Thursday 18 July 2019 18:18, UK
With the signing of Dutch wonderkid Matthijs De Ligt, Juventus have sent yet another statement of intent to the football world. But how are they planning to become Europe’s No 1 club?
The Italian giants have been dominating domestic football for the past eight trophy-laden years, establishing themselves as one of the leading clubs on the European scene.
While big-name signings like De Ligt and Cristiano Ronaldo showcase the team's pulling power on the sporting side, there is a clear commercial strategy within the hierarchy outlining the path to expand Juventus as the most influential football club brand on the globe.
Here, we speak to Sky in Italy's Juventus correspondent Francesco Cosatti to get an insight of how the club are striving for success outside of the pitch as much as on it…
Juventus hit rock bottom in 2006 when the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal - involving former general manager Luciano Moggi - eventually cost the club relegation to Serie B as well as the 2005 and 2006 Serie A titles, re-assigned to second-placed Inter.
Despite being docked nine points, Juve topped the second division, bouncing straight back into the top flight but suffered a few years of obscurity - until in 2010 Andrea Agnelli rose to president, effectively ushering in a new era for the club.
"He brought in a fresh plan of action that expanded and enriched the vision and reach of the club, and the brand as a consequence," says Cosatti. "It's all based on a winning mentality: winning on the pitch and growing as a club to become one of the top sides in the world.
"'Winning is not important, it's the only thing that matters' is the club's motto - as said by their former president Giampiero Boniperti. It explains their philosophy at 360 degrees. It almost feels natural nowadays that you see Cristiano Ronaldo convincing Matthijs De Ligt to join Juventus - but 10 years ago it couldn't have been like this."
The key moment in Juventus' renaissance can arguably be pinpointed as September 11, 2011. It's the date of the Juventus Stadium's official opening, a 4-1 league win against Parma - three days after a friendly with Notts County, the inspiration behind the Italians' iconic black and white stripes.
The stadium caught the eye for the stands' proximity to the football pitch, an aspect inspired by sports venues in England - but what really gave Juventus the edge on other Serie A giants was that it was the first club-owned stadium in Italy, which helped them cement their identity and really touch base in what became their first proper home.
"The opening of the Juventus Stadium was one of the fundamental milestones of the club's resurgence, with which they started to build a new era for the club as a whole," says Cosatti. "Having a club-owned stadium really helps because all the income from matchdays, sponsorships, advertising and facilities goes directly into the club's pockets.
"The first few years the new stadium had a real effect on home games - there were 40,000 fans really up close to the pitch and you could feel the atmosphere twice as much."
However, Juve's efforts throughout the years to create a unique brand did not go unnoticed - and what caused quite a stir was the 2017 switch from the traditional black and white crest to the new logo, which a section of supporters branded as a "joke", accusing it of ruining over 100 years of history.
For the first time since Juventus' inception, the rampant bull - symbol of the City of Turin and also found on the club crest of city rivals Torino - was omitted, leaving space to a stylised 'J' so easy to notice and replicate even Lionel Messi's son had fun drawing it on a piece of paper.
"They did it because they wanted to create a sense of belonging - just like the famous swoosh represents Nike or the three stripes Adidas - so that people across the globe could immediately associate that J with Juventus," says Cosatti.
"It symbolised a development into a commercial brand, and they exploited club merchandising and marketing to produce casual-wear clothes like shirts, coats or swimming shorts with the J logo. It's an extremely avant-garde, cool and trendy product idea - something different than your usual home jersey or polo."
It can be argued that the real X factor in Juve's sporting resurgence was general manager Beppe Marotta, a real strategist of the transfer market brought in by Agnelli upon his arrival - dubbed by Italian media as the "king of free transfers", a man so hard to replace Juventus had to split his role into three new positions when he eventually left the club for Inter in 2018.
In his first years at the club, Marotta agreed deals to sign key players like Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Arturo Vidal while sealing impressive free transfers such as Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba, Dani Alves and Emre Can. Now, Fabio Paratici - the natural heir to Marotta's throne - kept the trend alive signing De Ligt, Cristiano Ronaldo and securing Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot on free transfers.
On top of this, Juventus can count on having the right pulling power to attract the best players from Serie A in order to simultaneously strengthen up and weaken their rivals, as happened with Roma's Miralem Pjanic, Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain and Fiorentina's Federico Bernardeschi.
"The managing of the transfer market is very schematic: Juventus first try to secure some good free transfers so that then they can have full horse-power to seal big money moves for big players," says Cosatti.
"In 2016 they signed Higuain, the most expensive signing for any Italian team (£83m) - but at the same time, they sold Pogba for £94.5m, making them earn the biggest capital profit in football history as they signed him on a free from Manchester United."
"What is of interest to Juventus is the growth of their brand on a global scale. That is achieved primarily through signing quality players and by winning games on the pitch, and the former helps the latter. Ronaldo is the shining example behind this."
In terms of fan excitement, last summer was unprecedented as the shock £105m signing of the then-Real Madrid ace really seemed to form the missing piece of the puzzle in the team's bid to return to Champions League glory - but even before thinking about the best way to play him on the football pitch, Juventus were able to reap the rewards of the arrival of one of the world's very best.
"In terms of sporting growth, the two Champions League finals were vital to make people talk about Juventus, but this is something which grew exponentially especially after the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo," says Cosatti.
In fact, Juventus gained around 1.5m followers across their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds 24 hours after the announcement of the done deal, and had a 99 per cent boost in followers across all platforms five months later.
"These are crazy figures," says Cosatti. "Turin basically became the city of Cristiano Ronaldo - I doubt that the inhabitants of a small village in the Chinese countryside knew where Turin was previously, but they surely do now."
A concept shared by Deloitte, which in its 2019 edition of the annual Football Money League survey stated that "the club's increased social media following in the weeks leading up to, and after, the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo demonstrate the platform for commercial growth that a marquee signing can bring".
After eight years of domestic dominance, it's no secret Juventus are going all out to win the much-coveted Champions League - a target gone missing in the trophy cabinet for the better part of 23 years.
"They want to win the Champions League, because it's their missing piece of the puzzle," says Cosatti. "But more generally speaking, the goal is to grow especially from the commercial point of view, bridging the gap with the rest of European superpowers such as Real Madrid, Manchester United and Barcelona. "
According to Deloitte, in 2018 Juventus ranked only 11th in financial revenue across European clubs, generating an overall income of €395m. However, in 2011 this number stood at €154m, signalling a growth rate of 156.5 per cent in seven years. This means the club have found a coping mechanism to feature in Europe's elite - even without benefiting from a cash-injected product like the Premier League.
"Juventus have already grown a lot and speaking about it now, it doesn't look like it's mission impossible - but a project had been planned out to allow the club to get to this stage," says Cosatti.