After two consecutive seventh-place finishes, Juventus put plenty of faith in their veteran leadership to steer them back to the upper echelons of Italian football. Over the last six years, their old guard has acted as the bedrock for the club’s success, notching six consecutive league titles, three Coppa Italias and three Supercups.
Now that they are Italy’s top dog, however, the Bianconeri are looking to stay there and have snapped up a number of the peninsula’s top talents setting themselves up for years to come. While the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Claudio Marchisio all still have something to give, the reality is that they won’t be with the Italian champions for much longer given their age. Juventus’ diligent management have realised this and have acted accordingly in the transfer window to proactively replace them.
As it is typically the case for Juventus, the Turin-based giants first began by reinforcing with youth at the back. With Chiellini and Barzagli both on the wrong side of 30, Juventus identified Atalanta’s Mattia Caldara as their long-term replacement. After impressing with Gli Orobici last season, sporting director Giuseppe Marotta wasted no time signing him for €15 million, which could rise to 25 depending on a number of performance-based bonuses. At the age of 23, Caldara has a long and bright future ahead of him and has already represented Italy at under-21 level.
Alongside him, Juventus are hoping to place Caldara’s under-21 teammate, Daniele Rugani. The 22-year-old has been at the club for the last two years and has consistently improved in each season. After securing him for a measly €4 million from Empoli back in 2015, Juventus have eased Rugani into the side gradually.
In his first season with the club, the young defender featured sparingly and was typically used domestically, making 11 appearances. Last season, however, Max Allegri called upon Rugani in higher profile games and even featured in two Champions League clashes. Rugani would end up playing about the same amount of minutes as his first season, but it became clear that Juve’s trust in the defender increased last year. With Leonardo Bonucci moving to Milan in what was a transfer that shocked everyone, expect Rugani’s playing time and responsibility to increase significantly.
With Caldara and Rugani already training and playing together at the under–21 Euros this summer, there’s no reason they won’t be able to translate their formidable partnership from the international level to Juventus. Throughout the tournament, the duo developed an impressive understanding with one another and propelled Italy to the semi-finals.
In midfield, Juventus have no shortage of potential jewels. As Marotta continues to shop for an established midfielder to push them over their Champions League hump, the answer may just lie within the club. Rolando Mandragora is one of these talents. Born in Naples, Mandragora made his way up north to Genoa’s youth academy at the age of 14. After three seasons with their primavera, the midfielder made his Serie A debut in a 1-0 win against Juventus in 2014. Little did he know, they would be his future employers as, just two years later, the Bianconeri would sign him for €6 million. Unfortunately for the youngster, he suffered a fractured metatarsal in his right foot while on loan at Pescara, which sidelined him for a considerable amount of time.
Read | How Atalanta’s academy is shaping the future of Italian football
After making a full recovery, Mandragora remained at Juventus for the 2016/17 season and made his debut against his former club Genoa. However, there’s no denying that playing time will prove hard to come by next season at Juventus. As a result, the 20-year-old is rumoured to be on his way back to Genoa on loan, where he will be able to get the minutes he needs all while doing so in a familiar environment.
Rodrigo Bentancur is another midfielder who Juventus have high hopes for. After receiving first option on Guido Vadalá, Franco Cristaldo, Bentancur and Adrián Cubas in the Carlos Tevez deal to Boca Juniors, Juventus signed the Uruguayan midfielder for €9.5 million. Moreover, there’s a clause in the contract stating that Boca are entitled to 50 per cent of Bentancur’s future transfer fee should Juve sell him. This all goes to show how badly the Italians wanted to get the deal done before other teams got involved.
Allegri is said to be a keen admirer of the young midfielder and has reportedly asked for the player to join the side in their pre-season preparations instead of loaning him out, as was expected. In addition, as Bentancur is Uruguayan, he takes up Juventus’ second non-European registration slot, meaning his arrival excludes a number of the Italian champions’ potential targets from coming. Again, Juventus remain unfazed by this and plan on having him with the first team for the 2017/18 season. Bentancur impressed at the recent under-20 World Cup for Uruguay and appears to have the necessary skillset to slot into an anchor role for years to come.
