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A gamble that never made sense…Part One

June 23, 2020

I gain no pleasure from finding echoes of my own longstanding cynicism emerging from other commentators. For when it comes to Juve, I always want to be proven completely wrong with my repetitive wailing of all that is deflating and worrying. And yet, I do find a positive, in that the blossoming of facing up to the grisly reality of our situation will be noticed by the management. They will not remain with tunnel vision, blinkered to all the rising tide of criticism, for widespread condemnation in the media and amongst the fan base will infect the players and ultimately, impact the business model.

What we have endured as fans since the restart has been a mixture of woeful, predictable and lukewarm. Let’s accommodate the mitigating factors, whilst understanding that these affect every single team, not just Juve.

We lack sharpness and fitness from the lengthy absence of competitive football and training. We lack form, for the same reasons as we have had no chance to build any momentum. We also lack atmosphere in the stadium, for the fans remain represented by some colours or pictures which do little to improve the almost eerie quietude surrounding what is hoped to be a battle royale on the field fueled by the intensity of tens of thousands in attendance, all roaring and living from second to second, kick to kick, which the players and management feed off.

It feels rather churlish or haughty to mention our injuries, given the staggering resources in hand and invested in our squad. Although it is also fair to suggest that the absences of Chiellini, Demiral, Higuain and a fit Ramsey is a factor to consider. And now all three left-back options suspended or hobbling.

Still, all the clubs face the same issues. And we should be better equipped than most to deal with adversity.

 

Sarri

Sarri in tears following our loss against Napoli : Juve

To see the manager in tears after the thoroughly deserved Coppa defeat was very worrying indeed. These were tears of failure and not finding any hope or determination to grit his fangs, take a deep breath and come out swinging. It was a show of futility. An end of sorts of what has probably been building in Sarri for some time, as he is no fool. He knows this adventure – one he simply had to take when offered the role – has gone terribly wrong.

Most are now, or have been for some time, aware of the tactical stubbornness of our manager. Even now with Danilo idiotically suspended, De Sciglio and Sandro both mangled it is highly unlikely we will see a back three – even though this squad played with a back three for many moons and it would be surely interesting to see how the side balances with Leo able to push up often into the one role at the base of midfield where he has ever looked world class. It will not happen. Not due to the squad proving so well drilled into Sarri’s system that to change the tactics would derail our momentum.

This tactical inflexibility we all knew about before Sarri joined the club. And yet, what appears to have happened is that his philosophy and tactical system has proven a very poor fit indeed for our squad. Even Max, who was rather pragmatic, could see when something was wrong game after game after game, and was able to change things. The conclusion I have of Sarri is that he has no idea whatsoever of any solution, any path forward, other than continuing to flog a dead horse…Which is why I find some of his statements close to bizarre. As another member pointed out of late –

My problem is the direction:
Sarri, a system coach, was brought in to teach the team play a certain brand of football and win games in style without needing to rely on individual moments of talent/genius (like Allegri). When Sarri uses the lack of individual talent ( dribbling in this case) as an excuse, it shows me, that he most probably either does not know or does not know how to achieve what the management brought him in to do….
As the saying goes… If you do not know the destination, no wind is favorable…

(Mixalis Neskis)

Finally on the coach…though he will feature as a prop in the next act of this calm outlay of forensic analysis…I see zero connection between Sarri as a man, as a manager, with the players. No affection. Barely any communication aside from the barking of names from the touchline. Just distance, a growing distance between them.

For most of the last decade the squad have had coaches who are close to them, who live and fight for every ball with them like Conte. Who play basketball and make fun of Pogba and hug the players often, like Max. Different styles, but a definite synergy human to human, between players and coach. Sarri has none of this. His approach is hugely different. Appearing more akin to a man playing a strategy game where he sees the parts he controls as not alive, not needing of any emotional bonding our nourishment, just pieces on a chess board to move around and meet his orders.

