Since signing Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid in July 2018 for £99.2 million, there has been a clear pursuit of stellar talent to help Juventus become European champions.
That move to sign one of the world’s best and most marketable players was a major part of a journey that they hope makes them the best team on the pitch, and the biggest club off it, by 2024.
Their signings in recent times have been bold and shown different aspects of their power. Last summer, they signed Matthijs de Ligt from Ajax-beating the likes of Barcelona to his signature-showing they could entice the best up and coming talent in the world, as well as an established superstar like Ronaldo.
And now we have seen their pursuit of Arthur Melo from Barcelona, which is up-to-the minute evidence they can also take away key players-not yet in their prime-from another superclub.
At the time of writing, the deal as not been closed, but Juve have had to get smart in order to sign Arthur, taking a slightly different approach from the past two years.
They have not been concerned about their approach to spending until now. Joao Cancelo, Douglas Costa and Leonardo Bonucci were also signed in the summer of 2018 for a combined fee of around £104 million.
The following summer they laid out a further £169.65 million on transfer deals for De Ligt, Danilo, Cristian Romero, Luca Pellegrini and Merih Demiral. On top of all that, they signed free agents Aaron Ramsey, Adrien Rabiot and Gianluigi Buffon on huge contracts. And in January, they sealed a deal for £31.5 million Dejan Kulusevski, 20, from Atalanta.
Suddenly, though, the Italian champions are having to curb their enthusiasm for big-money signings.
The impact of COVID-19 is to be felt hard in Turin, and sources say the lack of incoming revenue has led the club to think more carefully about how they balance the books. Big fees are a problem, and so too are the high wages they have been dishing out.
The simple solution is that Juve will look to sell in order to buy. And as part of that, big names can leave-with Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic among the most high-profile figures available.
Scenarios are already opening up for this summer, and B/R sources have confirmed that Higuain could be one of those, and he would ideally be replaced by Napoli striker Arkadiusz Milik. Pjanic, as we know, has been in talks over that Barcelona swap with Arthur for weeks.
But others are being made available too, with Costa, Ramsey, Rabiot and Daniele Rugani all unsure where their futures lie.
Juve were clever in the way they approached the deal for Arthur. They took his valuation, then Pjanic’s, and are agreeing to pay the difference.
Sources say Juve will continue to look at such deals as a way of capturing prime targets. And we should not be surprised if, at some point, they look towards Paul Pogba again.
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He is still seen as the dream signing by some at the club, and it’s a deal that several sources are convinced they will continue to work on. There is an acceptance it won’t work out unless Manchester United are accommodating and the player himself is eager for it to happen.
But a scenario that could work is a swap deal-and the idea of a switch with Ramsey has been floated before, sources say. At this stage, there is no movement.
A look at other names being linked with Juve-think Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang-suggests the path to more big signings could be coming too. Though sources have been keen to play down that particular link, stressing that Milik is the prime target.
It is coach Maurizio Sarri who has the vision of Milik leading his front line, and while his first year in charge of the club has not been easy, we should expect him to continue into next term.
The club are on course for the Serie A title and are still in this season’s UEFA Champions League, so Sarri has some breathing space despite the fact fans are not completely convinced by what they have seen so far.
Rav Dhillon from the JuveFC.com blog told B/R: “Sarri has yet to truly win fans over. Many were hoping for the type of football we saw in Napoli, combined with trophies. That’s fallen flat, partly due to Sarri not truly bonding with his team, but also because the management have signed players that they valued, rather than signing players that fit with Sarri’s ideas about how he wants to play football.
“I don’t think they’ll sack him, but in that case, they need to back him. If he can turn around the Champions League deficit against Lyon [the French team are 1-0 up after the first leg of the round-of-16 tie] and win us the title, beating Inter along the way, I think it’ll go some way to restoring faith and buying him some time to implement his ideas better with a new crop of players, particularly midfielders.”
Midfield is an area Sarri is used to being scrutinised. At Chelsea, much was made of his signing of Jorginho and the way he adapted to the team. Now, unsurprisingly, the player is being linked with a move to Juve. To make it happen, Juve would try to send a player in the other direction, in keeping with the one-in, one-out system they will now have to use.
The impact of COVID-19 is a test for Juve in their grand plan to dominate European football.
When they decided to increase the money being spent on the team in 2019, it was with playing catch up with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United in mind off the field. But it was also with the goal of winning the Champions League for the first time since 1996.
Juventus will continue to strive for greatness on and off the pitch. They are just having to slightly alter their way of landing the targets that will get them there.