Andrea Agnelli made many, many mistakes during the second half of his tenure as president of Juventus. But among the piles and piles of crappy ideas and worse execution, the Next Gen project is going to stand out as the one shining positive.
The second team has provided a vital bridge between Primavera and the first team, giving young prospects the experience of playing senior-level matches against grown men. The likes of Nicolo Fagioli, Fabio Miretti, Samuel Iling-Junior, Kenan Yildiz, and Dean Huijsen have all either already made contributions to the first team or are on the cusp of doing so.
Another player that’s come through the Next Gen is Matias Soule. A precocious talent who was once called up to the Argentine national team for several friendlies as a teenager with no senior team experience, Soule showed some sparks in appearances with the first team last year, including his first senior team goal, but was sent out on loan to Frosinone this summer.
Fortunately, it was a dry loan, because Soule’s play for the Canarini has been one of the storylines of the Serie A season so far. Simply put, he’s been one of the best players in the league. He’s scored five goals and notched two assists. He’s averaging nearly three key passes a game, and had five in 29 minutes off the bench in an extra-time win over Torino in the Coppa Italia last month. The only player in Europe’s top five leagues his age or younger to have scored more goals is Real Madrid’s superstar-in-the-making Jude Bellingham.
Soule’s breakout is a major development for Juve’s future as well as Frosinone’s present. There have even been rumors that the team has considered recalling him from his loan in January to serve as extra firepower for the second half of the season, although nothing seems legit as of right now.
Soule will be a Juventus player again, whether it be in January or over the summer. With his talent now manifesting itself in full, how should he be re-integrated back into the squad? Let’s see how Juve ought to handle things with their starlet.
First off, let’s get this out of the way right now: Juve shouldn’t recall Soule in January. Considering what he’s been doing at Frosinone, letting him play out the season there and maximizing his playing time will be excellent for his development. Bringing him back now is a quick way to kill the momentum he’s building up. If he were to return early, he’d be lumped into a crowded forward picture that already sees Dusan Vlahovic, Federico Chiesa, Moise Kean, and Arkadiusz Milik fighting for playing time, with Yildiz also in the mix, fresh off a full-time promotion to the first team.
That’s one hell of a dogfight for minutes that Soule would be thrown into, and it could completely throw this breakout off track. Letting him continue to thrive at Frosinone will only make him better come the summer when he returns.
Speaking of the summer, the next issue is actually keeping Soule in Turin. Selling him off would be a massive mistake, very much akin to letting Nicolo Rovella go to Lazio this past summer. Given everything that has happened to the midfield since Rovella left, that move is turning into one of the mistakes of the decade so far. Moving Soule would be just as bad, and simply cannot be in the plan at all.
Then comes the tricky part: using him right. Tricky, because what Soule is doing right now and what Massimiliano Allegri might want to do with him could be two very different things.
Eusebio Di Francesco is playing Soule in his most natural position, on the right wing in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. That presents a problem, because Allegri isn’t using wingers right now. He’s been stubbornly holding on to the 3-5-2 he’s used for most of the last season-plus. That means that Soule would either be stuck in the logjam we mentioned above, or shoehorned into a right wingback role that probably won’t suit him very well.
Playing as a seconda punta isn’t out of the question for Soule. He deputized for Angel Di Maria in the hole of the 3-5-1-1 Allegri used for much of last season relatively effectively, including an excellent match against Inter in the ritorna.
But is jumping into that pool exposes him to the minutes crunch in the front two, and, as has been made clear by his play this season, it’s also not a move that will get the best out of him. He’s not the only player on the team that’s been moved out of position this way — Federico Chiesa belongs out wide too, and Iling-Junior could probably do with playing a more attacking role as well (and don’t get me started on Allegri’s current efforts to turn him into a midfielder).
So, if the best Soule is winger Soule, there are two options to get him there. The first is a change to a 4-3-3. That’s something that could make things better for a couple of players, as it would move Chiesa back out wide and give Vlahovic a system to feed him that’s a little bit better suited to his skill set.
The problem of the 4-3-3 lies farther back in the formation — namely the fact that Juventus is seriously deficient in the fullback area. It’s not so bad that they can’t do it at all. Danilo would probably have to man the right flank in this scenario (or maybe a returned Mattia De Sciglio, which I know would bring tears of something to the eyes of Sergio). What turns a lot of fans off is the idea of Alex Sandro getting significant minutes on the left. Fortunately, that isn’t actually necessary, as Andrea Cambiaso showed on his loan to Bologna last year he was perfectly capable of playing as a full-back in a four-man line. But depth would be paper-thin, and it’s likely that a switch to this formation isn’t in the cards unless Cristiano Giuntoli brings in a few fullbacks in the summer window.
That leaves a 3-4-3. That formation might be far more palatable for Allegri, who seems obsessed with keeping three in the back right now to maximize the defense. The trident attack provides the same benefits as mentioned before, and provides a lot of potential for interplay between the wingers and wingbacks, like the way Cambiaso and Chiesa already do when Chiesa drifts out wide. Using a 3-4-3 would be especially effective if Soule were to be recalled in January, as the double pivot in midfield would help hide the severely depleted midfield corps.
Sooner or later, Soule will be back in a Juventus shirt and part of the attack. His talent has always been obvious, and now it is shining in a way we could have only dreamed. Juve needs to use that properly in order to get the best out of their new potential star. Here’s hoping Allegri (or whoever else might be on the Juve bench next year) recognizes that and adapts to help fit him into the squad in the best way possible.