In his debut piece for Football Italia, Adam Summerton explains why under-fire Massimiliano Allegri is not the only one to be blamed for Juventus‘ crisis.
For a few fleeting minutes against Salernitana – during an otherwise poor performance – I saw something that resembled Juventus again. As they piled on the pressure in the closing stages, it very briefly reminded me of Allegri’s best Juventus sides. Will to win, togetherness, fight – but most of all – as I said in the commentary – that never say die attitude – Fino Alle Fine – Until The End.
That identity – that collective force of personality that inspired a decade of dominance in Italy, has all but disappeared – Juventus, as a club, look lost right now – their authority is being eroded week by week – it is a huge football club, an Italian institution that is floundering and directionless.
Whatever anyone thinks about Max Allegri and his style of coaching – I personally think the term ‘dinosaur’ is disrespectful to someone who has achieved so much in the game – does anybody who’s sat down and thought this through truly believe all Juve’s current woes are down to him, and would immediately be solved by sacking him? Really?
It may well be inevitable that Allegri does leave Juventus – it may prove to be the correct decision, time will tell on that. But Juve’s problems go much, much deeper than him and many of them existed way before his 2nd spell. This isn’t just Allegri’s style of football – it is years of bad decisions catching up with the club.
Just consider for a moment that this is the first time in four seasons that Juventus haven’t started a season with a new coach. Sarri in 2019, Pirlo in 2020, Allegri in 2021. Where to even begin with that? Just look at the list of names – is it any wonder that when you employ three coaches with such different characteristics in such a short space of time that you end up with such a confused-looking squad of players? Just to take Sarri for a moment – why on earth would you appoint a coach like him, whose ideas notoriously take time to get across to players, and then sack him after one title-winning season?
Were things perfect under him? Of course not – the Champions League exit to Lyon was totally unacceptable – but the point I’m making here is, where is the joined-up thinking? Where is the foresight, the medium-term planning? Or is this a big club chasing its losses, scrambling for solutions, and making one panic-inspired decision after another?
Whatever your personal answers are to those questions, I think it’s hard to get away from the significance of 2018 in understanding why Juventus find themselves in their current predicament. Two particularly big things happened in the second half of that calendar year – Ronaldo arrived, and Giuseppe Marotta left. Whether one was linked to the other remains a source of intrigue and speculation – we may never truly know. What is abundantly clear to me though is that both have had huge impacts on Juve’s direction.
The decision to sign Ronaldo appeared for me to be born out of what had become an absolute obsession with winning the Champions League again. Having reached two finals in the three previous seasons, Juventus were then eliminated by Real Madrid in the 2017-18 quarter-finals – beaten 4-3 on aggregate after Los Blancos were awarded a controversial penalty deep into added time at The Bernabeu – the spot kick converted, ironically, by Ronaldo.
The outpouring of frustration – much of it vented at the referee Michael Oliver – was immense and intense. This was also reflected in Italian newspaper coverage “If there is a savage and sadistic way to be eliminated, then this is it,” wrote Fabrizio Bocca in La Repubblica – another newspaper, Tuttosport, carried the words “Not like this” on their front page. The yearning for that trophy was so great and the failure to win it again so keenly felt, it was almost as if a club collectively cracked that night. They had to find a way to win that trophy and Ronaldo – having won it three seasons in a row, became seen as the short-cut, or the near guarantee – a man who’d won it three seasons running, would finally get this Juventus team over the line.
Before I discuss this further, let’s get one thing straight. Ronaldo is one of the greatest players in the history of football – he is a phenomenon. It is possible to believe that and to believe, at the same time, that his signing was a terrible error of judgement and that he was never, ever the right fit for Juventus at that time. Is this Ronaldo’s fault? Absolutely not. He did what you’d expect of him – 101 goals in 134 appearances are pretty striking evidence of that. What was the problem then?
The greatest strength of the Juventus teams of Conte and Allegri’s 1st spell was the collective. Ask me to think of an image that sums up those teams and I picture Gigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci celebrating and not conceding a goal. The cohesion and the camaraderie were clear to see throughout the team, and big names who came in knew they were never bigger than the team. When you sign Ronaldo, you have to know, particularly at this stage of his career, it is all about him. That, by some of his Juventus teammates’ own admission, eroded togetherness because they became totally reliant, even if subconsciously, on a one-star player. His signing also inhibited the tactical options of Allegri, Sarri and Pirlo – everything they did had to be largely tailored to one man – a player in his mid-30s, and on an astronomical salary – by far the highest-paid player in Serie A.
This also has had enormous implications for Juventus and their ability to rebuild and restructure the squad. The whole Ronaldo project cost – in wages and transfer fee – an estimated €209m over three years. Last season (2021-22), Juventus earned €66.6m from Serie A TV revenue. You don’t need much business acumen to see that even after ultimately trying to cut their losses on Ronaldo, Juventus will be held back and restricted by the costs of it for some time to come.
Imagine, just for a moment, if that money had been invested across the squad in a gradual way over the last few years – they would surely have been in a far, far better position than they are right now, and they would have players with added value on their books. Ronaldo was bought for €116m and sold three years later for €15m plus €8m in add-ons. Milan, by comparison, paid €35m for Rafael Leao in 2019 – their asking price, had he left this summer was €150m. Juve’s recent history is littered with lessons that must be learned – but they are where they are – they did what they did – and now they have to find a way back to the top.
What form that will take is something I’ve pondered greatly. I did the same with Milan over the last decade. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that never in a million years would I have predicted that they would be restored to the top of Italian football under the ownership of a hedge fund, coached by Stefano Pioli and with a 40-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their squad.
Solutions are not always obvious, nor expected, but what is clear to me is that whether Allegri goes or stays, his role in all of this is just one aspect of an ever-deepening, multi-faceted malaise. In other words, to solely blame Allegri for a decline that is years in the making, is totally unfair, unproductive, and short-sighted. It may be that he’s part of the problem rather than the solution – if that is the case then it’s right he goes – but a wider, deeper rethink of the club’s strategy is surely needed if they are not to ultimately end up in a similar position twelve months later. Reinvention and perhaps even restructuring are required if Juventus are to become recognisable again.