Juventus: Rare Cost-Efficient Champions League Success

The upcoming slate of Champions League games features some of European football’s usual suspects joining Juve in the last eight: Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG, Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid. Monaco and Porto have also qualified.

With the exception of Porto, all of these teams differ from Juve in the fact that they spend an exorbitant amount of money on new players. Sure, Atleti and Bayern sell a number of high-level players too, but they still spend top dollar to replace them.

Juventus are the rare success story in terms of not spending a ridiculous amount of money. Sure they’ve splurged on a player or two, but they tend to keep it conservative with their spending. With the exception of three players, every single Bianconeri player was acquired in 2010 or later. Captain Gianluigi Buffon and Vice-captains Giorgio Chiellini and Claudio Marchisio (an academy product) are the only exceptions.

All three have been catalysts of Juve’s recent success with Buffon and Chiellini anchoring one of Europe’s best and most cohesive defensive units. Martin Caceres would be suiting up alongside the Italian duo, but an ankle injury in March sidelined the Uruguayan defender. Caceres is a versatile defending option who can play any position on the back line. He cost Juve a mere €8 million. Rising Italian defender Angelo Ogbonna cost the Bianconeri €13 million plus half of Ciro Immobile’s rights. Andrea Barzagli, who when healthy is one of Europe most consistent and underrated defenders, cost Juve €300,000. Barzagli’s teammate Leonardo Bonucci may be the best passing central defender in the world. He cost Juventus €15.5 million. This justifiable when you consider he is only 27 and developing into one of the better players at his position. Right back Stephan Lichtsteiner joined Juve €10 million while his counterpart on the left side of the defense, Patrice Evra, cost a mere €1.2 million.

So just to recap, arguably the best defensive unit in Europe cost Juve the following, in order of cheapest to most expensive:

  • Andrea Barzagli: €300,000
  • Patrice Evra: €1.2 million
  • Caceres: €8 million
  • Stephan Lichtsteiner: €10 million
  • Ogbonna: €13 million (Plus half of Ciro Immobile’s rights. Juve would later sell the other half of Immobile’s rights to Torino for €8 million.)
  • Leonardo Bonucci: €15.5 million

Remember, PSG spent over €69 million during the last summer transfer window for David Luiz alone while Barcelona splurged €42 million on the defensive trio of Jeremy Mathieu, Thomas Vermaelen and Douglas in the last calendar year. Real Madrid just agreed to pay Porto €31 million for another defender, Danilo.

Slightly further up the pitch, Juventus relies on a midfield grouping that generally consists of some combination of Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal, Simone Pepe and Roberto Pereyra. Marchisio was an academy product, and as such didn’t require a transfer fee. Pogba, one of the world’s best and a future Ballon d’Or winner cost Juventus less money than it would cost you to buy a potted plant. He came on a free transfer. Azzurri legend, masterclass passer and metronome Andrea Pirlo arrived for free as well. Vidal and Pepe were slightly more expensive, costing a combined €20.6 million (Vidal €10.5, Pepe €10.1). Did I forget to mention, when on form, Arturo Vidal may be the best two-way player in the world? Oh, I did? Let me say it again. When on form, Arturo Vidal may be the best two-way footballer in the world. He cost €10.5 million. Pereyra is on loan from Udinese. In order to bring the attacking midfielder in on loan, Juve paid a mere €1.5 million. Even if you factor in utility/squad player Simone Padoin’s €5 million fee, Juve haven’t surrendered much financially form one of Europe’s best midfields.

  • Marchisio: Free* (academy product)
  • Pirlo: Free
  • Pogba: Free
  • Pereyra: €1.5 million (Loan fee. Juventus have the option to make the move permanent for €14 million over the summer.)
  • Padoin: €5 million
  • Pepe €10.1
  • Vidal €10.5

In other words, that’s a combined €27.1 for a midfield that could potentially guide Juventus into the Champions League semifinals. Real Madrid doled out €25 million for the rights to Toni Kroos, not to mention €80 million for another midfielder, albeit more of an attacking type in James Rodriguez. Barcelona paid more for Ivan Rakitic (€18 million) than Juve did for their four best midfielders in Marchisio, Pirlo, Pogba and Vidal (€10.5). The same can be said of Bayern Munich, who in the summer of 2013, paid €37 million for Mario Gotze and €25 million for Thiago.

As we move further up the pitch, transfer fees get more expensive. Barcelona paid €81.25 million for Luis Suarez this past summer transfer window. Real Madrid paid a combined €185 million for their star duo of Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. Atletico Madrid remade their attacking contingent over the summer by paying a combined €86 million for forwards Alessio Cerci (€16 million), Angel Correa (€7.5 million), Raul Jimenez (€10.5 million), Mario Mandzukic (€22 million) and Antoine Griezmann (€30 million).

