Champions League final can't hide uncertain futures for Juventus' African trio
Juventus' African trio of Medhi Benatia, Kwadwo Asamoah, and Mario Lemina may end Saturday as European champions, but the future remains uncertain for all three despite their trophy-laden campaign.
Massimiliano Allegri and his Old Lady squad will look back on a remarkably successful season in which they won a sixth consecutive Scudetto, completed a treble, and reached a third Champions League final in three years.
Yet their African trio have all played somewhat peripheral roles. Domestically, they've made a total of 38 starts between them, while continentally they've only started a combined seven matches during Juve's run to the final.
Asamoah's Serie A starts were inflated by Allegri's decision to rotate the left-back position late in the season, with Brazil's Alex Sandro reserved for continental and cup action, and the West African deputising in the league.
In truth, none of the trio have played particularly critical roles in any of Juve's successes this term.
There have been isolated exceptions, of course.
Against Sampdoria in March, Ghana international Asamoah was arguably the Italian giants' outstanding individual, offering a sublime cross for Juan Cuadrado's winner, and also demonstrating his defensive prowess with a last-gasp intervention to deny a goal-scoring opportunity.
Similarly, Benatia served a reminder of his quality in both boxes in the 2-1 victory over rivals AC Milan in March, when he scored the opener and defended stoutly.
That was a rare highlight for the 'Moroccan Maldini' during a testing campaign in which he's managed just 15 appearances domestically and two starts in Europe. The North African was drafted in on a season-long loan at the beginning of the season in order to challenge Juve's longstanding defensive trio of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, and Andrea Barzagli.
However, rather than steadily replacing the last -- and oldest -- of the three, Benatia has too often found himself watching from the sidelines as Allegri has kept faith with his stalwarts, while the North African has struggled with injury problems of his own.
Some eyebrows were certainly raised when Juve opted to make the centre-back's temporary stay permanent in May when they signed the defender in a €17 million deal.
After an unconvincing campaign, in which Daniele Rugani impressed when given the opportunity, and with 30-year-old Benatia no longer able to call upon the vitality of youth, it was a decision that demonstrated a considerable level of faith on the part of the coach.
For the fee they paid, Juve will certainly be hoping that Benatia can be a starter next term, but his performances have hardly suggested that he represents good value for money.
Meanwhile, one suspects that, following his injury nightmares of recent seasons, Asamoah will simply be delighted to get back on a pitch and to begin to rediscover his top form.
Some of the Black Star's peak years have been ravaged by fitness problems, but it's not too much of a stretch to argue that he's been the best reserve left-back in the European game this season. It's not bad going for a player who originally made his name as a central midfielder.
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Yet while it's hard to be critical of a player who's battled back from so much, and who's still racking up significant silverware at Juve, is this the best 'Asabob' can hope for? A role as Alex Sandro's deputy?
Now 28, the former Udinese man could be expecting to stamp his authority on contests in the middle of the park, drive his team forward on a regular basis, and assert some measure of creative control over a match.
Yet he's contributed just one assist this term, and his talents on the left are unlikely to be required by Ghana (should he ever return to the national fold) considering Kwesi Appiah can call upon Abdul Rahman Baba (when fit) and Jeffrey Schlupp.
Of the three, Lemina's future is the most uncertain. While the Gabon midfielder has made more league appearances -- 19 -- than either of his aforementioned teammates, he's largely been limited to the briefest of cameos late in the action. Indeed, of his Serie A showings, six have been for 17 minutes or less.
The 23-year-old initially impressed after moving to Turin from Olympique de Marseille in 2015, but he's lost his way this season, and the additions of Stefano Sturaro and Tomas Rincon have only increased competition in the heart of the park.
Lemina is a dynamic player who can link the midfield and the attack effectively, as well as operating in a deeper role. However, he can appear on a different wavelength to his teammates, and his decisive contributions -- he managed just one goal and one assist this season -- remain limited.
Arsenal have been linked to his signature in the last month, and it would come as little surprise if Juve cash in this summer.
Ed Dove is the Soccer Editor for KweséESPN. Follow him on Twitter @EddyDove.