I look at the successful managers in the modern game and see the complete opposite of Sarri’s approach in this regard. Simeone, Conte, Guardiola, Klopp…they have different characters, but its easy to recall  memories of seeing them hug their players, look them in the eye with fierce pride and shared passion and present themselves as one family, one tribe.

The problem with keeping the players at a distance is that when problems arise, its much harder to transmit energy and enthusiasm, to rouse the spirit and morale…which I believe we are now witnessing every time the team steps out onto the field against more spirited, better organised opposition. I can use myself as an example: If I am to work at my best, I need to feel both valued and liked by a leader I respect. And I am at my finest as an employee when my boss sets an example for me to aspire to meet, knowing when to praise, when to challenge, when to offer support, and making me feel we are in this together. I do not imagine many are different in this respect.

The reports of a bust-up during training between Sarri and Pjanic of late strike me as certainly possible. And if true, its merely further confirmation that the manager has lost further connection with the team and the remainder of the season is going to be an unhappy time for us all. Why do I feel these reports are true? Simply put, Sarri has form for uncouth behaviour.

Maurizio Sarri once gave Juventus fans the middle finger when ...

The Napoli manager, Maurizio Sarri, has been given a two-game ban and a €20,000 fine for the homophobic insults he aimed at the Internazionale manager Roberto Mancini during their Italian Cup quarter-final.

Mancini became embroiled in a furious confrontation with his Napoli counterpart during the game on Tuesday night, which the Milan side won 2-0 after goals from Stevan Jovetic and Adem Ljajic.

Afterwards a clearly furious Mancini told Rai TV: “People like him do not belong in football. He used racist words. I stood up to ask about the five minutes being added on and Sarri shouted ‘poof’ and ‘faggot’ at me. I would be proud to be that if he is what’s considered a man.

“People like him should not be in football. He is 60 years old. The fourth official heard but didn’t say anything. He came to see me in the changing room to apologise but he should really be ashamed of himself.” – Guardian

I looked past the first incident, with something approaching selective sympathy, as I could rearrange the way it was presented as Sarri sensing the unease of the Napoli players, surrounded by Juve ultras and maintaining not dignity, but meeting their raucous shaking and assault of the team bus. The second incident however, I found disgusting.. Not because I am a supporter of the gay movement or any other modern rainbow movement or that I found Sarri’s words as anything worse than archaic peasantry…I just found it low rent and absent of any sense of dignity.

This I couldn’t rearrange into anything remotely positive, so I just ignored it and hoped for the best, chose to focus upon perhaps that same beautiful football played by Napoli under Sarri, emerging even more spectacularly at Juve. How Paratici, Nedved and Andrea Agnelli chose to do the same, suggests the club ethics are anything but lo stile Juve.

When I now, finally look back upon that exchange between Sarri and Mancini, it confirms more of my worst fears of the perceived mismanagement and conclusion, that even at the top, including Andrea Agnelli, this idea, this longstanding ideal of our club holding ever powerfully close to everything we do and express as ethical and respectful and honourable, has disintegrated. The wool has now completely left my eyes…

Essentially, I feel that the number one requirement for a manager is to know how to get the best out of his players and squad as a whole. This hinges largely upon man management but also includes the versatility to understand and accept that systems often need to be tailored to suit the best players, not the other way around.

With limitless riches, sometimes you can bridge this divide, purchase such high numbers of quality players that the football on show, whilst not perfect, remains strong enough to blow away most opponents, yet this is rare. You still require a manager able to knit them together, draw together some fusion of the many into one collective all buying into the same vision.

Sarri lacks both key ingredients. He is a poor man-manager and has very little versatility. I do not believe he has any firm idea of how to get the best out of this squad, only how to try force them into his one system, and either they get it or they don’t.

Squad

 

The midfield is weak. A hotchpotch of varied skillsets with no world class, or even established top level talent on show since Pjanic lost his self belief earlier this campaign. This area is imperative for any team to succeed, regardless of the manager, although Sarri’s system places especially huge demand on the midfield, so our weaknesses here are magnified, brutally. We simply never dominate any other side centrally, no matter their quality level.

