Merih Demiral’s quiet return and how he symbolises a winning tradition at Juventus

An injured Mehdi Demiral being comforted by Cristiano Ronaldo against Roma.

They haven’t kicked a ball in anger since early March’s cessation.

But Serie A’s unprecedented stoppage could not curtail an eventful time for Juventus’ centre-backs.

Giorgio Chiellini’s rampant promotional tour to promote – surprisingly – outspoken autobiography, ‘Io, Giorgio’, sparked a memorable contretemps with Mario Balotelli and Felipe Melo. Head coach Maurizio Sarri’s inveterate smoking habit and Arturo Vidal’s, alleged, extracurricular activities also featured, among a torrent of tantalising soundbites.

Leonardo Bonucci drew national ire because of April’s birthday celebrations for his father amid a stringent coronavirus lockdown, while Daniele Rugani’s positive test was one of the competition’s first.

Rumour about a swift exit for Matthijs de Ligt, also, linger after an indifferent opening campaign at the eight-time-successive champions. The Daily Mail reported on Tuesday a rejected £66 million bid from Barcelona.

An update of great consequence could have been missed, by all but the most-dedicated Continassa observers, amid such fevered hoopla.

Last Wednesday’s return to training for Merih Demiral marked a tempo change in recovery from January’s devastating knee injury.

An awkward landing in the eventual 2-1 win at Roma halted what the Turkey international had come to exemplify; Juve’s enviable, and infrequently matched, veneration of the unheralded player.

De Ligt had been chased by every major club in Europe throughout Ajax’s unbridled run to 2018/19’s Champions League semi-finals. A €75m package would seal the deal for Juve in July, with a parallel ‘Turn De Ligt On’ social media campaign stealing further attention.

This chase had swamped earlier news about an acquisition, for €18m, of another promising centre-back.

Demiral only required 14 Serie A appearances in half a season at Sassuolo to convince the Old Lady of his estimable qualities.

Little was expected, though, from the then 21-year-old former Sporting Lisbon B starlet. Especially in relation to his acclaimed new team-mate.

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2019/20’s early months would feature stumbles for the uncharacteristically uncertain De Ligt. These included the handball that was against Lecce and wasn’t versus Bologna, plus giveaway at Sassuolo and bizarre penalty kick concession versus Inter Milan.

Demiral had only been handed a start in September’s 2-1 victory at Hellas Verona, despite outstanding International Champions Cup friendly outings versus Tottenham Hotspur and the Nerazzurri.

He would become, however, a lock from December 11’s 2-0 Champions League win at Bayer Leverkusen to January 12’s doomed 19-minute run-out versus Roma.

A natural understanding with mentor Bonucci during this period was witnessed. Even a chastening 3-1 loss to upstarts Lazio in the Supercoppa Italiana at King Saud University Stadium could not detract from Demiral’s vast potential.

Few defenders twin such imposing physique with a sprinter’s turn of pace. A precise reading of the game only amplifies cherished characteristics.

A comparison between De Ligt and Demiral became obvious.

Wyscout statistics ranked per 90 minutes detail the Turk being dominant in the air (5.5 aerial duels/71.8 win percentage – 4.9 aerial duels/63.8 win percentage). He also makes more sliding tackles (1/0.8) and interceptions (7.5/7.1) per match, plus boasts a superior pass accuracy (93.5 per cent/92.7 per cent).

There are, though, caveats to this. De Ligt attempts far more long balls (4.8/2.1), which come at impressive accuracy (57.5 per cent/40.8 per cent). The refined Netherlands starlet is also more accurate in the tackle (61.1 per cent/50 per cent).

An injured Merih Demiral being comforted by Cristiano Ronaldo against Roma.

A glaring contrast in style, and not just reputations. But this is where Juve’s intrinsic genius in the transfer market is apparent.

Rather than look at Demiral v De Ligt for a contemporary spot in the XI, sporting director Fabio Paratici and his staff look longer term. This is a task of increasing importance because Bonucci and Chiellini boast a combined age of 68.

Juve’s history is coloured by luminous talents. From Michel Platini, Zinedine Zidane, Paul Pogba, Pavel Nedved, Alessandro Del Piero, Lilian Thuram, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and many more.

These players are taken from the same rarefied air that the coveted De Ligt inhibited.

This winning lineage, however, has also included Moreno Torricelli going from the factory floor to 1995/96 UEFA Champions League conqueror. Paolo Montero, Gianluca Pessotto, Mauro Camoranesi, Andrea Barzagli, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah are among other low-key employees to have performed a similarly invaluable role.

Expert squad building across several generations has created a perfect blend of the heralded and unheralded.

The axis of De Ligt and Demiral will, in due course, further symbolise this time-honoured dualism.

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