Since the 1990’s, Juventus have not been afraid to sell some of their most valuable players in order to revolutionise the squad. Probably the most famous examples of this practice was when Zidane was sold to Real Madrid in 2001 for a world record fee in order to fuel the spending on Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram and Pavel Nedved. But there are other examples.
Two years after clinching the Ballon d’Or, Roberto Baggio was sold to AC Milan for a huge fee to make way for the young Alessandro Del Piero. Even last year, you could argue that Paul Pogba’s world-record transfer to Manchester United put the money in the purse of ‘the Old Lady’ to buy Miralem Pjanic and Gonzalo Higuain this season. You could say that they are the masters of squad evolution. Ruthlessly letting go of players satisfied with what they have, replacing them with talented young players to play alongside others who know what it takes to never be satisfied, and making sure that the squad is kept hungry to win more titles.
With a second Champions League Final in three seasons coming up, I looked at how Juventus’s last Champions League winning squad in 1996 was ditched of some of its most important players and replaced with younger, hungrier players who reached a further two finals in 1997 and 1998. That 1996 team was filled with great champions like captain Gianluca Vialli, Fabrizio Ravanelli – who scored 17 goals that season including 1 in the final against Ajax – 1982 World Cup winner Pietro Vierchowod and Paulo Sousa, a metronomic midfielder from Portugal who went on to win another Champions League title at the expense of Juventus a year later. All were sold in the summer Juve became European Champions for a second time. You may say age was the factor; Vierchowod was 37 and Vialli was 31 but Ravanelli was 28 and Sousa was 25, so why would Juve sell some of their influential players after such a great victory?
Those players who had fought so hard at Juventus were shipped off, not exclusively because of age, but because Juve’s infamous Sporting Director Luciano Moggi, at the time, saw that in order to maintain success, he had to keep the squad hungry for it. By selling those players, his thoughts were satisfied as he replaced with young talent, hungrier players in the summer of 1996. Players like Zidane (a 24 year old midfield genius at the time), Christian Vieri (23 and a strong, powerful forward) and tough-tackling Paulo Montero at 25. This strategy paid off as the club sealed another scudetto and reached the Champions League final once again, this time losing against Borussia Dortmund.
In the three years between 1996 and 1998, the team reached three Champions League finals with almost three different teams. There was a core who were present throughout the three years; goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi, fullbacks Moreno Torricelli and Gianluca Pessotto, centre-back Ciro Ferrara, midfielders Didier Deschamps, Antonio Conte, Angelo Di Livio and forward Alessando Del Piero. All players who embody the spirt of Juventus and her insatiable hunger, but with other players coming and going, to keep that tension up.
So looking at the current Juventus squad, and should they win the Champions League, what should their transfer market strategy be? Bearing in mind how an historic achievement can affect the mentality of an individual. Should they look at offloading players with a value on the market who might be satisfied with what they have won? Then, using the money generated, replace them with young talent that can help the squad keep the hunger necessary to keep winning? If so who are these players? Who are the players that embody the Juventus spirt that the likes of Ferrara, Conte, Deschamps and Del Piero who should not be sold? Here we take a look at the current squad and go through who could be shown the door, who needs to stay at all costs and where opportunities may lie.
Let’s start from the back and work forwards. Gianluigi Buffon, club captain and legendary goalkeeper as everyone knows, has made it very clear in the past how much chasing the Champions League has kept him at the top of his game. Could he retire should Juventus lift the trophy, knowing he has nothing left to achieve? Sounds like the perfect ending, but I don’t think so. Despite mentioning his drive to win the Champions League keeping him sharp, he has one other goal: to be the first player to go to 6 World Cup finals.
Logically, he would stay at the club one more year at least and honour his contract. His leadership and mentality is perfect for this club to help the others understand what it takes to be a champion. Neto, who has played more this year, may leave for first team football and replaced by a promising Italian youngster like Alex Meret, who hopefully can learn a lot from Gigi before eventually retiring.
Andrea Barzagli also has a contract that ends in 2018 and like Buffon, may consider bowing out at the top. This seems a more likely scenario. Barzagli has seen fewer minutes this term, mainly due with the tactical change from a 3 man defence to 4 man setup. He has played some of the bigger matches at right back or when Juventus has used a 3 in the Champions league. Four solid performances against Barcelona and AS Monaco were down to his defensive work, limiting the likes of Mbappe and Neymar. However, the Fiesole native’s powers are appearing to wane and there is a very promising youngster by the way of Daniele Rugani ready to replace him. He may decide it’s not worth staying and fighting when there’s probably a role in the backroom staff for him should he want it.
Leonardo Bonucci‘s situation is a bit more complicated. He signed a deal this year to extend his contract until 2021 as one of the stalwarts of the team. The future leader, though courted by Manchester City last summer, declared his will to become a legend at Juventus. But, the fact remains that he does have a couple of clubs willing to pay €60 million for him. Coupled with that, this season a falling out with Allegri was made very public as was his punishment. Could this act of indiscipline and interest from Chelsea and Man City make the Juventus hierarchy think about cashing in? €60 million is a lot and could be reinvested elsewhere and not necessarily to replace Bonucci.
Mehdi Benatia‘s future was recently confirmed when the Turin club agreed to pay Bayern Munich to make his stay permanent. Not only this, Juventus could decide to bring Mattia Caldara to the club earlier than planned to make a contribution to the first team. The 22 year old has arguably been the best defender in Serie A this season, and I wouldn’t put it past the club to capitalise on a player who turns 30 this year whose value will only diminish from here.
