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I am hurting…

August 8, 2020

[Editors note: The following article was written prior to the news of Maurizio Sarri’s sacking]

Such strange and contrasting emotions were abounding in my essence as the final few minutes of stoppage time wore down. Part of me was wanting the proudly hapless Felix Zwayer to blow the whistle and put us out of our misery. And yet…in spite of my cynicism, against all odds, that familiar and painful hope against hope remained controlling my eyes to watch the seconds ebb away and intensely seeking some passage of play and the goal that the innocence left of my heart felt would have changed the world.

“I expected less. I thought we put in a great performance this evening”

I hope these are the last two sentences spoken by Sarri as Juve coach, which appall me. They are the words of a man in the wrong place at the wrong time, who doesn’t appear to have a clue of how to manage our club. For our performance was not great, by any measure.

 

TURIN, ITALY – AUGUST 07: Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus reacts during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match between Juventus and Olympique Lyon at Allianz Stadium on August 07, 2020 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)

Were it not for a great strike by Ronaldo, and a very fortunate penalty we would have likely played out a drab 0-0 draw. The side performed how they have done for much of the season. It was slow, pedestrian, with low creativity, nobody looking likely to score other than Ronaldo. Far too many touches on the ball, with that same weird ‘tactic’ of players passing to each on repeat. I have no idea what possible value there is from this strategy of players working on keeping possession miles from the opponents goal. Yet it has been a hallmark of the side this campaign. It is as if the team are only able to play to Sarri’s demands in their own half, with barely any pressure on the ball, and once past the halfway line, it becomes a free for all, total disorganisation, with barely any runners from midfield and so little movement.

The fact alone that Sarri thought this a great performance is instructive of a man out of his depth who must be replaced. His allusion to surprise at his players proving not as bad as he expected may be a concession of sorts, but of what I am unsure. Was he suggesting that he is well aware of how poor we have been playing for many weeks on end? For which he makes every excuse other than himself. The absence of any self admonishment, a brief hint of taking responsibility for our failures, ever deepens my grief at his continued tenure.

It is nothing new for a team who on paper are far weaker than us, a team constructed with a drop in the ocean of the money we have spent, to set up a game plan to make us appear a very average side indeed. It has been happening for months. Especially so since the restart. Solid organisation, cohesive interplay, energy and hunger and pressure on the midfield – from an opponent –  is all it takes to slow us to moving the ball around at walking pace, relying upon Dybala and Ronaldo to make the difference.

Lyon had played one competitive game since March. Our match sharpness, even with the injury list, should have led to this tie a simple job. Even with the 1-0 deficit.

 

For most of the campaign it has been Dybala and Ronaldo who have proved the difference makers. Very rarely has there appeared periods when we have dominated, or shown any sign whatsoever that the players are putting into action what they do in training. Which leads to several considerations

  1. The players do not understand Sarri’s ideas.
  2. The players are not good enough.
  3. We are actually playing how Sarri trains us to play.

If the answer is 3, which would seem so given Sarri’s analysis of the game, then the obvious decision to be made is to remove him.

Leaving the coach aside for a little while, we must make appraisal of the players themselves. Who must shoulder much of the blame for this complete waste of a season. Most of them have gone downhill. There appears little fight, little energy, just confusion and an ever worsening frailty.

Bernardeschi, whilst almost walking the ball into the net, was and has been generally awful. He has had too many chances and failed miserably. His work in the final third is of the lowest output I can remember enduring of a Juve player. Its startling to look back on his career in Florence, which offered so much more, always, than we have seen of him in a juve shirt. Whether the pressure or the tactics or he simply doesn’t fit, he has to be flown as far away as human technology can take him from this squad.

Of course he wants to stay at Juve, as does Khedira and likely Rugani. They are earning good money which they will struggle to find elsewhere. Yet as with Ramsey, even Rabiot – who has improved but still is far from a top midfielder- these players are a very serious problem for the club.

How many of our players would get a start at Real Madrid or City or Munich or Liverpool? Dybala, Ronaldo and De Ligt. Just 3 players of a squad of 25.

This conclusion very much confirms that our squad requires a huge overhaul. If the ambition is seriously there to reach the top.

