Caught up in their wave of delirium, Juventus are still coming to terms with the beguiling arrival of five-time Ballon d’Or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo. Yet despite concluding the best bit of business managed this decade, if not ever, there is still a lot of work to be done in the transfer market, opportunities left to exploit and financial concessions that need to be made.
Concessions is the operative word. Juventus have bought Ronaldo to not only ensure sporting success but commercial success, too, and their priority is to construct a winning team around their star while still maintaining a healthy balance sheet. Perhaps it comes as no surprise then that the first name mentioned with a sale is that of Juve’s current No. 9 Gonzalo Higuain, previously their most expensive signing ever.
Despite winning club MVP in 2018 and improving his overall game to ensure tactical balance and a ruthless edge in the final third, the Argentine has never quite won over the hearts of all Juventini. A very good player who has, despite the criticisms of many, made the difference in the big games, notably turning the second leg match against Tottenham in the Champions League. However, he is not the star they can depend on to yank the Italian champions over the line when the chips are down.
Ronaldo’s arrival has seemingly brought up questions about the need for Higuain. We must also consider that when the duo played together, they didn’t boast a perfect relationship. In fact, Marca newspaper dedicated their front page to the dispute between the two players when Real Madrid exited the Champions League in 2010.
It’s been highlighted and discussed in detail how Higuain only truly flourished as a goal scorer under the tutelage of Maurizio Sarri and thus a reunion at Chelsea would make sense. If the Old Lady can sell Higuain, they would not only recoup some of the money they spent on the player but also take his €7.5 million annual salary off their wage bill.
Paulo Dybala has also been linked with a move away, and while this blog has never been fond of the player’s displays in the big matches, he is one whose performances would benefit greatly from Ronaldo’s arrival. It appears Juventus feel the same, as he, alongside Douglas Costa, could help the Portuguese secure the necessary goals.
Alongside Higuain, Chelsea have also been linked with Daniele Rugani, the centre-back many thought would represent the future of both Italy and Juve’s backline. Some have argued that the youngster has never enjoyed the full faith of coach Massimiliano Allegri but it must also be argued that when given the chance, he has never played with the confidence and personality required to ensure defensive solidity. He still a player that must be led as opposed to being a natural-born leader.
Take the example of another youngster, Rodrigo Bentancur. He has also not been handed many minutes in midfield but has always looked assured and capable when deployed, playing with character and ambition befitting of the team’s jersey. Rugani hasn’t guaranteed the same and his sale would bring in necessary funds to ensure further team construction especially now that Juve have Mattia Caldara back from his loan spell.
Another potential loss is Miralem Pjanic. Juventus are stacked with off-the-ball midfielders, those who understand space and how to provide the intelligence and energy when not in possession, but Pjanic and Bentancur are really the only on-the-ball midfielders Juventus have to help ensure imagination and creation.
While the Bosnian has proved disappointing in the big matches, easily bullied off the ball and lost in the chaos against more physical sides, he still forms an integral part of Juve’s game and remains a huge threat from set pieces.
His loss and potential sale will only be accepted if a worthy replacement is brought in, another player who can create and inspire. The problem is about how many of those are on the market at a reasonable price. Moreover, the player wishes to stay in Turin and play with the Portuguese megastar and perhaps could improve from the winning mentality Ronaldo will bring to the dressing room.
Adrien Rabiot is a name mooted with a transfer to Juve to replace the Bosnian if he is indeed sold, but much like Pjanic, Rabiot is a tremendous passer with great vision but also rather inconsistent. It should also be noted that his behaviour and attitude have been called into question by France manager Didier Deschamps after the player refused to form part of the standby list for the World Cup.
Juventus have built their brand on the shoulders of hard workers who give everything and expect nothing. Will Rabiot be happy if he is indeed benched like Claudio Marchisio, Bentancur and the many who came before them?
While the potential sale of Rugani and Higuain could be a necessary sacrifice, it’s vital Juventus do not change too much as it takes time to embed new players, ensure synergy and create tactical balance. Considering Ronaldo is at his peak now, Juve need to give it their all this season and that means avoiding having to make too many concessions.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.