Paul Pogba and Juventus head into the Serie A season attempting to rebound from the turbulence of a campaign roiled by injury and scandal.
France midfielder Pogba, who missed almost all of last season after suffering a serious knee injury in pre-season, is gunning for a starting place in Juve’s opening match at Udinese on Sunday.
His injury was the first big blow of a campaign which would bring a lot more, as off-field scandals led to the club’s board stepping down, a points deductions and a ban from European football.
Juve finished seventh after eventually being docked 10 points for transfer irregularities. That would have given them a Conference League spot but European governing body UEFA then banned them from continental competition for a year.
Few Juve fans, used to seeing their team in the Champions League, mourned the loss of a place in Europe’s third tier tournament and it could be a blessing in disguise as the club tries to reset both on and off the pitch.
Juve can focus on Serie A and potentially a title challenge in a league lacking a clear favourite.
Juve have had a low key transfer window, their business not helped by lack of Champions League football and the fact that their most recent annual accounts were 254.3 million euros ($277.4 million) in the red.
Yet last May, before Juve’s punishment was confirmed — after 15 points were docked, and then given back they were second in the table behind runaway leaders Napoli.
Coach Massimiliano Allegri would stress the number of points Juve “earned on the pitch” to highlight how his team’s displays belied their final league placing.
Should Pogba’s body hold up, Juventus will effectively have a new, world-class signing in midfield after a season ruined by his physical problems and a multi-million euro blackmail plot involving one of his brothers, Mathias.
Pogba vowed to return to his best in May after hobbling off the field in his only start of last term. On Wednesday he looked in good shape in a 5-0 friendly win over Alessandria in which he also scored.
With Euro 2024 coming next summer, the 30-year-old needs to get through the coming campaign without any more major issues to show he is still physically capable of playing at the top level for France.
Retegui eyes Euro
Another player looking to make an impact ahead of the Euro in Germany is Mateo Retegui, who has moved to Italy months after opting to play for the Azzurri instead of trying to break into his native Argentina’s national team.
Retegui leads the line for promoted Genoa, who have sold more than 27,000 season tickets (for a stadium with around 33,000 seats) as optimism among supporters on the Italian Riviera hits a high not seen for a long time.
An impressive start as an Italy striker as he netted twice in three Euro qualifiers has club fans hoping Retegui can replicate another Argentine, Diego Milito, who shot Genoa into Europe in 2009 before leaving to win the treble with Inter Milan the following season.
The 24-year-old Retegui made a fast start with a brace in his official Genoa debut, an exciting 4-3 win in the Italian Cup over Serie B outfit Modena last week.
With Roberto Mancini handing in a sudden resignation at the weekend the former Boca Juniors and Tigre striker’s Italy place will be up for grabs whoever eventually comes in to take over the national team.
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