Mercato Musings…

No expensive, marquee signings but an improved squad for 2017/18.

A very busy summer transfer window ended yesterday, Sky Sports devoted their usual day to the subject where there simply is hardly anything to report other than a player being spotted in their local Tesco. Sky are still picking at the rotting carcass that was the Berbatov/Robinho deadline day of 2008, not one deadline day since then has been nearly as newsworthy. No further signings were photographed with ECG pads on their chests (why is that a Juventus thing now?) or similarly smiling for the cameras in another club’s shirt as Juve’s business was completed with the signing of Benedikt Howedes on Wednesday.

We started off in July knowing that we needed a central midfielder and at least a left winger (no offence to Mandzukic here). In total we signed, and this includes those on loan and whose moves were made permanent and only major first team players, 1 goalkeeper, 2 defenders, 2 midfielders and 3 attackers. All for a combined total of £127m. Going other way we made a total of £108m. So, Douglas Costa, Bernardeschi, Howedes, De Sciglio, Szczesny, Matuidi, Benatia, Bentancur and Cuadrado cost us £19m. I am of course just adding two figures together and there is much more to a mercato than that. However it’s a good illustration of how sensible Juve have been throughout the summer. To get to the point where we have bought the majority of a first team for the average cost of a twenty-something midfielder we have said goodbye to arguably our most influential defender. However the pros of Bonucci’s departure far outweigh the cons. Having a messiah complex as big as J Stadium isn’t good for team morale. No matter how big a player is, the cub will always win. Back to the positives though, we could’ve bought a tenth of Neymar for that £19m, that has to be good business, right? Well apparently not. In the past few weeks Marotta/Agnelli and co have been accused of “penny pinching” and “bargain hunting” by many of Juve’s social media followers. Why? Well it was apparent we needed a ‘world class’ midfielder, but who? Tolisso went to Bayern early in the summer, Verratti and N’Zonzi appeared to be only faint rumours. However when one looks at the current incumbents we have a pretty fine crop. Pjanic is our stand out player, but is ably supported by Marchisio, Khedira, Sturaro and new signings Matuidi and Bentancur. All but Bentancur and Sturaro have vast domestic and international experience and can easily play in most midfield set ups across the world. Their talents are a mixed bag it has to be said but I am not complaining when looking at the squad as a whole.

No world class midfielder required, but in these modern times of stupid transfer fees and wall to wall, 24 hour football coverage it’s hardly surprising those who view calcio as some kind of console game will demand a superstar is bought for tens of millions rather than shrewdly buying players who fit our formation, style and tactics. The aim is to build a squad with depth and filled with intelligent players who know our system, not shoe horning in a superstar because we have to be seen to be keeping up with the Madrids and Bayerns. We are not PSG or Manchester City.

As soon as Matuidi signed, for me, that was all we needed. Having let Rincon and Lemina go it was obvious a natural defensive midfielder would join. Matuidi shows all the qualities we missed so much at times last season, there is a more in depth look at Matuidi here. The two signings we have made in midfield more than make up for any big name player. Rodrigo Bentancur, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, is a very intriguing signing, a hugely influential player at youth level for both club and country, he is taking a valuable non-EU player place and is virtually the only young player not to have been loaned out this year, he made his debut last week in Genoa and Allegri clearly has plans for him. I admit I haven’t seen him play and I try not to pay attention to YouTube highlights videos, however I do trust Allegri, not loaning him out means we’ll see plenty more of him this season.

As I mentioned above Bonucci has left, we all know why and where to so I won’t go into it again. I have no doubt that Juve will miss his passing ability and composure which is why signing Matuidi is all the more important, the link to the defence and conversely the attack, by allowing Pjanic to play further forward, will be strengthened. Matuidi showed this quality in abundance in his substitute appearance against Genoa at the weekend. The knee jerk reaction of many was to sign a replacement for Bonucci. So how do you replace the world’s best ball playing defender? Who is on a par with him? Pique? Ramos? Again several fans were outraged when a world class (there’s that phrase again) wasn’t procured from one of the continent’s top clubs. Did we need to though? Absolutely not. Benatia and Rugani will obviously command more playing time now, given Benatia’s poor showing against Lazio in the Supercoppa it appears, for now, Rugani has won that particular battle and his early season performances have been encouraging. Mattia Caldara will be back from Atalanta next year and as mentioned below, Howedes will play a more than able supporting role too.

