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Rolando Mandragora to return to Juve and other mutterings…

April 12, 2020

I have long been a fan of Rolando Mandragora. He looked superb in his early career – a strapping lad, dominant in the middle of the park, able to pass, hustle, win much in the air due to his physical outline, tenacious, powerful. It seemed an astute signing, before season after season I watched him farmed out to various clubs where he certainly was given plenty of playing time, yet it seemed an odd, even poor move, when our major issues, by my reckoning, have long been in the CM position. Which is precisely where Rolando is at his best. It wasn’t that I thought he should be usurping Pjanic, more that he appeared a brilliant alternative and understudy.

During his various loan moves and subsequent sale to Udinese in 2018, he has maintained the captaincy of the Italy U21s, until promotion to the senior squad under Mancini late last year. Whilst I was saddened by his move I was pleased to see within the details of the deal a buyback clause for 26m.

The agreement also provides Juventus the option right, to be exercised at the end of 2019/2020 football season, for the definitive re-acquisition of the player at a price of € 26 million to be paid in two financial years.

I had close to assumed he was a forgotten man now, just a makeweight to be potentially used in other deals, and this may well prove the case. Yet before we assume the worst it seems prudent to consider what he could offer in regards to what our squad and system is presently lacking alongside of course any news of what the player himself seeks and where he is likely headed in the Summer.

“I work every day to be an important player,” he told Corriere del Mezzogiorno.

“Right now, all my attention is focused on Udinese, who paid so much to sign me.

“After that, it’s normal that returning to one of the most important clubs in the world is a primary objective of mine.

“Juve operate on a culture of hard work and, even though I’ve never worked under him, I know their Coach is a connoisseur of daily work and that he works meticulously. I therefore believe he’ll do well.

Rolando, July 2019

Promising words, though not the best for the Udinese supporters!

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“Mandragora is an extraordinary lad, very intelligent and has a strong character,” Carnevale told Radio Centro Suono Sport.

“He will return to Juventus at the end of the season, I know that several clubs are asking after him, not just Roma.

“He will become a great player.”

 

TURIN, ITALY – APRIL 23: Rolando Mandragora of Juventus FC in action during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and Genoa CFC at Juventus Stadium on April 23, 2017 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)

Still only 22 years of age, he has amassed 102 appearances in the top flight, become a starter wherever he has been sent. His skillset is very much focused on leading from the centre of the field, screening the defence, powerfully impacting the tempo, a pivot of the side. Certainly more to develop going forward, but that is not to say he is a brute unable to pick out a pass.

My criticisms of our side have long focused upon our midfield (since the dismantling of the outstanding Marchisio- Vidal- Pirlo- Pogba crowd). Mainly on Pjanic asked to play the all important role of the pivot, the fulcrum. He has the passing range, a decent dose of flair and was a major asset from set piece situations until recently.

An intelligent player who has given his everything to the cause in a role which doesn’t offer the perfect platform for his high level technique, as he is expected to hustle, to tackle, to protect the defence whilst acting as a crossroads for most of our building play from deep.

He has performed these duties as admirably as can be expected, but the reality is that there is a massive difference between a Savic or Fernandinho in that role, and little Miralem. Its a simple question of physicality and size. There are oddities, a few tenacious beasts who bridge the divide, Gattuso for example, yet Pjanic is no pitbull. I also quite like the lad who was at Samp, now Arsenal…Lucas Torreira.

Still, my preference for that role is always a big lad. I think of the classics over the years, always the greatest sides had one in their ranks; Keane, Viera, Dunga, Beckenbauer, Emerson, Makelele. They were all the engine room of their sides. Leaders. Strongmen who could put a tackle in and it was clear before a ball had been kicked, that their reputation of None Shall Pass was at large.

Conte’s greatest stroke of genius, tactically speaking, was to shoehorn Pirlo into the side in this role. He was no beastly character who opponents would be fearful of engaging in the tackle. Yet he was a freak talent. One for the ages. A poet with the ball at his feet who could see the whole field of play in the blink of an eye, and write like Rimbaud with his passing.

A creative, extremely intelligent footballer who was so far beyond most other players on earth, that his clear ill fit for the role –  as he is no tackler, no menace in the challenge, no towering centurion –  was tempered by his incredible talent with the ball at his feet. He was able to prove still world class in that role.

 

TURIN, ITALY – OCTOBER 22: Miralem Pjanic of Juventus jumps for the ball during the UEFA Champions League group D match between Juventus and Lokomotiv Moskva at Allianz Stadium on October 22, 2019 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

Pjanic is not Pirlo. Nobody is but Pirlo. The Bosnian is nowhere near him. In advanced positions he can show some echoes of the Master, in terms of through balls and set piece deliveries. Yet unlike his predecessor, he does not have the elite class on the ball required to bridge the gap and project staggering talent beyond everyone else on the field with vision and control, to make his lack of steel a non issue. No. His lack of steel in that role has long been a problem. Its precisely why I have ranted of a return to a back three, to allow Big Leo to do what he does best – step up into deep midfield to become the pivot, leave the stopper duties to two others, play the ball and command the ball, prove a mammoth which few can get through as he reads the game very well. The odd thing about Big Leo is that he is not anywhere near as effective as a stopper, by which I mean a last man defender, a man marker, needing to react and chase, or intercept, cover movement, as the last line of defence. His finest potency comes as the screen in front of that set of duties. Why Sarri cannot see this is beyond me. Though I assume he knows this, and is so stuck in his narrow strategy, long honed at other clubs, that he refuses to try the back three.

