Man ... that felt quick, didn’t it?
It really does feel like it was only a week ago that Juventus finished their season, rather than it being the week in which there is the start of a new one. Perhaps it’s the relative lack of transfer drama this summer that has seen the offseason fly by?
Whatever the reason, Juve will kick off the season on Sunday, exactly where the last one ended, at the Dacia Arena in Udine. Hopefully, it will be the start of a season with a lot more highs than last year.
With the season opener looming large, let’s take a look at the offseason that’s been, and see what about it has been exciting, and what’s left us wanting to see something different.
Exciting: Timothy Weah
In case you haven’t read it on this blog or heard it on The Old Lady Speaks the last few weeks, Timothy Weah is fast. Like, really fast.
That speed has wreaked havoc on the right wing during Juve’s preseason friendlies. It’s the kind of speed that Juan Cuadrado used to have — and that he’d notably lacked since the midpoint of the 2021-22 season, when he was abruptly hit upside the head with the Time Stick.
Weah is going to add a level of threat on the right side that last year’s team just didn’t have. The 23-year-old can blow the top off of defenses and give counterattacks an edge that they often lacked. His defensive chops aren’t elite, but they’re adequate to man the wingback position. While there are some questions as to who might back him up there, Weah looks like he will prove to be a solid starter on the right.
If Weah ends up being the only real signing of the year, the initial indications are it could be a very good one indeed.
Disappointing: Selling Nicolo Rovella
Actual footage of me as this move went from rumor to almost certainly happening:
I am absolutely incensed by this move. Rovella is one of the most talented young midfielders in Italy, and he could’ve seriously remade the midfield, playing as a true natural regista while pushing Manuel Locatelli, who has been shoehorned into the position for two years now, forward to get more out of his talents as well as his midfield partner.
But it’s pretty clear now that Massimiliano Allegri didn’t see him as anything more than a backup to Locatelli. Rovella, who in the past has insisted that he wanted to earn his place at Juve, has clearly decided that he’s not going to be given a chance to do that, and this move to Lazio is the result. Say what you want about the midfield logjam and the need team’s need for cash, but Rovella was a player that Juventus should have prioritized keeping.
Making matters worse is where he’s ended up going. A player with his skills being plunked into Maurizio Sarri’s system could turn into a star fast. Giving a direct rival for the top four exactly what their coach wants to make his midfield work isn’t exactly smart business.
Losing Rovella hurts Juventus and strengthens a key rival. It’s awful and I hate it.
Exciting: Andrea Cambiaso
Now, for a young player that is getting a chance to shine, and who has unexpectedly started to push an incumbent aside.
Cambiaso had an excellent season on loan at Bologna last year, and it was a bit of a surprise that he was named the starter at the left wing-back spot in the pre-season friendlies. But his performance has been excellent. So excellent, in fact, that surprising reports are coming out that Juve is looking for a buyer for Filip Kostic only a year after acquiring him.
The main difference between Cambiaso and Kostic is the diversity of his offensive game on the wing. Whereas Kostic is a crossing machine who only rarely looks to other options, Cambiaso is perfectly willing to cut inside and interchange with whoever is out wide with him, creating more options and making the attack less predictable.
That element of unpredictability could have real importance this year. Juve’s inability to break down a low block the last two years has been a well-known weakness, and last year Juve only managed to win one game in which they did not score first. If Cambiaso continues to play and develop, both wing-back spots could look hugely different than they did last year.
Disappointing: Samuel Iling-Junior as a midfielder
Max Allegri has often tinkered with a player’s position. Miralem Pjanic was an attacking midfielder before being installed as a regista. Locatelli has likewise been employed in front of defense when his best attributes come out when he’s closer to goal. We all remember Mario Mandzukic’s move to the wing.
Those players weren’t (or aren’t) natural fits for those position, but they all possessed skills that could translate to their new positions to make them effective there.
What they didn’t do was completely smother the players’ best attributes. That, unfortunately, is what Allegri is in the process of doing after suddenly deciding to try to convert Samuel Iling-Junior, one of the most exciting wing players Juventus’ youth sector has produced in years, into a midfielder.
Iling-Junior’s dynamism on the wing was plain to see from the minute he stepped onto the field for his senior team debut against Benfica. He single-handedly put lipstick on the pig that was that game, and by the end of the season was clearly the superior option to Kostic.
But pulling him inside to the midfield robs him of everything that makes him so good. The speed and elusiveness that propelled him into the spotlight last year are far less useful in the traffic in the middle of the park. The ill-fated attempt to do the same thing with Federico Bernardeschi during his first tenure with the club should have reminded him that this is not a good idea.
Allegri reportedly thinks Iling can be a solution to the dilemma of Paul Pogba’s availability, but all he’s doing is torpedoing one of his best players at a critical point in his development. Someone has to have the courage to tell Allegri to cut it out on this one.
Exciting: Healthy Federico Chiesa
Chiesa is another player who has been on the receiving end of Allegri’s questionable position tinkering. But regardless of whether he’s playing at secunda punta or in his proper position out wide, just seeing him looking whole again is a very nice thing.
For much of last season, Chiesa looked ever-so-slightly tentative about his injured knee. (In the game against Roma on the same field in which he got injured, it looked very tentative.) After a full summer off to rest and and then train normally as opposed to going through recovery, Chiesa is looking far stronger and more assertive. Based on his preseason performances, it looks like the real Freddy Church is about to stand up — and woe to any defender that tries to stand in his way if that’s the case.
Disappointing: The Leonardo Bonucci saga
Juventus have not had a great track record the last 10 years or so when it comes to saying goodbye to major players.
The lap of honor and farewell to Alessandro Del Piero in 2012 was a moment to remember, but it’s hard to forget that it was preceded by Andrea Agnelli breaking the news to everyone — including Del Piero — at a board meeting.
The departures of Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, and Giorgio Chiellini — all with their own laps of honor — were relatively orderly, but Claudio Marchisio was never able to take the sendoff he deserved, and Paulo Dybala’s emotional farewell two summers ago came in defiance of a front office that wanted to keep it swept under the rug. Cuadrado, too, had an unceremonious end to his time with the club.
Now, the last remnant of the team that started The Streak is set to depart, and, sadly, it’s not going to be on good terms.
Leonardo Bonucci simply isn’t good enough to play major minutes at Juventus anymore. Frankly, he hasn’t been anywhere close to the level he was in the middle of last decade, when many believed him to be the best center back in the world, since his ill-considered sojourn to AC Milan in 2017. That mistake tarnished some of his legacy with the club, but he still deserved a lap around the stands for what he helped build at Juve.
This time, it might not be all Juve’s fault that a legend’s departure is going sour. Reports say that Bonucci was offered the chance at a send-off last spring but turned it down, preferring to try to put himself back in the team’s plans and see out his contract, which is set to come to an end in 2024. He hasn’t managed that, and is now looking for a place to play his last season before hanging up his boots.
He seemed to get in a goodbye of sorts at the end of Juve’s traditional friendly with the NextGen, but he deserved more. It’s hard to see it end this way.
Exciting: A normal season
This will be the first truly normal season since the COVID lockdown in 2020.
No more compressed schedules to ensure the Euros start normally (because heaven forbid they push them back a week or two) or accommodate a stupid winter World Cup. Even the 2021-22 season, which had a relatively standard calendar, came while COVID-induced capacity reductions were still in place and after the continent-spanning Euro 2020(1) that saw some countries have some absolutely crazy travel schedules during the tournament.
With no such wrinkles whatsoever entering the year, this will be the first time in what seems like forever that the season will be completely normal from a calendar standpoint. That’ll be good for everyone.