View From Juventus: Vidal, Pogba, Evra And More

We caught up with Juventus supporter Rav Gopal to discuss the current transfer rumours between the clubs. Rav created one of the first English language Juventus supporter websites all the way back in 2001, JuveFC.com.

Hi Rav. Thanks for giving us your time… Once upon a time United and Juventus were forever being drawn against each other in the Champions League. Now – sadly for us – the only time we get mentioned in the same sentences is in transfer gossip columns. United have been strongly linked with a move for Arturo Vidal, the midfielder who set the World Cup alight with his performances for Chile… the first thing to ask is, just how good is he?

As a Juventino, It’s always hard not to get carried away or sound too biased when discussing a player that has become a cornerstone for your clubs recent successes. That said, Arturo Vidal is the best box to box midfielder in the game today. He’s a ‘complete’ midfielder in every sense of the word and he has everything that you want from a player in the middle of the pitch : He’s defensively sound, breaks up attacks and mops up the leftovers; He has uncanny attacking instinct, his technique is second to none, he’s physical and robust and perhaps most importantly, he’s adaptable. Vidal can play just about anywhere on the pitch and still give 100% for the full 90 minutes – I’ve seen him play in the heart of midfield, in the centre of defence, out on the wings and even at wing-back and every time he’s never looked out of position. He’s one of the most inspiring, hard working and dedicated footballers I’ve had the good fortune to watch. I’ve said it often to other Juventini – Losing Vidal would be tougher than when we lost the likes of Ibrahimovic, Vieira and various others, post-Calciopoli.

Mention Manchester United, £40m and a midfielder to any Red and four months ago they would have rolled their eyes at you. Now, with van Gaal in and Ander Herrera already acquired, there seems a real belief that we might actually be in for Vidal. How realistic is the move viewed in Italy?

It’s not always easy to assess, especially during a World Cup year when his displays for Chile have bought him a lot of attention. The obvious questions about his future have been put to him on numerous occasions during the tournament and there was a lot attention drawn to comments he made after the game against Spain. What I read in the English press differed greatly from what he actually said. When questioned about his future, his actual reply was: “I don’t know. I am happy at Juve, but right now I only want to focus on Chile.”

The general feeling in Italy is that the player is very happy at the club and would only be sold if he requested a move. Juventus seem quite intent on keeping him given the impact he’s had since his move from Leverkusen.

There were some suggestions that he might favour a move to Spain just a few months back [March] – He responded by saying:

“I don’t listen to the sirens in Spain, and my family is happy in Turin. I’ve repeated it several times: I’m happy here.

“I’m staying at Juventus because president Andrea Agnelli has asked me for the Champions League.”

If he did end up moving to United, what could our supporters expect from him?

The first thing to note about Vidal his is work-rate. Simply put, it’s immense. If United were to sign him, they’d have a player that is used to training hard off the pitch while giving his all in each and every game he plays. If you think that’s an exageration you only need to watch a few of his games for Juve last season. A better example would be his recent displays for Chile in the World Cup. Even recovering from injury he was instrumental to the team, playing a key part in many of their goals, linking up with Alexis Sanchez and Mauricio Isla to great effect. He scores key goals in big games with the only real downside of his play being his temper which can sometimes get the better of him, although he’s improved on that immensely since joining Juventus. With Vidal, you’re getting a player that can play almost anywhere on the pitch, a goalscoring midfielder, a player who can break up attacks and then create chances and most importantly of all, he can do all this consistently, week in, week out.

To put things into context, In 2013/14 Vidal scored 19 goals and created 5 assists in all competitions for Juventus and some still consider this to be his ‘worst’ season at Juventus !

The other midfielder who is sharing the same gossip columns is Paul Pogba, someone familiar to all United fans. Is the view over there that he will be staying?

There was a lot of talk at the start of the summer about Pogba’s future, especially given the season he’s just had at Juventus. It doesn’t help when his agent is Mino Raiola, a man who isn’t shy of sharing his views and opinions on the players he represents. His siutation is similar to Vidal’s in the sense that Juventus don’t want to sell him unless the player wishes to move. His contract with Juve ends in 2016 and there was talk of an extension in March of this year. The general feeling is that Pogba will stay for at least one more season – He’s guaranteed to start in midfield and will have a chance to play in the Champions League. Some English papers suggest that Juve need the cash from a potential sale to fund the purchases of other players but Raiola had this to say just last week about Pogba’s immediate future:
“The guy is at Juventus and happy and does not want to leave.

“The situation today is clam and it is not the moment to leave Juve. Everything is still and quiet.”

The general focus in the Italian press seems to be on the players Juve are going to buy – There’s very little talk of player sales.

Ask any Red and even if their interpretation of who was to blame for his exit differs from the next man, there’s a universal agreement that he was a huge talent but his entourage caused so much trouble. Firstly, just how good has he been for you, and second, are you too beginning to tire of the constant rumours?

The rumours this summer have certainly become tiresome but they seem to be primarily focused in the British press who have linked him to Chelsea, PSG and a possible move back to United. The Italian press feed off these stories but there rarely seems to be any real foundation to them. Raiola (Pogba’s agent) always insisted that the player was happy in Turin and there would be a contract extension when the time is right.

The thing to remember with Pogba is that he’s still only 21 years old and yet he’s forced his way into the starting lineup of a team that has (in recent years at least) always opted for age and experience in their starting XI. He started 33 games for Juventus last season which should give some indication of the faith that Antonio Conte has in him; And that’s been the key. In Conte, Pogba has a coach who was quick to recognize and reward his efforts by placing him at the heart of his midfield alongside a veteran like Andrea Pirlo and next to a fighter like Arturo Vidal.

