I believe in Era. Legends come and go and sometimes, when you’re lucky enough, several of them peak together and form an era. The last great Italian Era started in Euro 2000 and culminated in winning World Cup 2006. In 2000, legends such as Roberto Baggio, Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta had left (or not called up) by the Italian National Team, Captain Paolo Maldini led future legends Gianluigi Buffon (who unfortunately missed the tournament due to injury), Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, and Filippo Inzaghi. They came within minutes and two Del Piero golden opportunities to win it all but couldn’t finish it off and were beaten by David Trezeguet’s golden goal in the final. World Cup 2002 and Euro 2004 prepared them further and in World Cup 2006, injected by elite midfielders like Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso and Mauro Camoranesi, these legends reached the peak and won the tournament. France had their own era in World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000, and so did Spain in Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, and Euro 2012.
The same goes at club level. In Europe, led by Pep Guardiola, Barcelona were the absolute best during the heights of Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Leo Messi. Before and after, they still won but not as much.
In Italy, the last Juventus era started in the 2011/12 season. Before, Juve were still reeling from Farsopoli and couldn’t get out of their “Five-year Banter Era” from 2006 until 2011. In 2011/12, led by legends Antonio Conte as the new coach and the old but golden Captain Del Piero, the back line consisted of Buffon, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and midfielders Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and the future coach Pirlo meshed beautifully and started a winning era. Paul Pogba, Carlos Tevez, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain came in later and solidified the group. Conte stayed for three years, Massimiliano Allegri took the baton for the next five, and Maurizio Sarri then took over for a single season. Each ended with a scudetto.
As always, every era must end and after nine scudetti in a row, Juve couldn’t reach the tenth. The new and inexperienced coach Pirlo won the SuperCoppa Italiana and Coppa Italia but failed to win the scudetto. The end of an era? Definitely. For me, it ended when I Principino Marchisio retired at the end of the 2017/18 season and when he had gone, the midfield was completely unrecognizable. CEO Giuseppe Marotta was also gone at the start of 2018/19. He and Director of Sport Fabio Paratici did sign Cristiano Ronaldo but they failed to replace Marchisio, Vidal, Pirlo and Pogba (MVPP). Only Miralem Pjanic was close to the previous level shown by MVPP.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter when it ended. The most important thing is with Allegri’s return, are we ready to start a new winning era? During those 10 years, he was undoubtedly the best coach we had. Aside from five scudetti, he also won four Coppa Italia, two SuperCoppa and reached two UEFA Champions League finals. He has his strengths and weaknesses but overall, he has the capability. However, he needs better and more suitable players. I think we can all agree on that.
Now let’s see. Between the posts, I love Wojciech Szczesny (31) but Gianluigi Donnarumma (22 years old) is an opportunity too good to pass. It will be a strong signal by the management to restart an era with a unicorn and Italy’s number one. At the back, Captain Chiellini (37), Bonucci (34) and Juan Cuadrado (33) are likely to be there when the new 2021/22 season starts and they will fill the leading role perfectly. Matthijs de Ligt (22) is another unicorn and along with Donnarumma, will give Juve at least a five-year stability defensively.
Up front, it looks like we’ll settle with Dybala (27) supporting Alvaro Morata (29) but we have two of the most exciting players in the league: Federico Chiesa (24) and Dejan Kulusevski (21).
Lastly, the problematic midfield. In my opinion, we need at least two elite players here. Towards the end of the season, I thought Adrien Rabiot (26) showed that he had what it takes to hold one of the starting position. Unless Pogba returns, he should stay and if he develops further, we’ll have one less thing to worry. Is he elite? No (at least not yet) but he’s as close as we have. Arthur Melo (25) was supposed to be our star regista but his first season has been a disappointment. He (almost) has all the skills but seems to lack the vision needed. I’m not sure regista is his best position, either. Hopefully he can sort it out and have a much better next season under Max. Weston McKennie (23) is very good at attacking the space and has the vision but perhaps lacks the technical skills to be elite. Rodrigo Bentancur (24) has been played out of position since Pjanic left and while he’s quite good, he’s a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type.
One midfielder in Italy I think will be an elite player in the near future is Manuel Locatelli (23). As he plays in the position where we are the weakest, he’s necessary to have. Aside from Atalanta, every top team in Italy has at least an elite (or near-elite) midfielder and supported by a very good one: Franck Kessie and Hakan Calhanoglu at Milan, Nicolo Barella and Marcelo Brozovic at Inter Milan, Piotr Zielinski and Fabian Ruiz at Napoli, and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto at Lazio. I can argue that Rabiot is among the bottom midfielders compared to those names. Why Locatelli? He’s the next midfield star to breakthrough and all the stats back it up. For those who don’t know, his position is regista, just above the midfield, and very good with his defensive skills and has good vision and passing ability. With Juve having the weakest midfield in the top six or seven, Locatelli will immediately improve our midfield.
For now, we have veterans Chiellini, Bonucci and Cuadrado leading our backline with Szczesny, de Ligt, with likely first team starters Rabiot, Chiesa, Kulusevksi, Dybala and Morata. With Allegri on the sidelines, this is a very promising backbone. Will they be able to fight for the scudetto? Yes, especially if Inter Milan lose Achraf Hakimi AND Romelu Lukaku. Are they enough to start a new era? No, but if we add Donnarumma, Locatelli and somehow swap our superstar Cristiano Ronaldo for Pogba (or sign Milinkovic-Savic), we’ll have the best squad in Italy and yes, I think on the field they can start a new era.
With Maurizio Arrivabene expected to come in as the CEO (vacant since Marotta left) to steady the ship, take care of sponsors, and make sure Juve spend within their means, and Federico Cherubini expected to replace Paratici as the Director of Sport to continue and improve the good work in evaluating and signing talents, it looks like the management are also ready for a new era.
So on and off the field, the stars have started to align. Let’s enjoy the process and hopefully, the end product. Forza Juve!!!