By Adam Digby (@Adz77)
“Dear AS Roma...” read the brief note from Miralem Pjanić published by the Italian club's official website late last week, the midfielder going on to notify the Giallorossi of his decision to join Juventus. A release clause in his contract meant that they were powerless to prevent the move once the Turin giants agreed to meet the stipulated price, which was later confirmed as just €38 million.
The Bianconeri have spent recent summers looking for a midfielder to add some guile and craft to their attack, linked with the likes of Julian Draxler and Mario Götze to name just two. A deal never materialised however, the price rising too high or the players in question never quite convinced it was the right time for them to make such a switch.
Questions were asked about Director General Beppe Marotta's ability to sign an established star, with similar doubts raised over Juve's status when such players turned down the Old Lady's advances. Whatever the reasons, their failure to snag the man they needed prevented many from including the club in any list of Europe's truly elite sides, their complete dominance of the Serie A landscape no longer evidence enough.
Signing Pjanić should change all that.
This is no ordinary transfer, but instead something akin to a death knell sounding across the peninsula. The 26 year old is not the first major loss this Roma side has suffered, but former team-mates like Mehdi Benatia (Bayern Munich), Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain) and Érik Lamela (Tottenham) all left in search of either silverware or wages that were simply not available in the Italian capital.
They all also went abroad to do so, but their supporters will now have to watch as their former hero pulls on the shirt of their bitter rivals from the north. They could perhaps ask their Borussia Dortmund counterparts for advice, with fans of the Bundesliga outfit well-versed in seeing their best players join Bayern Munich and quickly add the winners’ medals that eluded them at the Westfalenstadion.
Indeed, signing Pjanić without even negotiating with his current club is a move straight from the Bavarian super club’s playbook, and one that only serves to reinforce the belief that Serie A is quickly becoming a one-team league. Juventus have now won the title for five consecutive seasons, adding the Coppa Italia in each of the last two for good measure, their domestic opponents failing to compete both on the field and in the boardroom.
Milan and Inter are in financial turmoil, with Napoli – despite Gonzalo Higuain's incredible scoring streak – finishing nine points behind the Bianconeri by the time 2015/16 drew to a close. The Argentinian is unlikely to be quite so prolific next term, leaving Roma as once again the most likely candidates to challenge Juventus for the Scudetto. But, having undeniably established themselves as the peninsula's second-strongest side, they have now had to look on helplessly as their best player actively chose to join Juventus.
Having made the same move himself five years ago, Mirko Vučinić is certainly not shocked to see the two parties join forces. “Nothing can surprise me anymore about what happens in the world of football,” the striker told Tuttosport upon hearing the news, going on to explain the differences he felt between his former clubs.
“Pjanić is an important player. We're talking about a champion, the type that is decisive, and he proved that with Roma. Leaving the Giallorossi wasn't easy for me, but in the end I did not regret my decision.
“I was very happy at Juventus and I won a lot. “In Rome there is more pressure. But in the Juventus changing room you can immediately perceive a unique winning mentality.”
While weakening the Giallorossi, Pjanić is arguably the perfect addition for Max Allegri. Able to play anywhere in midfield, he can provide cover for the injured Claudio Marchisio as a deep-lying playmaker or slot in as a replacement for either Paul Pogba or Sami Khedira when the Italian returns. The former Olympique Lyonnais man can also shine in the more advanced role the Coach handed Arturo Vidal in 2014/15, allowing Juventus to return to a formation Allegri dubbed “4-3-and then we'll see.”
Moving away from the three-man defence has long been seen as essential if Juventus are to compete in the Champions League, and a midfield quartet including Pjanić would certainly allow them to be confident in doing so. Fast, with an excellent range of passing and neat dribbling skills, his shooting – particularly at set-pieces – has become increasingly deadly as he weighed in with twelve goals and thirteen assists last season.
Equally effective from open play, Pjanić connected with an impressive 84.9% his 65.5 pass attempts per game, while only Napoli captain Marek Hamšík (2.5) was the only player in Serie A to create more clear goal scoring opportunities than the Bosnian international’s average of (2.4) per game. He does his share of defensive work too, with WhoScored.com showing he has registered averages of 1.5 tackles, 1.7 interceptions and 0.8 clearances per game in 2015/16.
Yet the impact of this latest deal will resonate in Milan, Naples and Rome almost as much as it will on the midfield of the Turin giants, its ramifications likely to be felt throughout next season and beyond. Whether it can help the Bianconeri become Champions League contenders remains to be seen, but it almost certainly ensures their monopoly on the Italian title will continue for a record-breaking sixth consecutive year.
He could have joined Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain or Chelsea, but Miralem Pjanić chose Juventus. Notice has been served.