Another winter market has come and gone, with typical little fan-fare. Yes, there will always be the Manchester Citys and Real Madrids of the world, who can make a substantial enough offer to convince a team to give up a key player during mid-season – as well as deals which simply make sense and work themselves out, like AC Milan bringing a want-away Mario Balotelli home to Italy. But in what was Beppe Marotta’s third winter market, the most significant one remains that of two years ago which brought in Alessandro Matri on loan with a not insignificant right of redemption for the summer.
The tifosi dreamed of securing a truly impactful player immediately during the winter but, notwithstanding the very important and shrewd signing of Fernando Llorente for July, a lack of such available players with sparse funds this time of year made that a pipe dream at best. Indeed, ending up with Nicolas Anelka after initially flirting with Lisandro Lopez – the clinical latter of which would have been a much smarter albeit far more expensive choice – underscores this perfectly. A reflection on the market that was, in context of all which were with an eye toward the future, seems appropriate at this time.
Past Markets – Substantial Money Spent, a Foundation Built
One of the most discussed market fictions is that of the broke Italian teams unable to wield financial power. Yes, there is some truth to it at the moment as the limping global economy has been particularly hard on Southern Europe, with Barcelona and Real Madrid the only two teams without oil money sugar daddies seemingly immune. Compound that with the dearth of stadium revenue available to Italian teams, one must look no further than the behavior of the Milan teams over the past few years to believe it. However, the analysis that Juventus can’t afford to splash a substantial amount on a top player is farcical. Yes, prior moves for such players were thwarted due to “economic challenges,” but I would argue that is more to do with Marotta’s negotiating skills or willingness to spend on only one player as opposed to an overall lack of funds.
As a prime example look no further than the summer of 2011, in which a chase for Sergio Aguero morphed into a failed bid for Giuseppe Rossi, before the Bianconeri finally settled on Mirko Vucinic. While the Montenegrin is certainly not the disappointment that Niklas Bendtner was a summer later, nor an Amauri-calibre bust (never again), his signing cast serious doubt on Marotta’s ability to land that elusive big fish – a question which remains to this day.
Notwithstanding any of the above, Marotta arrived in the summer of 2010 with a clear mandate. A 7th place finish meant Juventus would be forced to miss the Champions League for the first time since 2007-08, older, high-salary players needed to be cleared out, and a new base needed to be established. The ex-Sampdoria director made good on this first task, offloading 37.3 million in, erm, “depreciated assets,” while spending 56.45 on a new foundation. Indeed, some of those pieces remain and have contributed, notably Leonardo Bonucci, Marco Storari, Fabio Quagliarella, and Simone Pepe. In sum, the net outlay on players for 2010 during the Marotta era was 19.15 million.
The following winter was relatively quiet, albeit with the addition of some more key pieces such as Andrea Barzagli (an absolute steal at 300,000 mill) and Alessandro Matri (2.5 mill loan with right of redemption). Meanwhile, the ensuing summer was one of the busiest for Juventus in recent memory, solidifying the Scudetto-winning year that was to be. Players such as Stephan Lichtsteiner, Arturo Vidal, Emanuele Giaccherini, and Mirko Vucinic all were bought and remain, while the options of Matri, Quagliarella, Pepe and (*face palm*) Marco Motta were all exercised. Off were the likes of Felipe Melo, Momo Sissoko, and others. In total, a virtual spending spree would be had with 85.25 dished out, and 14 incoming from departures, for a total of 71.95 million spent on players in 2011.
The trend would continue into 2012, only the 7 million spent in that winter’s market on the loan of Marco Borriello and purchases of Martin Caceres (loan with forced option to purchase) and Simone Padoin would be offset by 7 million in sales. The following summer saw 56.35 spent against 17.45 received, for a net 38.9 million.
All in all, a grand total of 130 million have been spent by Marotta since taking over two and a half years ago. Which makes the next part seem not as unreasonable as it might have without the proper context…
Summer 2013 and Beyond
Among the moves that Juventus made this winter, the most important one going into this summer are the ones whose impact will not be felt until then. Of course, Fernando Llorente will be arriving on the cheap, and represents a very real opportunity for a true top notch striker which has been so sorely lacking. But do not ignore that Andrea Poli was set to be officially co-owned by the Bianconeri for around 2.5 million, until difficulty getting the paperwork finished on time made the deal fall through. It is of no consequence however, as the deal as originally planned would have kept Poli in Genova for the rest of the season before joining Juventus in July. All accounts are that the move is still on.
