Italian football has undergone significant transformation in recent years with Calcio’s top sides taking turns at the pinnacle of Serie A. Gone are the days of Juventus’ dominance, introducing an era of newfound parity and unpredictability. In fact, for the first time in over a decade, Serie A has witnessed three different champions in its last three seasons.
High-flying Napoli claimed its first Scudetto in 33 years last year, overwhelming the opposition at every turn, while both Milan clubs put an end to their ten-year drought with title wins of their own in 2021 and 2022.
Juventus, as a result, have been forced to rethink their strategy in hopes of reclaiming their crown. No longer able to rely on the veteran leadership of the ‘BBC’, I Bianconeri have turned to their talented crop of youth players, ready to write their own history in the famous Black and White stripes.
Juventus’ youthful resurgence has breathed new life into the club, propelling an unlikely title charge, trailing league leaders and Champions League finalists Inter Milan by two points. But it hasn’t always been sunshine and rainbows at the Allianz Arena, especially recently.
Turmoil in Turin
Juventus found itself at the heart of a storm last season, leading to wholesale changes at the club. Longtime chairman Andrea Agnelli along with the entire board, including club legend Pavel Nedved, resigned in the face of the plusvalenza scandal, with Juventus subsequently docked 10 points.
“When the team is not united, then that opens the way for opponents to hurt you and that can be fatal. In that moment, you must have the sharpness of mind to contain the damage: we are facing a delicate moment as a club and that unity is lost. Better to leave all together giving the opportunity for a new team to overturn that game,” said Agnelli.
The Turin-based giants were forced back to square one – a position they haven’t found themselves in since Antonio Conte took over back in 2011. The new management quickly confirmed veteran manager Massimiliano Allegri at the helm and reached an agreement with UEFA to not participate in European competitions the following season, which can only be seen as a blessing in disguise, in hindsight.
Out of European football, Juventus have been able to focus their efforts entirely on Serie A, losing just one of their 19 games thus far. While past Juventus sides have been defined by the quality of its veterans, from Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini to Andrea Pirlo to name a few, Allegri’s second stint as manager has been an entirely different prospect.
La ‘Vecchia Signora’ No More
Allegri’s new-look Juventus has largely been led by a number of young talents looking to make a name for themselves. Spearheaded by the mercurial Federico Chiesa, I Bianconeri along with their crop of rising stars, for the first time in four years, seem poised to compete for the Scudetto until the very end…
Kenan Yildiz has stolen headlines since the turn of the new year, finding the back of the net three times in four starts. The 18-year-old made the step up to the first team this season, after joining Juve’s Next Gen Team in 2022 from Bayern Munich.
The transition has been a seamless one for the Turkish international with Yildiz becoming the club’s youngest ever foreign goalscorer, netting an all-important goal in Juve’s 2-1 win over Frosinone. The youngster confirmed his good run of form in the Coppa Italia, dispatching a volley from in-close, and has since emerged as one of Juve’s undisputed X factors in the final third. Yildiz has since become the face of the youth movement at the club, electrifying the stadium with his every touch, earning shouts to receive the Bianconeri’s historic #10 shirt.
It has often been said that a football team is only as strong as its midfield. Simply put – more often than not – control the middle of the park and control the game. The great Juventus sides of the past have always been able to rely on a full complement of world-class midfielders, suffering from an embarrassment of riches in this respect.
In recent years, however, the opposite has been true. In fact, in the absence of the Andrea Pirlos, Arturo Vidals, and Paul Pogbas of the world, the middle of the park has been the side’s Achilles heel. Failed transfers and limited funds worsened the situation, leading Juventus to look inwards at its own talent.
Last season, the Bianconeri faithful witnessed the rise of Nicolò Fagioli and Fabio Miretti, making 34 and 36 appearances in all competitions respectively. The former earned Allegri’s trust last season, playing the crucial mezz’ala role alongside Adrien Rabiot and Manuel Locatelli. Goals against Lecce and Inter confirmed his incredible promise before he was sidelined with a collarbone fracture.
Miretti, by contrast, has served as a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ deputizing wherever Allegri needs him, be it in the middle of the park, behind the striker, or at left midfield. The Ligurian tactician has been delightfully pleased with Miretti’s rise to prominence and showered the youngster in praise following a mature performance at the heart of midfield in a 1-1 draw against Jose Mourinho’s Roma.
“Miretti played like a veteran, he is very calm, knows how to escape marking and his first touch is always aimed at going forward. You don’t see many like him.”
Once again, however, scandals threatened to undo Allegri’s hard work as Fagioli was handed a seven-month suspension for violating betting rules. Factor in Pogba’s doping violation, and chaos has very much become the norm in Turin. Allegri’s steady hand at a crucial time, however, has proved pivotal.
The 56-year-old wasted no time restructuring his midfield three around the veteran leadership of Adrien Rabiot, Manuel Locatelli, and Weston McKennie, with Miretti offering some much-needed depth. Allegri also handed Belgian starlet Joseph Nonge his senior debut, with the 18-year-old drawing early comparisons to a certain Paul Pogba. An all-action midfielder by nature, Nonge has all the tools to become a regular in the famous Black and White Stripes for years to come.
