The atmosphere around the Stadio Olimpico in Turin is one of bitter acceptance. Juventus – the most successful team in Italy with the biggest fanbase and once the club of Ballon d’Or winners such as Sivori, Zidane, Platini, Baggio and Cannavaro – now find themselves outside of the Champions League spots, behind the likes of Lazio.
The juxtaposition of the white and black stripes of the Bianconeri’s classic strip reflects the contrast between the Old Lady’s fortunes past and present. As recently as 2003 they were playing in the Champions League final against Milan. Now they are out of Europe altogether after failing to register wins against Lech Poznan and Red Bull Salzburg in the Europa League. Pundits and columnists across the peninsula and the continent predict that the Juve trophy cabinet will not receive any new additions for years, possibly decades. Yet this team has potential and, despite what the critics say, the Bianconeri’s players can breathe new life into a team still reeling from the events of 2006, when they were demoted to Serie B for the first time in their history following the Calciopoli scandal.
From the time of the demotion until last year the Juventus transfer policy was to sign average foreign players relatively cheaply and see if they could all integrate into the team successfully. This tactic did not work, and notorious examples include Tiago, Olof Mellberg and Christian Poulsen. Indeed, the only foreign players of this sort brought into the side between the summers of 2006 and 2009 who are still making an impression are Momo Sissoko and Zdenek Grygera, and their impact is usually limited to appearances as substitutes or in the cup. The non-Italian big purchases were Felipe Melo and Diego, and the latter, after signing as ‘il colpo’ (the big one) in 2009, left with a whimper for Wolfsburg 12 months later.
Last season Juve finished in an abysmal seventh place, prompting the Bianconeri bigwigs to decide that enough was enough. In came transfer expert Beppe Marotta and manager Luigi Delneri, both from Sampdoria. The club signed various young Italian starlet, including centre-back Leonardo Bonucci, pacy winger Simone Pepe, midfielder Alberto Aquilani and Fabio Quagliarella, the forward famed for spectacular goals. Yet they still find themselves outside of the Champions League places. So what is the problem?
Firstly, Juventus have been set back by injuries to crucial players. Gigi Buffon was out for the start of the campaign, and now Quagliarella, the team’s main source of goals, has been ruled out for the rest of the season after knee surgery. They have had to create a completely new strike partnership by bringing in Luca Toni and Alessandro Matri. Furthermore, due to the flurry of transfer activity in the last few months, the players are understandably not all on the same wavelength. However, they are beginning to gel – the new-look central defensive partnership of Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli did not give the Inter strikers a sniff of goal in last week’s Derby d’Italia against the Nerazzurri. After Quagliagol’s injury the strike force was the problem. Both Juve and Inter found themselves behind in their recent fixtures against Palermo, but Leonardo’s side had the strength up front to turn things around, whereas the Old Lady didn’t. Now, Matri is looking sharp and is ready to bear the goal scoring responsibility on his shoulders, having scored three goals in as many games.
Come the end of the season Juventus can recall Sebastian Giovinco, the skillful trequartista who grabbed a doppio against his parent club in January. He will be added to a side that already boasts a strong midfield with attacking talents such as speedy Serbian winger Milos Krasic. By then they can also have a much more cohesive central defensive partnership and three forwards who dovetail well. But this cannot be achieved if there is yet another transfer revolution. What is crucial is that Juve make sure Quagliarella, Matri, Aquilani, Pepe and Motta are all signed on permanent deals, as there is a risk that all three players could stay at their former clubs when their loan deals expire.
Granted, Gigi Delneri’s side cannot reach the level of Barcelona or pre-Benitez Inter with only the players currently on their books. Their attack still looks a little weak and there are no truly impressive full-backs. But what this side needs over the upcoming silly season is consistency and solidarity. If this is provided then Juventus can cement in the place in the top four with ease. Then, with the money from the new stadium – Juve’s future ground will be the first in Italy owned by the club rather than the city council, meaning that they do not have to pay rent – they can, if necessary, buy a new left-back and striker in the 2012 transfer windows. The future of Italy’s greatest team may be a lot brighter than it seems right now.