It has become common knowledge to many that Juventus could sell Cristiano Ronaldo or Paulo Dybala this summer. This is a case of moving on one of the best players of this generation or selling perhaps their best performer in the 2019-20 season. That is always going to be easier said than done.
Over the last few years, clubs like Barcelona and Manchester United have taken criticism for mismanagement of fees, wages and for their inability to move players on at the right time. It has cost them in domestic and European football and their current situations clearly suggest that. Now Juve are treading on a similar path, stuck with high-earning has-been stars. As a result, there has been an increasing urge for the Old Lady to cut their squad back.
No-one really knows what Andrea Pirlo will bring to the table in a tactical sense. Indications are that the Italian would use a similar system to Maurizio Sarri’s 4-3-3, but the detailed nuances remain unclear. With no positions being fixed for any player, this comes as a good chance to re-evaluate and for Pirlo to build a team around his system and not the other way around. Sarri wasn’t always allowed that freedom, as the need for a revamp wasn’t realised.
Ronaldo was seen as the final piece of the jigsaw in what turned out to be Max Allegri’s last season in Turin. He was meant to be that missing part of a team that had aspirations to win the Champions League after having reached the final twice. That hasn’t quite happened, and the jigsaw seems further away than ever from completion.
That is down to Juve’s inability to move others on at the right time and sense the moment for transition. In terms of goals, Ronaldo has justified the fee that he arrived for, and if the revolution of the squad was carried out in the right way, Juve could have gone further in the Champions League in the last two seasons as well.
Dybala could have easily been at Manchester United or Tottenham at this point. Last summer, Juve saw him as a pawn to ease up the wage bill and get some money to bring someone like Mauro Icardi in. Contrary to what Juve wanted, Dybala was always insistent on staying (and still is). He knuckled down, worked his socks off and finished as the MVP of the entire Serie A season. That says a lot about the Argentine’s mentality - something Ronaldo himself could relate to.
Numbers wise, Dybala was the league’s most creative player after the Atalanta trio of Josip Ilicic, Ruslan Malinovskyi and Papu Gomez. That is a reflection of how Ronaldo may not have come so close to Ciro Immobile if not for Dybala’s creative abilities around him. That was under Sarri though, and Pirlo’s homecoming offers a fresh chance for the Bianconeri to throw the tactical nuances out of the window and address the financial stagnation in the team.
The main worry for Juve is that they have an ageing side with players that earn more than their potential worth. Ronaldo isn’t one of them. Douglas Costa is, Sami Khedira is and Blaise Matuidi was too - before his move to MLS. Even though those players are younger than Ronaldo, they don’t offer one crucial thing that Ronaldo still brings at 35. That isn’t scoring goals, leadership or the winning mentality. It is the marketability of himself and of Juventus as a club.
That marketability which he offers was one of the big reasons why Juve knocked on Jorge Mendes’ door in the summer of 2018. The Bianconeri’s thirst for becoming the superclub that Real Madrid or Barcelona were led them to sign Ronaldo too. He didn’t just bring the experience of winning the Champions League multiple times. His signing was meant to increase Juve’s ticket revenues and shirt-sales and the signing made an off-pitch impact too.
The Old Lady didn’t quite know what they were getting with Sarri in their hunt for Champions League glory and, in hindsight, it was a bad move. But Pirlo’s appointment could be another hint at Juve’s chase for marketability and the urge to become a superclub. A well-loved legend of the game will attract the eyeballs like Ronaldo’s signing did. That is again a hint of where Fabio Paratici, Pavel Nedved and Andrea Agnelli want to take the club. The image of Ronaldo is crucial to that path.
That isn’t disrespectful to Dybala at all. La Joya is a magical footballer and deserved to be called Juve’s best player last season too. But last summer was a clear reflection of how Paratici doesn’t see Dybala as an untouchable commodity, despite all the value that he carries on the pitch. He will never sell as many jerseys as Ronaldo.
To make matters worse, his wage demands are reportedly out of Juve’s limits and the contract renewal period couldn’t have come at a worse period for Dybala either. Juve want to lower their wage bill and with the effects of the pandemic rolling on, it will be pretty tough to stretch their limits. On top of that, his performances on the pitch can help Juve reap success like it did last season, but the direction Juve are heading into, other factors will be taken into consideration, and not all of them are about football.
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