How Juventus' Transfer Policy Is Reaping Dividends

Adam Digby@@Adz77Featured ColumnistMay 10, 2017

TURIN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 17:  Paulo Dybala (L) of Juventus FC celebrates his goal with team mates Daniel Alves (C) and Sami Khedira during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and US Citta di Palermo at Juventus Stadium on February 17, 2017 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Trailing 1-0 in May 6's Turin derby, Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri needed answers. The coach had seen his side outworked, outrun and, in truth, outthought by their city rivals, who were looking for only their second win over the Bianconeri in 22 years.

Allegri was, of course, also looking to rest players ahead of his side's UEFA Champions League semi-final clash with AS Monaco, but the prospect of Torino ending a 33-match unbeaten run at Juventus Stadium was unthinkable.

Adem Ljajic had opened the scoring with an inch-perfect free-kick, but almost immediately afterward came a lifeline for the home side as Afriyie Acquah was sent off, with the referee deeming a reckless challenge on Mario Mandzukic worthy of a second yellow card.

Over the next 20 minutes, Allegri made his three substitutions, introducing €148 million-worth of talent from the bench as he sent Gonzalo Higuain, Miralem Pjanic and Alex Sandro into action.

It paid off in handsome fashion, as Higuain smashed home a long-range shot in injury time to help Juventus snatch a point. It was a vivid demonstration of the advantage the Bianconeri have over their domestic rivals, and exactly the kind of result AS Roma boss Luciano Spalletti had in mind when discussing complaints over his side's position in the table.

"To call this a failure seems like a utopia," he said at a recent press conference. "Try asking the seven or eight teams behind us whether finishing third is a failure. Juventus have made it clear that nobody can get near first place."

Indeed, with the Turin giants now just one point away from sealing a record-breaking sixth-consecutive Serie A title, there is little point arguing with that assessment. However, while the big-money signings of Higuain and Pjanic certainly help, it is arguably not the biggest factor in Juve's current success.

The club have worked the transfer market in spectacular fashion over the past several years, and in truth, it all began with the 2011 acquisition of Andrea Pirlo. Desperate to leave AC Milan, the gifted midfielder was out of contract and widely viewed as a spent force, but Juve director general Beppe Marotta was convinced he could make a difference.

It was a gamble that in hindsight looks simple enough. A player that talented and that unique available for free? Why wouldn't you pull the trigger? What made it even better was that the man himself felt scorned by the Rossoneri and arrived at Juventus desperate to show them what a mistake it was to let him go.

In his 2013 autobiography entitled I Think Therefore I Play, Pirlo looked back on his final meeting with Milan CEO Adriano Galliani and explained his reasons for opting to move on after a decade at San Siro.

"We never discussed money that afternoon in the spring of 2011. Never," he wrote, per Football Italia. "In those 30 minutes, we didn't broach the subject of economics with Galliani. I just wanted to be considered important, at the centre of a project and not a player heading for the scrap yard."

That is exactly what he became again at Juventus, winning four consecutive Serie A titles, the Coppa Italia and helping the club reach the Champions League final for the first time in 12 years.

"Pirlo was the best signing Beppe Marotta ever made," Romeo Agresti of Juve's in-house TV Channel told Bleacher Report. "Milan were sure that he was finished, but in Turin, he immediately played very well and brought great European experience to a team that really had none.

"Thanks to him, Juventus had an opportunity to win the Champions League against Barcelona. Because with Pirlo, you instantly improved in every way. He was amazing in front of the defence, and he brought great quality to the side each time he took to the field."

Pirlo—already in his 30s when he was signed—arrived for free and left in exactly the same manner.

He would depart for New York City FC in the summer of 2015, by which time Juventus had also made a similar move for Fernando Llorente. Snapping him up when his contract with Athletic Bilbao expired, the Spanish striker formed a superb partnership with Carlos Tevez despite being 28 years old when he arrived.

They had added Paul Pogba and Kingsley Coman as well, eventually selling the French duo for a total of €133 million, a staggering profit that unquestionably offset the signings of Higuain and Pjanic last summer.

