By any metric, Juventus were already having an exceptional summer. The Italian transfer window only opened on July 1 and yet the Old Lady had been seriously busy, bringing in some much-needed new faces. Yes she had captured an eighth consecutive Serie A title last term, but the team had looked decidedly jaded as the campaign wore on, so much so that it ultimately cost Max Allegri his job.
Bringing in Maurizio Sarri was the first step, his fast-paced, easy-on-the-eye philosophy launching a vision for what Juve are seeking to become. The return of Gigi Buffon was a nice, if somewhat nostalgia-laden move, but their other signings hinted that a new and youthful tone was being set in Turin. The arrivals of Adrien Rabiot (24), Merih Demiral (21) and Luca Pellegrini (20) continued that theme, while the acquisition of Aaron Ramsey underlined the commitment to bringing in players who could implement Sarri’s up-tempo style.
Then Matthijs de Ligt chose Juventus. With both Manchester clubs and Barcelona in the race, the Ajax paptain decided that he wanted to be part of the exciting new project that was clearly underway. Arriving at a cost of €75 million plus a further €10.5m in “additional costs,” it is a deal that sends a strong signal of intent to Europe’s other elite sides, and one which confirms they are fully committed to pursuing the dream of Champions League glory.
De Ligt admitted that Sarri’s presence played a major role in his decision. “I spoke to Sarri on the phone very quickly to get to know him, nothing more,” the 19-year-old told reporters at his inaugural press conference in Turin. “He’s also one of the reasons I wanted to come to Juve because I heard lots of good stories about him – the way he plays, the philosophy he has, the attacking football, how he prepares the defensive line – so he was a big reason.”
He also spoke of the way he believes he can improve the team. “I think in the Netherlands it’s all about building up from the back and defending high, while in Italy there’s more zonal marking and defending together,” De Ligt continued. “I think I can help them and they can help me. That’s the great combination between Juventus and I.”
The Bianconeri will hope that synergy can help them end a 23-year wait for success in UEFA’s most prestigious tournament since 1996, but looking at what is happening across the continent, it must be hoped that this complete change of direction has not happened a year too late. Last summer, the other major clubs were in a state of flux, each besieged by problems which blunted their chances of winning the ultimate prize and allowing two unexpected sides to reach the Champions League final.
With Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich all reeling, Tottenham and Liverpool were able to exceed expectations and reach the showpiece in Madrid, while Ajax and De Ligt advanced to the semi-finals.
That is unlikely to be the case in 2019/20. Bayern will need time to overcome the departure of both Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, but they have already begun rebuilding with Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez already on board. Barca have spent almost €200 million on Frenkie de Jong and Antoine Griezmann, but it is undoubtedly the Santiago Bernabeu where the biggest noise is being made.
Even by their standards, Real have been spending some serious money. Ferland Mendy (€48m) and Éder Militão (€50m) will strengthen the defence, but as usual it is at the other end of the field where Florentino Pérez has looked to make a splash. Only he could make Brazilian forward Rodrygo (€45m) and Luka Jović of Eintracht Frankfurt (€60m) the warm up act, headline attraction Eden Hazard landing from Chelsea in a €100m move.
Once again, the path to Europe’s biggest trophy will go through the Spanish capital, and Juve will need their new faces to gel quickly if they are to maximise their talent, particularly as Ronaldo turns 35 in February. With Allegri gone, Juve no longer have continuity on their side and, as we saw at Chelsea, Sarri will unquestionably need time for his methods to take hold upon a rapidly changing squad of players.
His arrival will, like those of Ramsey, Rabiot and De Ligt, raise the ceiling of how high this team could soar, but it also opens up the distinct possibility of a backwards step before any improvement becomes tangible.
Of course, the moves Juve have made this summer would not have been possible a year ago. Sari would never have moved to Turin directly from Napoli, De Ligt had not emerged as such an influential force, while Ramsey and Rabiot were under contract at Arsenal and PSG.
Yet that feeling of a missed opportunity is hard to escape, last season appearing to be Juve’s best chance at ending their long wait for a Champions League triumph. It may all click when Sarri and his vastly improved squad take to the field next month, and he has unequivocally been given all the tools he needs to succeed.
There is no question that Juventus have done the right thing, ushering in a bright new era that should see them become much more attractive to watch as a raft of exciting young players embrace “SarriBall.” But as Europe’s other heavyweights bid to regain their places as the continent’s dominant forces, the Old Lady must hope that their revolution has not arrived 12 months too late.
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