Juventus are in the deepest of crises, the sort that dwarfs a bad result here, or an injury there in the grand picture. Qualifying for Europe through a league finish is a faded dream after a 15 point deduction, the entirety of their board resigned at the end of last year and this may only be the start of the drama.
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How did Juventus get here?
Before we answer that question it is perhaps worth diving into the waters of amortization, in the news once more last month due to events in west London. In the simplest terms, football accountants take a different approach to registering transfers in and out. If a player is sold for €20 million to another club then the vendor will simply add that sum to their accounts. However if they were then to take that €20m and sign another player on a five year contract then their books would record a €4m fee for each of the five years. This is standard practice across the industry but it is open to manipulation, particularly in the case of swap deals between two clubs.
For several years public prosecutors in Italy have been investigating the transfer fees paid in Italian football. In April 2022 Juventus were one of 10 clubs acquitted by the Italian football federation (FIGC). Some of the deals they and other clubs made might look curious on paper, for instance the sale of midfielder Miralem Pjanic to Barcelona in 2020 for €60 million while Arthur Melo headed in the opposite direction for €72 million, but Juventus successfully argued at the time that the value of a football player is in the eye of the beholder.
However, at the same time prosecutors in Turin were investigating Juventus, launching the Prisma investigation, which alleged that far from just having differences in opinion on the value of players, Juventus had engaged in false accounting and market manipulation. The investigation was based on the premise that club directors had not simply been engaged in the sort of practices of plusvalenza (capital gains, in this case the bookkeeping profit of a transfer) that are standard across the European game, but rather that this was deliberately creative accounting.
For a publicly traded company such as this club, who since January 4 have seen 19 percent wiped off the value of their shares, these have more far reaching consequences than mere sporting sanctions. The Italian financial police subsequently raided Juventus' offices and training ground in November. Without any admission of guilt, the entire club board resigned the following month.
Evidence gathered by the Prisma investigation led to the FIGC reopening the sporting case against the Old Lady. Among the documentation uncovered was what was initially termed a black book belonging to then sporting director Fabio Paritici, now at Tottenham. The Athletic subsequently reported that the so-called Libro Nero FP was instead a sheet of paper belonging to director Federico Cherubini. The crucial note that he had made in the section Strategy said "Excessive use [of] artificial plusvalenza" before drawing an arrow to "immediate benefit" and "amortization load".
On January 20 the Prisma investigation reached its conclusion.
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What were the punishments for Juventus?
The Italian FA came down on Juventus like the proverbial ton of bricks. The FIGC prosecutor had recommended a nine point penalty in the Serie A standings. Massimiliano Allegri's side got 15, quite possibly killing off their chances of qualifying for Europe next season. They are currently 13th on 23 points, fourth placed Atalanta have 38, as do AC Milan in fifth whilst Roma have 37. At an individual level 11 board members and executives were punished. Andrea Agnelli, the face of the Juventus hierarchy and an architect of the breakaway European Super League, was given a 24 month ban and former vice president and club legend Pavel Nedved got eight months.
The toughest personal sanction was reserved for Fabio Paratici, who was handed a two and a half year ban. He had left for Premier League side Tottenham last summer and for the time being remains in position as Spurs' managing director of football. The FIGC have asked UEFA and FIFA to extend its judgement worldwide. Article 66 of the latter's disciplinary code does offer an avenue for the governing bodies to do exactly that should the offence be serious enough.
What has been Juventus' response?
Juventus plan to appeal the FIGC's ruling, which they said "constitute a clear disparity of treatment against Juventus and its managers compared to any other company or member." That appeal will go to the Italian Olympic Committee's Collegio di Garanzia, the highest sporting court in the country, though they will only assess the technicalities of the process. On those terms they can either overturn the decision entirely or it sticks. If that is unsuccessful the club's last route would be the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Is this the end of Juventus' troubles?
Not in the slightest. The first hearings in the Prisma case are expected to take place on March 27, where it is alleged that Juventus engaged in an entirely different kind of false accounting than the transfer ones discovered on that sheet of A4, relating to player salary. This is a criminal rather than sporting investigation, the sanctions for associated parties could extend far beyond just points and football bans.
Allegedly Juventus secretly paid players who they said would be going without wages for four months during the COVID-19 pandemic. The club had reported a €90m saving from the wage cut, in reality it should have been around €22.5m.