Juventus possess a dangerous strike force that was significantly cheaper than the likes of the near free-spending clubs listed above.

The Bianconeri admittedly splurged €20 million on Alvaro Morata, but the young Spaniard already looks like a bargain thanks to some strong performances. Like the midfield, Juventus used a number of free transfers and loaned players to fill out their roster. Promising youngster Kingsley Coman was signed for nothing while towering striker Fernando Llorente was also brought in for free. Alessandro Matri rejoined the club on a loan deal to provide depth. While €20 million seems like a bargain for Morata, the real bargain came when the team bought Carlos Tevez from Manchester City. Tevez cost an initial €13 million (and change) and has gone on to reestablish himself as one of Europe’s most dangerous strikers. Here’s just a taste of what Carlitos has done lately.

Here’s what Juve paid for their attackers:

  • Coman: Free
  • Llorente: Free
  • Matri: Free* (On Loan)
  • Tevez: €13.89 million
  • Morata: €20 million

Considering the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid have recently spent enough money on attacking players to fix a small country’s economy, €38.89 million seems like a relatively small price to pay for a group of strikers that have advanced Juve as far as their Spanish counterparts.

While teams like PSG, Barcelona and Real Madrid spend exuberantly when they get the chance, Juve have made it just as far with much cheaper, but just as effective talent. It’s also worth noting that Juventus, the champions of Serie A, widely regarded as a struggling league from a financial standpoint, made it further in the competition than every single English team. England’s Premier League is widely regarded as the most financially prosperous league on the planet.

Of Juventus players listed above, the Bianconeri paid €108.99 million. Real, Barca and Atleti all paid more than that amount for players in the most recent summer transfer window. Monaco are in the position they are now because of a heavy investment in their squad that cost them over €140 million during last season’s summer transfer window. PSG sonly spent €58 million this past summer transfer window, but during the previous two seasons, they spent over €130 million in each summer window.

The Bianconeri are in a position to make the Champions League semifinals thanks to a favorable matchup with Monaco. The French club have dialed back their spending after a summer of spending cash last season. They’re more of the less of a group of evils than being a favorable matchup. There are no easy games at this stage of the Champions League, but Monaco seems to be the least intimating of the final eight. While most of the other eight teams bought elite talent for top dollar, Juventus have found their own elite talent through more cost-efficient methods, something that is a rarity these days.

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Kingdome Crossover: Players the Seattle Mariners Could Have Drafted Instead of Danny Hultzen

The Seattle Mariners have made their fair share of blunders over the years, namely letting numerous players leave for little-to-no return.

This long, illustrious list includes the likes of Carlos Guillen, Jason Varitek, Rafael Soriano, Alex Rodriguez—you get the point.

The M’s missed a big opportunity in the first round of the 2011 draft.

Danny Hultzen was drafted third overall by Seattle and immediately became part of the “Big Three” pitching prospects along with James Paxton and Taijuan Walker. Hultzen showed immense potential, but has seen his career derailed by injuries.

The former first-round pick could still achieve the success he was projected to reach, but it will take time.

Hindsight is obviously 20-20 (stop me if you’ve heard that before), but the 2011 draft produced numerous first-round gems that the Mariners could have taken. Here are some of those players in order of draft position.

Dylan Bundy, Starting Pitcher: Baltimore Orioles, 4th Overall Pick

Bundy, only 22, made his major league debut in 2012. He made two relief appearances for the O’s, totaling an inning and two thirds.

However, the former fourth-overall shows the potential to be a front-line pitcher, if not an ace in the major leagues.

If nothing else, Bundy’s name appearing in trade rumors should speak to his value. According to Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun, Los Angeles wanted Bundy in a trade for Matt Kemp while Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports reported in July that Boston was interested in Bundy in a potential Jon Lester trade.

Anthony Rendon, Third Baseman: Washington Nationals, 6th Overall Pick

In a draft class loaded with talented hitters, Rendon has shown the most polish early.

The third baseman, who has also experience at second base, hit .287 in 153 games. The infielder also scored a major-league high 111 runs. In addition, he swatted 23 home runs, drove in 83 runs and swiped 17 bases.

He would have trouble finding at-bats with Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager manning second and third, but teams can always use extra bats—especially quality ones like Rendon.

Archie Bradley, Starting Pitcher: Arizona Diamondbacks, 7th Overall Pick

Similar to Bundy, Bradley has future ace/front-line starter written all over him.

He’s been routinely ranked in the top ten prospects in the league and is probably on equal, and while his minor league numbers haven’t been overly impressive (4.45 ERA and a 1.506 WHIP in 18 minor league starts across three minor league levels) he still has a bright future.