Importantly, a Poli addition will offer Juve the vice Andrea Pirlo they’ve been searching for since the number 21 arrived from Milan on a Bosman in 2011. At 23 years of age, he is young enough to improve and learn from the elder’s tutelage. As a consequence of this and all of the aforementioned foundational work which Marotta has accomplished in years prior, there are virtually no holes to plug. That is the first time in a long time anyone’s been able to say that.
With that, Juventus can afford to take the lion’s share of whatever transfer kitty is available, and invest in quality over quantity. There is now sufficient depth all over the pitch, for whichever tactics Antonio Conte decides to deploy on any given day. The 3-5-2 which served the team so well during the latter part of last season has been a bit stale and predictable for other teams’ of late, thus a shakeup may be in order. With players like Simone Pepe inching closer to return from injury, and Mauricio Isla slowly regaining the form which made him such a terrorizing force at Udinese, a return to a 4-3-3 or some modification thereof seems logical. With that, two players could be brought in to reinforce an exceptional squad into a great one.
As it exists, central midfield is as close to perfect as it gets, with Andrea Poli simply icing on the cake. If I were the DS, I’d make no moves in that area of the pitch – save trying to unload say Simone Padoin, but he must have some seriously incriminating photographs of Conte or something, so that’s unlikely. Instead, I’d focus my attention on attack and defence.
On Conte’s Juventus, keep in mind, the sum has consistently been greater than the parts. Juve already boast Serie A’s best attack and defense, both in terms of goals scored and allowed respectively. While this can be credited to the work by Marotta and Conte, now is the time to implement phase 2 of the plan and use the market to bring in the true “top players” (aside from the ones already present, in fairness, notably in midfield). For the attack, they should look no further than Stevan Jovetic of Fiorentina. While Fernando Llorente will be asked to fill the number 9 role, a seconda punta with skill, superior passing, and an eye for goal is the perfect, necessary complement.
A trident attack featuring him and Sebastian Giovinco, Vucinic, Pepe, or Isla flanking Llorente would be potent, and provide substantial depth for another three-front campaign. He’s also versatile enough to play off a target man in a two-striker formation. While relations between Fiorentina and Juventus are said to be frosty, it’s been reported that there is a bit more to last summer’s Dimitar Berbatov saga. Besides, as Shakespeare once wrote, money heals all wounds (I’m taking liberty with this one, fine). A bid upwards of 35 million should be able to seal that deal, and worth every penny. At age 23, the Montenegrin attacker is still yet to enter his prime.
The second signing that I would make would be 24-year-old defender Angelo Ogbonna of Torino. Tall, strong, and fast, the Nigerian-Italian has already established himself as a regular call-up for Cesare Prandelli’s Azzurri. Left footed, he can play on the left side of a three-man back line, or as a either a center or left back in a four-man defense. This type of versatility would prove itself valuable when playing in multiple competitions, with shifting tactics at a premium. He’s been valued anywhere between 13 and 20 million Euros, and I wouldn’t blink at the high end of that at all; particularly considering what was dished out on Bonucci two years ago, to good result. While Torino would play reluctant to sell to Juventus – and indeed Chairman Urbano Cairo has already stated he would not – do not forget that Juventus have a history of signing left-sided Torino defenders and even captains, notably Gianluca Pessotto and Federico Balzaretti. Nor should we forget that after having spent several seasons in Serie B, Torino would be wise to take a substantial infusion of cash as it postures to remain in the top flight long term.
There are many reasons the thought of these two moves would be seen with skepticism, both in terms of the clubs the players currently play for and interest from abroad. However, both may have good motivation to remain in Italy. Jovetic has stated if and when he were to (inevitably) leave Fiorentina, he’d like to remain on the peninsula. Ogbonna, meanwhile, is a young defender who would do wise to stay in the country of his birth, where modern defending was transformed into an art. Juventus may be the only Italian team that could comfortably afford both at this moment. Coming off a Scudetto victory, a full season in the Champions League, and God-willing, another Scudetto and Champions League campaign, the team should only have more spoils available this summer.