Giorgio Chiellini and Claudio Marchisio have both been at the club for more than 10 years each. They are leaders in the dressing room and on the field. Under no circumstances should these two leave as they are the kind of players that can help new players adapt to the Juve mentality. Paulo Dybala, on joining Juventus on the eve of the 2015 Champions League final in Berlin, remarked that he understood immediately what it took to be at Juventus when, after the defeat, Il Principino said, ‘you better be ready to win them all next season‘. Any newcomers to Juventus will learn quickly from these two what’s expected from them.
Sami Khedira has been one of Juventus’s best players this season. He seems to have found his fitness, playing in the over 40 matches this season without a long term injury for the first time since the 2012-13 season. At 30 he still has a lot to offer the club and after this season, one year left on his contract. Rumours have been building up all season that the German international could be tempted by a move to MLS at the end of the season. Despite being an important player for Allegri’s team, and bearing in mind Khedira’s injury record and age, it could be best for all parties to say ‘thank you’ and let the former Real Madrid man leave. Juventus have been looking for a strong, box-to-box midfielder and Corentin Tolisso is the man that Juve have been tracking all season. He would be an excellent replacement and would find more space in Turin should Sami’s number 6 shirt be vacant on his arrival. Fabinho from Monaco and Paredes from Roma have also been touted as possible transfer targets.
As for the rest of the midfielders, it is a bit of mixed bag. Miralem Pjanic had a slow start but has grown into a key figure, With Allegri’s guidance and formation change as integral to the success of the team, I believe he’s just getting started here. Stefano Sturaro signed a new deal during the season to prolong his stay at the club, despite not being universally popular with fans and a clear lack of talent. However, he never seems to complain of a lack of game time and is an Italian trained player (which helps for the Champions League). Unless he can be used as a make-weight in a transfer, I think he will stay at Juventus. Mario Lemina on the other hand, despite showing more quality than Sturaro, arguably, is likely to be moved on. Clubs are willing to invest more than Juventus spent on the Gabon international.
The situation at right back has been well documented. Stephan Lichtsteiner looks like he is on his way out. He was originally left out of the Champions League after supposedly asking to leave the club. He worked hard to get back in the team and was rewarded with extended period of first-team action, while last year’s signing Dani Alves was out with a broken foot. With his contract expiring at the end of this season, he signed a new deal last December. But I’m sure the club will allow him to leave – if he wants to go. Dani Alves, with some spectacular performances this season, looks set to stay another year as per his contract, but you never know, he may feel his work his done and look for a new challenge. He has clubs interested in him.
Whether just one of Alves or Lichsteiner leaves, or both, Juve will need to find another right-back. AC Milan full-back Mattia De Sciglio has been rumoured to be joining in the summer transfer window, with his current contract ending next season. Given that Kwadwo Asamoah is likely to leave in summer, De Sciglio can cover both left and right flanks. A specialist right back that would be a shrewd acquisition is Atalanta right-back Andrea Conti, one of the stars of the Serie A this season and a self-confessed Juventus fan. If club aren’t following him, they should. Alex Sandro has admirers, but Juventus are keen to offer him an improved contract and an extension. He’s hugely important to the team and won’t be sold at any price.
The future of Paulo Dybala isn’t worth mentioning. He’s the heartbeat of team from a technical stand point and the club want him to be a future leader recently signing a deal to keep him at the club until 2022. And on monster wages, it’s hard to see the Juventus management cashing in before he reaches his full potential. Mario Mandzukic I thought would be one of the older players to move on, satisfied with a victory. Plenty of suitors, Besiktas in particular who are prepared to offer him a huge contract. But in the last week, he signed a new deal. The Juventus management see his all round benefit to the squad and believe he won’t lose his hunger in the event of a Champions League victory.
Juan Cuadrado has been influential this season and a clause was triggered in his contract to make his elaborate loan move from Chelsea permanent. So it’s difficult to see him leave and the same goes for Marko Pjaca. Despite not having much game time, extenuating circumstances and two long term injuries – one just as the 4-2-3-1 system started being used – surely prevented him from making an impact as a Serie A debutant this year. Anyway, it looks like these players will be competing with one, if not two players in their roles, one being Patrik Schick and possibly Keita Balde – if rumours are to believed.
Turn the clock back to last transfer window. Until it happened, it seemed unlikely that Juventus would activate Gonzalo Higuain‘s €90m release clause. But as we all know, the Argentine moved to La Vecchia Signora last summer and has been brilliant this season scoring 32 goals in all competitions. So it would be very unlikely for him to leave. However, as unlikely as it was that Juventus would sign him, it’s a possibility Juve could cash in. Premier League teams are rumoured to be willing to pay €100 million, and Marotta may decide it would be worth selling a player who, like Bonucci will be 30 this year and not accumulating any more value. Assuming they decide to do that, why not go all in for Andrea Belotti? Clause or not, city rivals Torino would be mad to turn down an offer from Juventus over €100 million. And, at 24, the Rooster could score the goals Juventus need for up to six years. The chance to rekindle the exciting working relationship honed at Palermo between Belotti and Dybala could yield goals for Juventus for years to come.
As with the change in their logo, Juventus is not a club that stands still and constantly evolves and innovates, especially with their squad. A Champions League win to cap of this era of success could allow the board to push through a new wave of evolution. So, should Juve lift the cup Saturday in Cardiff, don’t expect Juventus to rest on their laurels, it could be a busy summer for football journalists.