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What happened to Juventus??

It is hard to find informed, balanced coverage of football. An ever expanding multitude of podcasts and platforms promise much but deliver all too little, all too often. The crowd at TIFO however, have long established themselves as providing that delicate mix between tactical analysis, balanced opinion and fun. And so I was ever so pleased to find them producing a video focused on our beloved Juve. Until I watched it. Finding plenty of issues either not mentioned, or vaguely misdiagnosed.

I had tried to send a response, yet thought best to share on here then send the writer this post to gauge his views on the suggested corrections and additional context.

A fairly decent attempt to outline the downward spiral Juve have found themselves swirling around since 2018. Yet much was missed…or leaping at concluding the wrong roots of the major issues.

This idea of a system coach, for example.

Conte had a very strict system, which he tailored a little then stuck to the tailored version, strictly. Max had his tweaked Conte system, then changed it again with Mandzukic on the LM/LWF even tucking in for muscle at LB and LCM. Worked a damn treat! It was not a ‘system coach’ change from a ‘no system coach’. It was very much a change brought about as part of the most pivotal recalibration of the way the club is run and focused, in 2018. Which included the decision to remove Beppe Marotta and replace him with his long term understudy, Fabio Paratici. Who was a superb head scout, though proved not so amazing as an SD. At least not in the Juve set-up…

(I will return to Signore Paratici a little deeper into this)

Beppe had played an incredibly important role in overseeing the rebuilding of a squad hideously fumbled by Secco before him. Whilst it is fair to add that he made some mistakes, his successes were staggering in the Mercato. His first season at the club showed little improvement on the field, but the second summer, he brought in – alongside his role in the replacement of Del Neri with Conte – Vidal, Pirlo and Lichsteiner. During the following years he added Pogba, Llorente, Tevez, Pjanic, Morata, Evra, Alves; all on either free signings or solid deals. Other players he signed also came good, lesser known names who offered key contributions, such as Pepe, Asamoah, Estigarribia, Pererya, Giaccherini and others. Even the exorbitantly priced Higuain, who left many years later as a problem hard to move, gave before which a massive contribution to the huge haul of silverware that ensued under Beppe’s guidance. 

However in 2018, his understudy Paratici, appears to have got wind of the Ronaldo possibility via his connection to Jorge Mendes. Along with Nedved, sold the idea to Agnelli with a more general focus on glitzy signings, rebranding the club towards their idea of the modern football world, seeking a more attacking, attractive ‘product’.

Around the same time, Beppe was sacked. Who we know now, then went on to play a very strong role in the powerful resurgence and subsequent success of Inter. In short, Beppe has long proven that he knows how to build a team. Paratici proved that he was a superb understudy/head scout to the SD, but less valuable when seemingly given the top job to oversee recruitment, with who to guide him??? Certainly not the managers, who seemed demoted (back to) a position more accurately stated as head coach. 

 

Marotta

Paratici is faring much better at Spurs, no doubt with Conte’s will proving the major say in any transfers, else the follically resurgent firebrand walks…I was consistent and open about my contempt for the manner in which Paratici usurped Beppe, and thereafter how he ran the mercato. For several years I have condemned him. And yet, of late I have reconsidered my position. For it has been reminded to me, that perhaps Paratici indeed has some high level skills vis-a-vis recruitment. He has a good eye for talent. And is simply at his best when a manager is guiding, deciding, tasking him with seeking certain profiles, even certain players, and having the final say on who comes, who goes? Which I believe was the case when he worked with Conte at Juve, and now, after the former balding utility workhorse in midfield has found mega success as a coach, this is even more the case with their partnership at Spurs.

Yet this was not the situation at Juve. I recall Sarri moaning quite rightly that a few days before the opening fixture he still did not know (from his upper management) what players would still be at the club, and he meant key players…like Dybala who Paratici was trying to sell off to the Premier League clubs. This would be a problem for any coach. For Agnelli, it was the fact that Sarri mentioned this publicly that was the problem. It confirmed my fear that the ‘manager’ was very much a ‘head coach’ who did not have the power to decide who left and who came in. Which is rarely a recipe for success.

Sources closer to the club confirm/suggest that the major reason Max was sacked in 2019 was that he told the upper management that the squad needed major renovation. We can but believe, if not assume that if the suggestion is accurate; Nedved/Paratici and Agnelli thought otherwise. Yet to bring in Sarri, with the expectation that he could make water out of wine, was a disastrous decision, even though we won the scudetto that season. Plenty seem to assume he had ‘lost’ the dressing room, but my impression was that he was simply not what the upper management wanted. They knew they had made a mistake (given his refusal to tow the company line), refused to build on the league title with worrying signs of the squad trending downwards, yet then made an even more bizarre, cavalier, if not awfully risky roll of the dice bringing in Pirlo.

