Watching replays of Cuadrado’s games at Chelsea is an exercise in sadness and forgetfulness – a disappointing act that makes it hard to remember that only a year ago giants like Barcelona and Manchester United seemed hell-bent on fighting for his signature.
On Monday, after a failed six-month spell with the Premier League champions, the Colombian winger arrived at Malapensa Airport in Italy, ready to sign a season-long loan with Champions League runner-ups Juventus. He was received by a mob of excited fans at the premises.
— JuventusFC (@juventusfc) August 24, 2015
It is one of the beautiful things about football – and life, really: one team’s trash is another team’s treasure. Before joining Chelsea, Cuadrado’s performances for Fiorentina and the Colombian national side were stirring shows of skill and fitness. And the Serie A fans who witnessed it first hand have not forgotten that.
However, in spite of the excitement of the Bianconeri supporters, the question still remains as to whether Cuadrado can really regain his shape. After all, to be fair, his footballing level didn’t just drop as he joined Chelsea – it had been on decline from a while before.
Cuadrado’s best years came during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons, with his peak probably arriving sometime around the midpoint of the latter. He had earned the trust of head coach Vincenzo Montella, who first played him as a wide wing-back, and then moved him over to play as an attacking midfielder, with much responsibility over the creation of offensive play. And interest from some big teams soon followed.
Throughout the 2014-15 season, Cuadrado and his agent made it explicit that the player wanted to leave the club to tackle a new challenge, but Fiorentina refused to sell for anything below the $45 million minimum-fee clause. Manchester United and Barcelona, who saw him as a long-term replacement for Dani Alves, finally decided not to pursue the player at the end of that season. And everything went downhill from there.
A disappointed Cuadrado’s level plummeted with both the national team and the Fiorentina jerseys, so that only six months later, the Italian club was finally forced to sell him to Chelsea for $27 million to cut back on losses. At that point, his form was already below par, and moving into a different league, with a more competitive squad, in a position that lacked definition, did not help him at all.
Now, with an awful six-month stint in England behind him, Cuadrado should definitely find a boost at Juventus in emotional terms: He has a clean slate at a new team, in a country he likes and that knows what he is made of. He will also have less competition within the squad, and a whole year to accommodate to his new manager and teammates.
Still, Juventus will also need to provide a context in the pitch that fits him well in order to stand a good chance of helping him return to his best form. In spite of having very pronounced strengths that could make him a star player, Cuadrado also has significant weaknesses that undermine his play. Juventus will have to maximize the former and minimize the latter.
Fortunately for the Serie A champions, the systems that they have employed over the past few years all include slots for diligent, attack-minded players on the wings where Cuadrado would be a perfect fit. Particularly under a 3-4-3 formation, the Colombian could occupy a role as a winger where his pace, skill and fitness would shine, and his lack of offensive positioning and vision would be much less exposed than they were at Chelsea.
So, can Cuadrado regain his best form with the bianconeri? That is, of course, by no means clear, but it does seem like Juventus can offer him the best possible context in which to do so.
“We all know that Juve is a great club, among the best teams in Europe. They have everything to win the Scudetto. I hope I can give Juventus my best, 100%,” Cuadrado told the club’s website on Tuesday.
“I didn’t expect to receive such a warm welcome from the fans in Italy but they have always welcomed me with open arms and that makes me very happy. The fans’ support will give me further motivation to do well,” he added.
Cuadrado, 27, was a crucial part of the Colombian national side that reached the World Cup Quarter Finals stage last year, and he is likely to be recalled by Jose Pekerman for the upcoming international break.