If it takes upwards of 50 to 60, nay even 70 million Euros to bring them both in this summer, it would be money well invested. The team has no other gaps remaining, and have spent that type of money on less quality in the past. Juventus could also stand to unload some of their current roster, which could help finance these moves. Both players are young, talented, and ready to enter their prime, enough so that resale value could be had in the future if need be (hey, it’s a business after all). Best of all, both are already acclimated to Serie A and would require less of a break-in period than foreign imports.
And now, think of the depth charts. Key to my analysis are a couple of points:
In goal, Storari has consistently been the best number 2 keeper in the league for the past two seasons. This year, however, he’s been a bit shaky. It may be time to start integrating the younger keepers into the fold, and thus he could be offloaded.
At fullback/wingback, the depth that Isla and Caceres could provide is key, as both could play on the right or left (and Isla can play more advanced as a right-wing or in a 3-pronged attack). Padoin should simply be gone as surplus; otherwise, I am happy with this and midfield as is.
Quagliarella and Matri are both seemingly on the chopping block. If one or the other would have to go, I’d think Quagliarella would be the more likely departure. Quagliarella might look good in purple and help bring down the overall cost for Jovetic. Though I’d prefer to keep him as he fits the profile of a vice-Llorente, Matri is now 28, has lost confidence from Conte and now in himself, and might be better suited moving onto a counter-attacking team better suited to his style. It thus may be time to bring back one of Immobile or Gabbiadini and begin integrating some more young blood into the first team squad’s attack.
Luca Marrone continues to be used sporadically in midfield, but it is now clear that Antonio Conte envisions him as a full-time ball-playing center back in the near future. This could be a good result, lest we forget that Bonucci himself was a converted central midfielder. Still, he can reasonably be expected to fill in at midfield in a pinch for at least the next year.
Note that the players are not necessarily listed in any particular order. For example when considering forwards in a 4-3-3, Pepe and Isla can both be utilized in those spots, but neither in the center of attack. Thus, while both are listed as “forwards” the listed Immobile/Gabbiadini tandem would certainly be ahead of each in the event of a Llorente unavailability.
GoalKeepers: Buffon, Branescu, Leali
Defenders: Chiellini, Bonucci, Barzagli, Ogbonna, Marrone, Caceres
Wingbacks: Lichtsteiner, Asamoah, Isla, Caceres, Giaccherini, De Ceglie, Pepe
Midfielders: Pirlo, Vidal, Marchisio, Pogba, Poli, Giaccherini, Marrone
Forwards: Llorente, Jovetic, Vucinic, Giovinco, Immobile/Gabbiadini
GoalKeepers: Buffon, Branescu, Leali
Center backs: Chiellini, Barzagli, Ogbonna, Bonucci, Marrone
Fullbacks: Lichtsteiner, De Ceglie, Ogbonna, Chiellini, Isla
Midfielders: Pirlo, Vidal, Marchisio, Pogba, Poli, Giaccherini, Marrone
Forwards: Llorente, Vucinic, Jovetic, Giovinco, Isla, Pepe, Giaccherini, Immobile/Gabbiadini
The success of such an operation, of course, will depend on the team’s and management’s desire to invest so heavily in so few parts. Perhaps more importantly, it will depend on Marotta’s ability to successfully hunt his Moby Dick. Nobody will doubt that the current Juve DS is brilliant when it comes to finding bargains. That Paul Pogba, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo, and Andrea Barzagli were all brought in for less than what was spent on Diego in 2009 – the former of which is on his way to stardom with the latter four among the best in their positions around – is a testament to this. Conspicuously, not one of his successful bargain buys is a striker. Nevertheless, while he and sporting director Fabio Paratici’s skill in identifying low-risk, high-upside players served them well at Sampdoria and indeed has its value at Juventus, in Turin a bit more is still required. This summer thus could prove to be a turningpoint in Marotta’s career.