It was that change, the removal of Beppe, Paratici usurping, focus on rebranding…when our troubles began. Add to this the worsening examples of how the wrong people have been put into place in key areas off the field, not just as our sporting director/s, coaches, but in the medical sector…(the latter) who have seemingly contrived to cause us/fail to prevent many more injuries than other sides have suffered, signing players with serious injury records but they always get through the medical. Somehow!

 

Agnelli

Then the marketing team, who shared with the world a mocking photo of one of the Juve Lady’s side pretending to be Chinese…then the SuperLeague fiasco – not that I find the idea a true horror beyond what we already have in the UEFA CL form, more so of the apparent complete absence of any due diligence, market research before the launch. Did the club not have any idea of the mega backlash that ensued???? Why not???

A shambles off the field usually is mirrored on the field, unless you have a very strong willed, capable manager who can insulate his players from the rest of the club atmosphere. We have not had that, perhaps Sarri could have been this man, even Pirlo, but Agnelli sometimes seems to run the club like a spoilt brat autocrat. Such as his decision to sack Sarrri and promote Pirlo a week into his new role as U23 coach.

We do not have that strong willed coach in Allegri. He is the epitome of a company man. He may well have refused Real Madrid to join Juve, but so what eh? He will never criticise the boss, always defends the Company, never moans of the players he has been given, or who has been sold, instead every single time tows the corporate line…

Aside from a iron willed coach, any squad seeking top honours requires at least a handful of natural born leaders in the ranks. Have we signed such a crowd? I do not think so…

Must mention also the COVID saga, which wiped off a huge amount of expected income from the coffers for Juve. The bail-outs from Exor and subsequent reality of our mega reduction in spending power has played a huge, pivotal role in the continued downfall. We are more close to skint than many seem to realise. As recent analysis confirms>>>

To complete the more thorough, yet still topsoil overview corrections…

When Pirlo was sacked, so was Paratici soon after. Many of us rejoiced (me included). On both counts. For whilst Pirlo’s system may well have shown both promise and marvelous stats with the Xg game, the reality was that – as expected – for a complete rookie manager, the players often had no idea what was expected of them. I can still see Kulusevski looking very puzzled indeed when shown a tactical diagram before entering the fray from the bench…

Also, Pirlo’s approach to having nobody in his coaching team of greater weight of opinion than any others,  ruffled feathers, as Tudor has since confirmed. When an assistant coach has no greater value in tactical discussions than the fitness coach, it may well be a success in equality though is hardly conducive to a well run coaching setup.

 

cherubini-arrivabene

To replace Paratici in the extremely key role of Sporting Director, aka Recruitment Boss, came the promotion of Agnelli favourite Cherubini and Elkann hatchet-man Arrivabene. Neither of whom had any direct experience in their new roles as the combined recruitment team. Cherubini more sporting, the latter more financial. We needed a well connected, highly experienced, demonstrably successful at a high level SD. Instead we got these two. Again this smacks of poor management at the top.

Back to the outline you provided…

Pirlo had been our U23 coach for approximately 7 days prior to his ‘promotion’. He had overseen zero matches (friendlies, let alone competitive fixtures), and how many coaching sessions he had undertaken in that time seems too close to inconsequential to mention as anything of value. The signing of Pirlo as head coach, with zero coaching experience as our U23 coach, a week later he is promoted to senior side overseer role, again confirms the complete lack of clear direction at the top. A wretched shambles!

There is no reasonable argument for how Calciopoli benefitted Juventus. It is ridiculous to argue otherwise.

The club lost a huge amount of money, its reputation was brutally tarnished in what turned out years later to have been a criminal corruption between the Inter president and the FIGC. The latter even trying to repeat the trick with Conte in a comparably shameful episode which boiled down to the ‘jury’ believing the testimony of a proven match fixer, caught red handed, told his sentence would be reduced if he coughed up a big name…and the basic charge was that Conte had told a squad of 25 players to draw a match, with 24 of them saying NO this did not happen, and the 1 who said it happened??? The same player caught red handed fixing matches (elsewhere, not under Conte) and offered a reduced sentence for providing further charges against a bigger name…Indeed, justice at its best eh!

I quite enjoyed the XG and related statistical analysis. Still lean towards my own eye as a greater judge than any stats only based consideration, though the stats have become very detailed and as a result, more useful.

They suggest that despite the often apparent complete disarray on the field under Pirlo, his methods were  creating more chances whilst also keeping the back line solid. I would like to believe, even assume, that the club management look at similar statistical analysis but am inclined to conclude they do not. Such is my deep rooted conclusion that they are…far from ideal.

And now we have Max back in the helm, who struggled to create any meaningful identity last term (his first back in the helm), leaned towards an ultra defensive strategy that saw us dominate barely a handful of minutes even against the most lowly sides in Serie A. It was the playing squad! Many quipped. With some degree of substance as the squad has long seemed unbalanced, in dire need of renovation. Yet the best managers are able to – in the least – find a system which gets the best out of even a muddled squad.

