The end of one thing, the beginning, perhaps, of another.
For years I’ve had the feeling of a hammer coming down, that flightiness in the stomach of knowing something was coming for Juventus, something not good that would bring together all the questions and issues and mayhem of the last several years of decline, but not knowing just what. Even in the final seasons of the nine consecutive domestic crowns, there were questions about the future. Since or before that juncture, the midfield was a glaring question mark; it remains one to this day.
The Cristiano Ronaldo venture seemed then, and certainly seems now, a myopic decision from the club’s leadership, which is to take nothing away from the player, who generally out-performed my own expectations of him. When Juventus signed the immortal No. 7, this is how Andrea Agnelli postured the move: “We need to put ourselves in a position to sign the next Cristiano Ronaldo. But this time at 25 years old. ... We will plan, one after the other, the last remaining steps to become number one.”
If the idea of Juventus being “number one” in global football was a bit of a joke at the time, it’s now the paragon of farces. With a 4-1 defeat to Empoli on Monday, the club’s finances in a state of total disrepair, the ill will of comical outside forces, a roster that remains in need of serious reconstruction, and, to boot, a coaching situation that, no matter where you stand on the issue, is anything but healthy and stable, the hammer has fallen hard on the Old Lady. As if the club’s own state wasn’t misery enough, two Italian sides are about to do battle in European finals while the Bianconeri limp to the worst finish line imaginable.
From here there is no well-paved road.
The perfect storm has coalesced & landed
Indeed, the perfect storm is here.
There is trouble within and without, and there’s no Premier League money to jump-start a reload. Nobody wants to hear it, but Juventus are about as close to “reloading” as I am to selling my new knitwear company for $50 million.
Among the many conundrums to deal with, the issues that Max Allegri seems to be perpetuating should be recognized even by the very, very few who remain firmly in his camp. While I’m not necessarily one of them, I do think he’s done a fairly good job navigating a tumultuous year — the injuries, the penalties, the World Cup — with a mediocre roster to what should be a second-place finish. Any reasonable person should be able to recognize at least some merit in his feats this year, no matter what you think about his tactics.
At the same time, on the other end of the spectrum, it’s difficult for me to understand those who have no criticisms at all for Allegri. Yes, he has contributed immensely to the club’s history, and yes he has won trophies. But for long stretches of this year the attack has been absolutely anemic. The reliance on individuals rather than a scheme or approach — even if it’s a loose scheme; I’m not saying he needs to be Maurizio Sarri — is borderline insane. Over and over, when players leave Juventus we hear the same sorts of things: I was played out of position, I didn’t know what was being asked of me, etc. etc. That’s worrisome to me.
I think there’s a world in which one can acknowledge Allegri’s faults, acknowledge Allegri’s feats, and also recognize that he doesn’t quite seem like the personality to take this club forward into a very dark night.
What the heck does this mean for next year’s roster?
Assuming there’s no European football next year — or, in a best-case scenario difficult to imagine at the moment, Europa League or Conference League — there will likely be a very different-looking squad next year.
We’ve already got the news that Angel Di Maria likely won’t be staying an additional year in Turin, a completely unsurprising turn of events given the combination of uneven performances with a high salary. There will be other extremely overpaid salaries to deal with next year, almost too many to write and not become depressed about; Leonardo Bonucci, Alex Sandro, Juan Cuadrado, and Paul Pogba all contributed somewhere on the spectrum of “not at all” to “thank you for not being injured all the time,” and not really any better.
Of course, I imagine Dušan Vlahović will be the primary talking point this summer. As much as letting a player of his caliber go would hurt, I’m not sure the club would be in a position to deny a good-looking offer from a big spender like Chelsea, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, or Real Madrid, all of whom are in some need, more or less, of a striker, and all of whom could provide better service for the Serbian than he’ll likely find at Juventus next year. Except Chelsea, all those clubs will also be dancing the Champions League dance while the Old Lady has her arms folded in the shadows by the snack table.
Perhaps the biggest elephant in the room in terms of roster reconstruction, though, which I didn’t really address in my previous post, is all the players out on loan. How is the club going to navigate the situations of players like Arthur Melo (Liverpool have said he’s returning to Juventus), Dejan Kulusevski (there’s speculation Spurs won’t pursue a purchase on the initial terms), and Weston McKennie (Leeds are almost surely going to be relegated)?
The questions within and without are nearly innumerable.
Night, we hope, is darkest just before the dawn. The only trouble is that we don’t have a watch that tells us when sunrise will be.