Here’s a hellish future to imagine: The year is 2024, and Dušan Vlahović wears the No. 9 shirt for Chelsea; Paul Pogba is injured again; Angel Di Maria is basking in the sun on some undisclosed South American beach; Daniele Rugani starts night in and night out; and Federico Chiesa just completed his move to Liverpool in the January transfer window.
In other words, Juventus are scrapped for parts like a Chevy S-10.
Let’s hope this terrible vision is the least accurate clairvoyance that has ever existed, and that the club can figure out a way to make sure those things above don’t happen.
Today’s exercise, then, is ranking the top five players who, assuming they are not sold — a grand assumption, to be sure, but a restraint that must be imposed for this exercise’s sake — are the most important players in what is, indubitably, a rebuild, one that must rely principally on the players already in the clubhouse as opposed to some external savior.
5. Nicolò Fagioli
I tossed and turned between Bremer and Fagioli here, but in the end the youngster’s love for the club swayed me toward the Italian midfielder. When the going gets tough, when the storm starts rocking the ship back and forth, you want guys by your side not only competent at what they do, but with big onions and ice water for blood. I think Fagioli has that kind of DNA. He’s had his high points and his low points and everything in between, but he keeps working, keeps improving, and he’s steadily becoming more reliable, more consistent.
4. Arkadiusz Milik
Milik might seem like a strange pick, but here’s why he makes the list: he’s a well-rounded player who’s familiar with this league at a good price point. He’s hard-working and does all the little things you’d like a solid No. 9 to do, and he hustles and contributes defensively to boot. If Juventus are to climb back to the top of the mountain, these types of “glue” players are going to be extremely important.
3. Dušan Vlahović
Against Salernitana, DV9 not only reminded us what he can do when he’s in form — score goals, pepper the net with shots — but he also did something I’m not sure I’ve seen him do so well to this point: he played the role of a complete No. 9 to perfection. His hold-up play was better than I’ve ever seen it, and for a guy who’s missed a lot of time on the pitch he looked like someone who’s never even heard the term “rust” in his life. All of this tells me one thing: he’s not done growing, and that’s a scary thought. Out of all the players on this list, he might be the most difficult to keep over the summer, but let’s hope the Old Lady finds a way.
2. Manuel Locatelli
My floppy-haired friend is not the best player on this list, and as I wrote last week he has not reached the level of consistency needed to be considered a great midfielder; for every game like the one he had against Lazio he has two like the one he had against Salernitana. But what I love about this player — as well as the last one on the list — is his tenacity, his willingness to serve in whatever role required to help his team win. He’s a Juventino. He’s growing. When he’s in form, he changes the game from one penalty box to the other.
1. Federico Chiesa
This is, definitively, the right answer. He has everything you want in a club cornerstone and more — the attitude, the energy, the talent. He has an easy smile and an endless motor. If Chiesa reaches his potential, he’s going to be one of the best wings on the planet. He does so many things offensively to put pressure on the opposition. If there’s one guy I could exempt from being transferred away, this is the guy, and I imagine 90 percent of Juventuni agree.
When the English teams start hammering the phones this summer, when the agents start pulling out the calculators and adding up all the zeros they could make in a fire sale, when the tabloids churn out more rumor-mongering than all the chocolate in the Hershey factory, this is the time when Juventus must do whatever it takes to convince players like these to stay.