It’s very rare that we cover another team’s transfer rumors, but, due to the ramifications for Roma’s relationship to and with Juventus, to say nothing of overall league parity, Gonzalo Higuain’s rumored/impending move to Juventus demands our attention. After securing Dani Alves and going big for Miralem Pjanic, it seems as though the Old Lady is poised for another headline grabbing move, forking over a reported €94 million for Higuain, who is fresh off a record breaking campaign for Napoli.
Gonzalo Higuain has signed contract until 2020 with Juventus. His wage will be 7,5M€/season. Soon Juve will pay release clause to Napoli— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) July 23, 2016
As you can see from Mr. Romano’s tweet, Pipito is all but signed, sealed and delivered to Juve, who are believed to be spreading out the €94 million over two seasons, while making Higuain the highest paid player in the league (€7.5 million), putting him some three million above Juve’s next highest paid player (Paul Pogba, for now at least). While some of these figures are based on last season, the point is clear: Juve are completely flipping their script for Higuain, putting him leaps and bounds above their more established players like Gianluigi Buffon and Leonardo Bonucci among others.
So while we can hope that this move upsets the Old Lady’s apple cart, I wouldn’t hold your breath. With their utter domination of Serie A, everyone on that detestable club knows the real goal: winning the Champions League. Now whether or not Higuain—a player notorious for disappearing in big competitions—is the man to put them over the top or not is more a concern for our friends and Black, White and Read All Over, but it would be great to watch them implode from their own hubris, wouldn’t it?
Now, on to the salient point, what this move means for Serie A in general. For the overall health of the league relative to its European competitors, I’ll refer you to this excellent piece by Conor Dowley, my de facto boss and the head Napoli blogger, but it’s a great look at the past decade/decline of Italian football.
For our purposes, we’re more concerned with the internal competition of the league, which has already been virtually non-existent over the past five years. Just in case you’re new to the Serie A, here’s the scoop: Juventus has won the past five titles by the following margins (starting in 2011-2012): 4 points, 9 points, 17 points, 17 points, and 9 points.
As you can see, Juventus’ stranglehold on the league has only gotten stronger over the past five seasons, last year notwithstanding, when all that really stood between Juve and another double digit romp was Higuain’s 36 goal campaign single handedly keeping Napoli at a semi-respectable distance.
Which brings us to our next point. Not only are Juventus getting better, they’re directly weakening their chief rivals, Roma (Miralem Pjanic) and Napoli (Higuain), by purchasing their best players at will. Simply put, Juventus is operating on its own plane of existence. And while we don’t know if this Higuain move is being fueled by an impending Pogba sale or not, with word that Juve is close to obtaining Axel Witsel—who was previously connected to, you guessed it, Roma and Napoli—Juventus’ transfer ambitions haven’t been quelled one bit; they just keep getting stronger and deeper (TWSS)
Given their inhouse talent, their ambition and their financial clout—especially when compared to Roma and Napoli—we might be staring down the barrel of an extremely top heavy league, one in which Juventus serves as the Bayern Munich of Serie A, with Napoli and Roma competing for the role of Borussia Dortmund.
Consider for a moment Bayern’s utter domination of the Bundesliga in recent seasons. Bayern, much like Juventus, have recovered from a brief downcycle and have thoroughly owned the league, winning the past four titles by a collective 64 point margin. Their superior management, squad depth and sheer financial strength has enabled them to make the league a mere springboard for European competition; the Bundesliga title is practically an afterthought at this point.
So while Dortmund was able to capture a title prior to Munich’s most recent run, neither Roma nor Napoli currently boasts the same level of young, cost controlled talent Dortmund had in 2011-2012. Furthermore, even with players like Pjanic, Radja Nainggolan, Francesco Totti, Marek Hamsik, Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens, neither club has mounted a respectable title challenge over the past five years.
Juve’s moves this summer, coupled with their simple monopoly on Serie A, paints a bleak picture. While the Old Lady is chasing Higuain and Witsel, weakening their domestic rivals and entertaining record breaking fees for Pogba, Roma can’t even land Real Madrid’s 26-year-old backup central defender or extend the loan of Arsenal’s third choice keeper.
Higuain or not, Juventus’ sixth straight title was all but a certainty. Napoli was (ironically) too dependent on Higuain for offense, Roma’s defense is in shambles while their midfield depth is non existent, both Milan sides are still struggling to recapture their faded past, while Fiorentina hasn’t been able to capitalize on their relative success earlier in the decade. The quality and simple competence of the clubs behind Juventus gives little hope for parity, a factor made worse when you consider that these clubs now have to compete with mid table English clubs for talent; the name recognition of Italy’s historic clubs doesn’t hold as much sway as it once did.
Juve’s march towards six straight was always going to be unencumbered, but with a bevy of young talent, Roma had hope; hope that the Rüdiger’s, El Shaaraway’s and Salah’s of the world would quickly fill the void once Juventus’ core moved on, but the manner in which Juventus has reloaded midstream makes that all but a dream.
Without a consistent run of success, buttressed by some shrewd signings of their own and the simple temerity to retain their stars, Roma has no chance of competing with Juventus, not with their one step forward, two steps backward approach.
So while Juventus’ capture of Higuain wasn’t a necessary step in their march towards six straight titles, it is indicative of a larger, league wide problem. If Serie A was Destiny’s child, Juventus is Beyonce and Roma is desperately doing all they can to simply be Kelly Rowland.
Juve can have the Top 40 stations, we just want consistent play on adult contemporary. Is that too much to ask?