Juventus’s waning Serie A dominance
Since the beginning of the 2011-12 season there have been few constants in top level football. The Premier League been won by four different clubs and retained just once, La Liga has been won by Barcelona, Real and Atletico Madrid and even Paris Saint-Germain have been mismanaged enough to surrender two Ligue 1 titles during this period. And yet, since Antonio Conte’s appointment in 2011, Juventus’s unwavering success has led to eight straight Serie A titles and their grip on the Scudetto has rarely looked like slipping.
This relentless domination first came from strong management at the top of the club, initially from former chief executive officer, Giuseppe Marotta. Under Marotta’s stewardship, the club re-evaluated its transfer policy and began bringing in world class players on free transfers, such as Paul Pogba, Andre Pirlo and Dani Alves. This ability to pluck top level players at no cost freed Juventus from the shackles of financial fair play regulations, which were crippling so many of their closest rivals. With other Serie A club’s struggling Juventus shamelessly picked their bones, taking Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli, Miralem Pjanic from Roma and re-signing Leonardo Bonucci from AC Milan. This strategy meant Juventus not only to strengthen themselves but weakened opponents, and diminished the likelihood of any realistic challenger to their Serie A crown.
However, the 2017-18 season seemed to shift Juventus’s perspective. With Maurizio Sarri’s free-flowing Napoli side pushing Juventus all the way in Serie A and Massimiliano Allegri’s reactive style again costing them in the Champions League, the board began to reassess what was most important to the club. They decided winning was no longer enough and that there was a desire for Juventus to entertain a global audience, whilst generating commercial revenues to match those of Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid. This plan was put into place almost immediately, with Cristiano Ronaldo brought in for the 2018-19 season to deliver the illusive Champions League trophy and generate further commercial interest in the club. Marotta was then sacked in October 2018 and replaced by the younger, fresher Andrea Agnelli. Allegri was next to be relieved of his duties, in favour of a more attractive style of play under the ideological, cigarette-butt chewing Maurizio Sarri.
These all-encompassing changes at all levels of the club have created a transitional feel around Juventus and a couple of Italian football’s sleeping giants have sensed this weakness.
Having reached 91 points in 2017/18 and becoming the first Serie A side to reach 90 points and not win the Scudetto, you could forgive Napoli fans for feeling that was as close as they were going to get. This feeling was compounded during the 2018 summer transfer window when they lost their talismanic regista Jorginho and Napoleon manager Marico Sarri to Chelsea. Enter Carlo Ancelotti, quite possibly the coolest man in football, with certainly the most iconic eyebrows. Under his guidance Napoli were able to consolidate second place in the league last season, whilst transitioning from Sarri’s set 4-3-3 formation into a fluid 4-4-2.
Napoli look set to build on these solid foundations, with James Rodriguez set to join up with Ancelotti at a third different club and Konstantinos Manolas being brought in from Roma to partner the towering Kalidou Koulibaly at centre-back. These additions along with a little more of Ancelotti’s fine tuning and continued contributions from established stats such as Lorenzo Insigne and Fabian Ruiz should allow Napoli to push on from last season and really challenge Juventus. After all, this is a squad that knows what it takes to reach 90-plus points in a season led by a manger who knows what it takes to hold off a Juventus title challenge.
Whilst Napoli are building on strong foundations, Inter seem determined to start from scratch. In order to topple Juventus, they have decided to ‘be more Juve’, first appointing Marotta as chief executive and then replacing last season’s coach Luciano Spalletti, following an indifferent second half of the season, and with proven winner Antonio Conte. Conte took Juventus from seventh in the table to the first three of their eight Scudetto’s in a row and has a reputation not only for providing silverware but for his no nonsense approach when it comes to dealing with disruptive characters. This does not bode well for Inter’s two biggest stars, former captain Mauro Icardi (who spent most of last season stropping after he was stripped of the captaincy) and Radja Nainggolan (who spent most of last season turning up late to training or in the casino). Conte seems determined to sell both of the clubs prized assets, with Juve or Napoli seemingly the most likely destination for Icardi whilst China beckons for the tempestuous Nainggolan, and replace them with more amenable characters.
The promising Nicolo Barella, a young and highly rated Italian international midfielder, is on the verge of joining for €50 million from Cagliari, with Conte hoping Romelu Lukaku and Edin Dzeko will follow once Icardi has been forced out. Diego Godin has also arrived on a free transfer, tasked with directing the side from the back of the solid looking 3-5-2 formation Conte intends to play. He, along with Inter fan’s, will be hoping to inspire the club to its first league title since Jose Mourinho’s final season in conditions not unlike those he encountered during his first season with Chelsea. Whilst in Italy, the birthplace of football tactics, no innovation or formation will shock and awe as Conte’s 3-4-3 did at Chelsea, his winning mentality just might spark a stagnating Inter Milan side into life and generate a serious title charge.
Despite cantering to last season’s title without any real challenger, a drop off in results in the second half of last season and the failure to retain the Coppa Italia indicated a lack of focus from Juventus when it came to domestic affairs. They became distracted by European and commercial success and this season is likely to bring further uncertainty as Sarri attempts to implement a more attractive playing style.
Winning is no longer all that matters at Juventus and the strategic move away from this mentality has emboldened their rivals with a feeling Juventus’s unrelenting success had previously suppressed, hope. Marketability through an attractive playing style, big name players and a new look kit (quite possibly the worst strip of all time) are now key pillars within Juventus's plan to modernise the club and whilst the ‘Old Lady’ remain strong favourites to retain their title, the recent uncertainty around the club’s affairs both on and off the field may well result in the longest running dynasty in Europe’s major leagues drawing to a close. It can happen, just ask Manchester United.