This position is vital. Pjanic is now long in the fang and has actually looked less potent under Sarri, when it was expected for him to prosper and very much come to life as the conductor of the side. Bentancur can play there, and I actually prefer the side with him in the role, though feel he is more viable as a box to box, with training to focus on his final third work. He does have the ability, its possibly more about giving him the responsibility and also, equally importantly, having a top drawer right fullback in concert as he moves up the field. Which we do not have. Juan is average in the role, as is Danilo with De Sciglio way below standard. In the modern game, regardless of the system, a huge amount of attacking power comes down the flanks…

I hope our interest in Tonali is serious. He has more to offer going forward than Mandragora and is far more a scrapper than I had realised before seeing much of him this season for Brescia. He is a talented chap.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wl9lC-qT6Bs

I would happily see our midfield moved to a 2 man pivot next season. Tonali and Mandragora.

I am suggesting that Pjanic is sold, whilst he still has some decent value. That we do more than make use of Mandragora as an asset to be traded or sold for much more than the 26m we will pay Udinese to recover his registration. We have a need for his services. He has proven an asset to every side he has played for.

Still, its unlikely we will move to a midfield pivot of 2. Yet most top sides have two players for each position and if we are serious of bringing in Tonali, his age, and inexperience at the highest level will require an understudy or alternative.

A young Italian already long anointed at international levels, who has stated his primary aim is to return to Juve, who we are set to bring back for a cut price deal, and whose skillset is precisely what we are lacking in his exact position in our starting XI. I have no faith in the sporting analysis and guile of Paratici, but I will save that for another piece. I will rather lean towards Sarri, who may well have been culled had the season progressed, but now? Nothing is certain, and I am inclined to assume the truncated season will weigh the scales heavily towards maintaining what we have in hand. Any pondering of Sarri’s tenure ending now mitigated by financial concerns and the chance for the manager to have longer to get his ideas across, values crashing, many clubs in no position to spend mega money. Returning carefully and strategically to the status quo will be the prime focus of all clubs.

Rumours circle of a deal involving Rolando heading to Roma via Piedmont, in exchange for Bryan Cristante. Hopefully just paper talk with the recent contract extension for the 25 year old intended to keep him in the capital rather than bump up his value. You just never know these days. Same suspicions abound with Dybala and Paratici’s scheming…

We have the option of bringing into the squad a hungry for success, accomplished, desperate to earn a place in black and white player, who fits our requirements, for a shadow of his real value in the market. The kid deserves a roll of the dice.

Other than which, when considering the side and its weak links, I am more bothered than enthusiastic to find the Pogba stories increasing. His technique remains incredible. His mentality at United however, which governs how that talent is applied, has proven appalling and more often wayward than focused.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – MAY 12: Paul Pogba of Manchester United looks dejected following his side’s defeat during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Cardiff City at Old Trafford on May 12, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

I am friendly with a hardy Mancunian who has known the club as part of his life since childhood. His old man and brother still travel far and wide back home to see the side perform, kids and seniors. They want Pogba out. Are not at all dismissive of his talent, but do not see Raiola as the only problem. Contrast Pogba’s apathy and acceptance of his agent disrespecting the club and fans constantly with the impact of Bruno Fernandes. Its no surprise that the core, proper support, want Paul and Mino GONE and have come to agree with the club freezing the player out of their sporting plans, now only considering him as a financial asset to find the best fee to remove as he has long become a toxic presence in the team.

No doubt on his ability, yet is this Pogba the same who left many moons ago? Will he find the same more established world class stars around him as he did previously when appearing in Piedmont, who inspired, supported and had his respect?

We have more pressing issues to address at RB, LB, CF and in midfield.

Juan and Danilo are too average. No elite first XI has any average…contrast these players, Sandro also, with Alexander-Arnold and Robertson at Liverpool. They are galaxies above what we have presently.

Sandro has now proven lethargic and nothing much beyond quite dependable for two consecutive seasons now. Time to cash in and freshen up, bring in another experienced professional to fight for the role with young Pellegrini’s bustling energy and exuberance.

Matuidi is combative and runs a marathon, but has the legs and look on the ball of Ja Ja Binks. Rabiot has been awful. Ramsey in turn has given not even a distant shadow of his Arsenal finest.

We will struggle to get rid of both Rabiot (his mother is fierce) and Ramsey (staggering wages which few will be keen to match or even approach alongside a transfer fee).

Higuain gives his all but is slow and too often perfunctory, fits more comfortably and potently with Dybala, but we are built around Ronaldo for next few years so he must be judged at creating space and dropping deep to help make things happen higher up the field, where Dybala is far more naturally capable. Maybe Icardi but…he will lock horns with Ronaldo as the Argentine flows through the same channels, makes the same runs. Such a shame we missed out on Haaland, yet he knew he would be benched as Ronaldo is our focus.

There is much work to do for the Paratici-Nedved tandem. Regardless of the manager, first and foremost they must vastly improve our midfield, bring in some power, finesse and physicality. I believe strongly this begins with Rolando Mandragora. And Tonali.

Hope you are all maintaining positivity and motivation through these worrying times, comrades. Life seems narrowed of opportunity for adventure and mischief and romance, but I have faith that our longstanding momentum will prevail. Perhaps not all familiar will return…Juve, however will continue.

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