The season to come – interview with James Horncastle

Just 5 days into the start of Serie A, we did a little analysis of the season to come with James Horncastle. Feel free to comment and discuss with us!

 

Q: Another Serie A season is about to start. Based on last year results and the transfers up to now.. who is at the moment the main favorite to win the scudetto and why? Just one name.

A: Juventus because I’ve backed against them the last two years and by now I know better. This probably means Inter will win the Scudetto so I sincerely apologise. It is not an intentional gufata. I’m a Leeds fan.

 

Q: Do you think Atalanta will be able to replicate the great seasons they had last year?

A: As neutrals we all want the Serie A equivalent of a Leicester. I think they will be able to replicate it because this is already a four-year cycle at Atalanta. I’m always impressed by their depth and the contributions of Malinovskiy and Muriel. A lot will depend on Ilicic’s availability although Traore and Miranchuk will help cover for him in the event he needs more time. Let’s not forget they won’t be starting this season playing home games in Parma too although how much home advantage matters without fans is up for debate.

 

Q: Who will be the capocannoniere?

A: If Zapata is still at Atalanta when the transfer window closes and he manages to stay healthy all season, he’s my favourite.

 

Q: What’s your favorite three Serie A games to watch live?

A: Easy. Derby della Lanterna, Derby della Madonnina, Derby della Capitale Irrespective of the games, I love criss-crossing Emilia-Romagna. The last couple of season have been great with Parma, SPAL, Sassuolo and Bologna all in the league at the same time.

 

Q: Who will succeed Dybala as Serie A MVP of the season?

A: For me, there’d be no better story than Ilicic coming back and winning the MVP.

 

Q: Let’s talk a bit more about Juventus: we are all curious and excited about Pirlo. The question is: will Juve allow Pirlo some time in case he fails in the first season or will he be replaced?

A: I don’t believe Pirlo is a stop-gap. I think Agnelli has made a similar judgement to the one he made with Conte even though Conte was more experienced. The dirigenza has seen something in Pirlo that we haven’t seen yet. In terms of time, I think what Chiellini says is true – Juventus coaches are allowed to make mistakes as long as they keep winning. My final point relates to Sarri: I think if the football had been ‘good’ and the players and directors were all happy then he would have got a second year irrespective of Juventus’ elimination to Lyon. I’d apply the same standard to Pirlo. If Juventus miss out on the title and go out in the quarter-finals next season obviously it will be a disappointment. But if there is lots to be encouraged by in terms of performances and the mood around the club, I would keep him.

 

Q: In your opinion, can Dybala be considered a top player even if he never made to the TOP 10 of the Ballon d’Or rankings?

A: It was such a shame Dybala wasn’t available for the second leg against Lyon. He was in such great form and perhaps would have given us a performance like the one against Barcelona in April 2017. He needs more moments like that in the Champions League. Pogba is a player many of Juventus fans want to see at the club again but he hasn’t made the top 10 of the Ballon d’Or rankings either. Lewandowski was 8th last year and now almost everyone makes him No.1. There’s no reason Dybala can’t make a similar leap and surpass players like Mahrez and Bernardo Silva in my opinion.

 

Q: You are the sporting Director at Juventus and you can only buy one player: which one would you get?

A: If my budget is unlimited then in absolute terms, you pick the best player of the next decade, Kylian Mbappe, convince PSG to swap him with Ronaldo, and get Trezeguet on the phone to sell him the idea of living in Turin. But, come on, signing Mbappe is unrealistic. Personally I’d love to see Pirlo get the chance to coach someone like Thiago Alcantara.

 

Q: As always Juventus will try to win everything. And rightly so. But if at certain point they will have to focus on one objective only… which one would it be? An historical 10th scudetto in a row or try to advance as much as possible in CL?

A: Think about that for a moment. Before Juventus started this filotto the best winning streak in Serie A was five Scudetti in a row. Winning it again would double that! I tend to agree with Juventus’ directors that this incredible achievement will only be fully appreciated in 10 or 15 years. As an international journalist who knows how Juventus are perceived outside of Italy, winning the Champions League has to be the priority. Serie A isn’t easy to watch in the UK and the US – it’s on Premier Sports and ESPN+ – so some fans don’t know how tough it is to win the Scudetto. They judge Juventus on what they see from them in Europe. Anecdotally, Juventus haven’t felt this ‘big’ outside of Italy since the late 90s and early 2000s. When I walk around the park in London, the kids who were wearing Real Madrid and Barcelona shirts are almost all wearing the latest Juventus shirts.

 

Q: The old guard at Juventus still has a very strong presence on the pitch and in the locker room, with Buffon, Chiellini and Bonucci having a long lasting friendship with Coach Pirlo. Do you think this could more positive or negative during the season?

A: A huge positive. I was recently lucky enough to speak to Maldini about the great Milan sides under Berlusconi. He told me it is so important to have a group of players with a strong sense of belonging. You need these guys around to transmit what it means to play for Juventus, to set standards in training. Chiellini was a huge miss last season. All the focus at the moment is on who Juventus will sign at centre-forward, but Chiellini’s return at centre-back is as important.

 

Q: How do you imagine the Juventus post-Ronaldo?

A: Juventus’ appeal has undoubtedly grown. Let’s not underestimate how difficult that is to achieve when the Premier League is so dominant and the investment in Man City and PSG has in some respects helped those clubs take the place of AC Milan and Inter in the Champions League. I think Juventus are at the vanguard. In terms of their conceptualisation they are a truly modern club, not just in Italy but in Europe as a whole. The things they are trying to do are really interesting. It’s just unfortunate that the pandemic hit at a time when Juventus were trying to go to the next level from a commercial and conceptual point of view.

 

Q: Are you in favor of a European Superleague giving less attention to the local championships?

A: Foreign investment and the entrance of private equity will make Serie A more competitive. The amendment to the stadium law will help teams build new arenas and make more matchday revenue. All of that should break the cycle of Italian clubs needing to sell their one or two of their best players every year. I love Serie A. I want to see it reach the same level of the `80s and `90s. But I also look at the younger generation of fans and ask myself what do they want? They all play FIFA. They only select the best teams. People who follow me on Twitter support Liverpool AND Barcelona or Dortmund AND AC Milan not their local team. Other people don’t follow a team. They follow stars. They will support whoever Ronaldo plays for. This is the trend.

 

 

James Horncastle covers Serie A for The Athletic and BT Sport. Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JamesHorncastle