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After five years of glory under Max Allegri, Juventus have a new coach and people don’t seem to like him much.
Maurizio Sarri’s relationship with Juventini isn’t friendly, his words in interviews as Juve coach are not always well chosen and more importantly, his results aren’t perfect, nor the performances as good as they could be. Perhaps that justifies a lack of interest from some Juventini, but is it possible to find a different point of view in which a person with such characteristics is not ‘hated’, and the directors who hired him don’t look back with regret?
A. THE PLAN
Juventus cut ways with Max Allegri and looked to find a new ‘mister’, but it wasn’t just a matter of a changing the coach; Juventus were after a change more extensive than just a manager. The generation of players that was founded by Conte in 2011, and strengthened by Allegri after three years through a subsequent series of changes, was coming to an end. The core of that squad had hung up their boots or were close to ending their careers. Barzagli, Marchisio and Lichtsteiner were gone, and there was not much fuel left in Chiellini, Buffon and Bonucci, so Juventus didn’t just have to choose a coach, Juventus had to define their strategy for the future.
Agnelli’s project is clear and its well known that he is trying to expand the Juventus brand and perhaps the most obvious thing in this regard is the evolution in the club’s logo, but off-field activities are not enough for this purpose. Juventus need to attract new fans (‘customers’) to maximize the brand growth, and to increase their popularity among the Millennials. Juve have to play another brand of football: proactive and attacking; there were not many coaches who could have provided that, and without a doubt the best one at the time was Pep Guardiola, but he was under contract with Manchester City and could not be recruited. So there are two paths ahead, one is to postpone the big change and to hire a coach with the same current defensive style until Pep Guardiola is available; Another way is to move on to another coach with the same [attacking] style.
The first plan had one major drawback: if they waited until Guardiola ended his time at City, there wouldn’t be many players from the current generation of Juventus left and changing everything (squad, coach and the playing style) at once was a huge gamble. There are many examples of it, but Manchester United is the most obvious one. The departure of Fergusson coincided with the departure of legends such as Giggs, Scholes, Ferdinand and essential players such as Vidic and Evra, forcing United to start all over. Starting a new era when Buffon, Chiellini and Bonucci (even Khedira and Dybala) are still at Juventus lowers the risk of this huge change; so it was time.
Juventus’ Italian coach Maurizio Sarri speaks during a press conference on October 21, 2019 in Turin, on the eve of Juventus’ UEFA Champions League stage Group D match against Lokomotiv Moscow. (Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP) (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images)
B. SARRI … OF ALL PEOPLE
Apart from the Pep, who had a contract with Manchester City, Maurizio Sarri, Mauricio Pochettino and Simone Inzaghi were Juventus’ options. Although Inzaghi had shown everyone that he is a skilled coach, he was still highly inexperienced at the highest level and could not yet be trusted to lay the foundation for Juventus’ next 7-8 year structure.
The other two had an almost similar record. Unexpectedly great performances in the not-so-big teams (Napoli & Tottenham), after a good performance in the lower midtable teams such as Empoli & Southampton. On the one hand Sarri had an, albeit brief, history of working in a famous team with international fans and high expectations, namely Chelsea, and on the other hand, Pochettino was young and better able to communicate with the players, which is important in its own regard.
The two records were almost identical to each other, but Sarri was both familiar with Italian football, and his football philosophy was more like the type of football that Agnelli wanted, which eventually gave him an advantage over Pochettino.
Sarri’s trophy cabinet isn’t big, but he’d achieved good results wherever he worked. In Empoli, he not only kept a newly promoted side in the league with a decent mid-table finish, but also built a system that played one of the most beautiful and impressive styles of football in Italy, something that remained after he left.
At Napoli, he took over from Benitez, who had finished in the 5th place, and in time, his Partenopei side was one of the most attractive sides in Europe; it was simply mesmerizing. He inherited a crooked and lopsided team from Benitez, improved it over three years and at its absolute peak, handed it over to the next coach, Carlo Ancelotti. He never won a trophy there, but perhaps the main reason for that was the investment that Juventus were able to make in their own team, dominating Italy in the process.
COBHAM, ENGLAND – MAY 08: Maurizio Sarri, Manager of Chelsea walks out to the Chelsea Training Session on the eve of their UEFA Europa League semi final against Eintracht Frankfurt at Chelsea Training Ground on May 08, 2019 in Cobham, England. (Photo by Harriet Lander/Getty Images)
At Chelsea, Sarri finished 3rd in the Premier League in a season where Liverpool and Manchester City were way more powerful and competing with them was frankly impossible. He also reached the final of one of the domestic cups, however he was defefated in the penalty shootouts by City, but made it to the Europa League and lifted his first trophy.
The results were beyond the expectations of Chelsea’s managers and fans, as it was Chelsea’s goal to be in the top four and win a place in the Champions League. He left the Londoners after only one year, but during that short time, he made Chelsea perform better than the previous year, however, they were not stable and complete, and it’s worth noting that Abramovic hired Sarri not for immediate success but for building a generation and a semi-long term project.
