In an Italy where dictatorship has given the Serie A its reputation over the last decade, Juventus decided to hand over the reins to the one man nearly toppled their regime. But while Maurizio Sarri deserves the gig, his relationship with Cristiano Ronaldo will make or break his time in Turin.
For all their magnificence, Juventus shied away from any superstars. They had stars, naturally, and superstars but they never had superstars with super-egos. Players who could effectively decide a game within a few seconds but also demolish a team off the field. That’s what the Old Lady shied away from and it worked for them rather brilliantly. They dominated Italy, won everything possible but then came the one question everyone had on their minds. Are you really worth anything without the Champions League?
Does a season or even an era-defining team mean anything without Europe’s biggest trophy in your cabinet? Can they ever end that 23-year drought for the Champions League?? The answer as Juventus slowly realised was that it meant nothing or at least close to nothing. And to change that, they tried everything. They sold Paul Pogba for absurd amounts of money to buy a way to the trophy, they gave Antonio Conte the world and then some and Massimiliano Allegri had nothing but time to change that and he got close.
But alas, nothing could be done and so they brought in the knockout stage king to give their earnings a boost and change their status as knock-out stage bottlers. And in sauntered with baggage, an ego that needed massaging and an earth-shattering scoring record to his name. And yet, it didn’t help their cause. So Juventus did what any other super-team looking to get the most out of everything would do, they brought in their very own Pep Guardiola. A perfectionist who’s training methods killed Chelsea fans but gave them Champions League football.
A manager who came the closest since the 2011/12 Rossoneri to ending, or at least disrupting, the Old Lady's reign in Italy. And yet things, once again, haven't gone according to plan between Maurizio Sarri and Juventus. They do sit 1st in the Serie A and their Champions League group but draws to Atletico Madrid, Fiorentina and Lecce combined with 11 barely wins out of their 16 games has concerned the board. Sarri’s brand of football may be wonderful to watch but it has caused problems for any team that isn’t named Napoli and his relationship with Cristiano Ronaldo has somehow gone down the drain.
The superstars’ comments/explicit language to his manager in the final game before the international break proved that rather brilliantly but Sarri’s reaction to that has caused a possible rift. We may never know if it really has but Ronaldo’s early substitution against AC Milan combined with the emergence of Aaron Ramsey and re-emergence of Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain has added fuel to the fire. The fans booing Ronaldo off the field, for a second game in a row, ignited the incident. It means that no longer is Cristiano Ronaldo the lone matchwinner/superstar in the squad and that even the fans are getting a little irritated with his struggles. It’s what caused him, alongside other issues, to leave Real Madrid because he wasn’t feeling the love.
That is what Maurizio Sarri has to change if the Italian wants any chance of succeeding in Turin. This is a situation that Sarri has never faced and more importantly, he’s never managed a club like Juventus. Napoli would have had dreams of a Champions League place when Sarri arrived and Chelsea were in transition. But Turin?? Juventus?? And their ever-faithful fans?? They expect guts, glory, and more importantly trophies on a yearly basis. They expect an invincible season, they expect wins, wins, and nothing but wins because anything else is seen as ignominy.
It’s the kind of pressure that Maurizio Sarri has never been under and he needs to find a way to wade through the critics. The one man who can help him do just that is the Sultan of the Stepover and to do that, both men need to stepover their egos first. Because Ronaldo’s ego, superstardom, and talent, for one, go hand in hand. One simply doesn’t get a superstar with an ego because to make a superstar the player needs to have that ruthless I-don’t-care-about-anyone-else-but-myself ego at least on the field. That’s something Ronaldo has in spades and therein lies the problem but it’s a solvable one atleast for Maurizio Sarri.
Shockingly, it’s a rather simple solution and it’s one that worked rather brilliantly for Zinedine Zidane. He, Sarri, needs to accommodate Ronaldo but at the same time drop him when push comes to shove and especially when Juventus need him performing somewhere else. The Italian has to convince the superstar that the way forward just happens to be him, Ronaldo, missing out on a few games. That, it's the only way Juventus will ever achieve something and that's despite Antonio Conte's Inter Milan walking back into prominence. It worked perfectly for Zidane and he walked away with three Champions League crowns to his name and that's a run Juventus have always dreamt of having.
Ronaldo added to his legend and he never complained even when in Zizou’s final two years, of his first spell, the Portuguese legend missed 20 games in the Spanish top flight. But he played every single Champions League game finishing with 27 goals in 26 games and everyone walked away happy. The only downfall, thanks to Inter Milan, is the fact that they may not win the Serie A. But ask the Old Lady what it wants more, ending a 23-year-old Champions League drought or winning their ninth title in a row?? The answer to that is painfully obvious and written on their faces.
But Maurizio Sarri has to find something similar and thanks to the emergence of Aaron Ramsey and the re-emergence of Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain, Miralem Pjanic and even Juan Cuadrado, the Old Lady has more than enough to supplement the loss of a superstar. It’s possibly the only way two stubborn and old men with a single-minded goal will ever be able to function in the same dressing room, let alone on the same field. Otherwise, it could go magnificently bad like Pep Guardiola and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, or Johan Cruyff and Michael Laudrup or Jose Mourinho and the entire Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester United teams. Not the kind of company or list that Maurizio Sarri really wants to make.