It’s the end of an age at Juventus. After four consecutive Scudetti, a historic unbeaten domestic season, Coppa Italia, and an appearance in the Champions League Final, some of the most important pieces of this domineering side of the past four years will no longer turn out in the fabled Bianconeri strip.
In 2011, Antonio Conte’s Juventus took Serie A by storm, pressing their opponents half to death, and ushering in a new identity that would be the hallmark of the Zebrette for the next four years, even after his departure. The heart and soul of that side was Chilean Arturo Vidal, signed from under the nose of Bayern Munich (after Bayer Leverkusen refused to sell him to their domestic
bullies rivals). Full of energy, tackling, grit, determination and all-around Juventinita, the poorly-coiffed midfielder embodied everything Antonio Conte wanted in his Juve. Beloved by the fans, and feared by opponents, the all-action, box-to-box pitbull was the engine of the Juventus Ferrari.
If Arturo Vidal was the engine, Andrea Pirlo was the beautifully crafted leather and wood-grain steering wheel navigating the Old Lady pell-mell down the track past opponents with such casual ease it almost seemed a joke. Strolling around the Juve midfield at his own pace, each of Pirlo’s passes were a da Vincian work of art; every free kick was better than the last; each one of his almost lazy dragbacks a lesson from which foolish defenders must certainly learn, or fall victim to the okey-doke time and again.
Then came Carlos Tevez. Signed in the summer of 2013, the controversial striker arrived in Turin after a long search for a so-called “top striker”. Immediately handed the #10 shirt, many greeted this decision with howls of derision and anger. Unconcerned, Juventus’ Dogo Argentino set about proving his detractors wrong, quickly reminding the world why he was considered one of the planet’s best attackers in his prime. Full of his typical running and harrying, the feisty Argentine also chipped in with 39 goals in his 66 appearances for the Old Lady, even breaking his 5-year Champions League goal drought in the black-and-white stripes, as he helped propel the Bianconeri to the final of Europe’s marquee club competition.
Fast forward to the summer of 2015: all three of these household names, as well as the manager who brought them in are gone. Andrea Pirlo has sauntered off into the sunset to end his career in the sky blue of NYCFC in MLS, Carlos Tevez has returned home to his beloved Boca Juniors, while Arturo Vidal has made his decision to head back to Germany to sign with Bayern Munich, four years after their advances were initially rebuffed by Leverkusen.
It cannot be denied that the loss of these three immense players is one that would affect even the strongest of sides. Pirlo, Tevez and Vidal are world-class talents, capable of turning a game on its head at any moment. Their presence will be missed mightily. However, in the modern game, motivation is a huge factor, and due to that fact, squad turnover is a necessity to keep peak hunger and sharpness.
Despite the undeniable quality and experience of those three departed stalwarts, the additions of Champions League and World Cup winning talents like Mario Mandžuki? and Sami Khedira brings necessary quality and championship mentality to the squad. That, coupled with a necessary injection of youth and vigor in Paulo Dybala, Daniele Rugani, Simone Zaza and goalkeeper Neto, ensures that motivation and enthusiasm will be high for the 2015/16 season. With this business completed early in the transfer window, time and plenty of cash still remains to bolster the backline and add a bit of fantasy in the attack.
Let us also not forget the fact that the core backbone of this team remains intact. Captain Gianluigi Buffon, at 37 years old, is still as spry and motivated as ever. Perhaps Europe’s best defense remains untouched, with stalwarts Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, and (with a fresh new contract through 2020) Leonardo Bonucci at its heart. Young centre-back Rugani is Italy’s next great hope, and he has some of the world’s best teachers to work with day in and day out.
While Andrea Pirlo’s creative nous will undoubtedly be missed, il Principino Claudio Marchisio has proven himself time and again to be a world class replacement in the heart of midfield. Perhaps Europe’s best young player, Paul Pogba, is set to take over the reigns as the star man with the absence of maestro Pirlo and engine Vidal. Joining them are the revelational Roberto Pereyra, “new Gattuso” Stefano Sturaro and Kwadwo Asamoah, recently returned from injury and eager to demonstrate his quality in his natural midfield position. Add to that a motivated Sami Khedira signed on a (classic Marotta) free transfer from Real Madrid, and this midfield corps can proudly match up against any in the world.
In the attack, Croatian international and born fighter Mario Mandžuki? joins as the most experienced striker with the likely exit of Fernando Llorente, while Italian international Simone Zaza and Palermo’s Argentine lightning rod Paulo Dybala link with breakout star Álvaro Morata and the mercurial Kingsley Coman. Full of fresh faces, this striking corps is both the biggest question mark and the biggest cause for excitement in this new-look Juventus team.
After such extensive turnover, a period of bedding in is to be expected with this rebooted Juventus. Gone is the “old guard” of Antonio Conte, Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez and Arturo Vidal. This is well and truly Massimiliano Allegri’s side, and the Juventus management have entrusted him with taking the Old Lady to even higher heights, both in Italy and on the continent. Allegri’s detractors will indubitably point to his alleged “second season” syndrome as evidenced by key stars leaving á la Zlatan and Thiago Silva, but this is no Milan in free fall, forced into selling off key assets. With an incredibly nuanced and practical long-term financial plan, as well as clearly-articulated goals set in place by the Juventus management, this side is in no danger of seeing itself crash in the manner the unfortunate Milanese giants have done. With massive offers already rejected for Paul Pogba, plenty of cash on hand, and the squad complete before the calendar flips to August, we may even see a couple more top-tier signings to round out the side.
Change is necessary and beneficial for clubs to move forward and continue success. While it is often surprising and almost always painful, pruning and shearing is necessary for growth. The loss of the magnificent trio who have helped carry this side to recent successes is one that is undoubtedly tough to bear, but is also an incredibly important stepping-stone for the future. The Juventus management has bravely pushed the side into a new era, one full of promise and excitement looking forward, and, as an ardent supporter of the club, I feel it is our duty as Juventini to trust their judgement and move forward into the next generation. Players come and go, but Juventus is forever.