Bradley is on similar or better footing than Taijuan Walker or James Paxton in terms of potential.

Francisco Lindor, Shortstop: Cleveland Indians, 8th Overall Pick

Lindor has skyrocketed through the minors and could be in Cleveland in the near future.

One of the top prospects in the game, Lindor is regarded as a top-notch defensive shortstop. He also managed a .273 batting average in 38 Triple-A, showing the potential to be more than simply a defensive wizard at the major league level.

His impending arrival also forced two-time All Star Asdrubal Cabrera out of Cleveland at the trade deadline. Incumbent shortstop Jose Ramirez could meet the same fate as Cabrera.

Javier Baez, Infielder: Chicago Cubs, 9th Overall Pick

Part of the Cubs’ first wave of impact prospects to make the majors, Baez shows tremendous upside. He has outstanding power and will drive in plenty of runs when he reaches his potential.

Baez can play either middle infield position and is part of a talented group of Cubs’ infielders that include Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo among others.

The infielder wouldn’t unseat Robinson Cano at second (duh), but he’d provide an upgrade over Chris Taylor and Brad Miller at shortstop.

Baez mashed 37 homers and drove in 111 runs in across multiple levels in the minor leagues in 2013.

George Springer, Outfielder: Houston Astros, 11th Overall Pick

While Rendon would have been blocked at multiple positions by the Cano and Seager, George Springer wouldn’t have been blocked in the outfield.

Part of the Astros’ next great team, Springer is a slugger in every sense of the word.

The outfielder swatted 20 home runs in a mere 78 games. He only hit .231 and struck out 114 games, but his power is undeniable.

Springer has a .303 career batting average in the minor leagues—or, in other words, he won’t be a .231 hitter forever. He’ll improve.

But instead of hitting bombs in Safeco Field as a member of the M’s, Springer will be hitting for the division rival Astros.

Jose Fernandez, Starting Pitcher: Miami Marlins, 14th Overall Pick

Jose Fernandez is one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball—a fantastic accomplishment considering he was only drafted in 2011.

The 22-year-old Cuban took home Rookie of the Year and All-Star honors in his first season in 2013. Only Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright finished ahead of Fernandez in Cy Young voting that year.

The Marlins ace is one of the many exiting, young talents in Miami that have prompted the team to give Giancarlo Stanton a big contract and accelerate the rebuilding process so as to win as soon as possible.

Coming off of an injury shortened 2014, Fernandez will undoubtedly be Miami’s ace when he returns in 2015 and beyond.

Seattle is blessed in the pitching department with the likes of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker, but adding Fernandez certainly wouldn’t have hurt.

C.J. Cron, First Baseman: Los Angeles Angels Anaheim, 17th Overall Pick

Cron can flat out hit. He may not be as dynamic as teammate Mike Trout, but he provides the Angels with another young player to build around.

The first baseman owns a .290 career minor-league batting average and can drive the ball out of the park. He slugged 11 bombs in only 79 games in 2014 and has the potential to do much more.

With Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in decline, Cron will be counted on to help carry the Angels into the future. Don’t be surprised if Cron gets close to 40 home runs in a season at some point.

He would have been a nice fit at first base for the M’s.

Sonny Gray, Starting Pitcher: Oakland Athletics, 18th Overall Pick

While Bundy and Bradley are future aces, Gray (like Fernandez) is already there.

Gray has a 2.99 ERA in 283 innings pitched and posted a 3.2 WAR in 2014. That 3.2 WAR was higher than the likes of Yu Darvish, Hisashi Iwakuma and Anibal Sanchez.

Gray stepped in during his rookie season and started two playoff games for the A’s. Both times he went toe-to-toe with vintage Justin Verlander and didn’t blink, arguably pitching as well as the former Cy Young MVP.

Also like Fernandez, Gray would have been a nice addition to the M’s, but Seattle will have to settle for seeing him pitch against them a few times a year with Oakland.

Other Notable Names

In addition to the big names like Fernandez, Springer and Rendon, there were a plethora of players available later in the first round of the draft.

The Cardinals and Giants respective second baseman (Kolten Wong and Joe Panik) were taken 22nd and 29th overall. Jackie Bradley Jr. was taken with the 40th pick while fellow Red Sox youngsters, and current farmhands, Matt Barnes (19th), Henry Owens (36th) and Blake Swihart (26th) were also first-round picks.

While Danny Hultzen hasn’t reached the big leagues yet, the M’s clearly could have received more value out of all these players.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.comunless otherwise noted.

