Juventus desperately want to be seen as a superclub on the level of Real Madrid or Barcelona, to lift the Champions League and end that two-decade curse. At least President Andrea Agnelli admitted as much this time when sacking Maurizio Sarri, declaring out loud once and for all that no, the Scudetto is not the main objective of the season and European glory is not a dream. It is a target. Having said that, is Andrea Pirlo really the man to take them there?
When Massimiliano Allegri was told to leave the Bianconeri in the summer of 2019, he had made it very clear this Juve team needed a revolution. With that, he meant that some players needed to be moved on and fresh faces brought in to make sure that they don’t stagnate. The five or six-year cycle was coming to an end and Allegri had foreseen all of it well before anyone else could.
The signing of Cristiano Ronaldo was a clear suggestion of their move towards the idea of becoming a superclub like Real Madrid or Barcelona. The path towards doing that would only have been trodden if Juve had won the Champions League and hadn’t lost two finals under Allegri himself. Ronaldo’s signing showed Juve weren’t satisfied with being the Champions of Italy anymore. They wanted a lot more.
The problem with success is that nobody has one correct recipe and one gets the feeling there is a lack of unified vision at Juventus. It’s no secret Allegri was pushed out by Fabio Paratici and Pavel Nedved, while Agnelli was never that convinced by the idea of Sarri. This power struggle is not helping anyone, and most of the positives from this season came about by accident rather than by design. This club tried so hard to off-load Paulo Dybala and he ended up being the MVP in all of Serie A. Deadwood like Blaise Matuidi and Gonzalo Higuain remained, Mario Mandzukic and Emre Can were moved on, while Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey were just the latest in a selection of players Juve seemingly signed just because they were free agents.
Why bring in a coach like Sarri, who is known for his very specific style of football, and then not give him the players suited to it? Rodrigo Bentancur and Dybala emerged as bright lights largely because of their dynamic nature, but his football is all about moving the ball quickly. If they don’t do that, they become painfully predictable, as we saw much of the time at Chelsea. Teams found it easy to sit deeper and restrict them to playing sideways passes - as was evident in the Coppa Italia final against Napoli.
There was always a drabness about this side, a totally different feeling to his Napoli team. The two performances against Lyon saw a similar pattern emerge. Even during desperate situations, the Bianconeri resorted to playing it short and passing it sideways. The players could never open up the opposition and it went directly against the idea of what Agnelli wanted in a superclub.
There are claims that Sarri lost parts of the dressing room because of faults of his own. At the same time, one should ask what Juve really had in mind when they hired Sarri? They wanted to become a superclub overnight under a manager who needs time to make the team his own, especially when a ‘revolution’ was needed and never came. Paratici and co never knew what Sarri brought to the table and how to make it work for him.
The players were also visibly just going through the motions a lot of the time, not really believing in his vision or that it would work for them. We saw similar performances at Chelsea, stars who knew they could just bide their time and wait for the coach to get fired, because it’s easier to remove a tactician than half the squad.
Sarri saw Champions League success and the Scudetto as a ‘dream’ and not something which was the minimum desired expectation. That is something Juve never considered in their unflinching thirst to reach the Real Madrid level. Pirlo brings huge experience of winning the Champions League and he was part of the Milan team that became a superclub two decades ago. He would know that winning the Champions League has become a requirement at Juve. He will absolutely understand that demand more than Sarri did, especially as he was in one of those lost Finals in 2015. He felt it first-hand.
Pirlo comes across as a much more marketable appointment. Sarri is seen as that no-nonsense, tactically obsessed man who smokes and swears too much, not a glittering superstar who has his own T-Shirt slogans. Pirlo could get players back on his side, but doubts remain about what he offers tactically. The fact that it had barely been time since he was appointed the Under-23s manager shows how unplanned things have been at a boardroom level for Juve. Things may or may not work out for Pirlo, but the Juve board hasn’t done enough to suggest that they can take the Old Lady to a superclub level.
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