By Brian Homewood
(Reuters) – Juventus have been sent back to the drawing board after their Champions League ambitions were shattered by an Ajax Amsterdam side whose transfer spending this season has been roughly one fifth of their own.
The Turin club have dominated Italian football, winning Serie A for the last seven seasons, and their signing of five-times World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo in July was interpreted as a bold statement of their European intentions.
But those dreams were left in tatters after Juventus were beaten 2-1 at home in their quarter-final second leg on Tuesday, going out 3-2 on aggregate.
Not only were Juventus beaten but they were outclassed by a team whose fluid, geometric passing left them chasing shadows and who possessed something Juventus lacked — a clear playing style.
The current Juventus side is arguably the least appealing since Massimiliano Allegri took over in 2014, depending largely on the talent of Ronaldo to unlock matches.
Playmaker Paulo Dybala, in particular, seems to have been inhibited by Ronaldo’s presence and the Argentine’s season took another frustrating turn on Tuesday when he was taken off at halftime with a thigh injury.
Allegri, however, said that Juventus were “absolutely not” over-dependent on Ronaldo. “He has given us a lot over the course of the campaign, but when you reach the quarter-final, you need every player,” he said.
Instead he blamed injuries to players such as key defender Giorgio Chiellini, winger Douglas Costa and forward Mario Mandzukic, previously described by Allegri as Ronaldo’s ideal striking partner.
“It’s better to have as many options as possible, because these ties are decided by details, substitutions and options off the bench,” he said.
Those complaints may sound hollow, however, when the transfer spending of the respective sides is compared.
According to the specialist website Transfermarkt, Ajax have spent just over 51 million euros (£45 million) this season while Juventus have splashed out 261 million.
Of that, around 100 million euros was on Ronaldo, 40 million each on Joao Cancelo and Costa, 35 million euros on bringing Leonardo Bonucci back from AC Milan and 12 million on reserve goalkeeper Mattia Perin.
Fans of other Serie A sides are unlikely to be sympathetic, either, after seeing Juventus snap up their top players.
Examples include Miralem Pjanic and Gonzalo Higuain, who joined from AS Roma and Napoli respectively in 2016, and Federico Bernardeschi from Fiorentina.
But, rather like Paris St Germain in France, Juve’s dominance of Serie A appeared to leave them unprepared for the European challenge.
Ajax took the game to Juventus in a way that none of their domestic rivals would have dared, and Allegri’s team were incapable of dealing with it.
“Football can be brutal, we conceded an unlucky goal and after that, we became afraid and we were stretched in the second half,” he said.
“There are many young players in the squad who need to play and gain experience. Some might have paid for having two such big matches in the space of a week.”
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)