A Close Look at Juventus: Disgrace, Dominance, Decline, Dusan

Juventus, one of the Italian games most famous and infamous sides.

The last decade has been one of the most successful in ‘The Old Lady’s’ history, winning nine consecutive Scudetti from 2011 to 2020, as well as winning several Coppa Italia’s and reaching two UEFA Champions League Finals.

Yet, Juve at the time of writing find themselves in fifth place in the Serie A table with an ageing, expensive and often underwhelming squad.

So how did this happen, what are their plans to return to the summit of the Italian game and could this January transfer window be the revival of the Bianconeri?

A Scandalous Return

After the humiliation of the Calciopoli scandal (2004–2007), Juventus returned from being banished to the 2nd division Serie B in 2007.

The Turin side endured an average return to Serie A and failed to mount any kind of scudetto charge, then entered ex-player Antonio Conte as manager in 2011.

Conte had inherited a good core of experienced, talented and loyal players including the likes of AlessandroDel Piero, Gianlugi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini, all of which who remained with Juve and won the Serie B title; this spirit was epitomized by Del Piero when he said, “A true gentleman never leaves his lady.”

Conte hit the ground running as Juventus manager with the ingenious and perhaps best free transfers of all time of Andrea Pirlo joining from Milan.

“When Andrea told me that he was joining us, the first thing I thought was: ‘God exists’. A player of his level and ability, not to mention that he was free, I think it was the signing of the century!”, said Buffon.

Antonio Conte’s now trademark 3-5-2 formation proved hugely successful for Juventus, his side not only won the Scudetto in his first season as manager, but also went the entire campaign unbeaten in the league, a historic first in the 38-game format of Serie A.

Conte won a third consecutive Scudetto with Juve with a record-points total of 102 points in the 2013-14 season.

However, Conte resigned as manager at the end of the season leaving Juventus in an incredibly strong position that dominated Italy and had the potential to win in Europe as well.

The club then appointed Massimiliano Allegri as manager who not only continued this domestic dominance, winning the Scudetto for another five consecutive years between 2014-2019 but also winning four Coppa Italia’s on the bounce from 2014 to 2018.

Juventus were a winning machine who looked untouchable in Serie A, even after a dangerous assault on their crown from Marurizio Sarri’s Napoli in the 2017-18 season where they beat the Neapolitan side by just four points in the Scudetto race.

Yet, and perhaps the most impressive achievement from Allegri was guiding Juventus to two UEFA Champions League Finals in 2015 and 2017 respectively.

Despite losing both finals (3-1 to Barcelona and 4-1 to Real Madrid), Allegri did prove Conte wrong in showing that this Juve side could compete on the European stage.

At this time the Old Lady was looking stronger than ever, they had a solid defensive foundation in Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini (BBC), backed of course behind them by legendary and seemingly ageless Buffon as well as the formidable attacking options consisting of Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and Mario Mandzukic.

The “New Era”

Despite this on-field success, the club had an identity crisis.

In 2017 Juventus revealed their new club badge, this new and rather simplistic look for Juve was more than a simple redesign it was a way of trying to distance themselves from the Calciopoli scandal once and for all.

Even if not directly and explicitly stated, if you read in-between the lines of their announcement “New logo, new identity: A new era begins”, it becomes clear what their intentions are.

The Juventus hierarchy wanted to buy what they believed to be the final piece of the puzzle for their new era and finally win the Champions League. That came in the form of the €100 million transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid in 2018.

Ronaldo’s first season in Turin saw him net 21 Serie A goals and score a legendary hat-trick against Atletico Madrid in the return leg of the Champions League Last 16 stage.

On paper, Juve had everything that they needed to finally amount a full frontal assault domestically in Italy and in Europe.

However, in their pursuit for perfection and obsession to win the Champions League, they now struggle to even qualify for it.

In 2019 the club sacked Allegri and replaced him with Maurizio Sarri whom they believed could make Juventus more of an attacking and attractive side.

However, Sarri was not the ‘company man’ type of figure that Juve had built their success under Allegri, in fact the chain-smoking Italian was the complete opposite.

But even Sarri knew that being the Bianconeri manager meant winning was always more important than the style of play, hence he never really got the time or financial support from the board to implement his ‘Sarri-Ball’ brand of football that was so beautifully displayed at Napoli.