Il Fatto Quotidiano reported that Giorgio Chiellini had told players in a WhatsApp group that they would be getting their money back, instructing them to not reveal these payments and stating that Juventus would only announce the four month salary waiver. "You will receive in the next few days a sheet that is worth everything and nothing like the one the president and I signed, where we commit ourselves to giving up the remaining months of this season," Chiellini supposedly said. "Subsequently, your lawyers or agents will be contacted and AT THE SAME TIME the contracts valid for this season and next will be signed. Juventus will make a press release saying that we are waiving four monthly payments to help the club. Thank you for everything."
Those players who were found to be knowingly complicit in this deal could face 30 day bans in Italian football but any directors who were aware of this could face greater penalties. That means the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and, at least for the time being as he works to finalize his loan move to Leeds United, Weston McKennie would avoid any sanctions.
Any such revelations over the club incorrectly declaring salaries would also bring further pressure from UEFA over Financial Fair Play (FFP), the precise regulations that Juventus' actions would have helped them to skirt. The Turin giants are hardly the most popular club with European football's governing body as it is -- instigating a continental breakaway league will do that to you -- and a new investigation into the club was launched at the start of December by its Club Financial Control Body (CFCB).
"The CFCB First Chamber investigation will focus on the alleged financial violations that were recently made public as a result of the proceedings led by the Italian Companies and Exchange Commission (CONSOB) and the public prosecutor in Turin," UEFA said in a statement. "On 23 August 2022, the CFCB First Chamber concluded a settlement agreement with Juventus FC. This settlement agreement was concluded on the basis of the financial information previously submitted by the club pertaining to the financial years closing in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.
"In the event that, after conclusion of this investigation, the club's financial situation was significantly different from that assessed by the CFCB First Chamber at the time the settlement agreement was concluded, or if new and substantial facts arise or become known, the CFCB First Chamber reserves the right to terminate the settlement agreement, take any legal step it may deem appropriate, and impose disciplinary measures in accordance with the applicable UEFA CFCB Procedural Rules."
How does this change Juventus' outlook?
Even a state of ceteris paribus leaves Juventus in quite a sticky patch over the medium term at least. The club have been in a financial bind for some time now and in September they reported losses of €254m, a record for an Italian team. There could scarcely be a worse time, then, for them to be cut off from the revenue and brand value that comes with Champions League football. That seems an inevitability when there is a 15 point gap to make up to fourth. It is not as if they were a lock for top four in the first place. Massimiliano Allegri's side had been taking definite strides after a slow start but with the shadow of plusvalenza hovering over them they have been smashed by Napoli and stunned by Monza in their last three games. They remain in the Coppa Italia after beating Lazio in the quarterfinals whilst an unlikely Champions League return could come through winning the Europa League, where they face Nantes in the first knockout round.
Beyond this season there appears to be an appetite for Juventus to rebalance towards younger players. Their revival into a winning force after the Calciopoli scandal (when they were relegated to Serie B in 2006 for match fixing) was built on the back of shrewd free agent signings such as Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba... the first time around. It ultimately became something of a compulsion in Turin, where scarcely a summer went by without another player arriving for no transfer fee but gargantuan wages. Aaron Ramsey, Emre Can and (the second time) Pogba have made a rather more tangible impact on Juventus' balance sheet than their results.
Now the plan is to exploit their productive youth academy, from which Nicolo Fagioli has already made an impact this season. "We have a plan that had already begun this season, so every Juventus squad of the future must have players from our NextGen and youth academies," said Cherubini this month. "We are already starting to reap the rewards and it is our duty to continue along that path."
These events do not seem likely to lead to a more pronounced change at the top of Juventus. For a century the Agnelli family have led the club and they continue to hold a 64 percent stake in it through their company Exor. CEO John Elkann said in January that they would not be willing to sell the club and break the bond dating back to his grandfather Gianni Agnelli, Juventus' first president. "It's a strong bond which resisted various crisis during its existence," he added.
"I've always admired [Gianni Agnelli's] courage," Elkann said. "If there is an example he gave me, it is to always take responsibility, also in difficult moments."
Those difficult moments will not end soon and for now it is too soon to say with certainty where the investigations and appeals of the coming weeks may land Juventus.