It is often the case that football pundits are guilty of being a bit too hasty to deliver sensationalist hot takes – simplistic analysis of complex situations. As such, we get exaggerated terms like “crisis” when a team has lost a few games. The scrutiny and the hyperbole will naturally surround the big clubs more than others. So, this season, which has been rough on many big clubs around Europe, there are ‘crises’ at clubs like Liverpool, Real Madrid, Barcelona and, for a time, Paris Saint Germain. Of course, we can also add Juventus to that list.
The dramatic recent loss to Porto in the Champions League has ensured that Juventus’ erratic form has now been picked up by the UK press. Notably, an opinion piece by Miguel Delaney in The Independent. Delaney is a fine journalist, not usually given to the tabloidesque sensationalism that blights some of his peers. But in his recent piece, he lets rip. Juventus, he says, “are a dysfunctional and bloated mess, who fell out of the Champions League in one of those glorious pieces of poetic justice that sport offers up.”
Delaney had Agnelli in his sights
Now, that statement needs a lot of context. When Delaney is talking about poetic justice, he is referring to the recent actions of the Juventus chairman, Andrea Agnelli. In his capacity as president of the European Clubs Association, Agnelli has recently set out plans for a revamped Champions League. We won’t go into all the details here, but it is enough to say that Agnelli has raised the ire of many in football who believe that the changes represent a power grab by Europe’s elite clubs.
Delaney is one of those unhappy with Agnelli, and that seems to have coloured his journalism. He says, for example, on Cristiano Ronaldo: “The signing has backfired spectacularly”. This is the same Cristiano Ronaldo who scored 31 Serie A goals last season, and who currently sits at the top of the top scorer charts in Serie A this season. To be fair to Delaney, he does elaborate, suggesting that Juventus must play a certain way to facilitate Ronaldo, and that might come to the detriment of the team overall.
That Juventus are not the same team of a few years ago is not in question. But whether it’s a full-blown crisis remains to be seen. The team sits third in the table. Perhaps Inter are out of reach at the summit, but one look at the latest Serie A odds tells you that, in the eyes of bookmakers, they remain nailed on for a Top 4 spot and Champions League qualification for next season. Yes, things haven’t been great, but there is enough to suggest – Juventus are five points clear of 5th place – will hobble over the line.
Pirlo may get the chance to realise vision
But the manner of defeat against Porto, and the other criticisms surrounding the club this season, might end up as a blessing in disguise. We continue to hear that the solution is to see Ronaldo (his contract is up in June 2022) and rebuild the club with a renewed focus on youth. Pirlo, who stays in his job for now, talked about a long-term “project” after the game against Porto. He has enough young players, with the likes of de Ligt, Arthur, Demiral, Chiesa, Kulusevski and McKennie all aged 24 or younger, to have some confidence in a rebuild.
Those whose opinion counts at the club – Pirlo, Agnelli, Fabio Paratici – have work to do, for sure. And Ronaldo is not alone in being a player who some fans believe would be better off not on the wage bill. Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabot, for example, have expensive contracts. But there is perhaps an opportunity for reassessment rather than revolution here. The last time Juventus were said to be in crisis was when finishing seventh in consecutive Serie A seasons in 2010 and 2011. Nice consecutive Scudettos followed.
When a team wins, it sometimes escapes scrutiny: Look at Manchester United after Alex Ferguson left. After a while, it became apparent that there were deep holes left in the squad and the club’s structure, and only recently have United truly begun addressing it. If a team loses, there is a chance to fix things before the rot sets in. Where are Juventus right now? Are they “a dysfunctional and bloated mess”? Or are they a team sitting in third in Serie A, boasting the best defence in the league and likely to be in the Champions League again next season? Maybe it’s somewhere in-between.