Juve's clash with Real Madrid marks end of high-profile clashes before 'Year Zero' restart

Pre-season friendly in US comes before their ban from European competition kicks in

Paul Pogba during Juventus's pre-season friendly against AC Milan in Carson, California, last week. Getty
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The marquee fixtures are thinning out. Juventus, Serie A champions nine times in the past 12 years, had expected to play Barcelona in California to start their pre-season tour 11 days ago. That event was cancelled due to a sudden bout of illness in the opposition squad.

And the diary keeps on emptying. Juventus would normally have hoped that 22 wins and six draws in the league last season would be enough to take up their customary place in the European Champions League come September. But a series of past misdemeanours caught up with them.

Charges of false accounting against the club meant a 10-point deduction, leaving them seventh, not third – the reward for 72 points – in the table.

Uefa then examined how Juventus had misrepresented their balance sheets to the European governing body. They have imposed a year-long ban from their competitions. There will be no adventure even in the Conference League, the usual reward for seventh spot in Serie A in 2023/24.

So it is that when Juve take to the pitch in Florida against Real Madrid in a glorified friendly, they should cherish what it feels like to be in heavyweight company. It will be a while until the next encounter with a so-called superclub.

The league season begins later this month with games against Udinese, Bologna and Empoli. By the time Juve visit AC Milan in late October, the Champions League, the Europa League and the minor sibling of the Uefa hierarchy, the Conference League, will be up and running without any trace of Italy’s figurehead club.

It is a significant blow, a crossroads moment. Some Juve followers use the phrase "Year Zero" for what the coming season represents for a club who in each of the past 11 campaigns have always reached the knockout stages of a major Uefa tournament.

The "Year Zero" tag is resonant. Back in 2006, after Juventus executives had been found to have systematically manipulated referees in Serie A, the club was punitively relegated to the second division. They called it Year Zero then: a fresh start, a reboot. Five years later, a recovered Juventus embarked on a run of nine successive league titles.

This new setback is less dramatic and, so far, less of a reboot. With a month left of the transfer window, what should be a significant transition summer remains stuck in the strategic starting blocks.

The Juventus head coach, Max Allegri, embarking on his eighth season in charge of the club – that’s across two spells – wants a new, Champions League-calibre centre-forward but, working with a new sporting director, Cristiano Giuntoli, is also being reminded that, with only Serie A and the Coppa Italia in the diary and no Uefa revenue stream ahead, the roster needs substantial trimming.

It’s a process that has been stubborn to get going. Sizeable salaries need removing from the wage bill. Who might come in for surplus Leo Bonucci, who in May played his 500th game for Juventus? Bonucci, 36, helped Italy win the last European Championship and hopes to lead his country in the defence of that title next summer. But at the moment he is not in the US with his club, excluded from the pre-season tour and not in Juventus’ plans for the final season of his contract, which expires next June.

Prospective moves to other Italian clubs have fallen through, although there is reported interest in Bonucci from Ajax.

Some high earners have left, like Angel di Maria, Leandro Paredes and the long-serving Juan Cuadrado. Paul Pogba, who made such a spectacularly ill-starred return to Juve a year ago, remains, in his uncomfortable, high-cost limbo.

The midfielder arrived injured from Manchester United last July, then suffered another grave injury and managed a single start for Juve in the entire 2022/23 campaign. There is no clarity about his fitness for the start of this Year Zero season.

Allegri’s current squad is 37 strong, too many players for a season with no midweek European commitments, but insufficiently potent, by the head coach’s reckoning, at centre-forward, where Dusan Vlahovic, the €70 million-plus purchase of 18 months ago, has not yet matched expectations.

Hence Juve’s interest in Romelu Lukaku, for sale at Chelsea, from whom he spent last season on loan at Internazionale. The Belgian is on record – from 2021 – as saying he would never consider joining Juventus, but has given partial blessing to a possible move to Juve if terms, possibly involving a loan or swap with Vlahovic, can be agreed.

“We have a good base,” insists Allegri, “Last year we finished third [in Italy] in terms of our performances on the pitch. But we have to see what the team looks like at the end of the transfer market.”

Updated: August 02, 2023, 3:10 AM