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Defending Antonio Conte’s Omission of Mario Balotelli

Newly-minted Italian national team coach Antonio Conte made headlines when he selected his first official squad for a friendly against the Netherlands and the Azzurri’s first Euro 2016 qualifying match against Norway. Those headlines were made based on who he did, and more importantly didn’t, call up. Or in other words, Conte made headlines for not calling up Mario Balotelli.

The coach insists that he is not sending a message with the omission, and it shouldn’t be looked at as such. First off, no player is entitled to a call up every time around. Yes, Balotelli is clearly the most talented striker at Conte’s disposal, but that alone doesn’t merit a call up. It should also be remembered that the last international matches for Italy were at the World Cup—a competition where the Italians struggled. There were few Italian bright spots in Brazil and the former AC Milan striker wasn’t one of them.

Based on Brazil, the only Azzurri members who would have been locks for inclusion in these two games would have been Juventus’ Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo, Lazio’s Antonio Candreva, Torino defender Matteo Darmian and PSG duo Salvatore Sirigu and Marco Verratti. Balotelli obviously is not one of those players.

The newest Liverpool signing is mercurial. In fact, if you look the word “mercurial” in the dictionary, you probably get a picture of Mario Balotelli. Not only that, he picks up his fair share of cards. Among those cards included were two yellows compiled in Brazil including one in Italy’s final game. Because the Italians didn’t progress in the tournament, their star striker will have to sit out the next competitive game on the international calendar. That game is the first Euro qualifier against Norway.

Most will point to the fact of Claudio Marchisio’s inclusion in the team as one of the key reasons why Conte is sending a message by leaving out Balotelli. Marchisio picked up a red card in the Italy/Uruguay game, and like Balotelli will miss the Norway match through suspension. However, this is Conte’s first camp in charge of the Azzurri. He will be implementing his system, his style of play and things of that nature. Not only does Marchisio understand Conte and his tactics from their time together at Juve, he also provides leadership and experience in the midfield. Conte has also been forced to call up a relatively inexperienced group due to injuries. Usual call ups Pirlo, Riccardo Montolivo and Thiago Motta are all out with injuries. Because of this, the likes of Marco Parolo, Alessandro Florenzi and Andrea Poli all been brought in. All have fewer than six caps.

As odd as it sounds, leaving out Balotelli may let Conte evaluate his options in a more comprehensive manner. If Balotelli is in the team, he’s starting. Leaving him at home gives Conte the chance to experiment with and give more minutes to the likes of Mattia Destro, Ciro Immobile, Simone Zaza and Stephan El Shaarawy up front. Doing so will be crucial as all four are under the age of 24 and will play vital roles for the Azzurri leading up to Euro 2016 and Russia 2018.

Antonio Conte’s decision to leave Mario Balotelli off his first Italy roster didn’t sit well with some fans. However, when you consider Balotelli’s mercurial play, suspension and other factors, it makes sense why Liverpool’s newest player was left off the Azzurri team.

A Few Quick Thoughts on the All-Star Ballot

On my recent yearly pilgrimage to Safeco Field to see the Tigers play they were handing out All-Star Game Ballots. It goes something like this: You pick the roster right, you submit it and (key word obviously being “and”), you win something if you get it right. Seems to have escaped me. Octavio Dotel’s closing mishap must have done that to me………………………………. Moving on, anyways here are my thoughts on it.

Positional Mix and Mash-

Jesus Montero is officially listed at DH, which actually might be more difficult to make it into the game than behind the plate.

Andy Dirks and Delmon Young have flip flopped positions since the ballot came out. Young is the current DH and Dirks has taken his spot in left for Detroit.

Michael Young is listed at DH, but really can play everywhere around the infield for Texas.

Joe Mauer is actually listed at catcher despite attempts to keep him out of injuries’ way.

 

Third Base Just Got a Whole Lot More Crowded-

Miguel Cabrera joins an AL group that includes mainstays Evan Longoria, Alex Rodriguez and Kevin Youkilis.

In the NL, Hanley Ramirez joins a positional battle with the likes of Ryan Zimmerman, Chipper Jones, Scott Rolen and Pablo Sandoval. Not to mention last year’s All-Star Placido Polanco.

 

Other Things of Note-

Wilson Betemit is listed as the Oriole’s DH. A decent defender, seems like he’d be better defensively than Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis at first and third. Just a thought.

Ben Revere, one of the Twins outfielders listed, is currently in AAA.

Josh Donaldson, the A’s third base representative, was in AAA for a couple weeks before being called up.

Brandon Inge should at least be put in the running if he keeps going bananas.

Both Alex Gonzalez and Mat Gamel are out for the season and are presumably out of the running.

Franklin Gutierrez will have a tough time of it seeing as he hasn’t played yet. His teammate Ichiro could also have a tough time making it back to the Mid-Summer Classic.