What a turn of events in a week. Last Thursday, Juventus looked to be stable heading into the preseason as it fought back against clubs trying to poach its young stars while dipping into the transfer market to strengthen a squad expected to compete more in the Champions League. In the space of seven days, however, that’s all gone and now A.S. Roma, the one team to truly challenge The Old Lady last year, is poised to possibly assume the top spot in Serie A.
It cannot be understated how the resignation of Antonio Conte has thrown Juve into disorder. Setting aside the abrupt nature of it, the quick hiring of Massimiliano Allegri has been even more unsettling. From quotes being unearthed from his girlfriend trashing the squad to old feuds being used as reasons for possible transfers by veterans, Juventus have about a month to not only sort out internal personnel moves and adapt to Allegri’s style, but strengthen the squad so it can deal with the rigors of advancing in the Champions League while defending its title. Losing an Arturo Vidal or Paul Pogba (or both) would be devastating at this stage, while losing a veteran leader like Andrea Pirlo would be symbolically devastating.
Of course the next question is who is best positioned to take advantage of this challenge. Traditional powers Internazionale and Milan are in no position to do so; Inter has a good but not great squad while Milan has its own mess to sort out with a new coach and players seeking moves away. Coppa Italia winners Napoli seem poised to be that team, with key players like Gonzalo Higuain returning (World Cup play notwithstanding) but they have done little definitively in the transfer market yet in terms of bringing in top talent. While that could change, the clock is ticking.
No, il Giallorossi stand as the beneficiaries of this chaos. Not only do they have a solid squad and in-demand coach to challenge for the top spot, but they have been smart in the transfer window planning not only for the Serie A season but the Champions League as well. Atop that list of smart moves is bringing in Ashley Cole. The fullback is certainly not the dominant player he once was, and English internationals have a mixed record in Serie A, but the move is smart for a few reasons. One, it gives Roma a proven winner in the Champions League on the squad, so he can provide that player perspective. Two, he is still a quality fullback and fills a position of need for the club. Three, Walter Sabatini has a recent track record of success with Premier League cast offs (Gervinho), older players (Maicon), and hidden gems (Benatia).
Recent signing Juan Iturbe could be another difference maker for Roma. Signed from Verona after he was purchased from Porto, the striker has been compared to Lionel Messi for his size, ability to create shots, and affinity for Argentina. He is still young but could be the kind of quick spark that turns one or two draws into wins. Even better, the rumor is now circulating that he was set to sign for Juventus before Conte’ departure, a clear case of addition by subtraction.
The transfer market is not over for Roma, who could not only sign one or two more players but could be in danger of losing of losing key players like Benatia to big spenders. But if they can hold on to their core players and maybe grab one or two class players, they are in prime position to take advantage of a disordered Juventus.