Another egotist, Dani Alves, left on a free transfer. I was always of the opinion he only played at the level we’re used to in a handful of games last year, namely the latter stages of the Champions League. Other than that he very often flattered to deceive after taking a while to settle in to Serie A. Judging by his bizarre and somewhat undermining social media posts I am in no doubt that, along with Bonucci, he is well rid of. That obviously leaves us with a perceived gap at right back and to a certain extent on the right wing. Being realistic Barzagli and Lichtsteiner are always going to be squad players now, given their age, although I’m certainly not questioning their determination, ability and character here. Barzagli offers more versatility as he’s able to play at centre half too. Quality attacking full backs are at a premium hence the reason why Allegri added a squad player here; Mattia Di Sciligo isn’t in the Alves mould but can certainly add depth to both full back positions. Established in Serie A and has turned out for the Azzurri over 30 times. Like Matuidi, Mattia’s signing was met with derision by most Juventini, however his experience and ability adds much needed quality to the defence. Again, quality attacking full backs are rare and breaking the bank for one was unlikely and unnecessary. Our most recent signing, Benedikt Howedes, is one I am very excited about. Schalke captain, 40 plus international caps and World Cup winner; he is extremely versatile, this usually means he would be equally average in each position, but according to my sources (whoscored.com and transfermarkt.com) he isn’t, very much a defending full back, which is probably the way to go when you look who will be playing in front of him on the right wing. He will be a steal at under £15m if we exercise the permanent deal option next summer. Three players in one. Exactly what we need and fellow German, Khedira, will help him settle.

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Now we all know Mario Mandzukic isn’t a left winger, however when Allegri switched to the 4-2-3-1 last year he moved him out wide and he performed admirably, a constant physical threat with bags of determination, flair and attacking threat. He also gave Alex Sandro the confidence to move into the final third safe in the knowledge Mandzukic would have his back. To be a continued Champions League favourite we obviously needed less square pegs in round holes and so Douglas Costa was signed from Bayern (that now familiar loan-and-cash-in-a-year’s-time type deal, £27m next summer in Costa’s case). Again, not a Gareth Bale, but 9 assists in 21 starts (Bundesliga and Champions League) is a decent return for an attacking, flair player and an upgrade in a definite position of need for Juve. On the other side of the pitch we will, eventually, see Federico Bernardeschi, undoubtedly our biggest signing of the mercato. Young, Italian and coming off the back of his best season yet. He can play effectively on the right or as a trequartista. This would obviously cast doubts over the longevity of Juan Cuadrado; a true marmite player who is too inconsistent for my liking. Again in developing the needs of the squad I can see why Allegri made Juan’s loan move permanent towards the end of last season. He will provide flair and experience of playing in Serie A to Juve’s ranks. However given his early season performances he, like Khedira, are surely on borrowed time and as soon as Bernardeschi is given real, meaningful minutes on the pitch, Cuadrado will find himself mainly a substitute.

The two players I mentioned there can also influence our attacking play, both Dybala and Higuain will ultimately benefit from the signings of Bernardeschi, Cuadrado and Costa. Higuain in particular will thrive on their playmaking abilities. Dybala, surely a future Juve captain, continues to grow into the superstar trequartista we need. During the summer we were at the ECG-pads-on-the-chest stage with Patrik Schick however those tests clearly flagged up something the Juve medical team (and ultimately the board) didn’t like and the deal was cancelled. There are far more Machiavellian reasons for the deal not being completed, depending on who you believe. I’m not overly concerned we didn’t sign him as I felt our priorities lay elsewhere. I am only bothered the deal fell through at such a late stage, some better due diligence investigations are needed here in future. Moise Kean has joined Hellas Verona on loan for the season, I’m glad he’s gaining valuable experience in the top division. We have Marko Pjaca coming back from injury in the autumn as well as the aforementioned Mandzukic, Cuadrado and Bernardeschi; more than enough to create and score goals. My only concern is Higuain looked absolutely shattered towards the end of last season and his style of play lends itself to huge physical exertion; I hope the supporting cast are able to sufficiently lend a hand if needs be.

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As much as I hate to admit it Gigi Buffon is coming to the end, surely he will be considered the best goalkeeper of his generation when he finally calls it a day. Signing Wojciech Szczesny is a good piece of business by Allegri; established Serie A player and arguably the best keeper of last season, no need to bring in a nervy youngster to take over the hallowed number one jersey. A bargain price too. Going after a world class keeper here wouldn’t have made any sense as Gigi is still going strong and keeping two great goalkeepers happy is almost impossible.

So no world class signings, no marquee players, no statements of intent. I am glad of that when you look closer at exactly who we have signed, their future role in the team and the fees we have paid out for them. We aren’t a soulless, plastic, oil rich club who can throw money around. Every single one of the players to be photographed for the first time in the black and white jersey will benefit the squad and that is the most important thing to remember from this mercato. If you’re scoring it a 5 out of 10 I assume this is based on who we have signed rather than looking a little deeper into why. January is the next time the Pandora’s box of calcio opens again, I hope Allegri, Marotta and Paratici do not deviate from their path of making this squad a robust and competitive one by buying players who benefit Juventus Football Cub rather than ones who benefit merchandise sales.

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