There are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there is fifty feet of crap, and then us” – Billy Beane, Moneyball
Back in May 2011, it would not have been beyond the realmsof possibility for Juventini to associate the above statement with their beloved club. While that might be a bit of an exaggerated stance, the essence of the underlying message holds true. We were a club without direction, carrying a number of fundamental flaws, some of it self-inflicted and some from the remanence of Calciopoli. It was blatantly obvious to all that a new approach was needed.
One of the simplest definition of Economics is that “It is the most efficient use of the available limited resources”. While each one of us would love to own Blue Chip stocks such as Facebook, Amazon, Apple etc and experience the various benefits of doing so, the reality is that for most of us there is a general limit to our resources. These logics hold true in any walk of life and the Football Transfer Market though seemingly cocooned within its own inflationary bubble is no different. Not everyone has the resources of a Manchester United, Manchester City, Real Madrid or PSG.
The transfer approach of Juventus during this past decade can thus be categorized into 2 distinct periods – The period of limited resources and the period of extravagance.
Period of Limited Resources (2011/12 – 2014/15):
Without a doubt, this was the period where both Giuseppe Marotta and Fabio Paratici produced their absolute best work. Forced to work on a shoestring budget, they realized that it would be a while until they could compete financially with other big clubs, both at home and abroad. With Blue Chip purchases out of the question, it was time to get creative. It was time to look at Value and Growth buys.
Players of the caliber of Vucinic, Asamoah and Quagliarellawhere all brought in for a combined total expense of less than €45 million. Barzagli, a player who would go on to be a pillar of the squad over the decade was purchased at a criminally undervalued price of €300,000. Later, Evra who was brought during his latter days for £1.2 million had a great impact both on and off the field.
In addition to such deals, players with high growth potential were brought in and developed over the subsequent years. In the long run, the club certainly reaped the benefits of these deals not just from a re sale value perspective, but also from the performances of these players on the field.
Vidal was brought in for around €12 million and after performing at a high level for 4 seasons was sold to Bayern for €39 million. Similarly, Pogba who was signed on a free transfer would later develop into one of the most sort after players, resulting in him moving back to Manchester United for a then world record fee.
While all of these were extremely well worked deals, they pale in comparison to the two most extraordinary value purchases during this time.
Signing Carlos Tevez for £12 million was certainly an astute piece of business. While the controversies and subsequent media attention surrounding his latter days in England without a doubt played a part in forcing Manchester City into a distress sale, credit should still be given to Marotta and Paratici for being able to strike a deal at that price. There was absolutely no way that price was a true reflection of Tevez’s value.
“People are overlooked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws. Age, appearance, personality.” - Peter Brand, Moneyball
While the Tevez signing can be considered one of the best transfer deals in recent times, the signing of Andrea Pirlo on a free transfer will go down as the heist of century and one of the greatest transfers in history of the game, simply for the value derived from it over subsequent years and in the process develop a template that in the coming seasons would see Juventus earn the label of “Kings of the Free Transfer”.
How AC Milan thought that Pirlo was surplus to requirements and past his prime is surly one of life’s unanswered questions. Ultimately Milan’s loss was Juventus’ gain, and this transfer would end up being the catalyst to kickstart their era of dominance.
With all these pieces in place, the club would start to bear the dividends of their well-planned investments almost immediately.
Period of Extravagance (2015/16 - 2019/20):
Having expertly waded through the stormy waters of a financially hamstrung period, the club had reached a point from a revenue perspective where in they could finally start flexing their muscles (Reaching the Champions League Final in 2015 certainly added to the already building revenue stream).
While a number big money signings were made during this time, in hindsight this period would be significant in exposing Marotta and Paratici’s short comings. Truth is that having exhibited exceptional efficiency while working on a tight budget, when a bigger war chest was finally made available, both suddenly seemed like kids in a candy store.
Never was this assumption to prove truer than with the signing of Higuain. In deciding to activate his release clause, the club would end up paying €90 million for a player they could have signed for a shade under 45% of that amount only a few years prior when they had instead decided to move for Tevez, which was a far more affordable option at the time.
In addition to the high transfer fees paid during this time, the kind of wages offered to players, (especially free transfers) and the process of renewing contracts of players who were regressing in both performance and market value, at improved wages would end up backfiring a few years down the line.
While one could point to the Ronaldo signing as a transfer coup considering he was signed at an undervalued price of €117 million, the fact of the matter is that this was a transfer that literally fell on their laps as opposed to being initiated from their end. While the club have reaped significant benefits both on and off pitch on the back of this transfer, the astronomical wages (€31 million per season) and lack of a significant future resale value for a player in his mid-30s has resulted in a domino effect on future transfer strategies.
Similarly, the De Ligt signing can also be looked at through much the same scope. While there is no doubting the player’s ability and potential, the question to be asked is, having signed Demiral for around €18 million and holding the option to bring Romero back from loan, was it really necessary to spend €85 million on another CB and in the process making him the second highest earner at the club at just under €8 million per season? Rather these funds would have been better spent in other areas of the pitch that were in dire need to rejuvenation.
The consequences of a number of these miscalculations were that, at the start of 2019-20 season we were left with a bloated squad with one of the highest wage bills in Europe and a number of non-performing assets with hardly any resale value. With the club unable to move on a number of these high earners, they were forced to sell high value future prospects such as Kean and Cancelo in order to balance the books while continuing to retain players like Khedira and Higuain simply because no other clubs were willing to meet their financial requirements.
As a result, a year down the line with the global pandemic having had a significant impact on all walks of life the club have been forced to start the rejuvenation process primarily through player swaps and loan deals.
While it would be unfair to term every transfer deal struck during this period as a failure, the fact is that with the exception of the Dybala and Ronaldo deals, all of the others while having made significant contributions to our success in recent years, have had no where near the same impact on and off the field as the ones from the previous period.
When it comes to Marotta and Paratici, while the criticisms leveled at them for their failures during this second period arevalid, at the same time they also deserve praise for the work they put in during the preceding period. Ultimately, similar to a David Moyes, their talents and skill sets were more suited towards working at getting the most out of limited resources. The minute they were given the keys to the safe, they seemed lost. They were extremely shrewd at trading in value and growth stocks but when it came to blue chips, they did not have an efficient trading plan and as such failed to execute an effective stop-loss order.
“Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players; your goal should be to buy wins.” - Peter Brand, Moneyball