Pirlo’s Swiss Army Knife: Why despite all the Juve fans’ hate, Federico Bernardeschi should be given a new contract, and why it will most likely happen.
By Daniel Jafari (@danieljafari twitter)
After a massive overhaul of the squad in the hurried 2020 summer break seeing the contracts of Higuain and Matuidi rescinded and a contingent of 6 players going on loans across Europe, the fans had a rare moment of relief. Squad revolutions are exciting, since new arrivals bring the element of surprise, whereas veterans are known quantities, for the most part. This is especially true at Juventus, since upon the appointment of Maurizio Sarri, none of the players perceived to have passed their prime departed (with the notable exception of Mario Mandzukic). Juventini agonized over this, perhaps the most during the return leg of the Champions League game against Olympique Lyonnaise, where Juve needed to create and score, being down 2-0 on aggregate, and even the magic of CR7 was not enough to get past the plucky Lyonnaise. With moments on the clock, Sarri decided to throw in an injured Dybala, who in short succession had to leave the pitch limping, leaving the task of scoring to a languid Higuain and a 20 year old Marco Olivieri. In the aftermath of an early Champions League exit, one short clip was on loop in social media. It showed a pacy Bernardeschi waving through the entire opposition, dribbling past the goalkeeper, only to miss an open goal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91ZAV-_Qmy8
As chaotic and unpredictable Juventus under Pirlo has been, the fanbase have toned down the cries of selling players at all costs, except for one. Curiously, Juventini have resigned to the fate of witnessing Sami Kedira see his 6.6 million euro a year contract out, all the while being permanently injured. Instead, they have aimed all their criticism toward Bernardeschi. In fairness, the criticisms are largely valid. Pirlo skipped Aaron Ramsey and sent Fede in while being one goal down to create chances against Barcelona, only to watch in despair when he fouled down Ansu Fati and gave away a penalty, which Messi converted. But without a doubt, his lowest moment this season came 3 days earlier, against Ivan Juric’s Hellas Verona. A timid Bernardeschi made an unforced error in Juve’s half, giving away the ball that ex-Juve Andrea Favilli who just came on promptly put in the back of the net. Pirlo had seen enough, he was subbed off, watching from the stands his replacement, the energetic and explosive Dejan Kulusevski equalizing the score with his signature left footed curved low shot: https://youtu.be/8g-tgJ9yAKA?t=96
With the winter transfer window open, the drums are beating to one tune: send Berna away! This is a shortsighted reaction, albeit understandable. The reasons why Juventus should, and most likely will, hold onto Bernardeschi are financial, technical, tactical, professional and sentimental.
Juventus finances were hit hard by the pandemic. Juventus is far from the only team though, and experts predict it would take a few years for revenues, and the resultant transfer fees to return to pre-pandemic levels. With less cash at hand, players would be more difficult to sell, and to buy. Looking at the below chart from CalcioFinanza.it, Berna is on a 4 million euro salary. This is in the median range of salaries for Juve players. His amortized value in June 2021 will be 8 million euros. But his market value has depreciated, partly due to his performances and partly due to the pandemic. It is very unlikely that Juventus will make a huge plusvalenza by selling him. Whatever income is generated, will have to be immediately reinvested in his replacement, which by all counts and measures, will not be cheaper than 40 million euros. That is a massive investment, considering Juve’s need for investment in the backline and midfield.
Chart by https://www.calcioefinanza.it/
Federico is a technically gifted player: he can dribble, averaging 1 in Champions League and 0.8 in Serie A per game, and 0.3 and 0.4 accurate long balls this season. He is also very quick, and seems to have endless energy to cover large stretches of the pitch. He stays relatively healthy, missing 22 games due to injury in 3.5 years, with 14 of them in 2017/2018.
From a tactical standpoint, Berna has played a variety of roles, and while he hasn’t been a super star in any of them, he has done well, barring the last few months. Pirlo has repeatedly insisted that in his system while players may change the roles stay the same. But by playing young Frabotta over Demiral in the left back position against AC Milan, he has shown he believes in players who have professionally played in a role. This is great news for Berna, as he played in LW, RW, AM, and even the mezzala role. Every great squad needs a utility player, a Swiss Army knife at the coach’s disposal. Berna can be that player in Pirlo’s Juventus.
Furthermore, unlike many Juventus players, Fede seems content with playing a part role. He has never said anything negative about the coaches choices, nor did he throw a fit on the sidelines for being subbed off. He is 26, and seems to understand that his next club will undoubtedly be of a lesser stature than Juventus. If he has come to the conclusion that he prefers to be an effective sub at Juventus rather than a starter at West Ham, it could make him an even more suitable player.
Bernardeschi’s contract ends on June 30th 2022. Renewing his contract for 4 or 5 years would bring his cost on the books even lower (1-2 million euros per year), and locks him on the same reasonable salary, and obviates the need for another utility player for a few years. It also saves a non European spot on the roster. Lastly, and this seems unlikely, but in the event that his ceiling has not been reached, and he achieves super stardom, Juventus can always cash in at a later date. It is worth noting that Pirlo has trusted him time and again, and seems to believe in him. With the likes of Alvarito Morata and Danilo having a resurgence, and Kulusevski and Chiesa blossoming under Pirlo, it is reasonable to expect Bernardeschi to improve, even as a perennial sub in this new Juventus.