“I like players who know how to play football. Yildiz is good, Nonge as well. This is an asset for Juventus. In this challenging period for Italian football, having a team like Juventus with many talented young players is a positive,” said Allegri in a recent interview.
Newfound Pace and Width
In modern football, the importance of having pace and creativity out wide cannot be understated – something Juventus has been lacking for the better part of the last five seasons. Adapting to the modern game, La Vecchia Signora turned to Andrea Cambiaso, Timothy Weah, and Samuel Iling-Junior to lead the charge.
Cambiaso established himself as a regular in Allegri’s setup, emerging as one of the side’s most important summer arrivals. Pacey, versatile, and defensively responsible, the 20-year-old has gone from strength to strength this season, making a claim for a spot on the Italy team travelling to Berlin come summertime.
Iling-Junior found himself in a similar position, biding his time on the sidelines for the better part of last season, impressing in limited cameo appearances. Filip Kostic’s recent struggles have since given the young Englishman an opportunity to make the left midfield spot his own – an opportunity Iling-Junior has taken with both hands.
The Chelsea youth academy graduate netted a crucial equalizer against Salernitana, promptly after replacing a disappointing Kostic at half-time. Juventus went on to claim all three points with Dusan Vlahovic heading home in stoppage time, confirming the Bianconeri’s title charge.
Timothy Weah has largely cemented his spot on the opposite wing, offering newfound pace and invention on the right-hand side of Allegri’s 3-5-2. The American international recently opened his account for Juventus with a goal-of-the-year contender of his own, smashing it off the crossbar and in from distance in the Coppa Italia against Salernitana.
With Weah, Iling Junior, and Cambiaso firing on all cylinders, Juventus and Allegri can, for the first time in years, count on their width to make the difference in close games – a luxury the veteran tactician will be hoping to turn to as the Scudetto race intensifies.
A Look Ahead at the Rejuvenated ‘Old Lady’
Juventus have shown no signs of slowing down on their youth movement, with Cristiano Giuntoli at the helm. Having led Napoli to its first Scudetto since the Diego Maradona days, lifelong Juventus fan Giuntoli swapped Naples for Turin, shifting the club’s emphasis on youth talent.
The veteran sporting director quickly loaned out Matías Soulé, Enzo Barrenechea, and Kaio Jorge to Frosinone, where they have since spearheaded I Canarini’s survival charge. Soulé has undeniably stolen the show in the Latin Valley, registering eight goals and one assist in 17 starts. In fact, the 20-year-old is one of the only two players – with Leroy Sané – with 40+ dribbles completed, 40+ total shots and 40+ chances created in Europe’s big five leagues.
Radu Drăgușin vs. Inter:
-40/42 passes completed
-2/3 long balls completed
-2/4 ground duels won
-4/6 aerial duels won
-1 shot on target
-1 shot off target
-1 shot blocked@Ben_Mattinson_ analyzes the Genoa defender: https://t.co/dlCP2hMzSL pic.twitter.com/40BH8yatax
— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) December 29, 2023
Dean Huijsen is yet another Juventus starlet Giuntoli opted to loan out, joining Roma in the most recent January transfer window. A 6’5 ball-playing center back, the 18-year-old has everything he needs to lead Juventus’ youth revolution upon his return to the club. Roma manager Jose Mourinho had nothing but praise for the young man ahead of his debut with the club.
“We all know who he is. He is an 18-year-old boy who has played 10 minutes in Serie A, but he is one of the highest-quality prospects in European football at this age level. He will be a great footballer in the future,” said Mourinho.
The Special One once said that Juventus defenders Chiellini and Bonucci can teach a Harvard University class on how to be a central defender. Well, if the veteran Italian internationals are Harvard professors, Jose Mourinho would very much be the Dean of the University.
Huijsen finds himself in the ideal landing spot to take his game as a young defender to the next level, learning under the leadership of one of the game’s great defensive minds. Huijsen, Soulé, and Barrenechea are all expected to return to the club, adding some quality depth at no cost.
A New Generation of Bianconeri
While much of Juventus’ success this season can be attributed to the solidity of key veteran players – make no mistake about it – it will be the club’s plethora of youth talents that will propel the team forward and define its next era. A fact Allegri is all too aware of.
The veteran tactician has often been labelled a risultatista over the course of his long career, prioritizing achieving positive results – sometimes at the expense of aesthetic football and inexperienced talents. But even the most devout risultatista in Allegri is unable to snub Juventus’ burgeoning crop of youth talent, thrusting them into the thick of a title charge this season.
Whether Juventus go on to reclaim the first title since 2020 remains to be seen, but one thing’s for certain; A youth revolution is underway in Turin and with no signs of slowing down, it is only a matter of time before Juve’s crown jewels lead them back to the promised land and etch their names in Bianconeri history.
By: Gregory Caltabanis / @GCaltabanis
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Daniele Badolato – Juventus FC