Juventus in turmoil as sudden Andrea Agnelli departure marks end of an era

News that the entire Juventus board had resigned on Monday appeared, in the Italian phrasing, like lightning from a calm sky. Even the official statement published on the club’s website just before 10pm local time buried the departures of the club president, Andrea Agnelli, and his team of directors 10 paragraphs deep in a summary of their meeting that evening.

No major news outlet had anticipated the decision. This has been a complicated season for Juventus from a sporting perspective, beginning with two wins from their first seven league games and continuing through a Champions League group-stage exit lowlighted by defeat against Maccabi Haifa. Yet a sense of optimism had returned before the World Cup break, a run of six straight wins and clean sheets lifting them to third in Serie A.

Related: Entire Juventus board including president Andrea Agnelli resigns

Improving results distracted the public’s attention from a different cloud on the horizon. Last year, a major investigation was opened into Juventus’s accounting practices and financial reporting. In October 2021, Covisoc – Italian football’s industry watchdog – raised concerns about what it perceived as unrealistic player valuations being used to achieve “plusvalenze (capital gains) on various clubs’ balance sheets.

A list of 62 transfers was passed to the domestic football federation (FIGC), 42 of which involved Juventus. Many were exchange deals, such as the one that took Miralem Pjanic to Barcelona in a swap for Arthur Melo, at list prices alleged to have been artificially inflated.

In April, Juventus, and 10 other clubs, were cleared of wrongdoing by the FIGC’s disciplinary commission, who cited the difficulty of assigning objective values to footballers. In the meantime, however, a parallel investigation had been opened by the public prosecutor’s office in Turin, focusing on Juventus’s published accounts for the years 2019, 2020 and 2021.

The Prisma investigation deployed wiretaps to intercept communications between decision-makers at the club. Last November, a warrant was obtained for financial police to search Juventus’s training facilities as well as offices in Turin and Milan, seizing relevant documents. Sixteen individuals were placed under scrutiny, including Agnelli, his vice-president (until Monday), Pavel Nedved, and the club’s former chief football officer, Fabio Paratici, now the managing director of football at Tottenham.

Pavel Nedved and Andrea Agnelli talk before a Juventus match against Sampdoria
Pavel Nedved (left) and Andrea Agnelli have resigned along with the rest of the Juventus board. Photograph: EPA

Prosecutors concluded their inquiries last month, filing accusations of false accounting, market manipulation and false financial statements. Beyond plusvalenze, Juventus were alleged to have made misleading claims about an agreement by players to waive part of their salaries during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In March 2020, the club released a statement reporting a pay cut equivalent to four months’ wages – saving €90m. Instead, players are said to have foregone one month’s salary.

The club denies wrongdoing but Monday’s resignations made plain how seriously these charges are being taken. “Given the centrality and the relevance of the pending legal and technical/accounting matters,” reads one passage, “[it was considered to be in the] best interest of the company that Juventus provided itself with a new board of directors to address these matters.”

Prisma has passed its findings to the FIGC’s disciplinary commission, who will consider whether to revisit its case against the club or to open a new one. The sporting code provides for fines and a potential points penalty if Juventus are found guilty of breaking the rules around player contracts. It is unclear what criminal proceedings could be pursued by the Turin prosecutors.

La Liga, the body which organises top-flight football in Spain, issued a statement of its own on Tuesday demanding “immediate sporting sanctions” against Juventus. It had already lodged an official complaint against the club with Uefa in April, citing the Prisma investigation.

Juventus announced on Monday that new financial statements will be released for last season, guided by “new legal and accounting opinions from … independent experts.” On Tuesday, the club named Gianluca Ferrero, a corporate adviser and auditor, to replace Agnelli as president. The existing chief executive, Maurizio Arrivabene, will stay on in the short term to oversee day-to-day running of the club while the board is replaced.

Agnelli’s departure marks the end of an era. Juventus achieved unprecedented results under his leadership, winning nine consecutive league titles and 10 further domestic trophies, as well as reaching the Champions League final twice.

A modernising push that was launched with the move into the Allianz Stadium in 2011 led to Juventus expanding their reach with documentaries on Netflix and Amazon Prime as well as the launch of a new logo in 2017. The signing of Cristiano Ronaldo allowed the club to build its social media following.

But the Portuguese forward, and the failed launch of the Super League project, also symbolises a complicated legacy. Agnelli could hardly have predicted the global pandemic that was about to arrive when he signed Ronaldo in 2018, but the financial burden of his transfer fee and salary played its part in growing deficits. Juventus’s recorded losses for the past three seasons amount to more than €550m.

That figure may grow with the revising of the last year’s financial statements. John Elkann, the chief executive of Exor, the holding company that owns Juventus on behalf of the Agnelli family, stressed on Tuesday that the first task of the new board will be to restore stability while resolving the legal issues faced by the club, saying he had trust that “the club will demonstrate it always acted correctly.”