The excitement from Juventus’ thrilling start to the season seems to have wore off, even though results have been positive and the team has failed to win only 3 of the 10 league games played so far (2 draws and 1 loss).
Despite the positive results though, and the fact that Max Allegri’s men are only two points removed from first place, there has been a growing sense of frustration that the team hasn’t changed. It’s still pragmatic and still plays reactive rather than proactive football.
Will it be enough to achieve the club’s goals for the season?
There’s a nagging sense that it won’t be, but only time will tell.
Back to old habits
Juventus started October with the same type of lethargic play that it ended September with. Unfortunately, in its tough away game on the first day of the month against Atalanta, the team didn’t come away with a victory like it did against Lecce less than a week earlier. An uneventful game ended 0-0 although Atalanta probably had the better chances (and certainly more shots — 15 to 3 — compared to Juventus).
The Bianconeri returned to winning ways a few days later in the Derby della Mole against Torino. As the painfully old cliché goes, it truly was a game of two halves. The first half was a tight contest that featured little action until one halftime substitution dramatically changed the game: the introduction of Arek Milik for Fabio Miretti.
Milik’s directness and aerial strength were the key that unlocked Torino’s stubborn defense. His good work quickly resulted in the corner kick that led to the goal. Filip Kostic delivered an excellent delivery into the box that Torino keeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic tried to catch but completely fumbled.
Some chaos in the box that included an attempted overhead kick from Moise Kean that was cleared off the line, a bleeding Bremer who got hit on the forehead and cheek, and a blocked Bremer shot eventually resulted in a shot and goal from Federico Gatti. While it was initially ruled offside, a VAR ruling overturned the call and the goal stood: 1-0!
Juventus doubled its lead 15 minutes later, as the excellent Kostic whipped in another cross to Milik, who headed the ball down powerfully and saw Milinkovic-Savic punch it away for a corner. Remarkably, the Polish striker was left unmarked again during the ensuing corner, and this time his header from Kostic’s cross flew into the back of the net: 2-0! Milik almost scored his second and Juve’s third a few minutes before the end but this time the goalkeeper successfully saved it. Final score: 2-0.
The Bianconeri then traveled to face AC Milan in a fixture that some labeled as a game between two Scudetto contenders. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, because the first 40 minutes of the game showed that there was only one team that looked likely to win the title: Milan. The hosts dominated the first half and would/should have taken the lead if they were more clinical. Unfortunately for them, they paid for their wastefulness a few minutes before half time. Malick Thiaw received a red card for pulling down Kean who had turned him and was through on goal for a one-on-one chance.
The red card effectively ended Milan’s chances for the victory even though they somehow still managed to have more ball possession after 90 minutes than Juventus. The Bianconeri just about did enough to win (though certainly not dominate) the game as Manuel Locatelli scored after his shot took a heavy deflection from Milan midfielder Rade Krunic and landed in the back of the net: 1-0. It was seven years to the day after he scored the winner against Juventus for Milan back in 2016.
The 40-year-old goalkeeper Antonio Mirante, filling in for the suspended Mike Maignan and injured Marco Sportiello, made a few crucial saves late in the game to keep the score respectable. First, he tipped Dusan Vlahovic’s shot over the bar and then made a fantastic double save to deny Andrea Cambiaso’s shot and then Vlahovic’s follow-up from the rebound. The game ended in a 1-0 victory for Juventus. Dare I say that Allegri’s team might be in the title race this year?
Juventus showed fantastic grinta in the dramatic 1-0 home victory over Hellas Verona. It was a game in which the Bianconeri finally played with the positive attacking style that it showed at the start of the season, which gives us hope that perhaps Allegri’s pragmatism isn’t here to stay after all.
Ironically, despite this renewed desire to attack, the players were incredibly wasteful in front of goal. Juventus had a whopping 30 shots all night, but only six were on target. That said, Kean did have two goals disallowed, one for the most ridiculously close offside call and another for his “foul” on Hellas defender Davide Faraoni that the referee called due to Faraoni’s disgraceful bit of playacting.
But Allegri’s men continued pushing until the very last second of the game, which is when it got its reward. Milik showed that he’s one of the team’s best headers of the ball when he showed great technique to head Gatti’s cross onto the post. Thankfully, Andrea Cambiaso was there to score on the rebound, which was the perfect time for him to score his first goal for the Bianconeri. He celebrated by taking off his shirt and running to the fans, who exploded with joy. A 1-0 victory and a thrilling end to an otherwise quite boring month.
Juventus Women had a flawless October thanks to a phenomenal five wins out of five games played. First up was a league home game against Sampdoria, a team that Juventus will face in the quarterfinals of the Coppa Italia Femminile as well. Maelle Garbino put the team ahead in the 20th minute, but Sampdoria’s Brazilian midfielder Taty equalized through a penalty in the 51st minute after goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin fouled her in the box.
Juventus won the game through a 15-minute blitz during which it scored three goals: two from Lineth Beerensteyn and one from Cristiana Girelli. A fantastic 4-1 victory where the only negative was the second yellow card and sending off for Sara Gunnarsdóttir in the 69th minute.
