As the hearts of Florentines worldwide ache with the news of Federico Bernardeschi’s transfer to Juventus, the question for Juventini remains: Where does the 23-year-old fit?
Born and raised in the heart of Tuscany, Bernardeschi’s rise to fame in Viola colours wasn’t straightforward. A fractured ankle in 2014 and a spell at Crotone set the foundations for the player Juventus paid €40m for.
While Fiorentina continue to wallow in the quicksand, Juventus spotted a window of opportunity and primed their sights on the Italian prospect. It was only in March that Bernardeschi refused to handle a Juventus scarf live during an interview. Such a blunt refusal to associate with the ‘old enemy’ was a thing of beauty to Viola fans. However, he feels ready to test himself on the biggest stage and the truth is he has outgrown his purple shirt.
Bernardeschi’s real value lies with his versatility. He is a premium player, an Italy international with wonderful technique and spatial awareness. What he lacks is experience, his adventurousness sometimes getting the better of him with his mazy dribbling into dead ends.
Having been deployed mainly as a wide midfielder in the 2015-16 season with Paulo Sousa’s 3-4-2-1, his energy and dribbling provided the perfect attacking impetus and mirror to the more de-facto wing-back Marcos Alonso on the opposite flank. His use more centrally, often in the Number 10 position, in Sousa’s last season indicated the Portuguese tactician’s belief that Bernardeschi’s game is multi-faceted. He is just as capable of playing a probing ball through the lines as switching his game to directly dribble at defences.
Tactically, Bernardeschi’s arrival at the Juventus Stadium is interesting to say the least. Should Leonardo Bonucci’s departure prove pivotal in the re-design of Max Allegri’s system going into the new season, Bernardeschi’s ‘Swiss Army Knife’ approach to the game could well prove very useful indeed.
These factors coincide with the fact that Bernardeschi is a key part of a supremely talented young crop of future Italy senior internationals. Juventus’ history and pedigree with Italian players stands above all, and in today’s over-inflated, frankly ludicrous market, €40m seems like a bargain.
Having said that, Allegri’s masterstroke to switch to a 4-2-3-1 last season to accommodate the attacking talent at his disposal presents him with the problem of shoe-horning Bernardeschi in. With Douglas Costa now plying his trade in Turin, and Mario Mandzukic’s unflappable work-rate presumably complementing the Brazilian’s trickery on the opposite flank, Bernardeschi faces a logjam.
Paulo Dybala’s rebirth as the Number 10 behind Gonzalo Higuain completed the midfield quartet last year. Should Allegri opt for wide midfielders, there are no options more favourable than Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro. This leaves a temporary problem for Bernardeschi, who may initially struggle to see game-time in a regular position.
While the majority of the Viola fan base found fault with Sousa’s lopsided, inconsistent 3-4-2-1, Bernardeschi excelled behind the striker. Should Allegri choose to adopt the en vogue double number 10 system, Dybala could find himself in tandem with the Italian. Such attacking potential should make Juventini drool, and coupled with his aforementioned versatility, the option for flexibility makes Bernardeschi a truly outstanding signing.
There is a strong argument that Bernardeschi could well be the most important transfer Juventus will make all season. The ex-Viola man presents Allegri with a tactical dilemma, but there are certainly worse problems to have.