April 28, 2010
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"Money isn't everything," or so they say.
In the world of professional sports this does hold some truth. Up until quite recently only a few clubs could afford to pay the superstars of the game their "true value" in monetary terms.
Think of Michael Jordan's early Chicago Bulls contract or what Joe Montana earned compared to, say, Donovan McNabb.
Juventus knows too well the benefit of a wealthy backer. Financed by the FIAT motor company, the club ruled the Italian football scene thanks to the deep pockets of the Agnelli family.
Edoardo started the dominance with five consecutive Scudetti in the 1930s. Then Gianni earned Juve the first star on their shirts as he brought Omar Sivori, John Charles, and Giampiero Boniperti together.
Following the death of L'Avvocato, it then fell to his brother Umberto to take the helm. By this time collective bargaining, salary caps, and the influx of super-rich benefactors like Roman Abramovic have ensured that previously small clubs are now paying big wages in order to attract the star names.
It is against this backdrop of new money that Juventus are trying to rebuild following the devastating impact of the enforced relegation of 2006. Without FIAT bank-rolling the team, the Old Lady has been forced to stand on her own two feet. Thanks to the expertise of current Chairman Jean-Claude Blanc, she looks in great health—at least off the field.
Now without coming close to a major trophy since the year in Serie B, speculation is growing that several of the club's key players are looking to move on. The potential damage of losing these stars is arguably greater than any sentence handed down from the Calciopoli trials.
In Gianluigi Buffon, Juventus clearly has one of the best goalkeepers, if not the best, in world football. His desire to remain with the team throughout its darkest times are an inspiration to everyone connected with the club. But Buffon is now 32; his window of opportunity to win trophies is shrinking with every barren season he remains in Turin.
Giorgio Chiellini is just as important. A cornerstone of the current team since his recall from Fiorentina in 2005, his value and contribution grow with almost every game. Still just 25, Chiellini is viewed by many as the next Captain of the club, when Alessandro Del Piero eventually calls time on his own stellar career.
Since returning to Serie A, Chiellini has improved drastically. The move to central defence has focused him on aspects of defending in which he was previously poor.
His marking, timing, and tackling have all benefited from the switch. His bruising style remains, but is now tempered with maturity and by the knowledge that he has proven his ability time and again against the world's best strikers.
His contribution to the attacking play of Juventus should also not be understated. Choosing when to join the attack wisely, it is not just at set pieces where he is a threat, often popping up around the opposition penalty area with the passing skills he honed in his time at full back. He has scored four times in Serie A this season, once less than striker Amauri.
These two men, as well as others, will not remain in Turin for money. Any team they play for would pay them handsomely so it has to be something more that sees both remain in the famous Bianconeri stripes. Their belief and devotion to the cause is unquestionable, but now is the time to reward that faith.
Only by surrounding their top players with the right coach and some intelligent new signings can Juventus return to competing for, and winning, top honours. Listening to the elite stars in team sports over the past few years, the key word in almost every case is "project."
The players buy into these plans for the future, they believe in them, convinced by a management team that a particular idea will lead to more silverware than another one. If indeed LeBron James or Dwayne Wade moves teams this summer, the "project" of their new team will be cited as the reason.
Trophies are the only true currency left in the game, and the promise and potential of winning them is the only way to secure the future of both Buffon and Chiellini, as well as others like Claudio Marchisio and Martin Caceres.
Manchester City, Chelsea, Real Madrid, and plenty of other clubs can now easily afford to outspend Juventus in terms of both wages and transfer fees. Where Juve do have the advantage is these men have already invested emotionally in the club and believe—at least up until now—that a return to the summit of Italian and European football is possible at Juventus.
This is shaping up to be arguably the most important summer in the club's history. Making the right decisions on a new coach, sporting director, and players will determine the futures of not only Buffon and Chiellini, but probably Juventus Football Club as well.
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