The Juventus Youth Sector Works… But Not Like You Might Think
There is certainly no shortage of headline when it comes to discussing Juventus’ transfer activity this summer. The exit of Leonardo Bonucci rocked the club to its very foundations, supporters and neutrals alike stunned to see one of the small group of core players present for each of their six consecutive Serie A titles head for the exit.
It led many to doubt the chances of adding to that record tally, although investing more than €80 million in the attacking talents of Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi has certainly allayed those fears somewhat. Furthermore, the Old Lady has reinforced her squad with Wojciech Szczęsny and Mattia De Sciglio, strong reserves who will allow coach Max Allegri to rotate his side while fighting to triumph in multiple competitions.
However, for those paying attention to even smaller details, advancing another storyline that has rumbled under the surface for quite some time. At roughly the same time as Bonucci’s transfer to AC Milan was completed, the Bianconeri sold Francesco Cassata to Sassuolo for €7 million and received another €7.6 million from Cagliari for Filippo Romagna.
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of them, you’re not alone. Both represented Italy at the recent Under-20 World Cup, but neither had ever made a first team appearance for Juve. Quickly gathering reputations as talents to monitor over the next few years. Cassata is a precocious midfielder who registered one goal and five assists while on loan with Ascoli last season, showcasing his eye-catching skills and exhausting work-rate.
Meanwhile, Romagna had been captain of the U-19 side for both club and country, a powerful central defender with a calm demeanour and an excellent ability to read the game. Yet much like his former team-mate, he would’ve known that opportunities in the Juve first-team were almost impossible to earn due to the presence of so many quality players in his position.
With a plethora of central midfielders already available for the Bianconeri, Cassata is left with no viable path to anything approaching regular playing time. While the superb Mattia Caldara has stayed at Atalanta for another year and Bonucci has gone, Romagna still had Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, Medhi Benatia and Daniele Rugani ahead of him for just two places in the backline.
However, even given those factors, the departure of Cassata and Romagna lessen the likelihood of seeing a homegrown talent emerge at Juventus any time soon. It is staggering to realise that Claudio Marchisio is the only member of the club’s youth team to emerge as a regular contributor over the past 20 years, something that is unlikely to change in the near future.
That is understandably disappointing when seeing the impact of academy products at Europe’s other top clubs, Barcelona and Manchester United providing the foremost examples. The savings made in promoting the most talented youngsters allows funds to be concentrated on filling gaps elsewhere in their respective squads. Furthermore, football fans enjoy nothing more than cheering on “one of their own” when a home-town talent does make that leap, something that has become increasingly rare for Juve.
Yet looking beyond that and seeing the bigger picture, two things become obvious. Firstly, Allegri has given space to Moise Kean, Mattia Vitale and Emil Audero, meaning if a player is good enough, he will progress. Secondly – and perhaps most importantly – these most recent sales highlight the fact the Bianconeri are benefiting from their own youth sector, albeit not in the usual or expected sense.
The €14.6 million raised from the sale of Cassata and Romagna continues a trend of generating profit from these talented prospects. Names including Frederik Sorensen, Hordur Magnusson, Anastasios Donis, Richmond Boakye, Simone Ganz and Nicola Leali – players who would never truly have come close to playing for the full squad – have been sold in order to provide funds that Juventus have then used to sign other, more suitable players.
Indeed, within days of profiting from Cassata and Romagna, De Sciglio arrived from Milan at a cost of €12 million, meaning, in essence, the club brought in a fully-fledged Italy international in a position of need using money made from the departure of two players who were surplus to requirements.
It might not be as inspiring as seeing a Turin native run out in those famous black and white stripes, but it is unquestionably smart business, particularly as Marotta is believed to have inserted buy-back clauses in the contracts of those he moved on. That guards against the Old Lady missing out if those young men suddenly flourish, allowing the director to sell them and enjoy the proceeds without worrying about the talent he might have lost.
That's a win-win situation, and that’s how the youth sector is thriving at Juventus, Italy’s most traditional club doing things in a very non-traditional way.