• The Italian boss has made drastic changes to the team since taking over in June.
• Sarri’s revolution bears similarities to Luigi Maifredi’s disastrous overhaul in 1991.
It started with the new halved shirts. There will be something very different about Juventus for 2019-20. But more than just their kit. The Italian champions are undergoing an extensive re-modelling, the kind not witnessed since an ill-fated venture into ‘champagne football’ three decades ago.
Juve were struggling midway through 1989-90. Their ex-captain and goalkeeper Dino Zoff was in charge but appeared unable to catch up with champions-elect Napoli, Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan or Giovanni Trapattoni’s power-packed Inter. To make matters worse, Milan were winning praise and new followers all over the world with their positively un-Italian total football. Juve felt like dinosaurs.
Despite leading the team to a Uefa Cup and Italian Cup double, Zoff was moved out and replaced by Luigi Maifredi in summer 1990. He had built a fine reputation with Bologna, and the Bianconeri eyed their own revolution.
Maifredi worked for bubbly manufacturers Veuve Clicquot before taking up football full-time, and the media were excited to watch Juve snatch back their Serie A crown with his ‘champagne calcio’.
Not everyone was convinced. Striker Toto Schillaci didn’t mince his words in his biography ‘Il Gol e’ Tutto’, saying ‘Maifredi arrived in the dressing room like a bull in a china shop. He was so arrogant. I felt imprisoned by his tactical requirements.’
The ‘new Juventus’ suffered a nightmare opening to the season, losing 5-1 to Napoli in the Supercup (the equivalent to the Community Shield). Brazilian striker Careca had never been given such space and freedom by a Juventus defence. Once the league started the Bianconeri were still adjusting to the demands of Maifredi and only won twice in the first six rounds.
Then things improved and a 5-0 crushing of Roma in November was the highpoint. Maifredi attributed the result to his masterplan, others felt it was only the genius of World Cup ‘90 heroes Roberto Baggio and Thomas Hassler carrying a confused team. As 1991 unfolded after the Christmas break, not even Baggio and Hassler could save the team with their precious magic.
Maifredi’s tactical and man-mangement flaws were cruelly exposed. ‘A donkey can pretend to be a horse, but sooner or later he’ll bray and reveal his identity,’ said Schillaci.
Between February 17 and March 17 they only earned two points from five matches. The title dream was slipping away. Defeat at home in the derby against Torino and a 0-0 at Cagliari were badly received. The entire squad stood against the manager. Supposedly only Roberto Baggio sided with Maifredi, because the embattled chief allowed his No 10 to miss the odd training session so he could go hunting.
Captain and goalkeeper Stefano Tacconi, never a shy man, had a blazing row with the boss over Baggio’s preferential treatment. Team morale was in tatters.
A squad boasting the attacking riches Baggio, Schillaci and Hassler, plus young starlets Paolo Di Canio and Pierluigi Casiraghi, finished an astonishing seventh. For the first time in 28 years they were out of European competition. Maifredi and his complicated strategies were booted out, becoming a curious, brief chapter in Bianconeri history.
The current overhaul is from a position of superiority on the home front. The arrival of Maurizio Sarri signals a departure from the pragmatic but safety-first Massimiliano Allegri era. Ex-Chelsea chief Sarri’s mandate is to give the team a more appealing approach. Juve’s directors crave the slick, possession-based football which made his Napoli special.
President Andrea Agnelli is an ambitious leader and understands that the way to expand (and subsequently monetise) the international fanbase is through cavalier football as well as tonnes of trophies. The plan is to woo young supporters from Tokyo to Miami to London with the free-flowing hallmarks of ‘Sarrismo’.
Arrigo Sacchi, who transformed underperforming Milan into proactive world beaters in the late 1980s, told SportMediaset.com: “Don’t call this a little revolution. This is a genuine revolution, demanded by a brave president with a strong personality. This is a rejection of the old Italian approach to football. I hope everyone across calcio finally realises that a victory without playing well is worthless.”
Sarri will need the right men to implement his philosophy. It’s unknown whether he’ll deploy the 4-3-3 from his Napoli spell and victorious Europa League campaign with Chelsea, or the 4-3-1-2 that clicked at Empoli.
Sarri said: “In the first 70 metres of the pitch I want them to carry out what I have shown them. Then in the last 30m I want them to do what they consider the right thing.”
Recruits of the calibre of Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey are certainly welcome. Add the mooted signing of penalty box specialist Mauro Icardi and the Juventus squad will be on a par with the star-studded group that won the 1996 Intercontinental Cup. But the purchase of Matthijs De Ligt to augment an already water-tight defence has really created headlines.
The Bianconeri don’t usually import their central defenders. They have been an Italian ministry of defence for years.
De Ligt, who signed this summer for £67.5m (Sh8.4bn), will learn so much working with Juve’s coaches and new team-mates Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci.
At his unveiling the star said: “Italy is the home of defenders.” His potential, combined with Juve’s know-how, is a frightening prospect.
Sarri developed Napoli’s Senegalese centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly from a Serie A star to one of the most coveted players in the world. It will be intriguing to see how much responsibility and playmaking duties influence he gives De Ligt.
“In Holland there is a lot of building from the back and defending high up the pitch. Italy is more about zonal marking and defending together, I think that Juve can help me and I can help them,” De Ligt added.
The former Ajax prodigy takes the No 4 shirt. Paolo Montero, one of Juventus’ last great foreign defenders, wore that jersey with pride. The similarities end there. The Uruguayan was an uncomplicated butcher, De Ligt is a refined surgeon.
The influx of new blood necessities sales. Sami Khedira and Mario Mandzukic are expected to follow Joao Cancelo out of the exit door.
Goalkeeper Mattia Perin, who has been relegated to third choice with the return of Gigi Buffon, is heading through the exit. World Cup 2018 winner Blaise Matuidi may also be wearing a new shirt come August.
Since the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo last summer it’s clear Juventus are aiming high. They want to add to their total of two Champions Leagues, the last one in 1996, against De Ligt’s old team Ajax in Rome.
Under Allegri’s guidance the Turin side reached two finals, losing both in 2015 and 2017. The disastrous 1990 renovation was after a domestic dip. Juve are the undisputed kings of Serie A these days. Continental glory is on the agenda now.
Maifredi’s ‘champagne calcio’ went flat after Christmas. Sarri, De Ligt, and CR7 hope to be quaffing the good stuff at the end of the season.