Miralem Pjanic: The unsung hero of Turin
The talismanic midfielder has taken over Paul Pogba's mantle at the Old Lady and has been an integral part of their success in recent seasons.
By the end of the 2010-11 season, Juventus were in dire straits. They had finished seventh in Serie A for two consecutive seasons. A group stage exit in the Europa League didn’t help. With his back to the wall, club president Andrea Agnelli sought a solution. He brought in Antonio Conte, who immediately began reshaping the team.
Conte realised where the team needed talent and experience and brought Andrea Pirlo into the squad. The rest is history. Four consecutive Serie A titles and a Champions League final appearance later, Pirlo was ready to move on. He had done his best for the club, being in the Serie A Team of the Year in all four seasons.
His departure meant that there was a hole that Conte's successor Massimiliano Allegri had to fix. Come 2016 and they found the perfect replacement. With Paul Pogba also leaving, a strong midfielder was Juventus’ top priority. Then they got Miralem Pjanic, coming in from rivals Roma for €32m. "The Lttle Prince" would prove to be the most influential player for Juventus over the next two seasons.
The importance of Pjanic to Juventus could be seen in the crucial tie against Real Madrid in the Champions League. With him suspended and out of the first leg, Juve were beaten 0-3 in Turin. With him in the squad though, the Old Lady rallied to erase the deficit at the Santiago Bernabeu of all places. Although, the game ended 1-3 with Los Blancos scraping through on aggregate, Juventus’ strength was there for all to see.
The trio of Pirlo, Pogba and Vidal scared most of Serie A
Pjanic had finished as the league’s top assist provider for two consecutive seasons with Roma, before joining Juventus. But, at Juve his position was tweaked. He became more of an anchor and supporter rather than an entertainer. In the event, he excelled brilliantly. He was instrumental in leading the Turin outfit to a sixth consecutive Scudetto and also took them to the final of the Champions League, winning the Coppa Italia on the way.
He scored five goals and provided nine assists in the league campaign and his trademark thumbsucking celebration just portrayed how it was child’s play for him. Also, his free-kicks are a thing of beauty. Five of his 12 goals for Juventus have come from direct free-kicks, which usually leave the goalkeeper rooted to the spot.
After a domestic double in his first season, Pjanic again led Juventus to a second consecutive domestic double the next season. Indeed, it’s his consistent play in the middle of the park that has been vital in their dominant run in the league after a shaky start.
Anchor, Entertainer, Soul, the unsung hero of Juventus
He again finished with five goals and had eight assists in the league as the Old Lady managed to secure a seventh consecutive league title, continuing the run that started when Pirlo joined the squad. Barring an unfortunate exit from the quarterfinals against Real Madrid, there were no complaints from the black and white faithful.
Allegri believes that at Juventus, Pjanic can be one of the best midfielders in the world. He is responsible for the transformation of the midfielder into a deep-lying playmaker or a regista, similar to Pirlo. Pjanic has repaid the faith shown by his manager efficiently, delivering consistent performances every matchday. His exploits on the field gave him a spot in the Serie A Team of the Year in 2016-17.
With the 2018-19 campaign looking more promising for Juventus with the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, Allegri will be aiming for nothing less than the treble. However, for that to happen Pjanic needs to be at his best and if the past two seasons are anything to go by, he will be instrumental once again. His mere presence sways games for Juventus. Thumping free-kicks, precise long-balls, to go with being a set-piece specialist – It’s like Pirlo never left.
An efficient passer of the ball, Pjanic’s presence also gives more freedom to the likes of Sami Khedira and Blaise Matuidi to ghost upfront and support the attack. Even his late runs cause several problems for opposition defenses. It’s easy to not account for him as he does not provide much on a statistical basis. But, the heartbeat of the Juve machine is this little Bosnian. It’s no wonder that the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Barcelona are very keen to add him to their ranks.
Published: Wed Aug 01, 2018 11:57 AM IST