Juventus entering key phase to prove equal Premier League pulling power
Holly Thackeray | April 2, 2016
As it stands, Juventus (odds-on 4/7 with Coral to win Serie A) are in an all too familiar position – out of Champions League contention but dominating their domestic scene, with a six point cushion in the Scudetto race and a Coppa Italia final date set with fellow northern Italian powerhouse AC Milan.
The latter two situations are nothing new for this squad of champions that have transitioned successfully from Antonio Conte to Massimiliano Allegri in the dugout while barely batting an eyelid on the pitch, as the Old Lady now seek a fifth successive Serie A title and back-to-back Coppa silverware.
Still, having come within inches of the holy grail by reaching last term’s Champions League final, their recent capitulation to Bayern Munich (now 11/4 to lift the CL) in the last 16 came as a huge disappointment. It has been a decade since the Turin titans tasted continental success and their travel sickness since seems to be the one thing holding them back from the higher echelons.
While, despite a dismal start to the Serie A season and poor defence of their crown, Juve have found it all too easy to claw back to the summit, overhauling a huge points gap in the process, which reflects rather poorly on the quality of competitors such as Inter Milan, AC, Fiorentina and Roma, though Napoli are not giving up the title chase just yet.
Juventus certainly require some kind of rivalry and opposition to another title procession as, at the moment it is all looking a little too easy, despite the departures of former cornerstones Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez and Arturo Vidal seemingly damaging European ambition. So, what can Juve do to avoid stagnating?
Juve reliant on Raiola roster of clients?
Staying competitive in the Champions league should be the main concern if their fellow Italian outfits cannot test their strength at home.
Curiously, this may require another summer refresh, with no better time to build than when Premier League sides such as Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool (who may have moved for the same targets or threatened to plunder) may not be able to offer players hope of landing the top European trophy.
It is a chance for Juventus to manoeuvre, stop being seen as a club that will sell if the price is right and put themselves firmly on the map to make sure their run to the finale against Barcelona last season is a frequent occurrence not an anomaly.
As it happens, three clients of powerful football agent Mino Raiola could be key. Number one on that list is what the future holds for the Old Lady’s most coveted possession – France midfielder Paul Pogba.
It appears as though Premier League admirers were priced out of a move for the dynamo, and Raiola recently suggested the former Manchester United man could stay put again this off-season.
The super agent said: “Nothing has changed for Paul compared to a year ago. Juventus and Paul are on the same page here. If nobody can offer him an adequate project, then he’d be better off staying. We’re even ready to renew his contract.”
Pogba stick or twist?
While those comments could be bait to lure a higher offer for both client and club, they present Juventus with an interesting conundrum.
Should they sell while their starlet’s stock is highest, or keep clinging on in an attempt to build around Pogba’s prodigal talent?
Former Juve playmaker extraordinaire Pirlo himself said of the situation: “Of course, Juventus will want to keep him but sometimes you can get to a transfer fee that you can rebuild an entire team with and he would get to that fee.
“At his age, you can build a team around him for the next years. If he does decide to leave, then I think it will be for a world record.”
Far from at his pomp or prime just yet, the Frenchman has been a perfect fit in Piedmont, but has come under criticism at times this campaign without Pirlo and Vidal there to complement his skillset.
There is a lot of pressure on Pogba to perform like a seasoned professional despite still being just 23, and the Old Lady need to construct a truly top class team to support the youngster. Can they afford to compete while clinging onto their prize asset?
Going on the Old Lady’s past savvy spending and comparative frugality to the Premier League, it would appear not. And, as links to other superstars persist, there is the suspicion funding could come from a Pogba sale.
Both Sami Khedira (a Bosman bargain) and Claudio Marchisio (a homegrown hero) have done diligent jobs when fit but, despite the emergence of Stefano Sturaro, a little injury-free extra quality to partner Pogba would make Juve a real force for next campaign.
Industrious but attacking Chelsea star Oscar and Sevilla shield Grzegorz Krychowiak are much touted options, with the latter certainly more attainable and an ideal acquisition, though it is tough to see either arriving without the Frenchman departing.
Similarly, Juventus have not been shy about their search for a true playmaker, with Isco and Mario Gotze potential recruits in summer to add that extra stardust and the consistent killer ball that has lacked since Pirlo.
Still, the pair are both set to be discarded by teams such as Real Madrid and Bayern Munich that Juventus are attempting to emulate for current prestige and pulling power.
Instead sneaking to snatch Raiola client Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Borussia Dortmund ahead of other suitors would be a real statement, with the agent again saying: “Mkhitaryan? I know that [Massimiliano] Allegri likes him. And Micky would happily wear the Bianconeri shirt, but he needs to make a deal with [Thomas] Tuchel.
“It’s true that his contract expires in 2017, but the Dortmund coach deems him indispensable.”
A capture of that ilk could surely turn even Pogba’s head into truly committing to staying put and continuing a project in Turin which feels incomplete without a continental crown.
Perhaps the most intriguing link, however, is formidable Everton forward Romelu Lukaku, yet another Raiola man. The big Belgian’s father previously reportedly spoke of potential switches to Man Utd or Munich, but Raiola put Juve in the frame, commenting: “Lukaku? Of course, Juventus as a solution could go well. But keep an eye on Paris St-Germain and Real Madrid too for the Everton striker.”
With the flames fanned for an off-season auction, the Old Lady would not be automatic favourites for the frontman in that company but, if they could stump up the cash the Turin team could pair two of Europe’s deadliest attackers in Lukaku in Paulo Dybala up top. It would be just the type of investment needed to tip the scales against the likes of Bayern should they meet again.
While, the prospect of Pogba behind the pair could see Allegri rule the roost for years to come. Rather than be seen as an eventual selling club, the tools are there to create something truly special, with Jose Mourinho’s 2010 Inter treble-winning vintage the benchmark to emulate. But, with the added bonus of perhaps even longer dominance.
Juve may not look as though they need another marksman, with delightful Dybala, a steal from Palermo and a coup ahead of other interested parties outside of Italy, weaving his magic alongside one of Mario Mandzukic and Alvaro Morata.
Yet, Mandzukic is not getting any younger at 29, though that could still be considered a relative spring chicken on the peninsula. Still, the Croatian lacks the ceiling of a Lukaku.
While, Morata could be spirited back to Madrid due to his release clause and having paled slightly in the shadow of his exciting Argentine peer. Simone Zaza is another striker who could make way for former Sassuolo partner Domenico Berardi in summer, and the idea of the Italian wingman joining a speculative strikeforce of Dybala and Lukaku is truly frightening.
Case for a defence
The Turin team certainly need freshening up with the likes of Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini a stupendous but ageing spine to act as a springboard, with stopper Norberto Neto and young centre back Daniele Rugani waiting in the wings to eventually take over.
While, on-loan wing back Juan Cuadrado seems destined to return to Chelsea despite clamour for a permanent purchase, but this summer still has the potential to be the time for Juventus to put their stamp on the continent and signal an aim to be more than just a big fish in an inconsistent Serie A pond. Who knows when such an opportune moment may arrive again…