With Serie A on its annual Winter Break, the inevitable chatter over potential transfers dominates news outlets on the peninsula. Just as they do elsewhere, every day seems to bring a fresh raft of rumours in Italy, but some linger and gain enough traction to be seen as more substantial stories worth paying attention to. When it comes to Juventus, one narrative in particular has gathered momentum, largely fuelled by the club itself when members of the management team have granted interviews to the press.
“A trequartista wouldn’t go amiss,” quipped Massimiliano Allegri when he spoke to TuttoSport recently, and the Bianconeri have since been linked with a number of players to fit that description. Two names in particular have come to the fore, Wesley Sneijder of Galatasaray and Bayern Munich’s out-of-favour Xherdan Shaqiri.
Either player would be a better fit than the current options in the coach’s new-look 4-3-2-1 formation. Roberto Pereyra, Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba have all been given opportunities to play alongside Carlos Tevez, but none have looked truly comfortable there. In assessing these two potential targets, a number of factors must be considered, some more significant than others but each worthy of attention.
Clearly Sneijder would be a cheaper alternative, reportedly owed unpaid wages by the Turkish side who wish to move him on, while Shaqiri would cost somewhere in the region of €15 to €20 million. Given their progression in the Champions League and Roma’s exit however, the Turin club will receive a hefty windfall from UEFA that makes such a fee comfortable. A major factor in favour of the Switzerland international’s price is his age, the potential for continued improvement in the 23-year-old clearly far greater than in Sneijder, more than seven years his senior.
The career of the latter is also noteworthy, not only part of the side that despatched the Old Lady from the Champions League in controversial circumstances last term, but a former Inter player. Given his prominent role in the post-Calciopoli success of Juve’s staunch rivals, it is hard to imagine his arrival being well received by the club’s fan-base.
Yet all those points fade into insignificance compared to what they would each bring the team where it truly matters. When it comes to discussing their possible on-field contributions, Sneijder’s pedigree needs no introduction. A world class playmaker, he can genuinely consider himself unfortunate not to have been awarded the Ballon d’Or in 2010, so influential were his roles in the historic treble achieved by the Nerazzurri and the Netherland’s run to the World Cup Final.
Since then however, the 30-year-old has faded significantly, recording just four goals and one assist in 21 appearances this term. While he netted against Arsenal, this season’s Champions League offers a perfect opportunity to analyse his potential, Galatasaray having faced Borussia Dortmund twice in the Group Stage. In the two games, he created his side’s only goal in 4-0 and 4-1 defeats, but completed just 61 of his 80 pass attempts and failed to score from a total of seven shots. He also did not make a single tackle or interception, receiving one yellow card along the way.
While it may be churlish to look at just two matches, with Jürgen Klopp’s side awaiting the Bianconeri in the Last Sixteen of Europe’s elite competition, they are an opponent who will have a major impact on Juve’s season. Sneijder’s performances have gradually worsened since leaving Inter, but it is not unreasonable to argue that – even if he could rediscover his best form – Sneijder’s style of play is not what this incarnation of the Bianconeri need.
Strong on the ball and creative, he lacks the pace and incisiveness that Juventus so sorely need, two attributes strongly evident in Shaqiri. Often deployed in a wide role for the Bundesliga Champions, he has filled in for Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry, netting 13 goals and adding 11 assists 66 appearances. That 39 of those matches saw him come off the bench is no surprise, such is the quality and depth of the squad at the Allianz Arena, despite the lofty reputation he had earned before his €11.6 million move from Basel in the summer of 2012.
Ostensibly a winger, he has impressed when fielded in a central role, notably netting a World Cup hat trick against Honduras. That display was labelled “excellent” by Ottmar Hitzfeld at the post-game press conference, his coach adding that the player, who has scored fifteen goals in 41 international appearances, “really displayed what he’s capable of.” It was not the first time either, as long ago as 2011 he had a hand in both goals as Basel beat Manchester United 2-1 and eliminated them from the Champions League.
A prodigious talent, Shaqiri is fast, strong and loves running at defenders with the ball at his feet, something Juventus clearly lack, completing 30 of 47 attempted take-ons last season, adding six goals and two assists in less than 800 minutes of action. Accurate in front of goal, he found the target with 15 of his 26 shots in 2013-14 and is also a threat from free-kicks, undoubtedly able to provide a left-footed alternative to Andrea Pirlo in dead-ball situations.
Perhaps too much has been made of Allegri’s use of the word “trequartista,” a description far more suited to Sneijder than Shaqiri. However, the evidence of Serie A’s recent history indicates the latter could shine in that role, with a number of prominent examples of wingers asked to play in a central role. Perhaps Alexis Sánchez is the greatest example, his first 40 appearances for Udinese yielding just eight goals and five assists. Moved behind Antonio Di Natale by Francesco Guidolin, his final seventeen games for the club brought him eleven goals and four assists, prompting a €35 million move to Barcelona that rocketed him to stardom.
He is far from the only one. Gastón Ramírez did well enough for Bologna to earn a €15 million move to Southampton, while Domenico Berardi has registered nineteen goals and ten assists in his first forty top flight appearances for Sassuolo. Serie A is simply ill-equipped to deal with that type of player, meaning that Shaqiri should have no problem shining for the Bianconeri, while also bringing the experience of Bayern Munich’s deep Champions League runs with him.
Having shown that he has the skill to succeed at international level, Shaqiri needs to find a place where his services are respected, as his current club is clearly no longer the place for him to develop. A move to Juventus could suit him, and he was also linked with a move in the summer, expressing his admiration for the club when asked about a potential switch by TuttoSport. “Surely Juve could be a good option,” he said, “they are a big club, who wouldn’t like to play there?”
Now La Madama appears to be talking about bringing the Swiss star to Turin once again, and Xherdan Shaqiri is not only a better option than Wesley Sneijder, he is arguably the perfect man for Juventus.