Still, I firmly believe that we are not the team we should be. Accepting that we have some very average players, we also have some top drawer talent, and whilst I didnt expect us to be world beaters we have underperformed hideously and consistently. Somehow become the worst Juve side since Del Neri – and that poor sop had an awfully weaker team to deal with. Which returns me to Sarri.

The measure I make of a manager is not silverware alone. It involves mainly how well we are playing, the identity of the side, the hunger, the fire in the bellies and flames in the eyes of our troops. All of which is fairly subjective, but I doubt many would contest the final measure. Perhaps the most telling. Which is how many players improve under the manager? How many play at least to their expected level?

In these last considerations, Sarri’s review is one of abject failure.

 

Juventus’ Argentinian forward Gonzalo Higuain (3rd-R) celebrates with his teammates after scoring a goal during the Italian Serie A football match Juventus vs Roma on August 1, 20 20 at the Allianz stadium in Turin. (Photo by Isabella BONOTTO / AFP) (Photo by ISABELLA BONOTTO/AFP via Getty Images)

Dybala has revived, admittedly, though I am unsure how much of this is down to the manager, and how much is down to the player. For Paulo did not wish to leave the club last Summer when Paratici was trying to flog him to whoever would take him and I felt that the forward came back with the bit between his teeth, determined to prove to the fans, the club, most importantly to himself, that he deserves to be given the chance to aim for legendary status in black and white. There is also some logic to suggestions that Sarri was fine with him leaving last Summer – he had chosen Higuain as the ideal partner for Ronaldo, for some bizarre reason stuck in a time warp, assuming the year was 2016, not 2019. In short I cannot fully explain Dybala returning to his form of two seasons back as due to Sarri.

Juan Cuadrado has been quite decent as a fullback, and credit must be given to the player and coach for this. Although, as we saw last night, he is nowhere near the level required, still prone to running fast and achieving nothing, sending passes often 30 yards beyond the intended target…and can be a liability due to having spent most his career absent of demand for positional awareness in the rearguard.

Bentancur has continued to grow at the same steady rate. He just needed games to show what he could do. Still, he has much work to do on the offensive phase, but has developed at the same rate of previous years. Again, I am unsure as to how much of this is down to training and there is a serious possibility that had Khedira proven less injury prone, it would have been the German playing in the first XI with Rodrigo an understudy.

As for those who have performed to their expectations, Ronaldo, Dybala and De Ligt, there is little development of their strengths, which we already knew of. They have such high level talent that the ill fitting tactical demands cannot stifle their potency.

We move onto those who have fallen, well below what we expect of them.

Bernardeschi, Bonucci, Rugani, De Sciglio, Sandro, Higuain, Matuidi, Szczęsny and most awfully of all, Pjanic. All of these players have dropped in technique, drive, value. The Pjanic saga is the most telling, given he was the player Sarri assumed would be the pivot of his side. I also assumed that the Bosnian would truly come to major prominence. And yet…he has been a shadow of even the fading top level creative force we witnessed in the 18/19 campaign. He has appeared tasked with cutting out any creativity, focused on playing short passes, left and right, forward and back, as quickly as possible. A recycling pivot, not a creative pivot. Which makes no sense, as his main strength is to create.

I very much believe we will see a different Pjanic at Barca. A better Pjanic. A Pjanic allowed to flow forward and find runners to hit with his sometimes exquisite, often high level passing range and intelligence.

Szczęsny has lost his focus, not reverted to his puerile haphazard Arsenal form, but very much dropped in value. He was the epitome of consistency in Max’s last season. And looked a very smart signing indeed. This has vanished.

The Pole is a player who needs stern direction. His mentality is weak without this guidance. How many games have we seen him dominant? Confident? Make any saves of note? I can count them on one hand. Szczęsny is a barometer of team spirit and connection to the manager. As he is one who needs to be driven to seek his best.

 

Juventus’ Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring during the Italian Serie A football match between Juventus and Sampdoria played behind closed doors on July 26, 2020 at the Allianz Stadium in Turin. (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP) (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images)

I am a long term detractor of the Ronaldo signing. That €340 million invested, which we do not yet know has been recouped, had a huge impact on the recruitment front. Due to his status and that mega investment, his presence has cast a shadow over the rest of the squad and both Max and Sarri have struggled to tactically work the side around him. However, we are talking of a player who has scored 31 goals…He remains world class. Absent of Dybala, it is ONLY Ronaldo who not just looks like, but is generally the only player capable of winning games for us.

