“If you ask my opinion, I’d like to see Miralem Pjanic touch the ball 150 times per game,” Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri famously declared at his official unveiling 11 months ago, resisting a possible reunion with Chelsea and Napoli protégé Jorginho. Eleven months later, however, and the Bosnian is facing an existential crisis in Turin. Despite his struggles adapting to ‘Sarriball’, Pjanic has no shortage of suitors and Juve don’t seem to mind.
Pjanic and Sarri felt like a match made in heaven. The former Roma star was one of Max Allegri’s most trusted lieutenants, yet never enjoyed continuity in a fixed position. With the tactician regularly switching between formations, the 30-year-old was the first to be shunted around. That all changed when Allegri’s successor arrived from Chelsea, vowing to entrust Pjanic with the keys to the Old Lady’s midfield as its deep-lying playmaker.
“My teammates always look for me and I like that,” he said of his new role. “Playing under Allegri was completely different, we immediately looked to get the ball wide. Now it’s different. In the last few games I’ve tried more forward passes, but it all depends on what the coach asks of me. I want to get to 150 touches per game. I want to be one of the best midfielders in the world. I’m playing for one of the best teams in the world.”
The early signs were promising. Pjanic had 127 touches during Juve’s 2-0 victory over SPAL on September 28. And when he wasn’t involved against Genoa a month later, the Old Lady tussled and toiled, only winning 2-1 through Cristiano Ronaldo’s controversial late penalty. “We missed his quality, of course, but also his rhythm because he moves the ball fast and our play becomes quicker as a result,” Sarri admitted after the game.
Then there was the Supercoppa against Lazio. The first Final of the season, Juve lost 3-1 to Lazio and their midfield crumbled with Pjanic at the heart of it. Another poor performance followed against his former club Olympique Lyonnais in the Champions League and he was dropped by Sarri for the first time during the Bianconeri’s 2-0 win against Inter. Rodrigo Bentancur came of age as the replacement ‘regista’ to leave his teammate in limbo.
It has become apparent since the turn of the year that Pjanic is not a long-term solution for Sarri. Too slight to impose himself as a defensive midfielder, too slow to release the ball and not athletic enough to play further afield, it begs the question as to why Barcelona are so keen to bring him to Camp Nou or why Paris Saint-Germain would want to add him to their stable of superstars. Chelsea have seen the light, rightfully seeing no reason to swap him for Jorginho, while Manchester United remain interested in a Paul Pogba scenario.
The Catalans were reported to have clinched an improbable deal for the set-piece specialist, receiving him, Mattia De Sciglio and €25m for Nelson Semedo. That was then shot down by Juve’s demands for Arthur Melo on top of the right-back. Arthur is considered expendable by Barca, even if he is considered the closest thing they have had to Xavi Hernandez since the Spaniard himself. His loss would be Sarri’s gain. A huge gain, at that.
Pjanic remains a class act, but his best days in black and white are certainly behind him. He has been a loyal servant, with over 150 appearances, three Scudetti and a Champions League Final under his belt, but Juve now need to move on. He has been their past and present, but he can’t be their future.