“Emre Can is an important player,” said Fabio Paratici during a pre-match interview with DAZN recently. “He had a good season last year, but for the type of football we are adopting this season, he probably didn’t have the right characteristics to really fit in.”
In praising a midfielder the Juventus Sporting Director had sold to Borussia Dortmund a few days earlier, he could not have been more honest in his explanation and his words hinted at a strategy that the Bianconeri have been utilising for quite some time.
Most clubs operate in a simple manner, signing those who can help them or who could develop to do so in the future, either looking to improve the starting XI or bolster the squad behind those first-choice XI. Yet, while also fulfilling those basic obligations, the Old Lady has simultaneously been going about things from a different angle, using the market to mine assets that can become parts of other deals.
Two recent examples of this are Leonardo Spinazzola and Mattia Caldara, who both spent time at Atalanta recently. As discussed in this previous article, the Bergamo-based outfit have raised the profile of a number of players in recent years, selling them on at a huge profit only to see them fail to reach the same heights elsewhere.
That was certainly true of the two defenders who, under the tutelage of Gian Piero Gasperini, shone in the Europa League and became fully-fledged Italy internationals. Spinazzola – who turns 27 next month – was only on loan at Atalanta, but upon his recall to Juve he played sporadically before being sent to AS Roma as they acquired promising 20-year-old Luca Pellegrini.
Meanwhile, Caldara blossomed in the Atalanta academy and was identified as arguably the most promising defender of his generation, snapped up by Juve in January 2017 but left in Bergamo on an 18-month loan. When that arrangement came to an end he moved to Turin, but just a few weeks later was sent to AC Milan as the Bianconeri brought Leonardo Bonucci back to the club following a season with the Rossoneri.
Juve already had great depth in central defence and in truth never needed Caldara, but they used him as a bargaining chip in another deal, something they have done countless times over the past decade.
This season alone has seen them send Matheus Pereira – who arrived from Corinthians in 2017 and never played for the club – to Barcelona in exchange for Alejandro Marqués, Han Kwong-Song was bought from Cagliari and sold just six days later to Al-Duhail, while youth team defender Rogério was sold to Sassuolo at the same time Merih Demiral moved in the opposite direction.
Can, of course, was not simply flipped for a profit like a renovated house, he was – as Mr Paratici alluded – a useful part of the team last year under Max Allegri. Cristiano Ronaldo may have written the headlines as the Bianconeri came back to beat Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, but behind CR7 as he plundered a hat trick were a number of outstanding performers, not least of which was delivered by the Germany international.
Industrious, full of energy and always a willing runner, he was exactly the type of player Allegri preferred to have flanking Miralem PjaniÄ in midfield, but the change of manager saw very different demands placed upon the team. Now, as ‘Sarrismo’ slowly takes root, skilful playmakers like Aaron Ramsey, Rodrigo Bentancur and Adrien Rabiot have surpassed Can in the pecking order, the latter left out of the Champions League squad in September and restricted to just two Serie A starts so far this term.
He repeatedly spoke out about the lack of playing time, rightly viewing himself as overqualified to be a reserve even in such a talent-laden squad. From Juve’s perspective, it probably wasn't his abundance of talent that led to the exit, but instead, the knowledge that – as a player signed on a “free transfer” from Liverpool – he was earning €5 million per year to sit on the bench and watch.
So, as they have many times, the Bianconeri sold him on. “He remains an excellent player, as shown by the transfer fee that Borussia Dortmund paid for him,” Paratici continued in that aforementioned interview. That sum was confirmed by the club’s official website and represents a healthy profit, even taking into account the €16 million in “additional costs” Juve revealed upon signing Can back in July 2018.
With UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations to consider, it is no surprise the Old Lady moved quickly, her shrewd intelligence paying dividends once again. They continue to take this approach in the transfer window, and that is well worth remembering the next time a move seems odd; it is probably just one piece in a larger plan for Juventus as they find every advantage possible on the transfer market.