Horse Award: Juan Cuadrado
For the player whose play demonstrated an insanity indicative of a serious decline in form.
I love Juan Cuadrado. I love when he dances. I love when you see him sprinting along the sideline to help with the defense. I love when he does things like this to Inter Milan. But, let’s face it, even before his recent return and struggles against Atalanta, and even despite his four assists which trail only Filip Kostić, this year we’ve seen the Colombian finally decline, and it’s not a fun thing to see.
Lingotto Award: Nicolò Fagioli & Samuel Iling-Junior
For a notable demonstration in both grit and flair.
Amidst all the doom and gloom on and off the pitch, Juventus’ youngsters continue to give us little beacons of hope. My very good amigo Sergio wrote well recently about Fagioli’s rise and recent performance, touching on the ebbs and flows that players like Fabio Miretti — whose form has tapered as of late — endure, but the mere fact that we’re here discussing the regular appearances of these players
The young Englishman Samuel Iling-Junior might be the best of the lot, honestly. He’s not only pacey as a coffee-spiked waterbug, he’s solid with the ball at his feet, crossing it into the box, and he’s got very good senses about him. One way or another, I dearly hope we see a lot more of this kid in the weeks to come.
With the possible departure of Weston McKennie, there will be more minutes in the midfield. Let’s see who steps up.
Giuseppe Garibaldi Award: Arkadiusz Milik
For the man of the match.
Here’s a Rorschach test version of a Landmark award: you could argue that Milik has been the most valuable player of the year, especially if your consideration of “value” includes the amount he cost and the salary he takes. With Dušan Vlahović continually sidelined by injury and Moise Kean’s play fairly one-dimensional and somewhat erratic, Milik has filled the No. 9 spot gallantly. I don’t think anyone is going to argue that he’s better than DV9, but Milik does a lot of things well, and his experience speaks for itself. Without him, things might be a lot worse than they are.
Here is the hard truth about Juventus right now: the future is not going to be for the faint-hearted. The sporting penalties coupled with the financial losses in recent years mean, in all probability, a prolonged period of austerity. Maybe I’m too far into the deep darkness right now, but I expect Vlahović to leave, I expect others to possibly leave or ask to leave, and I expect serious offers to come in for Federico Chiesa — and I expect the club to consider them.
For a club that was continually trying to convince itself that it could “reload” instead of “rebuild,” the latter path has now been forced, and if Juventus are truly to claw back to the position where she wants to be, it’s going to come from acquisitions like Milik, from players like Fagioli and Iling-Junior, from homegrown talent and players who’ve bounced around Europe, from players at the tail end of their career.
The goal for the rest of this year is to find some semblance of footing, to identify the players who will feasibly stick around and help push through this dark night.