In conclusion, Sarri’s gameplay is exactly what Juventus want, his results in his former teams have been good enough and he is also capabale of developing players; On the other hand, Sarri’s biggest weakness is his lack of charisma and hius inability to motivate the players; two important factors for the coaches of this era. To solve this issue, Juventus brought back Gigi Buffon, a veteran who could give Sarri a hand in keeping the dressing room in control and give players motivation, as he did previously for Allegri when Juventus suffered their worst start of the season in 2015/16 campaign.
C. ROME WASN’T BUILT IN ONE DAY
So far at Juve, as stated at the beginning, the results have not been the best, and the style of play isn’t entirely satisfying.
In Serie A, Juve are on the top of the table, and although the competition is still alive, Juve look close to winning the title. In the Champions League, except for small slip against Lyon which can be potentially be solved in the second leg, the results were satisfactory as Juve topped their group, beating Locomotiv and Bayer Leverkusen twice, and getting 4 points from Atletico Madrid. In the Coppa Italia, Juve lost in penalty shootouts in the final. Overall, the results could have been better. Still they’re fine for now and let’s not forget that this is the first season of Sarri at Juventus – a first season that isn’t a normal one with all the changes that have taken place. In spite of that, Sarri has managed to grab more points than every recent Juventus manager so far in the league.
In terms of performance and gameplay, almost every fan expected Sarri to make a revolution and change everything about Juve’s football identity, almost immediately, but that wasn’t what Sarri had in mind. There is no key to quickly switch from defensive football to attacking football; for this transition, a process had to take place. Waiting is bitter, but Juventus and Sarri couldn’t rush into it. He has implemented his changes slowly. The changes were applied one by one, so they weren’t noticeable but compared to the gameplay with the season prior to his arrival, many important tactical aspects of the Juve’s football has changed. Strict statistical analysis is lengthy, and this article is not about analyzing statistical indicators, but a qualitative summary of these changes can be studied.
Juventus FC’s Simone Muratore (C) celebrates his goal with teammates during a friendly football match between Team K League and Juventus FC in Seoul on July 26, 2019. – Juventus tied 3-3 in a friendly with K League All-Star team in Seoul on July 26, with its players apparently fatigued from a tight schedule that had landed them in South Korea just hours before playing. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)
Juventus’ overall style has changed a lot. Under Sarri, Juventus no longer defend with nine men during the whole game, even against weaker teams. Regarding the domination of the game a pattern of improvement can be seen in as we go further through the season. The playmaking style is no longer dependent on crosses or counter-attacks, but now deep-lying playmaking and build-up plays leads to most of Juventus’ goals. Although, as mentioned, the team still has unavoidable problems that mainly come from unbalanced and unsuitable midfielders. It seems that Miralem Pjanic can’t play his new role efficiently. He has had problems with the speed of his ball distribution in many games. Also, there is a distinct lack of a creative attacking midfielder’s effect. Sarri may have had solved a part of it by improving Bentancur, who has provided 6 assists so far in Serie A, more than any other Juventus players and many high profile midfielders. Although it wasn’t helpful against teams that play closed football and ‘park the bus’. In these kinds of matches the lack of having a player who can spray the passes to the path of attackers to make scoring chances can be sensed.
There has been a significant change in the style of defence too. Instead of a classic defence, Juventus are now defending higher. Although a few shortcomings early in the season threatened the team by creating some dangerous situations. Recently there have been several games in which the team has mastered their new style and are doing well without defending so deep. The type of press is changed too; now in this new method as soon as the ball is lost, the players enter the defensive phase to regain the ball.
Sarri has also done very well in bringing the best out of Ronaldo and Dybala. Last season, Ronaldo had scored 21 goals in 31 games, before that his record was 26 goals in 27 games and 25 goals in 29 games. This season the 35 year old has scored 28 goals in 32 games so far, and he can easily top his best record in the last three seasons, despite being a few years older.
Paulo Dybala, the other difference maker in the Bianconeri’s attacking line was dusted entirely during the last season, but this term, he has scored 14 goals and provided 9 assists in all competitions. Of course, the players themselves are the ones to get the main credit, but the effect of Sarri’s [still imperfect] system gave them more freedom and based the attacks entirely on them – That has benefited them, and it can’t be ignored.
D. WE DON’T SUFFER ANYMORE, AGNELLI TAKES THE DECISIONS
Andrea Agnelli could have brought in a defensive coach, easily winning a scudetto or two with this group of players, and we wouldn’t have had the ‘problems’ we experienced this season, but he was more ambitious than that; Juventus are aiming for the very top and will definitely reach it, sooner rather than later, with Sarri or without him.
And yet, Sarri is nearly ideal for this phase of Juventus’ journey: he’s getting results and in the meantime creating a whole new football style and identity. The tragedy is that fans won’t remember developments or changes; they’ll remember silverware. Sarri has the opportunity to write his chapter in Juventus history, but if he fails, he will be referred to as that stubborn, classless old loser with zero trophies, sandwiched between glorious managers, but it’s his problem to solve.