His performances, last season in particular, were sensational. He scored my favourite goal of 2013/14 against Napoli – One of the most perfectly taken volley’s you will ever see. His disciplinary record has been exemplary, earning only 4 yellow cards despite playing some tough games against sides like Chievo and Bologna. He seems to have learned a thing or two from Pirlo because his range of passing has greatly improved. Statistics don’t always tell the full story, but over the course of the season, his pass accuracy was 84% while his shot accuracy was 49%. He scored 7 goals and created 7 assists in a league where he was constantly harried and pressed and he still managed to find space to operate. There are two things that I always notice about Pogba : 1) The amount of distance he covers per game 2) His movement both on and off the ball. His displays for Juventus show a player who is definitely not the finished product and yet after just two seasons, he’s showing incredible maturity and intelligence for a player that still has his best years ahead of him.

Are you confident he’ll stay at Juventus long term?

Every way I look at it, I can’t see Pogba staying at Juventus long-term. He’s grown immensely as a player in the last two seasons and that’s all been capped off by a strong performance at the World Cup. There’s no denying how much he is adored by the Juve tifosi and most would like nothing more than to see him stay and become a key part of any future success. The reality of it (as i see it) is Juventus have a player that is worth somewhere in the region of £40m and another strong season in Turin will only see that figure increase. It’s been a while since we’ve had players that are sought after by teams in Spain and England alike and there’s bound to come a point when the player himself wants to try something new. I think we’ll keep Pogba for at least one more season before perhaps seeing him move on to the Premier League or La Liga.

Another transfer that has been suggested is Patrice Evra going to Turin. How has that news been welcomed?

The left-back role is a position we’ve struggled with in recent seasons. Kwadwo Asamoah plied his trade as a midfielder before Conte switched him to LWB in his 3-5-2 formation but all that seems to be changing next season with a switch to a 4-3-3. At the time of writing, the Evra deal seems to have been all but completed but there’s a real mixture in opinions on the move. The idea of signing a 33 year old who is the twilight of his career seems to have angered some fans, especially when Evra was available on a free just a month ago, while others are more open minded, pointing to Evra’s years of succcess with United. My personal take is that we’re signing a player for his experience in the Champions League and his leadership on the pitch. Our defence has sometimes lacked a more vocal player – Hopefully Patrice can bring some of that with him.

Juventus are once again the top team in Italy, a fine recovery from where they found themselves just after their 2003 title win. There was the unbeaten team in 2012 but would you say the current team is better?

The current team is significantly better than the one that went a season unbeaten, despite there being a core of players that featured in both 2013/14 and 2011/112. Looking back at that record breaking unbeaten run with a more critical eye, I think there was a lack of expectation from the fans given the seasons we had been through just prior to Conte taking over. In 2011/12, our goals came from midfield as well up front but none of our forwards managed more than 10 goals for the entire season. Mirko Vucinic and Alessandro Matri played the most games but weren’t as clinical up front as Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez have been in 2013/14. We were heavily dependent on Andrea Pirlo that season as he made 37 league appearances and the majority of the play came through him. Despite going unbeaten, we drew against teams we should have beaten easily like Lecce, Siena and Chievo and there still seemed to periods in the games when heads would drop and lapses in concentration would cost us.

Fast forward to 2013/14 and we won every home game in the league including notable victories against Napoli and Roma who chased us all the way to the finish line. We drew just three times against tough opposition (Inter, Verona and Lazio) and lost just twice, one of those being against Fiorentina in a game where we were leading 2-0 for 60 minutes. We finally found the player we were missing in the attacking third when we signed Carlos Tevez who managed 19 goals and 7 assists. Many of those goals came in games where he single-handedly won us 3 points with his brilliant individual displays. Fernando Llorente found his rhythm alongside Tevez and was only just behind his striker partner, scoring 16 goals and providing 5 assists for the season. Paul Pogba forced himself into the starting XI each week and scored the goal of season against Napoli, while Andrea Pirlo ended the season on a high with some sublime free kicks that snatched late wins for Juventus. The defence has become a tight knit unit again with players like Leonardo Bonucci becoming vital to Conte’s back 3 while Martin Caceres stepped in for the injured Andrea Barzagli and played some brilliant games at CB.

Juventus earned 102 points last season. Despite the huge disappointment of exiting the Champions League in the group stages, last seasons team looks more like the Juve, pre-calciopoli: Confident, creative, assured and determined.

After that group stage exit in the Champions League, what do you think is the realistic chance for your team next year?

A lot is going to depend on the summers transfers and the formation that Conte elects to use.

If we’re able to retain Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal, that’s a huge boost for us. We’ve signed Kingsley Coman from PSG but there’s a lot of debate as to how much he’ll feature for us. We’re pushing for Juan Iturbe from Verona and trying to sign Alvaro Morata of Real Madrid, either on loan or permanently, which all seems to point to a change in formation. There were occasions last season when we were heavily reliant on Tevez to try and turn a game and the hope is that by signing a winger, we’ll have the option of changing things around both in the league and Europe. Adding to the squad while only losing fringe players points to the Juve board taking Conte’s ‘demands’ for new players very seriously.

If we’re able to make one or two key signings, I can see us winning the league again but i expect stronger challenges from AC Milan and Inter – Both sides were disappointing last season and with Milan out of Europe, they’ll be able to focus on the league.

As for the Champions League, I still believe we had a run of bad luck last time round. Both games against Galatasaray cost us dearly but we can take heart from our displays against Real Madrid. With Tevez and Llorente finding a better understanding of one another as the season progressed, I think we’re more prepared for Europe this time round. I think anything less than making at least the quarter finals would be a huge disappointment for the Juventini.

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