Yet as Pirlo moved on following that defeat to Barcelona, Marotta would once again opt for a veteran World Cup winner rather than an unproven youngster as his replacement. Just as Milan had ostracised the ageing Italian, Real Madrid had decided that Sami Khedira was surplus to requirements at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.

He had managed just 296 minutes of La Liga action in his final season in the Spanish capital, a succession of injuries limiting his impact on the team and prompting them to let his contract expire as they moved in another direction.

In stepped Marotta and Juventus, only to see Khedira injured during pre-season preparations. Yet he would eventually score in his first Serie A match and has been in surprisingly good health ever since, making 67 appearances to date, and he is clearly happy with how the move has panned out.

"I am in one of the best periods of my career. I am in good shape and found the right path," Khedira told La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Football Italia) earlier this year. "Joining Juve was the right choice. I have improved as a player here, becoming tactically more flexible. I get more freedom to push up into forward positions, too."

However, many who have watched Khedira closely believe that rather than his new position, it has been the trust placed in him by Allegri and Juventus that has brought the 30-year-old back to peak form.

"Was he good enough for the demands of playing at Real Madrid? He probably was, but they interchange players at such a high rate," Spanish football expert David Cartlidge told Bleacher Report. "I think there is some surprise, though. He's become such a key figure now, whereas in Madrid he felt like a cog in the works.

"He was never truly valued or given more responsibility, Juve did that and have got the best version of the player."

Getting the best from undervalued and underappreciated stars in their prime is now undoubtedly a recurring theme, and in recent weeks, it has been Dani Alves' turn to shine brightest.

He was picked up as a free agent last summer, explaining in an interview with ABC (h/t Marca) that—just like Pirlo, Llorente and Khedira—the manner in which he was treated by his former club left him with a chip on his shoulder.

"Leaving Barcelona on a free was a big lesson," Alves said. "During my last three seasons I always heard that 'Alves was leaving', but the managers never said anything to me. They were very false and ungrateful. They did not respect me.

"I was only offered to renew when the FIFA transfer ban came in. That was when I went and signed a deal with a termination clause. Those who run Barcelona today have no idea how to treat their players."

Harsh words, but ones that have led to some spectacular performances, particularly in Europe, where his three Champions League winners' medals won him the respect of even the most decorated Juventus player of them all.

"I asked Dani Alves to help us, above all us older members of the team, to achieve the dream we are still chasing and help us push the bar a little higher," Gigi Buffon told Sky Italia (h/t Football Italia) back in August, and the Brazilian has certainly done his part in aiding the club captain realise his aspiration of lifting the cup with the big ears.

The 34-year-old wing-back has weighed in with three goals—one a spectacular effort in the second leg of their semi-final with AS Monaco—and four assists in UEFA's elite competition thus far, helping them progress to the final and even eliminate Barca at the quarter-final stage.

It is the most complete vindication yet of the approach Juventus have adopted under Marotta's stewardship, but, while he is now praised for his incredible work in building the Bianconeri squad, the club official was not always so widely appreciated.

Beppe Marotta was not always loved by Juventus fans.
Beppe Marotta was not always loved by Juventus fans.Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

"At the beginning of Marotta's tenure at Juventus, he was often mocked for going for players in free transfers or pursuing to complete deals with the dreaded loan with option to buy deal," David Amoyal, a member of transfer expert Gianluca Di Marzio's staff, explained to Bleacher Report.

"As Juventus' revenues and appeal grew, it's not surprising that he's been able to land much bigger names with the same formulas. Khedira was a considerably younger version of Pirlo, and Dani Alves brought the European pedigree that someone like Michele Pazienza lacked."

It is that growth and increased stature that has brought Juventus to the brink of ultimate glory, and if they do indeed triumph in the Champions League, it will be thanks in no small part to the experience of their free-agent signings.

Alves and Khedira know exactly what it takes to win the ultimate prize, and thanks to Marotta and Juventus opting to capitalise on veteran talent others have opted to ignore, that knowhow is working to help the Old Lady sing.

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