The €294 million Team

Yesterday, Juventus clinched their ninth straight Scudetto to confirm that actually, money can buy you everything. Well, not the Champions League. But apparently, in Italy, if you spend enough on players, no one else has a chance. And with the next highest wage bill less than half of Juve’s, it really does seem to be a foregone conclusion. But what does this say about Serie A? About the football? What does it really mean to be the €294 million team?

Overpaid? Underperforming? Or both?

Eight years ago, after Juventus won their first Scudetto of this winning streak, I wrote a piece called “How Much Should a Scudetto Cost?” I examined the wages of each of the previous three winners, and Milan actually had the highest wages even when we placed second. My conclusion was that winning a Scudetto was rather measured in blood, sweat and tears. Of course, I didn’t mention the three points that Milan lost because of the Gol di Muntari that season. I did mention injuries, though, which impacted that team even more. Still, that was when the top three or four teams had wage bills in the same universe.

The glory hunter came back for... Maldini's record and another Scudetto

Times have changed. Juventus’s wage bill is an obscene €294 million per year. The second highest wages this year are Inter’s, at less than half that, €139 million per year (even if they have the highest paid coach in the league at €12 million per year.) They are currently in second on the table. In stark contrast, the blood, sweat, and tears theory may be proven by Atalanta, who are currently only one point behind Inter with a wage bill of only €36 million. That is not a typo. Atalanta have only eight fewer points than Juventus with a wage bill that is only slightly over 12% of Juventus’ wages. That might actually be some kind of magic. And also incredibly humiliating for the entire Juventus organization. Particularly considering that Atalanta have played far more entertaining football throughout the year, and scored more goals, too.

Atalanta doing so much more with so much less, everything but the trophy

Last year, I asked the question, “Can You Buy a Champions League Trophy?” My conclusion was that character was more important when it came to the Champions League, something I had also written about the previous year, “Why Winning Isn’t the Only Thing.” No matter how hard they try, how many people they push out of the club, or how many overpriced and overrated players they buy, Juventus cannot seem to buy or win a Champions League Trophy. Not even with this obscenely bloated wage bill.

This year has been difficult, particularly with the interruption and global pandemic. However, Italy may actually be changing, as there are some exciting projects on the horizon. Lazio pushed hard for the Scudetto, while spending only €72 million in wages. Both Atalanta and Sassuolo have been building exciting and financially responsible projects, and both clubs own their own stadiums. Sassuolo have been really impressive, but Atalanta have been astonishing. They don’t have any big stars, unless you count their goalkeeper’s illustrious rap career. They are playing phenomenally entertaining football, and getting the results as well. Sure, they fell short of actually winning the Scudetto, but not by much, and actually look more competitive in the Champions League than the €294 million team.

Money may not be enough next season

Even Milan, who cut their wage bill by €25 million in the last two transfer markets, while simultaneously vastly improving their squad, look to be headed back to the ways of beautiful football, but this time without the ginormous costs. Nothing demonstrated that more than the recent win over the €294 million team. There is something about having a heart and soul, as well as players who are hungry to win (or at least maybe even just hungry?) that drives a team more than giant bags of cash. This year’s Juventus played the poorest football of any of the last nine years, their “legendary” defense conceding 38 goals. But having the most overpaid players does seem to have given them the edge for the trophy, at least this year.

If Juventus pull off a Champions League win this year, no one will be more shocked than me. Not only have they played well beneath their price tag all year long, they have given up their souls and their character in the obsession for the unwinnable trophy. Maybe having a squad that costs more than double the next nearest rival allows you to win by seven points in Italy. But they have demonstrated time and time again that in other competitions, money doesn’t matter. It takes hard work, blood, sweat, tears, and character. And they are severely lacking in the last one, at least.

Some injuries hurt Juve, but not as much as his trash-talking book hurt his reputation

So, having missed out on the Supercoppa and Coppa Italia trophies this season, they are now one for three. On paper, they still have a shot at the Champions League trophy, but realistically, Atalanta have a better shot. That is what €294 million will buy you. Without the hunger, the teamwork, and the character of teams that spent so much less, Juventus can dominate in Italy while boring on the pitch. Greed isn’t a character attribute, and spending doesn’t guarantee anything more than just another Scudetto. That is what it means to be the €294 million team.

This post inspired by the music of Muse’s “Dead Inside”

Our next match is
Serie A Week 37
Sampdoria vs. Milan
Wednesday, July 29 • 19:30 CEST (1:30 EDT)

The €294 million Team The €294 million Team Reviewed by Elaine on 12:32 AM Rating: 5
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