On Saturday, Juventus–a club who have made extremely rational and well-reasoned decisions during the past decade–surprised everyone not only by sacking Coach Maurizio Sarri after just one year in charge, but also by appointing former midfielder Andrea Pirlo as his replacement.
To be clear, the legendary regista earned his coaching badges at Italy training center Coverciano only in September 2018, and is yet to take charge of a competitive game since his certification. The seemingly bizarre decision to put Pirlo in place on the Juve first-team bench came soon after the former New York City FC midfielder had been appointed as U23 boss by Bianconeri owner Andrea Agnelli on June 30.
Even the most die-hard of Juventus fans will find it tough to follow the logic of the club here, with many wondering why the sudden about-turn. “Today’s choice is based on the belief that Pirlo has what it takes to lead from his debut on the bench, an expert and talented squad to pursue new successes,” read the club’s brief official statement.
The choice could turn out to be a masterstroke, an abject failure, or something in between, yet with no previous managerial experience, it is simply impossible for the Juve hierarchy to be able to predict the outcome, which is completely out of character for a club that usually operate in such a stable manner.
To be clear, Maurizio Sarri had brought the club their 9th consecutive Scudetto, continuing along the path that had been laid by Antonio Conte (three title wins) and Max Allegri (five title wins), however the tactician was yet to fully implement his beautiful style of play at the club and crashed out of the Champions League versus Lyon on Friday.
“We chose Maurizio because we felt he was the best Coach for Juventus right now, just as [Max] Allegri was five years ago and [Antonio] Conte three years before that,” sporting director Fabio Paratici told reporters at Sarri’s introductory press conference just over a year ago.
If they felt he was the right option then, they must have known from his time at Napoli that his system takes time to perfect, and if they wanted attractive football as well as results, they needed not only to be patient, but also to provide Sarri with the right players to make it work.
This was always going to be the case with Sarri and with any Coach who deploys a precise method of working. Even Pep Guardiola struggled in his first season in charge at Manchester City, with six defeats and nine draws seeing his team finish third in the Premier League PINC and crash out of the Champions League at the last 16 stage.
“There have been coaches who won with completely different and contrasting philosophies of football and there is no one way to win, so a Coach should stay true to himself and his vision, taking into account the possibility of failure,” Sarri admitted at that opening Juventus press conference.
“Clearly, my style of football is different, so I have to figure out how much I can bring of my ideas and still be productive. I have to gain more points, not fewer, while also using my philosophy. It’s about the balance of how much is down to the tactics and how much we leave in the hands of the players.”
Reflecting back on his comments, Sarri made no secret of the fact that the balance between obtaining the results and perfecting his style would be a difficult one, which poses the question of why Juventus thought the outcome would have been any different, and why, after committing to Sarri, they fired him after failing to give him the necessary amount of time.
“I’d like to see Miralem Pjanic touch the ball 150 times per game,” the Coach continued, discussing the importance of the regista role in his system. “But first we need to teach the rest of the team to find him 150 times.” As this previous column explains, Pjanic turned out to be incapable of giving Sarri what he needed in that role, which explains why Juve have sold the Bosnian to Barcelona this summer.
It’s also true that Paratici failed to provide the Coach with the necessary personnel in the midfield area, making his sacking seem even more illogical with another transfer window coming up and the prospect of a new season starting in a matter of weeks.
Is it the obsession with winning the Champions League for the first time since 1996 that has seen Juventus make this uncharacteristically rash decision? Or is it the pressure of knowing that 35-year-old star player Cristiano Ronaldo likely has only one year remaining at his peak?
While it’s difficult to see what motivated this decision, Juventus must now focus on assessing the problems that run deeper than the coaching staff, and focus on building a Champions League winning side from within.