I remain pleased with Bentancur, though I wouldn’t see him breaking into the midfields of Liverpool, Man City, real or Bayern. Not yet. There remains a chance that Sarri could push the ineffective Pjanic to the bench and put the Uruguayan in at DM, yet with Khedira finished and Ramsey never fit, I wouldn’t count on it as we have nobody else to play RCM. Which is a shame, as tentatively the team looked more in sync when we have tried the youngster as the pivot previously.

Up top, we have Ronaldo picking up form slowly, though he is not for me as valuable – at least on the field – as Messi or Mane for that matter. I don’t think he fashions as many chances nor is as efficient with the chances he gets. Dybala, who has different roles too often to gain any serious momentum,  and a woeful service and support from behind leading to flashes of talent coming through in a trickle rarely a flood. Gonzalo, who is too old, probably doesnt want be in the country let alone leading the line for Juve. With the only other player who could always be depended upon, jettisoned to the Middle East to save a smidgen on the accounts. Some great talents in the old Ronaldo and Dybala, but nothing to challenge them of strong, steady value.

Douglas Costa deserves a mention  yet the reality is that his time in black and white has been the least productive period in his senior career to date, with injuries, suspensions and a lack of opportunity to get sharp all contributing, but so did his spit, elbow and headbutt. Is that Lo Stile Juve?

And then there is the main livewire of the victory over Bologna. Freddy Bernardeschi, played less central, less deep and looked very determined from the word go, and proved very capable. Yet this kind of performance has rarely been seen during his 97 games for Juve. A natural right winger who Sarri has used almost solely as a trequartista until last night.  Never really given the confidence of playing a serious chunk of consecutive games in one role since joining the club before that stint late last year behind the front two. He seems to have one foot out the door.

The fullbacks are average, at best. Especially when judged against the current best in world football, who I see as Robertson and Alexander-Arnold at Liverpool.  Sandro, by now long in the tooth and too cozy in his ever-present position as first choice. De Sciglio has been injured too often, given no confidence and is finished in black and white. Danilo has been cosi cosi and again, has not been given enough games to build any form. Juan should be praised for his efforts, but is a decent enough right winger, only ever a makeshift fullback with no experience of positioning or tackling, just effort and pace to offer which is fine, but nowhere near the top levels I expect of a team aiming for a serious stab at the CL title.

Only at CB and between the sticks do we seem to have any serious, top level strength that can work well together.

And yet there appears, especially in times of bother, something not measurable by statistics alone. It is spirit and mentality. Drive and determination.

Natural born leadership is sparse in the squad and the majority do not seem able to power on, dig in deep and keep fighting for every ball, showing in the least always infectious pride in the shirt. Who can we find in our squad with this powerful nature abundant? De Ligt, Demiral, Buffon, Chiellini, yet where else? The side lacks a winning mentality. Its hard to blame the management for this, but I do expect them to take into account the character of the players and understand that any side seeking success requires a healthy dose all across the squad of players who will run through walls for the cause, not just star names.

All of our greatest sides have had these characters. When I remember Di Livio, Carrera, Ravanelli, Vialli, Tacchinardi, Conte, Nedved and in more recent years Tevez, Pirlo, Giaccherini, Lichsteiner, Marchisio…its not mainly their talent (other than perhaps with Pirlo) its their mentality which infected me with love for the manner in which they would naturally take every single game as one to win at all costs with a never say die attitude. Never did I see their heads drop, only raised higher when facing adversity, their howl grow in volume not weaken.

I feel we lack players comfortable and confident and capable of moving past opponents one-on-one. Juan Cuadrado is the only player I see do this often, and this is usually when he is making a yard with his turn of pace hugging the touchline as he works his way up the field. Costa has the skills, but barely plays, is often injured or suspended and loses the ball more often than creates anything. Dybala and Ronaldo are facing too many players, too often, to make their own ability in this area count for much.

Its not that I feel we have a poor squad. Its more a case of finding it a hotchpotch of decent players flung together with no sporting model guiding the acquisitions, far more a financial focus.

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