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.

How they’re shaping up – the situation in top European leagues

THE 0-0 draw between Arsenal and Newcastle United underlined how much progress these two sides have made over the last year, but it also demonstrated, to a certain degree, that both will be challenged to last the pace in the Premier League. Manchester City are waiting in the wings and will have been pleased with the stalemate at the Emirates Stadium.

For the past decade, European football has stagnated in so far that most leagues are dominated by a single entity, maybe two at a push. The Premier League is one of the more democratic, although it is bossed by half a dozen clubs with more money than the rest. The Premier, since 2012-13, has had five different champions, although five of the 10 titles have gone to Manchester City, with four of those won in the last five years.

Here’s the situation in some of Europe’s top leagues as 2023 gets underway:

Austria

Red Bull Salzburg are top and six points clear of Sturm Graz, the only side to beat the champions this season. Salzburg have won the last seven Bundesligas, their financial advantages enabling them to dominate Austrian football. Although the Austrian league is a two-stage affair, it is difficult to look beyond Salzburg, who are also in the last eight of the Austrian Cup, which they have won for the past four seasons.

Belgium

Genk, who last won the Belgian league in 2019, are seven points in front of second-placed Union Saint-Gilloise. Club Brugge, who have won the past three titles, are not faring so well this season, although they are in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League. They have recently appointed former Fulham and Bournemouth manager Scott Parker as their coach. Anderlecht, who were third in 2021-22, are floundering in mid-table.

France

It would be a major shock if Paris Saint-Germain were not top of Ligue 1 at the start of a new year. They have a four-point advantage over Lens, who beat them 3-1 to end an unbeaten run that stretched back to March 2022. PSG have Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé in their ranks and a wage bill that dwarfs the rest of Ligue 1. If nothing else, the performance of Lens (they have lost just once, too), suggests the French league will be more interesting than usual.

Germany

Unsurprisingly, Bayern Munich are on top once more and have a four- point lead over surprise club Freiburg. RB Leipzig, who have recovered after a poor start, are in third place. Bayern have lost just once (against Augsburg) and have qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League after ending the group stage with a 100% record. Four points is a relatively modest lead at the top of the Bundesliga, but Bayern are equipped to relentlessly go after their 11th consecutive league success.

Italy

Serie A is very interesting this season, but Napoli are winning all the plaudits for their exciting style. They have a seven-point lead at the top and are unbeaten. AC Milan, the reigning champions, are in second place and crisis club Juventus are third, but pressure has been building on coach Max Allegri after they were knocked out of the Champions League at the group phase. Napoli have impressed in Europe and are in the last 16 of the competition, along with AC Milan and Inter Milan.

Netherlands

Feyenoord went into 2023 on top of the Eredivisie, three points in front of Ajax and PSV Eindhoven. This should make for an exciting second half of the campaign, although Ajax have been very clumsy in losing points cheaply. They have lost twice, to PSV and AZ Alkmaar. PSV have beaten both Feyenoord and Ajax this season, but they have just lost the talented Cody Gakpo to Liverpool. All three Dutch giants are still involved in the UEFA Europa League.

Portugal

As ever, the Primeira Liga is being dominated by Benfica and Porto, with Braga and Sporting behind them. Benfica, who enjoyed a successful Champions League group stage, are top and five points ahead of Porto, who also qualified for the last 16. Benfica lost their first game of the league campaign in their first post-Christmas fixture, a 3-0 drubbing at Braga. A prolific player-trading club, they look set to receive another cash windfall if they sell Enzo Fernández to a top Premier league club in the aftermath of the 2022 World Cup.

Scotland

Already people are talking about Celtic as champions and that it is a case of “theirs to lose”. Certainly, their nine point lead over Rangers looks insurmountable at this stage of the season. The two sides drew 2-2 on January 2 at Ibrox, but their first meeting saw Celtic win 4-0. Both teams saw their shortcomings exposed in Europe, finishing bottom of their Champions League groups. They could yet meet in the Scottish League Cup final in February.

Spain

Inevitably, it is a two-horse race once more in Spain, with Barcelona and Real Madrid level on 38 points after 15 games. The two teams have almost identical records, but Barca are ahead on goal difference. Real Sociedad are in third place, but nine points worse off than the big two. Atlético Madrid are having a somewhat patchy season. Real Madrid are the only Spanish side in the last 16 of the Champions League, both Barca and Atléti, along with Sevilla, went out at the group stage, but Barca are in the Europa League, where they will face Manchester United.

Switzerland

While reigning champions Zurich are embroiled in a relegation fight, Young Boys Bern look poised to regain the crown they lost in 2022. They have a 10-point margin at the top of the Super League, with Servette in second position. YB are the league’s top scorers with 35 goals in 16 games, but they have also conceded just nine goals. They look red hot favourites to win the title.  

While most of the title-chasers are fairly predictable, there are possibilities of shocks, notably in England (Arsenal), France (Lens) and the Netherlands (Feyenoord). On the other hand, this list may just read Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Ajax. We can dream.