Emre Can is right to be upset at Champions League snub, the result of Juve's poor planning
It's one half of the transfer season, and it's often the side that gets overlooked. Selling. And doing it well. It's also what is making Juventus' summer -- beyond the excitement generated by Matthijs de Ligt, Merih Demiral, Aaron Ramsey (when he finally plays), Adrien Rabiot and the return of Gianluigi Buffon -- so hard to judge. And it's a reminder that when you hand out a contract, it has consequences not just in the present but in the future too.
For all the praise heaped upon the club's transfer gurus, Fabio Paratici and Pavel Nedved, for the inbound work, there's an evident flip side.
When Juventus submitted their Champions League squad list, there were only 22 names on it. Cut from the list were Emre Can, Mario Mandzukic, Giorgio Chiellini, Mattia Perin and Marko Pjaca. The latter two have been injured since the spring, won't be back for a while and would need to prove their fitness before they could be sold or loaned out anyway. No biggie. Chiellini picked up a serious injury just before the transfer market closed and won't return until the new year.
But what about the other two?
UEFA rules cap squads at 25 players age 21 or over. Why register fewer? Because you can only have 25 if you have, among them, four "association-trained" players (basically, Italians or foreign players who were in Italy for three consecutive seasons between the ages of 15 and 21) and four "homegrown" players. Juventus have plenty of the former but just one of the latter: third keeper Carlo Pinsoglio, who has about as much chance of playing as he does of partying with Rihanna.
That speaks directly to two concerns. One is that Juventus have simply neglected to create pathway from the youth academy to the first-team squad. The other is simply poor planning when it comes to contracts and transfers.
Regarding the academy, it's not that Juventus aren't producing decent youth players. No fewer than six Juve academy products (most notably, Moise Kean) were called up for the Italian national team in the past year; it's just that they play for other clubs. That may change in the future: Juventus were the only Italian club to take advantage of a rule change to create an under-23 side that plays in the third tier. But for now, no homegrown players means fewer bodies available for the Champions League.
If the academy issue is one that will take time to resolve, the glut of players is a more recent foul-up. In early August, Maurizio Sarri himself said that he had too many players and expected half a dozen to be gone. That's why a huge amount of players -- from Daniele Rugani to Blaise Matuidi, from Khedira to Emre Can, from Gonzalo Higuain to Mandzukic, from Paulo Dybala to Demiral -- were linked with moves, either on loan or permanent deals. It only made sense. Move them on to lower the wage bill and, where possible, get some cash in. But most of all, don't get stuck with guys you can't use.
Instead, they're all still there. And there's no escaping the fact that their wages and long contracts had a lot to do with it.
Mandzukic got a contract extension in March. Khedira got his new contract in September 2018 and then went on to start just eight league games that season. Higuain has two years left on a mega-deal that pays him close to $20 million a season. Dybala is on the hook until 2022, with a salary of around $16m. Emre Can, of course, arrived in 2018 with one of those free-transfers-that-is-anything-but-free when you consider the $18m paid in commissions to agents to secure his signature.
Chickens come home to roost. Clubs weren't willing to push the boat out for overpaid thirtysomethings with multiyear deals -- sorry Mandzukic (33), Khedira (32) and Higuain (31). Few can afford them and those who can chose not to. Dybala and Can, who are younger, were saleable assets and there was interest, but both opted to stay and fight for their places. As for Rugani, he was taken off the market once Chiellini was injured.
It was the only silver lining, otherwise Juve would have had three guys on starter money who they could not use in the Champions League until the new year at the earliest. Instead, they have two, one of whom is none too pleased.
"On Tuesday they phoned me and told me, in a conversation that didn't even last a minute, that I was not on the list and they didn't give an explanation," Can told the German newspaper Bild. "That does make me angry and furious because I think that I played well last season, above all in the Champions League."
You can see his point. He made 37 appearances for a club that won the league and now he'll listen to the Champions League anthem from the stands. As for Mandzukic, I like to imagine him somewhere smashing rocks to vent his frustration.
The point is that it shouldn't come to this. At the risk of sounding like a bean counter, mega-squads mean dead money, because guys who don't play don't contribute on the pitch but still get paid: they're simply very expensive insurance policies. But being forced to cut Can and Mandzukic after flogging them -- and a host of others -- all summer speaks to something else.
It's simply poor planning, and Juventus are paying the price for it. Maybe it won't matter, maybe they'll still romp their way to the Serie A title. But it's pretty evident somebody dropped the ball here.
And amid the many "W" in Juve's transfers, this category gets an "L."