Understanding Stephan Lichtsteiner's Ugly Spat with Juventus

Adam Digby@@Adz77Featured ColumnistSeptember 5, 2016

MODENA, ITALY - AUGUST 13:  Stephan Lichtsteiner of FC Juventus in action during the Pre-Season Friendly match between FC Juventus and Espanyol at Alberto Braglia Stadium on August 13, 2016 in Modena, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Juventus undoubtedly made some impressive acquisitions this summer, their work to bring in the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Miralem Pjanic and others strengthening a squad that was already among the most impressive in Europe.

Now arguably deeper in almost every department, this previous post looked at just how well the Bianconeri did throughout the entire transfer window, analysing and grading the ins and outs in Turin over the past few months.

Yet since the window drew to a close on Wednesday, one of the club’s most influential and important players of the past few years appears to have been upset by events affecting his future.

As the 2015/16 season came to an end, Stephan Lichtsteiner seemed set to sign a new contract with Juventus and was certainly not worried about his future as he headed off to UEFA Euro 2016 with Switzerland.

"There is no problem, we'll see what happens," Lichtsteiner told outlet Fichajes (h/t FourFourTwo). In the same interview he discussed the strengths of other leagues but ended by saying, “I'm good at Juventus, where I've been for five years."

Given his consistently excellent performances over that period and the arrival of Dani Alves from Barcelona, it was still no surprise to see rumours of an exit continue. Turin-based newspaper La Stampa (h/t Italian Football Daily) reported talks over a new contract had stalled and linked the full-back with a move to Chelsea.

Lichtsteiner celebrates with current Chelsea boss Antonio Conte
Lichtsteiner celebrates with current Chelsea boss Antonio ConteAntonio Calanni/Associated Press

Premium Sport added Borussia Dortmund to the growing list of suitors (h/t Football Italia), but ahead of the deadline, a genuinely surprising possible destination emerged. According to Sky Sport Italia and La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Football Italia), Inter Milan approached the 32-year-old. However, it was noted Juve did not want to sell him to another Serie A side.

The move never came to fruition, but the fact he had been linked to Juve’s most bitter rivals prompted the defender to take to his official Facebook page to explain his take on the situation:

Dear Fans,

I believe in facts rather than words. I live and breathe every game and every training session for the jersey that I wear and for the success of my team. That was never different and will never change!

In this sense...FinoAllaFine!

While he looked to have drawn a line under the whole episode, it was quickl propelled back to the forefront of conversation when Juventus submitted their squad for the UEFA Champions League group stage.

Published on their official website, there was no place for Lichtsteiner. While there may well be perfectly acceptable football reasons for omitting their Swiss star, this felt somewhat petty and prompted another response from the player on social media.

“Dear fans...Thank you for your flood of messages, and for your immense support,” Lichtsteiner wrote on his Facebook page. “You are...unbelievable! Be assured that I will not give up. Now more than ever.”

There was one more development left to come, journalist Gianluca Di Marzio revealing via his website, translated by David Amoyal, that the former Lazio and Lille defender could actually extend his contract and finish his playing career with the Bianconeri.

His deal is set to expire in June 2017. Di Marzio noted in that same report that Lichtsteiner’s absence from the Champions League squad was simply because of a lack of options in midfield.

With Claudio Marchisio yet to recover from knee surgery, coach Massimiliano Allegri seemingly felt prompted to opt for Hernanes over a third right-back, the versatility of Juan Cuadrado making him a more viable alternative.

But while every one of these stories—and the explanations—could be true, there is one simple fact underlying them all: Lichtsteiner deserves better.

He deserves more respect from Juventus, he deserves more honesty from the club and he deserves to leave the club in a manner befitting a man who has given so much to the Bianconeri cause.

Last season, he gave the Bianconeri his heart, the club's official website reporting he needed to undergo surgery to a correct "a benign cardiac arrhythmia." He returned 30 days later to score against Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League.

Here is a player who arrived when the club was at a ridiculously low ebb, one of the first deals secured in the summer of 2011, landing in Turin at around the same time Antonio Conte was appointed as coach.

While Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal became the driving forces who helped the now-Chelsea boss resurrect the Old Lady, there is little doubt Lichtsteiner was also a major factor.

Before him, the previous decade had seen the Juve right-back slot occupied by the likes of Jonathan Zebina and Marco Motta, players who were simply never good enough to pull on the famous black-and-white stripes.

Like Conte, who joined the Bianconeri as a player from Lecce back in 1991, Lichtsteiner immediately grasped the importance of playing for Juventus, quickly embodying the values the club's supporters hold most dear.

He scored the first official goal at Juventus Stadium, slotting home on September 11, 2011, against Parma after a wonderful long ball from Pirlo. Since then, he has made 149 appearances for the club in Serie A, adding 10 more goals while contributing an impressive 29 assists.

Along with Gigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini he has also been a wonderful defensive presence, while that quintet join Marchisio as the only players who remain from that first campaign at the club's latest ground.

They have won five consecutive Serie A titles together, and with no team ever having clinched the Scudetto six successive times, they have a chance to make history this season. With all that in mind, it is no surprise many supporters find seeing him disrespected by the club he has served impeccably somewhat discomforting.

Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

“From an outsider looking in it just doesn't seem right,” Juve fan Nate told Bleacher Report. "He has been a major piece in the success of the past five seasons, and I can't understand the logic even from a tactical standpoint to exclude him from the Champions League list. There must be more to the story than what we as fans see and hear.”

That certainly appears to be the case, with others feeling the player has nobody to blame for the situation other than himself, with another supporter, Maurizio, explaining to B/R what he and others think has transpired between the two parties: "Many fans in Turin believe Lichtsteiner and his agent tried to force a move to Inter after agreeing a deal with the Nerazzurri. Now everybody is saying it was a tactical decision to leave him out of the Champions League squad, but honestly, I don’t believe it.

"To me, he is being punished for his behaviour, and his Facebook posts don’t help. He could have said those words before the window closed, but now it looks like he is just trying to repair the damage he has caused."

Over the next few weeks and months, perhaps further details will emerge, but for now supporters are left with only speculation as to why their club is treating one of its heroes in this manner.

Lichtsteiner and Juventus endured an ugly summer, so it remains to be seen whether that leads to a winter of discontent.

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