Luca Clemenza (19) is another midfield talent making waves in Juventus’ primavera. The young midfielder has attracted interest from a number of clubs across Italy for next season and is rumoured to be rejoining former primavera boss Fabio Grosso at Serie B side Bari.
When it comes to the final third, Juventus are stacked with young talent. Paulo Dybala, along with new signing Douglas Costa, are both proven players in and around their primes and still have a lot to give both in the present and in the future. With Dybala and Costa, Juve will possess an abundance of creativity and unpredictability in the final third for years to come.
Federico Bernardeschi is another player Juve will be counting on for a long time in the final third after signing him from Fiorentina for €40 million. His 11 goals and four assists last season in Serie A are but a glimpse of what the former Fiorentina man has to offer. At 23, Bernardeschi is an immense coup for the Italian champions and has steadily improved year by year. Capable of playing on the right or in the hole behind the strikers, he will fit into Allegri’s 4-2-3-1 system like a glove and appears ready to don their famous number 10.
Marko Pjaca, like Bernardeschi, should fit into Juve’s winger-heavy formation brilliantly. Unfortunately, the Croatian international failed to achieve any form of consistency in his debut season in Italy and had his year derailed by long-term injury problems on two separate occasions. After tearing his anterior cruciate ligament while on international duty, many feared for Pjaca’s future in Turin. Rumours have surfaced that Juve may loan him to Fiorentina in a deal for Bernardeschi, however, his agent has quickly squashed those claims.
Read | The coming of age of Paulo Dybala
With Pjaca set to make his return to the pitch in November, he will be hoping to once and for all gain the trust of his manager and put his injury problems behind him. After all, he did show glimpses of his immense potential here and there throughout the season and would offer scary depth out wide.
The Bianconeri were also closely monitoring Sampdoria’s Patrik Schick before the transfer window opened. His heart problems, however, appear too big a risk for Juventus and the deal has fallen through. In the past, he represented the Czech Republic across all levels internationally and emerged as a key player at the domestic level due to his versatility up front. Blessed with pace and a clinical nature in front of goal, Schick would have been an ideal candidate to replace Gonzalo Higuaín up top when the time comes. With time left in the window, it remains to be seen if the Czech international re-emerges as a potential target.
Juventus’ youthful offensive ranks are rounded off with the impressive Riccardo Orsolini and Moise Kean. After securing Orsolini from Ascoli for €6 million plus bonuses, it was clear Juventus had one of Italy’s best talents on their hands. Just this summer, the winger won the golden boot at the under-20 World Cup and propelled Italy to their highest ever finish in the tournament. Predominantly a left-footed player, Orsolini’s trademark is playing on the right wing and cutting on to his favoured foot – much like Arjen Robben.
Noticing his need for consistent playing time, Juventus loaned out Orsolini to Atalanta for two years. In Bergamo, the former Ascoli man has the perfect stage to showcase his talent in a stress-free environment. Under Gian Piero Gasperini and his offensive 3-4-3 formation, Orsolini will have plenty of chances to prove his worth.
Moise Kean is another player Juventus regard highly and recently rewarded him with a long-term contract. Likened to Mario Balotelli in the past, Kean has all the attributes needed in a modern striker: physique, pace and clinical finishing. Last season, Kean broke two records for Juve, becoming the first player born in 2000 to feature in a Champions League clash and also the first player born in 2000 to score in one of Europe’s five major leagues. After bullying his primavera opponents with 11 goals and five assists last year, it’s clear that Kean is ready to take the next step in his career.
Due to meticulous planning and execution, Juventus have set themselves up in all major departments for the future. The only thing that could prove worrying for the Italian giants is the lack of a replacement for the eternal Gianluigi Buffon. Outside of the long-term question marks between the posts, Juventus have one of the most exciting and deepest squad of young players on their wage bill. Juve’s mandate now is to get them all the playing time their talent requires to progress nicely and slowly integrate them into their system.
With Juve’s pillars either ageing or leaving the club, it may be time for the Bianconeri to move on and allow the next wave of talent to stake their claim for a more prominent spot in the team
By Gregory Caltabanis @GCaltabanis