It’s been quite clear from the first day of Antonio Conte’s new regime that he would build Juventus on a wing-based system. Though as a player, he spent the overwhelming majority of his career in a 3-man midfield with little width, his coaching career has used the flanks ever since his first coaching job at Arezzo. The “4-2-4″ (as the media has called it) came to Conte when Arezzo was struggling for survival, it had a dramatic impact but was unable to save the team, docked points from the beginning of the season, from dropping into Lega Pro.
Gigi Delneri certainly preferred a wing-based system as well, but Jorge Martinez’s flop combined with the arrival of Alberto Aquilani meant the club rarely played a genuine 4-4-2 system, more often a lopsided 4-3-3 formation with a dearth of wide play on the left. Conte’s arrival reaffirmed the need for a left-winger, and while Marotta certainly knew it, perhaps Conte was making a point by playing Marchisio and Vidal on the left during pre-season, to little effect.
Though Cristian Pasquato performed very well this pre-season on the left wing, he was always going to be shipped out on loan to get valuable experience. The mercato marched on, and Juventus first signed Paraguayan winger Marcelo Estigarribia, though it was increasingly uncertain who would be starting on the left. Would it be the youth product, Pasquato? The reliable yet unspectacular Simone Pepe? Or the new unknown South American? On the last day of August, it was resolved. Pasquato was sent on loan to Lecce, and Juventus signed Dutch winger Eljero Elia of HSV for a €9 million fee.
Elia had not been at HSV for long, only signing with the German club two years ago following a break-out season with FC Twente in his native Eredivisie. Elia was named Dutch Talent of the Year that season, and Hamburg swooped in for essentially the same fee the Northern German club later sold him to Juventus for. At HSV, Elia showed all of the qualities that made him so well known in the Netherlands, but in a tale familiar to Juventus fans, faded significantly after a positive first few months at the club. HSV attempted to find the ideal position and situation for Elia, but the young Dutchman was unable to find the consistency to make a step up in class.
Elia very much fits in the mold of a winger that Conte likes: pace & trickery in abundance, prefers dribbling & penetrating over crossing it in. Between his acceleration and that of Milos Krasic, the notoriously slow Serie A will certainly struggle to contain them, most of all, famously slow full-backs like Chivu or Comotto. Elia is a naturally right-footed player, though he prefers to play on the left to allow him to cut inside and have shots on goal. This is certainly another weapon in our arsenal on the flanks, as Milos Krasic’s well known weak left foot means defenders can focus on forcing him outside.
Much like Cassano’s move to AC Milan in January, Eljero Elia’s signing represents a gamble for Juventus. Neither were signed for a significant amount of money like Diego or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but have to prove that they have the mentality and the maturity to play at a big club. Elia is very similar to an Azzurri #10- his quality and technical ability is not under question, but the same cannot be said for psychological condition or ability to maintain consistent form. Indeed, at age 20, Elia left his hometown club ADO Den Haag following disagreements with the new coach Lex Schoenmaker. In Germany, Elia had a few public disagreements with HSV regarding position and playing time.
Krasic famously rejected all non-Juventus offers in summer of 2010, paying for a private jet to take him to the Villar Perosa friendly, but Elia has not accepted the move with the same level of enthusiasm. Earlier in the Summer, Elia stated that “Juventus is on the same level as HSV” and it wouldn’t make sense to move sideways, that he would only leave HSV for a “big club” like Chelsea or Arsenal. Elia has been doing PR damage-control since, stating that as a child he cheered Juventus on against Ajax and that Ravanelli and Del Piero were his favorites, though it’s natural to be skeptical of these words given his prior words about the Old Lady.
Though Elia hasn’t come in the most enthusiastic of ways, most Juventini should be excited for his arrival. It’s a gamble, but a positive, pro-active one from Giuseppe Marotta who has sometimes been inclined to aim for the “safe” choice. Eljero Elia could perform poorly at Juventus, but according to Bundesliga expert and HSV fan Dan Bu, he “has the potential to triple his market value within a couple of years’ time“. Perhaps Conte can be the coach to hammer in the consistency to the young Dutchman and finally deliver on the promise he has.
Overall, this is a signing Juve fans should be quite pleased with. As stated, in recent years, Juventus has sometimes gone for the “safe” option, be it a cheap or mediocre player. Elia could follow in the footsteps of the two previous Dutchmen to play for Juventus. Delivering underwhelming performances and leaving for the same transfer fee (the Edwin Van der Sar path) is something we don’t wish upon him; we would much rather prefer he follow the Edgar Davids route and become a true star of this new Juventus.
For a €9m transfer and a meager annual salary of €1.2m, it’s a shot worth taking.