Whilst I am highly critical of the move, it is fair to suggest that without him, I highly doubt we would have even won the league title. Let alone stood any chance of progression out of the last 16 in the champions league. He has done what is expected of him and continues to defy his age with some staggering performances where he appears to have the whole side on his shoulders, an ageing galactico become Atlas, and still emerges as a hero.

Its nonsense to pin any blame on Ronaldo, or even on that move, because even without him, we have a squad that should be playing much better football.

We have no recognisable identity, we have more failing than developing, more weaknesses than strengths, more despondent than even average performances. We are never close to the sum of our collected parts.

I agree with many that our squad comprises of too many average players, but with this in mind, the manager should be able to offer us more entertainment, be able to inspire in the squad more belief and resilience and pride in the shirt. The very opposite has happened. Not just in the game last night, but for most the season.

The addition of Kuluseveski to this squad will improve us considerably. We have hugely lacked support in the final third from midfield. This must be tactical and yet it’s also one of the most obvious problems. As to whom the devil is Pjanic supposed to pass to, when in front of him he has Ronaldo marked by 3 and Dybala deep enough to appear more a central midfielder? He can only pass laterally or backwards. Criticism of Pjanic is to my mind instantly channeled up to Sarri.

Arthur is an unknown to me, despite the research forged when we signed him, and the high praise from a fair few reliable sources. For his stats show 6 goals and 9 assists from 122 games in his homeland and Spain. This suggests very little creativity and goal threat…

Milik seems a serious target. Concerns should be raised for a player who has suffered two ACL injuries in recent years and yet, if he will rid us of Bernardeschi, I would pounce on it. The rumour of late that perhaps Hysaj could be included in the deal made it more enticing as he would improve our bang average fullback issues.

I sincerely feel that we have the skeleton of a side of superb potential. Demiral, De Ligt, Kulusevski, Arthur, Dybala, Bentancur…that is more than half a first XI I believe could be added to intelligently, and led by a talented manager to become something very special indeed. There is more than a slither of hope for the future, yet to get there, we have a massive renovation job in hand to confront, not avoid, or work through slowly season upon season.

 

PARMA, ITALY – AUGUST 24: Juventus Sports Director Fabio Paratici looks on during the Serie A match between Parma Calcio and Juventus at Stadio Ennio Tardini on August 24, 2019 in Parma, Italy. (Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images)

We must be realistic. Paratici and Nedved are staying put. Their combined work is a hit and miss so far, yet the two incoming players look likely to improve us. The endeavour of our sporting directors entrusted with shaping our present and future this upcoming mercato window is now immensely important, and yet my fears remain, that they have a model based more upon connections to agents than on scouting.

In an ideal world, a revolution would take place.

We would find departing>

Bernardeschi, Higuain, Matuidi, Sandro, Rugani, De Sciglio, Khedira, Ramsey, Rabiot, Costa. I am tempted to include Szczęsny, though still feel, on the basis of his exceptional consistency in the 18/19 season that with the right guidance, we can depend upon him at the top level.

Some will say its harsh to include Rabiot in this list. Which I will reaffirm, is an ideal, not at all a likely situation.

The frenchman was signed after barely playing for most of a whole season. He was always going to need time to come good. Since the restart he has shown vastly improved energy, though still, what have we to show for the sizeable investment? One great solo goal against AC Milan. That is all. And it is simply not enough.

Moving out 10 players is wholly unrealistic. I will hope that half of that crowd can be replaced and this is where Paratici must prove himself the man we need to move forward. A huge amount of our future direction depends upon his ability to clear as much dross from this squad as possible and replace them with hungry, talented players. I imagine our sporting director and Nedved, both will play a pivotal role also in the future of Sarri. But what of the President??

I know enough of Andrea to believe him a highly intelligent operator. His emergence at the club has led to 9 titles on the trot and our resurgence as a side flirting with greatness.

“Going out like this is going to be a huge disappointment. We will take the next few days to consider, evaluate and decide how to go forward next season.

“A complete analysis of a season has to be done with everyone in the staff. We must evaluate how to rediscover the enthusiasm we need to start the next season with hunger to play and win in every arena.