At this time the club decided to adopt the policy of signing players on free transfers to avoid paying huge transfer fees including the likes of Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey.

Again, this approach wasn’t new to chairman Andrea Angelli and the board, they did it all the way back in 2012 when they signed Paul Pogba from Manchester United on a free transfer and later returned him to the Red Devils for £89 million in 2016… not bad business in this case.

The problem for Juventus this time was that these players have not played well for Juve and have suffered consistent injury problems.

The other issue with signing players of ‘free transfers’, is that it isn’t free at all. For example, Aaron Ramsey is currently earning a reported £400,000 a week, that’s a huge burden on the wage bill and a difficult challenge to sell him on.

Sarri lasted a solitary season and was replaced by former player Andrea Pirlo the following season despite winning their ninth Scudetto in-a-row.

The Old Lady was then left with a huge financial investment and on-field overreliance on an old man (in football terms), a 35-year-old Ronaldo, a midfield consisting of players often performing poorly with huge wages and an inexperienced manager who wanted to play high-intensity football with players that didn’t suit his style of play, and don’t forget the expectation to win a tenth Scudetto in-a-row.

Meanwhile, historic rivals Inter had been reimagined in former Juve manager Antonio Conte’s image as he led them to the Scudetto last season, an ironic turn of events  for the man who rebuilt Juventus and started their great period of domestic success also was responsible for ending it with their bitter rivals; and some people say that Serie A isn’t interesting!

Ultimately, Juventus’s ‘New Era’ saw them in decline and last season only qualify for the Champions League on the final day of the season.

To say the signing of Ronaldo ruined Juventus’s dominance and progression would be too simple, it could be strongly argued that Ronaldo did his part in scoring 101 goals in his three seasons in the famous black and white.

However, Gianluigi Buffon recently spoke about how the Ronaldo signing lost Juventus their DNA.

But poor transfers and bizarre swap deals including Miralem Pjanić for Arthur Melo and João Cancelo for Danilo resulted in a team being unbalanced and with a board seemingly directionless.

So, what about Juventus now?

The Rebuild

This season saw the return of Allegri in the Juventus hotseat, it also saw the exit of Ronaldo to Manchester United.

There are some encouraging players that will likely prove crucial for Juve in the next few years and will set the foundation for a new Juventus team such as Matthijs De Ligt, Manuel Locatelli and Federico Chiesa.

This January transfer window has also been productive for Juventus as they have offloaded several players that are superfluous to Allegri’s vision such as Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski to Spurs as former Juve chief football officer, and current Tottenham Hotspur director of football, Fabio Paratici is looking to bolster his side with calcio imports.

As well as this, Aaron Ramsey has been sent on loan to Rangers until the end of the season with a reported option to buy for €6 million, this will be a huge relief on the Juve wage book.

And Alvaro Morata has decided to stay put in Turin despite high interest from Barcelona which gives a huge strength in-depth when it comes to their number nine options.

The Old Lady also has some new blood come through its doors with the exciting signing of goal machine Dusan Vlahovic (22) for £58 million.

The Serbian international has already scored 21 Serie A goals for Fiorentina this season and boasts one of the most prolific goal scoring records across Europe’s top five leagues with 33 goals in 2021, only beaten by Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski with 43.

A natural replacement to take Ronaldo’s vacant number seven shirt.

On top of that Juventus have also secured the signature of highly sort after defensive midfielder Denis Zakaria from Borussia Mönchengladbach for an initial €5 million plus €3 million with add ons.

Juventus have beaten city rivals Torino in a deal to sign Frosinone’s Frederico Gatti (23) for a reported €10 million and although he’ll be sent back on loan to the Serie B side, he could be realistic long-term prospect to partner De Ligt in the future.

However, football isn’t always as black and white as Juventus’s jerseys as they couldn’t get a deadline day deal agreed with Cagliari for midfielder Nahitan Nandez due to the Sardinian side reportedly demanded an obligation to buy clause included in the loan deal.

With a revitalised midfield and the raw attacking potential of one of the worsts most dangerous strikers wearing black and white, this may be the most significant step in Juventus’s plan to return to the summit of Serie A and who knows maybe even Europe.