Remembering Juventus’ bizarre youth recruitment drive from 1999-2001

Around the turn of the century, Juventus embarked on a recruitment drive of what they hoped were some of the best young players in the world.

In what was essentially a prototype of Chelsea’s current transfer policy, Juve hoped the youngsters would either become good enough to break into their first team or be sold on at a profit.

Let’s just say it didn’t quite work out as planned.

Matteo Brighi

Known for being the greatest player on FIFA 03, we have a lot of affection for Brighi, who continues to play today and is not exactly your stereotypical footballer.

READ: The curious case of Matteo Brighi, once rated FIFA’s best player in the world

Andreas Isaksson

The Swedish stalwart was signed by Juventus in 1999 from Trelleborg but failed to make a single appearance in Turin with Edwin Van Der Sar firmly established as the club’s No.1.

“Because football did not go so well, and I did not fit into the gang, it became difficult to stay,” Isaksson later reflected in an interview with SvenskaFans. “Life outside must also work, and everything became difficult. So it was best to move”.

But Juve landed themselves in hot water upon the goalkeeper’s sale to Djurgarden. Trelleborg held first option on the player if he was to be sold for less than SEK 9million. Juve failed to notify Trelleborg of Djurgarden’s interest and ultimately had to pay his former club SEK 7.5million in 2003.

After returning to his homeland, Isaksson eventually had more success abroad at Rennes and PSV, either side of an injury-hit spell at Manchester City.

Sergio de Windt

Recommended to Juventus by Edgar Davids, De Windt was signed as a teenager from Ajax in the summer of 2000 but failed to make an impression.

Upon leaving Juve, the defender went on trial at Haarlem, but there is little record of his later career aside from a short spell at Dutch third tier side Rijnsburgse Boys in 2010.

Vincent Pericard

A journeyman striker best known in England for spells at Portsmouth and Stoke City, within the space of 11 years Pericard went from playing alongside Zinedine Zidane at Juventus to lining up in non-league for Havant and Waterlooville.

The France Under-21 international, signed by Juventus from Saint-Etienne, made just one appearance for the Italian giants, coming on as a substitute against Arsenal in the Champions League.

“My entire life outside of Juve has been scandalous,” Pericard said in 2018. “Myself and two other French players at the club were having Italian lessons with a beautiful tutor. One evening we were at home and I sent the teacher a message inviting her round for a drink with us.

“An hour later the phone rang. It was Roberto Bettega, the Juventus vice-chairman. He gave us a b*llocking and asked us who we thought we were to send messages to his girlfriend. We didn’t know she was his girlfriend. We were hauled in for talks, and they loaned me out to Portsmouth.

“It was terrible as things had been going so well for me at Juventus. I ruined my career with Juve all because of an unfortunate text. I have no doubt that without that happening my life would have been totally different.”

Ronnie O’Brien

The strangest signing of the lot, hands down. O’Brien had just been released by Middlesbrough when he was snapped up by Juventus on a five-year deal in 1999.

An agent of Paul Merson, Steve Kutner, brokered the deal after Merson had spoken of how impressed he had been by O’Brien in training.

“Of course, when he said Italy I thought he meant lower down. I didn’t think I’d be joining Juventus,” O’Brien told Teeside Live.

Unsurprisingly, the midfielder never made the grade in Turin and was sent on loan four times before eventually settling in MLS.

But he still made headlines during his time in Italy, bizarrely finding himself in the running to be named Time magazine’s Person of the Century after pranksters encouraged internet users to vote for the obscure footballer in an online poll, putting him alongside the likes of Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill and Mother Theresa.

O’Brien was eventually removed from the poll, with Time ruling: “Whimsical candidates and others who do not fall within the spirit of the title will not be counted.”

A spokesman added: “This was just a bit of fun, even if he is an obscure footballer, and we’re not at all miffed.”

Middlesbrough, meanwhile, offered their own take: “It didn’t work out for Ronnie here, but we wish him all the best for the rest of his career, though we think he’s still got something to prove before he can claim to be personality of the century.”

Tomas Guzman

“The Paraguayan Guzman, that among all is the only one to have the potential of the phenomenon,” wrote Emanuele Gamba for La Repubblica in 2000.

While he was loaned out five times, Guzman hung around at Juve for longer than most players on this list, with his debut coming against Arsenal in the Champions League in 2002 and his final appearance coming four years later against Pescara in Serie B.

Juve’s demotion due to the Calciopoli scandal gave Guzman hope he would be more involved with the first team, but he still had the likes of Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezeguet, along with Marcelo Zalayeta, Valeri Bojinov, Raffaele Palladino and Sebastian Giovinco, to compete for a place in attack with.

Fabian Carini

Carini’s arrival spelled the end for one of Juve’s previous young hopes in Andreas Isaksson, but the goalkeeper fared little better than the Swede.

Two of his four years in Turin were spent on loan at Standard Liege, while at one point Arsenal confirmed the signing of Carini on loan only for the transfer to fall through. He did earn a permanent move to Inter, where he appeared in Serie A four times.

A nomadic career followed, yet he still managed to win 74 caps for Uruguay.

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