One of the most striking stories of the summer transfer window was Juventus’s response to the loss of Paul Pogba to Manchester United for a world record €105 million fee.
The club’s decision to spend the bulk of the money in bringing in Gonzalo Higuain for €90 million, then go and spend more on signing Miralem Pjanic for €32 million and Marko Pjaca for a further €23 million were eye-opening statements of intent.
With their dominance at home almost total, Juve are anxious to mix it with Europe’s big boys, to become a destination club – on and off the pitch.
What was also interesting, however, and more important from an Italian perspective, was that last summer was the first in their five season dominance of Serie A in which they targeted key players from domestic rivals.
Of course, since their return to the top of the Italian game, the Old Lady has been active in the transfer market.
There have been plenty of eye-catching names brought in, like Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez, Sami Khedira, Pablo Dybala, Alvaro Morata, etc.
But they have tended to come from outside of Italian football or perhaps from Italian clubs not deemed serious rivals.
In the summer, the moves for Higuain and Pjanic represented a change in direction. With two strokes of the pen, they succeeded in bolstering their own squad with serious quality while weakening those of their opponents – in this case Napoli and Roma.
Both sides have continued to try and carry the fight to the champions – Napoli’s Maurizio Sarri with his belief in inspired coaching rather than the transfer market and Roma’s Luciano Spalletti with his theory that to beat Juventus, you must match their teak-tough winning mindset.
Nevertheless, they continue to trail in the Old Lady’s wake – and Sarri’s words early in the season, after his own club’s encouraging start, continue to ring true:
The economic difference with Juventus is so vast, not just for us but every Italian competitor, that they’ll have the kind of campaign that Bayern Munich have in Germany, Paris Saint Germain in France and Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain.
Unfortunately, this will be the reality unless Juventus do something ridiculous and they tend not to do ridiculous things.
Juve have tripped up this season – with defeats against Inter and AC Milan and recently at Genoa – but they responded like champions on each occasion to dispel hopes that there could be a more prolonged decline in form.
After losing 2-1 at Inter on the 18th of September, they won their next four Serie A games. And they did the same after their defeat at AC Milan in late October.
Saturday night’s crucial 1-0 win over second-placed Roma was their third in a row since the surprise defeat at Genoa, giving them a commanding lead of seven points over their nearest rivals.
Juve’s summer transfers may have left a bitter taste in some mouths. But that shouldn’t detract from the real story of their renaissance – the sustained excellence displayed by Antonio Conte and then Massimiliano Allegri that has seen them win five titles in a row and that puts them in a strong position for an unprecedented sixth.
Allegri has emerged fully now from the shadow of his predecessor and stands on the cusp of matching his title haul as Juve manager.
To be a top manager, you must be able to build a winning side and then build another – and another. On that basis, Allegri is measuring up well.
Having achieved success initially with Conte’s men, he has subsequently overseen critical personnel and tactical changes that have allowed that success to continue and build.
Consider that from the XI who started the 2015 Champions League final against Barcelona, critical players like Tevez, Vidal, Pogba, Morata and Pirlo have departed and been successfully replaced.
And Allegri’s change in style – to a more controlled and patient approach – appears central to Juve’s greater competitiveness in the Champions League, the rarefied level at which the club not only aims to consistently operate but eventually dominate.
And who knows? In a season where all of Europe’s top sides have their weaknesses, the Bianconeri’s winning mentality, growing belief and stronger squad may just see their statements of intent become something much more concrete.