Just like the men’s team, the women also beat AC Milan 1-0 away from home. A late goal by Arianna Caruso sealed the hard-fought victory against the mid-table team. The Bianconere then turned on the style against Chievo Verona in the Coppa Italia and secured a fantastic 6-0 victory. Beerensteyn opened the scoring in the third minute of the game before goals by Paulina Nystrom, Roberta Picchi (own goal), Lindsey Thomas, Garbino, and a beautiful chipped goal by Barbara Bonansea sealed an easy victory in the Round of 16 of the Coppa Italia, advancing to the quarterfinals where they will meet Samp.
Beerensteyn continued her stellar start to the season by scoring another two goals, this time at home against Sassuolo. Her first came in the 6th minute and her second in the 35th. Girelli scored in between those two goals while Garbino completed the first half blitz with Juventus’ fourth and final goal of the game just before half time. Sassuolo’s miserable afternoon went from bad to worse when Erika Santoro committed a last-man foul in the second half on the unstoppable Beerensteyn. Final score: 4-0.
The last game of the month was certainly the most difficult one as the Bianconere traveled to Florence to face fellow title-challengers Fiorentina. Beerensteyn scored her fifth goal in as many appearances this season to put her team in the lead ten minutes before half time. Michela Cantena equalized for the home side thanks to her well-placed header in the 67th minute. But Joe Montemurro’s team had the last laugh as Girelli scored the winner from the penalty spot after Fiorentina defender Marina Georgieva fouled her in the box, with the defender receiving her second yellow card as a result. Final score: 2-1. A great end to a perfect month!
Spectrums and Chains
As I’ve mentioned a few times both in articles and on our podcast, I’m a big fan of the Freakonomics podcast. They recently published a fantastic four-part series about failure that I particularly enjoyed and highly recommend.
In the first part of the series, they talked about reframing how we look at failure; that is, looking at failure as a chain of events that lead to a particular downfall and analyzing each event in the chain rather than, as most of us do now, solely focusing on the failure itself. In the second part, they discussed how there are many different types of failure and how each type can be placed on different points on “the spectrum of failure.”
I’m often frustrated with how simplistic and reductionist people are in the world of football (and the world in general, frankly). We’re extremely quick to judge but slow to provide nuance and empathy in our judgements. Given that we’ve recently had two* very significant failures in which a lot of fans have expressed their judgments and opinions — Nicolo Fagioli’s suspension due to his gambling addiction and Paul Pogba’s likely suspension due to doping violations — I thought it would be useful to look at these failures through the perspectives offered in the aforementioned podcast series.
* Of course, a year ago we had the resignation of the entire Juventus board of directors, but we’ve discussed that at length so I won’t talk about that failure here.
“The causal chain leading up to a school shooting has dozens of events, and every single one of them needs to be a failure for the shooting to occur. Any single success would break the chain and prevent the shooting from happening.”
When it comes to Fagioli’s case, what does that causal chain look like? I obviously don’t know him personally, but I speculate that it includes factors like a lack of mentorship from senior players about (sports) gambling, a social environment in which betting/gambling is encouraged and widely advertised, an environment in which talking about your mental health struggles isn’t encouraged, access to a lot of money, how easy it is to place bets (on your smartphone), not having close friends or anyone else to talk to about his struggles, and more. Remember, a single success anywhere in the chain would break it.
We can set aside speculation though and zoom in on Fagioli’s testimony to find clearer answers. It certainly seems that he did not have close friends to talk to about his struggles, be it fellow teammates or just regular friends, because they likely would have noticed some of the warning signs that he eventually discussed in his testimony: his sleepless nights, his general state of anxiety and worry because of the debts he owed, and the fact that he was borrowing tens of thousands of euros from teammates.
This last factor should especially have been a red flag to friends/teammates given that he has a gross annual salary of around €2 million euros. Moreover, the fact that he didn’t feel comfortable talking about this to anyone points to the social isolation that footballers experience, which is something that other top athletes have also discussed.
And then there’s Pogba. The most obvious link in his chain of events is, of course, the very high amount of injuries he has had since his time at Manchester United. But social isolation is also an issue for the Frenchman as the very sad case with his brother Mathias Pogba, who tried to extort his younger brother Paul, demonstrates. Family conflict like that certainly won’t put you in the right frame of mind, let alone make you open to trusting people close to you.
And let’s not forget the relentless pressure and media coverage that footballers endure nowadays. That pressure to perform and return to fitness, in addition to the criticism that Pogba receives due to his large salary and how little he has played for Juventus, likely made him quite desperate to return to action. And as we all know, desperation can push people to do some crazy things.
Let’s move on to the spectrum of failure, which contains six points. Ordered from most blameworthy to least these are: sabotage, inattention, inability, task challenge, uncertainty, and experimentation. I would say that Pogba’s failure was one of inattention; i.e. both from him and his doctor for failing to check if he was allowed to have the prescription that contained testosterone. You can then also look back at the chain of events to try to understand the factors that caused this inattention.
Fagioli’s one is trickier, but I would put that one under the category of inability. Specifically, his inability to talk to friends, family, and loved ones about his problems before they became so serious. Once again we have to ask ourselves, what caused Fagioli to be unable to do this? Going back to the chain of events, you could argue that this was the biggest and most obvious link in the chain that could, and should, have been broken to prevent this terrible event in the youngster’s life.
My goal of going through this exercise with you was not necessarily to find the correct answer regarding why Fagioli and Pogba experienced these failures in their lives. Instead, my goal was to encourage you to analyze and think about failure in a different and more constructive way, both in our personal lives and in sport.
It would be painfully ironic if, after all that, I failed in achieving that goal.