I like to judge managers first and foremost on their ability to train and present the squad towards more than less (of the players) performing regularly near their expected form. Next measure is how many players does the manager improve? Under Max we rarely look anywhere near the sum of our parts, let alone find many players at their best or improving.

The xG and related stats appear to confirm how poorly Max fared in the 18/19 season at the club and also the most recent campaign. With the coach’s words of late, horrid yet unsurprising, expressing basically that playing beautiful football is not his aim, its winning. Yet we are not winning as often as this squad should, even against poor opponents with his mega defensive focus adding pressure to a creaky defence and stifling the attacking, creative offensive drive.

Max is more scared to lose than brave enough to win.

We seem to be mirroring your stats. As in…returning to a manager steadfast in his approach to an outdated system of low block, counter attacking football, when we have the players, even with a still quite muddled squad, which should be dominating at least the weakest opponents. The 1-1 away draw in Forence of late was particulatly indicative of the same problems felt and seen during the former demise and recent return of Allegri on our bench. Insipid, a team devoid of confidence, any coaching to attack, even any semblance of cohesion. All made many times worse through Max changing the formation several times, at one stage removing all possible wingers and moving to a 4-4-2! It was a shambles.

Yes, we are missing players we assume will be key. Granted. Yet that is not an excuse for such performances, which have been the norm, rather than the exception under Max. Of course I expect us to improve if Pogba, Di Maria and Chiesa are all sharp and fit from January onwards. Yet what are the real chances of their availability becoming greatly improved?

Pogba’s reputation at club level over the last few years was one of a PR circus (mainly due to Raiola) coupled with ongoing injury problems. Everyone knew this. Yet the Juve management, despite our precarious financial situation and still licking wounds of overpaid, injury prone signings with the likes of Arthur and Ramsey, decided the PR value of Pogba was well worth the risk. That gamble has already backfired given he is now out till the end of the year if not beyond. And yes we have saved money on his transfer fee yet still are paying him 10m/ year and likely a million or few on top of this for his agent and signing golden handshake.

Di Maria remains a highly talented player, but at 34 is likely to be more prone to niggles than at 24. Another 9/10m gross on his wage and yet to feature anywhere near regularly.

Kostic appears more a natural LM/LW who we are asking to play LWF. It is not the same role. From one side we aim to cross the ball every time, the other to drive into the box?

Paredes felt a little desperate, though could turn out a solid purchase. Max finally has a natural DM, though the Argentine is less so a regista who can create from deep. Which is I believe what Max’s systems usually pivot upon.

Our fullbacks remain amongst the weakest in Serie A. We close to always show less potency down the flanks than opponents, yet this wasn’t addressed in the Summer. Only weirdly prodded at, by sending out on loan Pellegrini (who looked the brightest, no world beater, but promising), purchasing a rising star in Cambiaso (yet loaning him out) and extending the likes of De Sciglio and fast fading Cuadrado.

After a season back at the club, Max should have had very clear ideas of how he wants to play, how he plans on getting the best out of the strongest, most reliable elements of the squad, then working with the SD team to bring in what he needs. Our transfer policy throughout the Summer and his chopping and changing early doors this new season, suggest anything but a clear strategy.

Whilst Covid had a huge impact on our financial capacity, the more glaring issues the club has faced for the last 4 years are incompetence across the upper management, brash decisions made without clear foreseight of long term strategic planning. We now find ourselves with a novice Sporting Director team feeling their way through their new roles, guided by a coach out of his depth in the modern game, on mega money, who will never criticize the club nor does he appear to have any clear plans for the identity and style of the squad. Whilst not quite a recipe for disaster, it neither seems a solid blueprint for success.

The outing in Paris last week provided some respite from the ever more gnawing cynicism, yet I felt more a case of the hosts getting lazy rather than a spirited fightback from Juve.

No doubt we will improve, especially if Di Maria can be kept fit as he forces the game offensively, regardless of whatever Max asks. Yet I fear the season could be yet another of disappointment. 4th or above will keep Max in his job, and this squad with even me as the boss should achieve that as a bare minimum…And on EU9m/season, with a contract till 2024, it seems unlikely the club could afford to sack Max again. However we fare. For good or ill…

I suppose the hard data offered confirms my ever more deeply plumbed despondency. Max is not the man to oversee a regeneration of the club. Tactically, mentally, strategically. As to why the upper management returned to him, on such huge money, I can only suggest that he seemed to Agnelli the shortest route back towards our last period of stability and silverware. Which has some vague brute logic but yet again smacks of strategy decided on the hop.

Looking at the steady, impressive progress made by Ac Milan, Arsenal and Napoli under their respective coaching teams and sporting management, serves as clear reference points of other clubs with clear vision and the right people in the right roles, working with much tighter budgest than our own. It are these key foundations which have been lacking at Juventus since 2018.