Juventus: Self destruction is the name of the game

A FEW years ago, it looked as though Juventus could do no wrong; they reached two UEFA Champions League finals in 2015 and 2017, won nine consecutive Serie A titles between 2012 and 2020, and four Coppa Italias in the same timeframe. They had a strong, all-star team, were able to buy who they fancied in Italy and then, in 2018, they signed Cristiano Ronaldo. Juventus had become the only Italian team that could look Europe’s elite in the eyes. Furthermore, they were an influential figure in European football, largely because of the efforts of their former chairman, Andrea Agnelli.

The past couple of years have been difficult for Juve and their title was won by Inter Milan in 2021 and AC Milan in 2022. Their performances in Europe have not been good and they have lost large sums of money, so much so that they had to seek fresh liquidity from their shareholders. The pandemic hasn’t helped at all, but Juventus look like a club that has been living beyond its means for too long. To make matters worse, the CR7 era did not deliver the hoped-for benefits. It was an expensive, flawed folly.

Juventus have been docked 15 points by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), which has sent the team rolling down the Serie A table and negatively impacted their share price on the stock market. Nobody knows yet the precise reason, but Juventus have been under scrutiny for months over salary payments, unrealistic valuations around player swaps and misuse of capital gains. It’s complex and Juventus are not the only Italian club whose finances don’t look right, but the systemic role the club has in Italy means they are likely to be punished ruthlessly, despite the claims of victimisation by their fans. Agnelli, who left the club in 2022, has already been banned for two years after Juve were found guilty of false accounting, market manipulation and filing misleading financial statements.

Of the 62 transfers being investigated, Juventus are involved in 42. Juve have spent over € 800 million on Serie A and B players over the past 23 years. If 15 points seems harsh – the prosecutors only asked for nine – Juventus could be in for a worse penalty when the trial over “hidden salaries” paid to players at the height of the pandemic  gets underway.

Over the last two seasons, Juventus have made pre-tax losses totalling € 460 million. The club’s wage bill is high, totalling € 352 million (85% of income) and has gone up by almost € 100 million in five years. At the same time, Juve’s UEFA Champions League performances have declined; in 2022-23, they exited at the group stage and in the previous three seasons, they were beaten in the round of 16. This has obviously affected their revenues.

Juventus have not had a good season in 2022-23, although they looked as though they had found their mojo again in recent months. This setback is bad news for the club, but it also casts fresh doubts over the future of their coach, Max Allegri who has been under pressure for most of the campaign. On January 13, Juventus were thrashed 5-1 by leaders Napoli, underlining that the balance of power is shifting south in Italy.

While the outcome is still unclear and Juventus will appeal against the punishments they have received, the Turin club have suffered a blow to their reputation just 17 years after they were relegated to Serie B due to another scandal. It appears to happen all too often and in this age of corporatized football, there’s really no excuse. And if UEFA are smart, they will capitalise on this situation to deliver a shattering blow to any hopes anyone has of a European Super League.

A messy end to a golden era for Juventus

IT’S ALWAYS a mystery why seemingly intelligent people continue to flirt with financial malpractice in this age of intense technological scrutiny. Even the most cunning criminals and canny operators are invariably found out by governing bodies, the law or accountants. This leaves you wondering how professional people can either be so stupid or careless, not to mention occasionally dishonest.

Juventus are in the spotlight again for suspicions over their financial reporting. It’s not the first time the club has been in trouble, their current era of success came after the so-called Calciopoli scandal which involved the illegal selection of favourable referees, among other breaches. Juve were stripped of their 2005 title and were relegated to Serie B.

Juve enjoyed a run of spectacular success from 2011-12 to 2020-21 which included nine scudettos and five Coppa Italia victories. They also reached two UEFA Champions finals in 2015 and 2017 in which they lost to Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively. Juventus were, supposedly, the only Italian club that could seriously challenge the Spanish giants and Bayern Munich, but they were well beaten in their two finals.

Under president Andrea Agnelli, Juve not only won trophies, they also became a more modern, forward-looking club, moving to a new stadium which they owned, giving them a competitive edge over their domestic rivals. They also grasped the marketing bug and relaunched their brand, including a controversial new corporate logo. In 2018, they thought they were sending a signal of intent to European football by signing Cristiano Ronaldo, but in truth, his arrival marked a gradual decline in their fortunes. If CR7 was supposed to be the catalyst for UEFA Champions League success, it didn’t work and he left in 2021 with Juventus’s team clearly past its best.

Agnelli and the rest of the board have resigned amid concerns over the club’s financial practices. Among the questions being asked are the valuations of players in some transfers, such as exchange deals, and the arrangements over player wages during the height of the pandemic. But after investigations by the public prosecutor’s office in Turin and Italian market regulator Consob, Juventus have had to change the way in which they accounted for player payments for the financial years ending June 2020 and June 2021. Players had agreed to waive part of their salaries because of Covid-19 and later agreed “loyalty” bonuses. Consob believes the club has yet to show the logic behind the fair value ascribed to players in transfers with other clubs. Agnelli and 15 others at the club have been investigated but the saga is likely to run for a while as it’s still early days.  As they all resigned, the club continued to deny any wrongdoing, but Agnelli admitted there was a lack of unity which undermined the management of Juventus. The club has, apparently, agreed to amend its accounts for 2021-22.

The pandemic was tough for Italy’s top clubs and in the past two seasons, Juventus have made pre-tax losses of € 460 million and has generated a deficit of over € 600 million in the past five years. At the same time, their wage bill in 2021-22 absorbed 85% of income and their net debt now totals more than € 150 million, a substantial amount but over € 200 million less than the 2020-21 season. In 2021-22, the club had to raise € 400 million from its shareholders, taking the total of fresh equity raised since 2019 to over € 700 million. Investors and the market are not impressed, however, and the stock price fell on the news of the resignations. In 2022, the Juventus share price has dropped by almost 40% and the club’s market value is now around € 700 million.

What will the future hold for Agnelli, whose family’s listed vehicle, Exor, is the majority owner of Juventus? His ambitions have been battered by a series of setbacks, notably the ill-fated European Super League project, which meant he had to step away from the European Club Association and UEFA.  As for Juventus, the current season has been troubled, from a poor start to the campaign to an early exit in the UEFA Champions League. And this new scandal really highlights the danger of flying too close to the sun. Icarus may have been Greek, but he has been soaring over the city of Turin for some time. The question is, how long will it take for Juventus to repair its reputation once more?