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Juventus got a little younger on Monday but also made sure to keep a couple veterans around Turin.
The Old Lady completed a swap deal, sending Miralem Pjanic plus cash to Barcelona for midfielder Arthur, while also announcing new contracts for Gianluigi Buffon and Georgio Chiellini.
Barcelona says it paid $67 million for the 30-year-old Pjanic, while Juve spent about $81 million to get Arthur.
Barca could get another $11 million if Arthur hits bonuses, and there’s a good chance for that.
The Blaugranas have been a mess aside from Lionel Messi’s typical brilliance, and have been passed by Real Madrid both in the table and long-term prognosis. Board room drama has not helped anything.
Understandably, Barca is getting blasted for the swap deal and that’s an easy argument to make given Arthur’s age and status as one of the club’s more consistent performers.
But here’s a devil’s advocate take.
Pjanic a move to embrace the back end of Messi’s prime
Messi remains the best creator in the world if not flat-out best player but his window has to be closing despite his seemingly immortal skills. Consider:
- Only Thomas Muller (21) has more league assists than the Argentine and only four have more goals.
- Robert Lewandowski is the only player to have as many combined goals and assists as Messi, and the Polish striker’s season is over.
- Messi been named Man of the Match in 18 of his 27 appearances which is a ton even accounting for reputation.
It’s unlikely that he’ll fall off a cliff next season, but he needs some help in shouldering the playmaking load.
Let’s get this out of the way: Arthur is a force and will bring power and 1v1 skills to a Juventus team which is long in the tooth outside of Paulo Dybala, Matthijs de Ligt, and Rodrigo Betancur.
But Pjanic can simultaneously mentor Frenkie de Jong and combine with the young Dutchman to produce a metronomic midfield and allow Barca’s creators up top to do their thing.
Barca’s also been a bit snakebit this year. No team is possessing the ball more than Quique Setien’s men, with 62.5 percent of the ball having an edge on Man City (62.0), PSG (61.8), Bayern Munich (61.5), and Bayer Leverkusen (60.1) the only clubs above 60 percent.
Don’t get me wrong: Arguing for this move paying off more for Juve than Barcelona is very easy and the Catalan side’s embarrassing off-field season — let alone years of poor personnel planning — makes the jokes even easier. Right now, Messi isn’t just carrying Barca, he’s bearing the entire weight of the club’s reputation.
The goal seems to be to get Messi another Champions League, something that could still happen this season if the defense avoids gaffes. Barca is a top ten team in shots conceded per game, better than even Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid and Julian Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig.
Plus there will be sales of Philippe Coutinho, Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitic, and others to go with the $14 million left over from the swap deal.
Why Juventus loves the move
Arthur is a beast, and can combine with Betancur to provide a complete midfield duo that is equal parts relentless, physical, and technical.
They’ll only grow under the tutelage and pressure that comes from playing with an older roster conditioned to winning.
Consider the ages of Juve’s top minutes contributors in Serie A play. Leonardo Bonucci is 33, Cristiano Ronaldo 35, and Juan Cuadrado 32. Then comes Pjanic (30), Alex Sandro (29), de Ligt (20), Blaise Matuidi (33), Dybala (26), and Betancur (23).
Arthur is yet to collect the track record of Pjanic and there will be an adjustment but even if the swap doesn’t pan out, the Old Lady will have risked $14 million on a 23-year-old with 20 Brazil caps.
What about Buffon and Chiellini and their combined 77 years on God’s green earth?
This makes sense, too.
Buffon was strong in the Italian Cup run and provides invaluable depth in experience as one of th best goalkeepers in the history of the game.
Chiellini missed most of the season with cruciate ligament injuries but even at 35 remains an adequate player and loyal servant.
The legends want to keep playing, will accept their roles, and there’s no reason to see them in another shirt.