“That is a 360-degree analysis. I keep hearing we have the oldest squad in Europe, so that’s something that we need to look at. It has been a very difficult campaign with a lot of changes in the staff, so these are dynamics and ways of understanding each other that need to be created.

“These are questions the technical directors should be asked and that is not my role. All I can say is they will be Juventus-level players.”

His turn of phrase leaves the conclusion that Sarri is gone. A president asked of whether Sarri will stay? Whether we will sign players to meet Sarri’s style? His answers were very careful indeed, yet for me, they were damningly absent of confirmation that Sarri will continue.

I will assert, briefly, that my appreciation of all that Andrea has achieved since becoming our president, leads me to not blind, but serious faith. He puts the club before everyone, and this might include more than merely Sarri…in the pursuit, his and our pursuit, of achieving greatness.

The concern here is that he may well be confirming that the decision on Sarri will be taken by Nedved and Paratici.

As they were the two who picked our current manager, to accept he has been a failure is also an acceptance of their own failure. I have no idea if this is some intelligent confrontation by Andrea to them both, expressing beyond the words shared with the public, something alone the lines of…

‘you chose him. Do you still choose him? This season has been awful. Do you still support the man you chose to lead the side? Do you accept you have both failed? If so…’

If so, indeed. For where would that leave the Nedved-Paratici tandem as directors?

Still, my greatest fear remains that Sarri will continue. And so I will avoid delving deep into any dreams of a few names we all know. I do not wish to build hope where there presently can be found only rumours. I will only extend myself to suggest that the rumoured wage demands of one of the connected parties is small fry and cannot be a barrier to discussions, for we have players earning as much who offer zero on the field. A manager is more valuable than any one player. So to consider we would be happy to spend 40-50m on a player who might offer something valuable as one of an 11 or even as one of a squad of 25, makes a damn nonsense of then tightening the purse strings when considering a far more important member of the squad. Probably the most important element of the side.

 

TURIN, ITALY – APRIL 22: John Elkann and Andrea Agnelli of Juventus during the serie A match between Juventus and SSC Napoli on April 22, 2018 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Jhon Elkan; Andrea Agnelli

Other than this ramshackle analysis, much of which is repetition of longstanding cynicism of the last year and beyond, I return to the first paragraph of this rambling appraisal of our current circumstances…for that part of my heart which is always unhearing, unknowing, uncaring of all realism, which supports the cause no matter what happens…remains alive.

The performance, the result, the words of Sarri after the game we just witnessed, all of this deeply injured my passion for the cause in black and white. I am hurting. As are all juventini, and the helplessness is prominent, deafening…for our shared future is in the hands of others many have come to distrust, other than Andrea Agnelli.

My mind considers without emotion. It is L’Avvocato and has no interest in feeling, in sentiment, in excitement, and looks upon everything far removed from the heart, which it knows as something of chaotic Nature, not of cold calculation and pragmatism. This lawyer who deals exclusively in logical reasoning assumes the same stance of Agnelli, assumes that that it is to be expected, after a lengthy run where we got so much right, that this wouldn’t continue forever. It concludes that we have got much wrong of late, and must now work to remove what is rotten and too wrong to ever be right, and ensure above all else, that we place in the most pivotal position vis-a-vis our dreams and aspirations on the field, the Right man to lead.

My heart…is mauled and maimed. It has been a slow succession of abuse. With seldom yet grasped at with all that matters most to me brief periods of respite where hope once again sprang all too easily eternal.

The two within me, the heart and the mind, are rarely in concert, though they have the same goal. Which is for the shared zeal to prove ever worthy of our undying focus and flames of passion.

I have loved Juve this season as I would love a Woman who is toxic for my well being. An atavistic Lancelot devotion to a decision made too many moons ago to now change. And yet…there comes a time, when this routine of the noble knight dying on the battlefield, the enemy – who is also the chosen focus of the love –  is walking away, and I raise myself on my bloodied shoulder and splutter..’come back, please kill me again…’…must stop.

Failure is more useful than success, for the former offers what the latter does not, namely the chance to learn and grow.

We must embrace the failure, which is longstanding since Sarri was chosen to lead the charge. We must focus now on the opportunity to learn and grow, accepting that not all love affairs are leading us to the happiness we envisaged when giving our hearts to the cause…

forza juve

TGP

(Find me on twitter here)

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